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BALDWIN, WILLIAM HENRY, shipbuilder; b. 3 Nov. 1827 at Quebec, son of Patrick (Peter) Baldwin and Isabella Gilley; m. there 4 Feb. 1864 Annie Jane Lee, daughter of Thomas Conrad Lee, shipbuilder; they had no children; d. 17 Oct. 1894 in his native town.

William Henry Baldwin was born into shipbuilding families on both sides. His paternal grandfather, Henry Baldwin, was brought over to Quebec from Scotland in 1793 by Patrick Beatson* to be foreman of his yard, the first important private shipyard at Quebec. William’s maternal grandfather, the ship carpenter Walter Gilley, came to Quebec shortly before the War of 1812 to help build ships for the transport of timber. Both William’s father, Patrick, and his uncle Henry were pump and block makers. His father died when he was four years old and his mother was remarried in 1833, to James Dinning, but died four years later. Baldwin was brought up by another uncle, the shipbuilder George Black*. In 1841, when he was 14, Black apprenticed him to his uncle Henry Baldwin to learn the trade of pump and block making, but he served only four years of his term. On 27 March 1851, having prepared himself for his future career, he formed a partnership with his stepbrother Henry Dinning* effective from 1 Sept. 1850. The agreement, signed for eight years, specified that the partners were “to carry on in the business of shipbuilders, the repairing of ships or vessels and generally all business conducted and to be conducted hereafter at a place known as Cap Cove.”

The Cape Cove shipyard was one of the finest in the port of Quebec. It was originally set up by John Saxton Campbell* and run by his partner, George Black, from 1825 to 1837, following which year Black bought the yard. When he retired in 1846 he rented it to his son George Black. At the time, it consisted of two floating docks, houses, wharfs, slips, gridirons, booms, beaches, and deep-water lots. The young shipbuilder’s tenure was short, however, for he died in 1849. That year the yard was leased to William Henry Baldwin for eight years, on condition that should George Black Sr require it, William would take Black’s younger son Edmund into partnership with him on equal terms for the period of the lease. When it appeared that Edmund had no capital to invest in the business, Baldwin refused to associate with him and instead took Henry Dinning as his partner.

They lived together in the old Black home at the foot of the cliff overlooking the yard, where Baldwin was in charge of the “outdoor department” while Dinning was “more particularly in charge of the office and books.” Over the next six years ten vessels averaging 1,100 tons were built. Among them was the 1,832-ton fully rigged ship Ocean Monarch, of which the Illustrated London News published an engraving. The partners were entitled to take £150 annually from the proceeds of the yard; from time to time the profits were to be divided up. During these years G. B. Symes and Company [see George Burns Symes*] acted as a shipbroker for the sale of the ships, mostly in Liverpool.

In 1856, however, the partnership came to an end, Dinning taking over the yard at Cape Cove. Baldwin moved his business to Saint-Roch, on the other side of the cape, leasing the shipyard of the bankrupt shipbuilder John James Nesbitt, whose stock-in-trade he had previously bought. There William’s cousin, Peter Baldwin, worked with him, though not in formal partnership. In 1859, as a result of a Superior Court judgement, William’s movables at his house on the Charlesbourg Road were seized. At the sheriff’s sale they were bought by Peter, who leased them back to him. From 1859 to 1863, during which time he was in partnership with William Dinning under the name William H. Baldwin and Company, he built the “Empire” series of nine ships – Celestial Empire, Western Empire, etc. – of between 1,143 and 1,752 tons. From 1865 to 1868 he was financed by the shipbroker Thomas Hart Watson of Glasgow, to whom he sent six vessels for sale. In 1868 he declared that he had been a shipbuilder for 20 years and had built 47 vessels. According to the census of 1871 he had worked his shipyard during eight months of the year and built ships to the value of $80,000; his 230 employees earned $42,300.

That same year his shipyard burned to the ground in the conflagration that swept Saint-Sauveur, and he moved his business to Hare Point, occupying the shipyard of his late father-in-law, Thomas Conrad Lee. There he built another four vessels. During most of his career Baldwin had built only fully rigged ships, but from 1866 on he generally laid down a 700-ton bark alongside each ship of 1,200 to 1,300 tons. He retired in 1872, handing over the shipyard to his cousin Peter and giving him financial support, but he found the winter days long without the construction of a ship to worry about. By arrangement with his cousin he built a last bark, the Princess Beatrice, in 1875. After a lengthy illness, he died in October 1894.

It is difficult to understand why one of Quebec’s most respected shipbuilders gave up his trade after 25 years of shipbuilding at only 46 years of age. Perhaps he felt that he had had a good innings, that the market for wooden sailing ships was fast disappearing, and that his cousin, who had worked in his shadow for so long, should have the satisfaction of building his own ships before it was too late.

Eileen Marcil

AC, Québec, Minutiers, H. C. Austin, 24 mai 1873; John Strang, 28 déc. 1866. ANQ-Q, CE1-66, 19 déc. 1827, 19 oct. 1894; CN1-49, 6 nov. 1846, 19 avril 1848; CN1-67, 1er juill. 1850; 27 mars 1851; 26 avril, 1er août 1856; 24 juin, 8 déc. 1859; 3 févr. 1864; CN1-109, 8 avril 1831; CN1-116, 7 déc. 1841, 4 nov. 1845; CN1-117, 31 déc. 1852; CN1-196, 30 avril 1858; ZQ6–120, 4 févr. 1864. Ports Canada Arch. (Quebec), Reg. of shipping. Quebec Mercury, 17 Oct. 1894.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

Eileen Marcil, “BALDWIN, WILLIAM HENRY,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed October 2, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baldwin_william_henry_12E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/baldwin_william_henry_12E.html
Author of Article:   Eileen Marcil
Title of Article:   BALDWIN, WILLIAM HENRY
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 12
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1990
Year of revision:   1990
Access Date:   October 2, 2023