McKay, Donald

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. 4 September 1810 Shelburne, Nova Scotia, Canada
d. 20 September 1880 Hamilton, Massachusetts, USA
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American shipbuilder of Western Ocean packets and clippers.
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Of Scottish stock, McKay was the son of a farmer and the grandson of a loyalist officer who had left the United States after the War of Independence. After some elementary shipwright training in Nova Scotia, McKay travelled to New York to apprentice to the great American shipbuilder Isaac Webb, then building some of the outstanding ships of the nineteenth century. At the age of 21 and a fully fledged journeyman, McKay again set out and worked in various shipyards before joining William Currier in 1841 to establish a yard in Newburyport, Massachusetts. He moved on again in 1843 to form another venture, the yard of McKay and Pickett in the same locality.
In 1844 McKay came to know Enoch Train of Boston, then proprietor of a fleet of fast clipper ships on the US A-to-Liverpool run. He persuaded McKay to set out on his own and promised to support him with orders for ships. The partnership with Pickett was dissolved amicably and Donald McKay opened the yard in East Boston, from which some of the world's fastest ships were to be launched. McKay's natural ability as a shipwright had been enhanced by the study of mathematics and engineering drawing, something he had learned from his wife Albenia Boole, the daughter of another shipbuilder. He was not too proud to learn from other masters on the East Coast such as William H.Webb and John Willis Griffiths. The first ships from East Boston included the Washington Irvine of 1845 and the Anglo Saxon of 1846; they were well built and had especially comfortable emigrant accommodation. However, faster ships were to follow, almost all three-masted, fully rigged ships with very fine or "extreme" lines, including the Flying Cloud for the Californian gold rush of 1851, the four-masted barque Great Republic; then, c. 1854, the Lightning was ordered by James Baines of Liverpool for his Black Ball Line. The Lightning holds to this day the speed record for a square-rigged ship's daily run. As the years passed the shipbuilding scene changed, and while McKay's did build some iron ships for the US Navy, they became much less profitable and in 1875 the yard closed down, with McKay retiring to take up farming.
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Further Reading
Frank C.Bowen, 1952, "Shipbuilders of other days, Donald McKay of Boston",
Shipbuilding and Shipping Record (18 September).
FMW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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