Politics of Thomas Andrews, Titanic designer

Shan Bullock


IT remains, before giving account of the finest action of his life, to consider briefly, by way of rounding his portrait, what we may call Andrews’ outside aspect—the side, that is, he might turn to some Committee of Experts sitting in solemn judgment upon him as a possible candidate for political honours.

That side, it may be said at once, is singularly unpretentious; and indeed when we think of his absorption, heart and soul, in what he knew for him was best, who could expect, or wish, it to be otherwise? In Ulster, heaven knows, are publicists galore, and sufficient men too willing to down tools at any outside horn-blow, that we should the less admire one who spoke only once in public, took no open part in politics, and was not even a strong party-man. He was, however, a member of the Ulster Reform Club. Twice he was pressed to accept the presidency of Unionist Clubs. Frequently he was urged to permit his nomination for election to the City Council. The Belfast Harbour Board shared the opinion of one of its leading members that “his youthful vigour, his undoubted ability, and his genial personality, would have made him an acquisition to this important Board.” His fellow-directors, in a resolution of condolence, expressed their feeling that “not only had the Firm lost a valued and promising leader, but the city an upright and capable citizen, who, had he lived, would have taken a still more conspicuous place in the industrial and commercial world.” Even in the south, where admiration of Northerners is not commonly fervent, it was admitted by many that in Andrews Ulster had at last found the makings of a leader.

From such straws, blown in so prevailing a wind, we may determine the estimation in which Andrews, as a prospective citizen, stood amongst those who knew him and their own needs the best; and also perhaps may roughly calculate the possibilities of that future which he himself, in stray minutes of leisure, may have anticipated. But some there will be doubtless whose admiration of Andrews is the finer because he kept the path of his career straight to its course without any deviation to enticing havens.

Such a man, however, the son of such a father, could not fail to have views on the burning topics of his time, and no estimate of him would be complete which gave these no heed.

He was, we are told, an Imperialist, loving peace and consequently in favour of an unchallengeable Navy. He was a firm Unionist, being convinced that Home Rule would spell financial ruin to Ireland, through the partial loss of British credit, and of the security derived from connection with a strong and prosperous partner. At times he was known to express disapproval of the policy adopted by those Irish Unionists who strove to influence British electors by appeals to passion rather than by means of reasoned argument. Also he felt that Ireland would never be happy and prosperous until agitation ceased and promise of security were offered to the investing capitalist.

Though no believer in modern cities, he was of opinion that an effort should be made to expand and stimulate Irish village life, it seeming to him that a country dependent solely on agriculture was like a man fighting the battle of life with one hand. Were, however, an approved system of agriculture, such as that advocated by Sir Horace Plunkett, joined with a considered scheme of town and village industries, he believed that emigration would cease and Ireland find prosperity.

To the practical application of Tariff Reform he saw many difficulties, but thought them not insuperable. In view of the needs of a world-wide and growing Empire, “the necessity of preserving British work for British people,” and the injury done to home trade by the unfair competition of protected countries, he judged that the duties upon imported necessities should be materially reduced and a counterbalancing tax levied on all articles of foreign manufacture.

He advocated moderate Social reform on lines carefully designed to encourage thrift, temperance and endeavour; and as one prime means towards improving the condition, both moral and physical, of the workers he would have the State, either directly or through local authorities, provide them with decent homes. To the consideration of Labour problems, particularly those coming within the scope of his own experience, he gave much thought; and when it is considered that his great popularity with all classes held steady through the recent period of industrial unrest, we may judge that his attitude towards Labour, in the mass as in the unit, was no mere personal expression of friendliness. As his real pals he wanted to help the workers, educate and lift them. Other things being equal, he always favoured the men who used their heads as well as their hands; and if in the management of their own affairs they used their heads, then also, so much the better for all concerned. He considered that both in the interests of men and masters, it was well for Labour to be organized under capable leaders; but honest agreements should, he thought, be binding on both sides and not liable to governmental interference. Politicians and others should in their public utterances, he felt, endeavour to educate the workers in the principles of economics relative to trade, wages and the relations between capital and labour; but publicists who, for party or like reasons, strove to foster class hatreds and strifes he would hang by the heels from a gantry.

Where economically possible, the working day should, he thought, be shortened, especially the day of all toiling in arduous and unwholesome conditions. Similarly he was disposed to favour, when economically possible, encouragement of the workers by means of a system of profit sharing. He would, furthermore, give them every facility for technical education, but such he knew from experience was of little value unless supplemented by thorough practical knowledge gained in the workshop.

These views and opinions, whatever their intrinsic value in the eyes of experts, are at least interesting. Sooner or later, had Andrews lived, he would perhaps have made them the basis of public pronouncements; and then indeed might his abounding energy, applied in new and luring directions, have carried him to heights of citizenship.