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Fowey Harbour Heritage Society

The Butson Family, Shipbuilders, 1839 – 1875

The Butsons were a leading shipbuilding family in Lanteglos-by-Fowey.  Nicholas senior began in Polruan in 1839 and was succeeded by his sons, Nicholas and Joseph. They built many schooners including the Rippling Wave, which was the first ship to take china clay from the new jetties in Fowey harbour in 1869.  They built in several places, including the site of Geach's yard  near the Quay, in what is now Tom's Yard.  By 1856 with the need to build larger ships the firm had acquired a boatyard in Bodinnick plus the Ferry Inn and ferry and by 1857 they built a new yard at Brazen Island.

1871 Nicholas, junior, was in Bodinnick employing 15 men and 5 boys, while Joseph was in Polruan employing 18 men and 3 boys.  They built the 102 ft  brigantine Gem at Bodinnick in 1871, the fruit schooner Thetis in 1973  and their last ship was the 104 ft brigantine Undine launched from  Brazen Island in 1875, which was reputed to 'sail like a witch'.  They continued to repair and maintain the now declining fleet of sailing ships.  By 1884 they had leased the Brazen Island yard to the Brazen Island Sardine Co and in 1921 sold their yard at Bodinnick.  This later became the home of the du Maurier family.  The Butson family continued in business until 1939 mainly working on small boats and are still building mahogany yachts in Ontario today.


Research Isabel Pickering


Sources:   Isabel Pickering , Some Goings On, (Fowey; author, 1995);  C H Ward Jackson, Ships and Shipbuilders of a Westcountry Seaport Fowey 1786-1939, (Truro; Twelveheads Press, 1986);  Royal Cornwall Gazette,  3 March 1881; Personal commentary from Ralph Butson; Parish Records; Census Returns.

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