HFS – A family History

HENRY FREDERICK SWAN – Biography   Family Tree

HFS – Born 10th September 1842 – Died 25th March 1908 in Prudhoe Hall. Prudhoe

Lived 1881 Jesmond house, Jesmond
Lived 1900 Prudhoe Hall
Lived 1901 Beaufront Castle, Hexham

BrotherCharles Sheriton Swan – Born 27 Jan 1831 Christened in Longbenton 6th March 1831. Died 26th April 1879 following a fall from a paddle steamer.
Parents William Swan & Anne Sheriton

William Born 4 Jan 1799 – Died 1st Nov 1849

Anne Born 6 Sept 1800 – Died 21st April 1870

Military Service

Took part with his men in the Edinburgh review 1881.
Lieutenant-Colonel 2nd Northumberland Rifle Volunteer Corps.
Entered Northumberland Fusiliers1859 (Captain 1865.
Honarary Colonel Northumberland Fusiliers 1875 / 1902.


1858 – Employed Mitchell Shipyard, Low Walker Age 16.
1862 – Resident Partner in Russia to build iron clad ships.
1886 – Col HFS was naval Architect and director of Armstrong Mitchell & co, Wallsend.
1897 – Director Sir WG Armstrong & Co Ltd.
1899 – Director Weardale Steel Coal & Coke Ltd.

HFS & Charles Mitchell among founders of Wallsend Slipway & Engr Co.

Merger with William Armstrong (Elswick Ordinance Works) to form Armstrong Mitchell & Co 1882. Amalgamated with Joseph Whitworth and Co. 1897 to become Sir WG Armstrong, Whitworth and Co.

Mitchell’s Low Walker Yard, founded by Charles Mitchell, born in Aberdeen 20 May 1820. Moved to Newcastle September 1842. Charles married Ann Swan, third child of William and Anne Swan, West Farm, Walker 9th May 1854 and gained two practical brothers-in-law Charles S Swan (who’s widow went into partnership George B Hunter in 1880 to create the Swan Hunter shipyard) and Henry Frederick Swan.

In 1858 two ‘kits’ for screw steamers were supplied for erection on the Volga under the supervision of Charles Sheriton Swan, while in 1864 Henry Frederick Swan, who had joined the yard as apprentice in 1858, was dispatched to St Petersburg, to build five small warships. The yard built over 90 vessels of various types for Russia and Charles Mitchell with his partner.

(Extracts from ARMSTRONG’s RIVER EMPIRE – Dick Keys and Ken Smith.

1862 – Charles Mitchell, together with business partner HFS, began the working of setting up an iron shipbuilding yard for the Tsarist government in St Petersberg. The Russians had made a decision to switch from wooden to iron construction. Several warships were built there under the guidance of the partners, with members of their staff providing crucial training. HFS went out to St Petersberg to direct operations, taking over from Charles Mitchell who started the venture.

The first ships to be built at the Russian yard under the contract with Mitchell’s were coastal defences vessels Smertch (Waterspout) and Netron Menya (Touch Me Not) in 1865. The last was the Kniaz Pojarski , launched in 1867 but not completed until 1873.

Tsar Alexander II presented both Charles Mitchell and HFS with ornamental snuff boxes inlaid with diamonds.

Yermak (icebreaker) launched from Low Walker Yard October 1898 for the Russian Government for service in the Gulf of Finland.

At the launch HFS told guests that “Admiral Makarov, besides sketching out the broad principles of the ship, has been of the greatest help to Armstrong Whitworth in working out the technical details” – 48 watertight compartments.

Extract from GOLDEN AGE of SHIPS (Conway’s History of Ships)

HFS was a pioneer in oil tanker design, taking out several patents for tank steamers and became one of the world’s foremost authorities in the field.

HFS was very interested in the problems of carrying oil in bulk and produced a design incorporating the best features of existing vessels.

  • Oil was to be carried right out to the shell; provision was made to carry water ballast on the return voyage;
  • cofferdams were fitted to each end of the cargo tank section;
  • tanks divided into pairs by a middle line bulkhead;
  • the cargo valves could all be operated from the main deck;
  • the cargo main was carried through the cargo tanks, just above the floors;
  • vapour lines were fitted at he top of each expansion tank
  • cargo pumps for loading and discharging were fitted below main deck level;
  • countersunk riveting was used on all oiltight bulkheads.

His design ideas were embodied in the Gluckauf (Good Luck), which launched 16 June 1886 (completed July 1886) became the first ocean going tanker to carry 3500 tons of oil from America or the Black Sea to Europe. The vessel was being built for the yards own interests when Riedemann of Bremen, Deutsch-America Petroleum Company, became interested and bought it.

A first for the Michell’s Low Walker yard -the Gluckauf generally regarded as the prototype of the modern oil tanker was classed with Bureau Veritas. At the time of construction she was considered to be experimental. After five years service, at her first special survey, only minor additions to the structure were found necessary, notably fitting stiffener angle face bars to some of the stringers.