Graving Dock No.2

It is generally agreed that the development of shipbuilding in Belfast stems from the arrival in July 1791 of a Scot named William Ritchie from Saltcoats, Ayrshire. Invited across by Belfast’s harbour merchants, he brought 10 of his own Scottish shipyard workers with him. Just one year later, the first vessel was launched from Ritchie’s new shipyard on the Lagan – the “Hibernia” of 300 tons. 

In the next 20 years his enterprise grew, and Ritchie recorded: “When I came to Belfast, there was only about six jobbing ship-carpenters...  Since I came here, I have brought from Scotland several ship-joiners, block-makers, and blacksmiths”.  

Remarkable, really, considering the shipbuilding industry was to provide employment for hundreds of thousands in Ulster in years to come.

By 1820 at least two shipbuilding firms were operating on the banks at the mouth of the River Lagan - William Ritchie’s and another belonging to his brother, Hugh in partnership with Alexander McLaine.  It was Ritchie and McLaine who launched the first steamboat built in Ireland in 1820 – named ‘Belfast’.