Shackleton : The James Caird Society



Society     Join     President     Chairman     Founder
Sir James Caird     Beardmore     Docker     Dame Janet



Sir James Caird by David Foggie. This fine oil painting of Shacklewton's sponsor formerly hung in Dundee Infirmary, which Caird handsomely endowed. It is now in Dundee's Medical History Museum collection. A copy hangs in the Caird Hall
The James Caird takes its name from Sir James Key Caird (1837-1916), a wealthy Dundee jute manufacturer and philanthropist, to whom Sir Ernest Shackleton wrote in 1914 asking for a donation of £50. Caird promised £10,000 and in the event gave £24,000 - a huge amount of money in 1913/4, amounting to many millions of pounds in today's terms - to Shackleton's 1914-16 Imperial Transantarctic Expedition, thus making the privately-financed Endurance trip possible.

Sir James Caird's letter offering Shackleton £24,000, dated 17 June 1914. The original is in the Scott-Polar archive at Cambridge
Shackleton showed his gratitude by naming not only the small 23 foot lifeboat, in which he and five others (Worsley, Crean, McCarthy, McNeish and Vincent) were to make their terrifying 800 mile journey to raise help, after Sir James Caird, but also the Caird Coast, which abuts the Weddell Sea close to where Endurance was trapped and sank in 1915. Worley tells us ('Endurance', p.37) that it is an 'undulating barrier' of ice-laden landspill, ending in cliffs from 10 ft to 200 ft high, that links Coats' land (doscovered by Bruce's Royal Scottish Geographical Expedition in 1902) and Luitpold Land (discovered by Wilhelm Filchner's German expedition in 1912). To the south it is broken by numerous mighty, close-grouped, crevasse-crossed glaciers, devoid of bare land, rock or projecting nunataks.

The Caird Ice Falls on the Caird Coast, which Shackleton named after his sponsor on the Endurance's outward journey
Sir James Caird - he was created a baronet in 1913, the very time when Shackleton persuaded him to be the expedition's chief sponsor) - was born on 7 January 1837. In 1870, at the age of 33, he became head of the family jute firm (established by his father in 1832). By the end of the 19th Century the majority of Dundee's working population were employed in jute manufacture. Caird soon proved to be one of the city's most successful entrepreneurs, making use of the very latest developed manufacturing technology in his jute mills at Ashton and Craigie Mills, notably a steam-driven drive shaft of vast length.

The River Tay flows past Dundee on its way to the North Sea (at left)
He rebuilt the huge Ashton Mill, located in the Hawkhill district of Dundee, in 1876, and extended it in 1887 and 1908. In 1905 he also bought the Craigie Mill on Arbroath Road. The two mills together employed some 2000 workers in a city which at that time housed the largest textile factory in Europe (the 25-acre Camperdown Works at Lochee, which employed 6,000).

In 1873, three years after assuming the headship of the firm, James Caird married Sophie Gray, the daughter of George Gray of Perth, and sister of Lady Effie Gray, wife of the painter and critic John Ruskin and later of the artist Sir John Everett Millais. James Caird was thus related by marriage to two of the Victorian art world's outstanding personalities.

inside a Dundee jute milla Dundee jute mill. It was through capitalising on the international need for jute that Sir James Caird both inherited and extended his considerable fortune
The Cairds made their home at Roseangle, Dundee. They were also friends of (among others) James McNeill and Beatrix Whistler. Their daughter, Beatrix Ada Caird (1874-1888), was painted by Millais; sadly she died soon after her fourteenth birthday. James Caird's connection with Whistler, two and a half years older than him, is evidenced by two surviving letters from him to the artist, one written just a few months before Whistler's death in 1903, and one from Whistler to Caird. In 1894 Caird invited Whistler and his wife to come and stay, if 'you are still in the land of the living.' The second letter was on the occasion of an Honorary Doctorate awarded to Whistler.

Sir James Caird escorts his Majesty King George V on his visit to Dundee during the royal couple's tour of Scotland in 1914
The Dundee jute industry was already in decline by 1914, the time of Shackleton's Endurance expedition, and even before the award of his knighthood by King George V in 1913, when it became cheaper to rely on imports of the finished product from India (Dundee's 'jute barons' had invested heavily in Indian factories).

King George V's royal train approachesGeorge V and Queen Mary embark on their royal visit
However Sir James Caird had made a massive fortune from his thriving enterprises, and used his money for a variety of philanthropic undertakings, which still have a significant bearing on his city of Dundee today.

Caird paid for both the city's public hall, the Caird Hall, which dominates Dundee's City Square and to which he donated £100,000, and for the 270-acre Caird Park, a key part of the city's 'lungs', situated in the north of the city.

A wide angle view of the Caird Hall, in central Dundee, towards which Sir James Key Caird was the major donor
Sir James Caird's marked generosity with the fortune he had amassed was continued by his close family. The Marryat Hall, which links to the Caird Hall, was subsequently gifted to the city by Sir James's sister, Mrs. Emma Grace Marryat. Caird family donations totalled perhaps the equivalent of 20 to 25 million pounds (up to 50 million dollars) in today's money.

View of the Caird Hall with the city chambers, administrative offices of the Dundee council, to the right
The Caird Hall, completed in 1923 to a prewar design by James Thomson (dating from 1911, a few years before Shackleton's approach to Caird for funds), was built on the site of Dundee's earliest (13thC) parish church, St. Clement's, formed the centrepiece of Dundee's first formal city planning exercise. It can be seen prominently from both the city and the harbour (which today houses Scott's Discovery). The fine building, which subsequently served as both Dundee City Hall, the city's administrative centre, and the city's main Concert Hall, was opened by Caird by means of an electrical connection passing through the world's second largest emerald, which now forms part of the Provost of Dundee's Chain of Office.

Dundee's Caird Hall, housing the municipal offices and the city's main concert hall, endowed by Sir James Caird to the am,ouj nt of £100,000The Caird Hall
Sir James made a donation of £100,000 and the building served as both Dundee City Hall and Concert Hall. A further £75,000 was given postwar by his sister, Mrs. Marryat, after Sir James's death to add the colonnade which Thomson had planned. It subsequently saw many performances (including the appearances by Beatles in 1963 and 64).

The purpose-built Caird Cancer Hospital opened on Dudhope Street as an offshoot of Dundee Royal Infirmary just over a century ago, in 1902, when Sir James offered £18,500 to the Directors of the Dundee Royal Infirmary to establish a Cancer wing, and provided a further £1,000 a year for five years to fund research "into the nature of this mysterious disease." Plans were drawn up by architect J Murray Robertson in 1903; the building was finally opened on 17 December 1906, with the first patients admitted in January 1907. The building comprised six isolated wards, one of which was designated as an Electrical Ward for the treating of cancer using electricity. There were also two operating theatres whose equipment was at that time thought to be unrivalled anywhere in Scotland.

Plans for the Caird Cancer Hospital.The designer was J Murray Robertson
As a result of this initial and subsequent funding efforts, today Dundee has emerged as a world leader in cancer research. Mrs. Marryat (Sir James's sister, wife of Col. Marryat) also gave £10,000 from his accumulated wealth to clear the debts of the Dundee Royal Infirmary, plus a further £25,000 to procure hospital equipment, £20,000 to the Caird Jubilee Nurses'Home, and £5,000 to the Royal Dundee Institution for the Blind. Caird himself had also funded a women's hospital in Dundee. The bequests by the Cairds amounted to around £1 millon pounds, a gigantic amount in the first half of the 20th Century.

The Caird Nurses' Home The Caird Rest Home for Men
In February 1908 Dr Archibald Leitch from Rothesay was appointed as Investigator in Cancer Research, having previously worked in the cancer research laboratories of Middlesex Hospital. A year on, the DRI Annual Report noted: "the reports which he has submitted to Mr. Caird and the Directors indicate a wide field which has to be gone over, and the difficulties which have to be overcome before a definite statement may be made as to the nature of the disease." Over the next few years Leitch published his researches in various medical journals including The Lancet and the Proceedings of the Royal Society of Medicine. Sadly, no further funding could be found after Caird's five year bequest ran out, and in 1912 Leitch moved to London. Although Dundee Royal Infirmary continued to maintain dedicated cancer wards, the Caird Hospital soon ceased to specialise, and was later used for general surgery, orthopaedic surgery and paediatrics.

However radium was first used to treat cancer in Dundee in 1913, when 20 milligrammes was ordered thanks to donations by Sir James Caird and the Sharp family. The Dundee Royal Infirmary's next annual report report stated: "The radium gifted last year has been in almost daily use, and while in certain cases undoubted cures have been effected, the Medical Officers have felt the comparatively small quantity available to be a decided disadvantage in this method of the treatment of cancer. It is hoped that during the ensuing year the resources of the Hospital in this respect may be increased". Further deliveries of radium followed, the results proving so successful that in 1919 an additional 100mg was requested at a cost of £1,350, the Directors hoping that the cost "may be met by special donations".

sign in Caird Park, Dundee
Sir James Caird also donated to the city Caird Park, which includes Mains Castle, notable for its tall and distinctive 6 storey stair watch tower, Den o' Mains. Mains Castle was built by Sir David Graham of Fintry, a nephew of the infamous Cardinal Beaton, in the mid 16th century and its remains stand on the outskirts of Dundee. Most of the buildings were roofless till recently. The buildings, some of which have long since gone, form a courtyard. Mains Castle was renovated in the 1980s and is now a popular restaurant. The park, ideal for recreation and walking, includes one 18 and two 9-hole golf courses, and athletics track and sports pitches.

Mains Castle, adjoining Caird Park, Dundee
Sir James Caird was a well-known and much revered figure in his native Fife, and was awarded an honorary degree by the University of St. Andrews, as well as by the University of Glasgow at around the same time, in 1903. Caird was retired and in his advanced seventies when Ernest Shackleton, who had a few years earlier served as the Secretary of the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Edinburgh, secured from him what Shackleton in South gratefully calls his 'munificent' gift ('I must particularly refer to the munificent donation of £24,000 from the late Sir James Caird').

For a gregarious public figure he perhaps appeared to some, not unnaturally, more reclusive in retirement. Sir James lived at Belmont Castle, near Meigle, Dundee (formerly the last home of the British Prime Minister Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman (1836-1908), from 1905 to 1908). Tradition has it that Macbeth made his last stand here: a large stone, known as Macbeth's Stone, lies at the estate's west entrance.

Sir James Caird died at Belmont Castle on 6 March 1916 and is buried in Dean Cemetery, Edinburgh. Two years after his death, in 1918, his relatives presented the Castle to Dundee Corporation. Leased by the Church of Scotland, it was opened as a retirement and holiday home for men convalescing from illness by the Duchess of York, later Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, in 1931.

In 1942, Sir James's vast Ashton Works was requisitioned by the Government for the war effort. It was occupied during wartime by Briggs Motor Bodies Ltd., for the production of fuel jerrycans. Ten million were produced by the time of derequisition in 1946.

The Craigie Mills jute factory closed for economic reasons at the end of 1954, when a study found that it was not viable to modernise equipment. Production was subsequently moved to the restored Ashton works. Commercial jute production in Dundee finally ceased in the 1970s, particularly after the cessation of jute control on 30 April 1969. Some manufacturers successfully diversified for a short time to produce synthetic fibres and linoleum. The last of the jute spinners closed in 1999. From a peak of over 130 mills, many have since been demolished, although around sixty have been redeveloped for residential or other commercial use.

The old Tay Bridge, main approach to Dundee and the North West, Part of the bridge, which was designed by Thomas Bouch and  took six years to buuild, collapsed disastrously in 1879. with the loss of a train and 70 lives

Shackleton's sponsor, Sir James Key Caird (1837-1916) should on no account be CONFUSED with an earlier distinguished namesake, Sir James Caird (1816-1892), MP in the mid-19thC for first Dartmouth and then Stirling, and President of the Royal Statistical Society; nor with his younger namesake, the Glasgow-born shipowner Sir James Caird of Glenfarquhar (1864-1954). This younger Caird - no relation, seemingly, either to the Victorian MP or to Shackleton's sponsor - was a distinguished shipowner, who by 1903 owned the Scottish Shire Line. He was also a major benefactor of nautical causes.

read about the National Gallery's Caird library

Most importantly, following initial proposals in 1927, Sir James Caird (II), the Glasgow shipowner, became the principal donor at the foundation of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, following the move of the Royal Hospital School from Greenwich to Suffolk. Caird offered to fund the entire cost of renovating the buildings to serve as a museum. The cost of these works was £80,000. Conicidentally, it was at the National Maritime Museum that Shackleton's 23 ft. boat, the James Caird, was conserved and restored during the 1970s and 80s, prior to its triumphant return to Dulwich College which provided the impetus for the founding of the James Caird Society

The National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, several of whose major collection were endowed by Sir James Caird (II)
As a member of the Society for Nautical Research, the Maritime Museum's Sir James Caird (II) had already, in the 1920s, provided the largest amount of money necessary to repair and restore Nelson's HMS Victory, giving an initial £50,000, with an additional donation of £15,000. He also was responsible for trying to save the last surviving ship of the Battle of Trafalgar, HMS Implacable. At the same time he began purchasing a wide range of historical artifacts, rare books, globes, nautical instruments, paintings and works of art and ship models, reported in 1934 to be worth in excess of £300,000: in today's terms, many millions of pounds. This was to form a major part of the museum's collection. King George VI opened the new museum ( in April 1937 under the directorship of Sir Geoffrey Callender. Sir James Caird continued to donate and support the work of the National Maritime Museum even after it opened, right up to the time of his death in 1954. .

A remarkable coincidence that two such distinguished philanthropists benefiting Maritime causes should bear the same name, and both be knighted.

Sir James Key Caird (1837-1916), Shackleton's sponsor to the tune of £24,000 - a fortune in 1914



<<       Society       Forum       History       News       Publications       Membership       >>