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William Lowe (1805–1878)

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William Lowe (1805-1878), shipbuilder, was born on 21 July 1805 at Leith, Scotland, the second son of William Lowe, a 'landed proprietor', and Margaret, née Steel, of Stirling. The family descended from Huguenots who settled first in England and later in Scotland. At 14 William Lowe junior was apprenticed to the shipbuilding trade at the Royal Dockyard, Deptford. At 19 he was sent to Stettin, Prussia, to work on the building of several ships and there he stayed for nearly three years. He returned to Scotland, where his father gave him his share of his estate, a considerable sum. Thereupon Lowe sailed to South America where he visited Ecuador, Peru and Chile; from Valparaiso he embarked in the Tiger for Sydney, where he arrived in September 1828. On the voyage Lowe and a fellow passenger, James Marshall, were so useful in repairing damage suffered in a gale that the captain refunded their passage money.

In 1830 Lowe took up ten acres (4 ha) on the Williams River, where good hardwood and cedar were abundant. This land was adjacent to eleven acres (4.4 ha) owned by a Sydney merchant, Joseph Hickey Grose. Lowe, who was joined later by Marshall, made a wet dock, and by February 1831 they had built some small craft and were building for Grose a steam vessel, the William the Fourth, 54 tons, launched 14 November 1831, which traded on the Australian coast for more than thirty years, and on the China coast for many years after that. The William the Fourth, the first coastal steamer wholly built in Australia, was eighty feet (24 m) long and usually travelled at eight knots (15 kph). In 1836 Lowe delivered the Ceres to the Hunter River Steam Packet Association. Next year his partnership with Marshall was dissolved but Lowe continued building vessels of high quality at the Deptford yards as he named them, until about 1860 when they were demolished. Four of the first twelve steamships built in the colony were Lowe's or Lowe's & Marshall's. From 1833 to 1836 Lowe was a director of a company that ran a steamer service to Parramatta, and from 1843 to 1852 his Comet, 50 tons, maintained a service to Parramatta, first in rivalry with and later in conjunction with Edye Manning's Emu.

In 1834 Lowe married Henrietta Blandford who died in 1846 leaving six children. In 1850 he married May Penfold, by whom he had eight children. Lowe died in May 1878; his wife lived until 1897.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Lowe, William Lowe, Pioneer Shipbuilder of Clarencetown (Raymond Terrace, no date).

Citation details

'Lowe, William (1805–1878)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1967, accessed online 21 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 2, (Melbourne University Press), 1967

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© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


21 July, 1805
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


May, 1878 (aged 72)

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