Thursday, 16 September 2010

It's All Relative


Those of you who've read the book will know that my ancestry is largely comprised of poverty-stricken guttersnipes living in parts of slums that even other slumdwellers would look down their noses at. Both sides of my family have generations' worth of London dockworkers stretching back to the mid-nineteenth century. We were dock labourers, ships' launderers and even hull scrapers. My maritime legacy has always been so far down the hierarchical ladder that it's within hailing distance of Davy Jones's Locker itself.

Until now.

The book gave me a taste for genealogy and since I finished it I've set about trying to complete other branches of the family tree. And yesterday I made a startling discovery. My paternal grandmother's family came from Scotland, the coast of Ayrshire, and I've been tracing them back as far as I can. Now, when I reached my 5xgreat grandfather John Ritchie from Saltcoats, I found that he is responsible for one of the greatest maritime legacies in the world.

In 1791 his brother William Ritchie gave up his little shipyard in Saltcoats and travelled over to Belfast, where he began a shipbuilding business on the banks of the Lagan. It went so startlingly well that his brothers Hugh and John, my ancestor, went over to help run and expand the businesses. Directly as a result of these three men's work, Belfast became one of the world's great shipbuilding powerhouses of the next two centuries.

Their first ship was launched on July 6 1792. It's name? The Hibernia.

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