A History of The Shipyard: Thomas Andrews

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In celebration of Local History Month we have been having a look at some of the key figures and locations which made Belfast, and in particular Queen’s Island, the place it is today!

After exploring the area's origins and the rich history of the famous Harland and Wolff Shipyard and what it looks like today, let's now take a closer look at one of its key figures: Thomas Andrews, the Managing Director of Harland and Wolff and the visionary behind the design of the Olympic Class Ships.

A name synonymous with innovation and excellence in ship design, Andrews played a pivotal role in shaping the legacy of Harland and Wolff and the iconic Olympic Class Ships. Born in 1873 in Comber near Belfast, Northern Ireland. He was a nephew of Lord Pirrie, partner and Chairman of Harland and Wolff.



Andrews graduated from the Royal Belfast Academical Institution aged 16 and, following in his uncle's footsteps, joined Harland and Wolff as a premium apprentice, gradually working his way up through various departments.

However, working in design was where Andrews excelled. His innovative ideas and dedication earned him his place as Chief of the Design department. Known for his exceptional work ethic and amiable personality, he was appointed Managing Director of Harland and Wolff in 1907.

Throughout his illustrious career, Andrews was involved in the design of several ships with Harland and Wolff. He became the main designer of both the RMS Olympic and RMS Titanic, which were the most luxurious liners of their time. He would oversee various aspects of construction, ensuring they met the highest standards of safety and luxury.



Despite his professional accomplishments, Andrews took pride in his personal life as well. In 1908, he married Helen Reilly Barbour; two years later they welcomed their daughter Elizabeth (known by her initials, "ELBA"). The family lived at "Dunallon" on Windsor Avenue in Belfast, an imposing red-brick two storey brick building constructed in 1863. The building has a shallow hipped roof clad in grey slate tiles. A 'Blue Plaque' unveiled by the Ulster History Circle adorns the exterior of the building. The plaque carries the dedication:

Thomas Andrews 1873 - 1912

Designer of the TITANIC

Lived here


"Dunallan" was later owned by the Dixon family, who sold the property in 1960 to the Irish Football Association (IFA). For over half a century "Dunallan" served as the IFA's headquarters.

In 1912, Thomas Andrews set sail on Titanic’s maiden voyage, where he spent most of the journey making notes for improvements and assisting the crew with minor difficulties as they got to know the new ship. 

After Titanic struck the iceberg, Andrews assessed the damage and advised Captain Smith that the ship would sink in a matter of hours. Witnesses last saw Andrews in the First-Class smoking room, his lifebelt discarded. His body was never recovered.

Newspaper accounts of the disaster labelled Andrews a hero. Mary Sloan, a stewardess on board Titanic later wrote in a letter: "Mr. Andrews met his fate like a true hero, realising the great danger, and gave up his life to save the women and children of the Titanic. They will find it hard to replace him."

If he had survived the disaster, he would likely have followed in his uncle's footsteps and become chairman of Harland & Wolff. Nevertheless, his daughter Elba made history as the first woman in Northern Ireland to receive a pilot's license and paved the way for future generations to come. She helped in the war effort and later worked closely with the giraffes in Kenya.

The Thomas Andrews Jr. Memorial Hall opened in January 1914 as a tribute to the shipbuilder, and can still be visited today in his hometown of Comber. This is one of the earliest and most substantial memorials for a single victim of the Titanic disaster that has been built.




Andrews also designed SS Nomadic to the same specification as Titanic, it remains today as the last remaining White Star Line ship in the world. It has since been restored to her original glory and back home in Belfast's historic Hamilton Dock and can be visited as part of the Titanic Experience ticket.

Read more about the History of the Shipyard with Queen's Island to Titanic Quarter, or learn about the remaining historic Belfast Graving Docks, or learn more about Thomas Andrew's uncle A Pirrie Important Character.

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