Marine Engineer: John Elder

By: Joshua Lim

Have you ever wondered what a Marine engineer life is, well today you’re about to experience a famous Marine Engineers life about John Elder. John Elder was born in March 8th, 1824, in Glasgow, Scotland and is the son of David Elder and Grace Gilroy. David Elder, John’s father, was a civil engineer who settled in Glasgow, and entered a shipbuilding firm of Mr. Robert Napier who is a well-known shipbuilder. John was educated at the High School of Glasgow, where he showed great work and/or excellence in mathematics and in drawing. John Elder was an apprentice to Mr. Robert Napier for 5 years and finished and acquired his apprenticeship from working with ship engines, he was then later placed at the head of the drawing office in Napier’s works.

The growth of Elder’s business experience.

John Elder became a member of the Randolph, Elliott, & Co. A company that has been successful with Millwrights (a person who is a skilled tradesperson). In 1860, Elder continued the business, which gave him a very great degree of prosperity, he was soon later recognized as an engineer of singular ability. On the growth of business, Elder employed four thousand men himself, and from June 1869 to the end of 1869 the number of engines made by him was 18 (horse power was 6,110), which made the 14 vessels (a ship or large boat).

John Elder’s tributes and family.

John Elder had married Isabella Ure, the daughter of Alexander Ure, in 1857. Alexander Ure, 1st Baron of Strathclyde, was a Scottish politician, judge, and a land value tax activist.  Isabella Elder was the chair of civil engineering, and applied mechanics at the University of Glasgow, which also provided an endowment to create John Elder’s Professorship of Naval Architecture and Ocean Engineering at the university. John, as a Professor Rankine remarks (William Rankine; 1820 – 1872), was a genius in engineering. He was very quick and energetic in all his movements, and he was very full of resources, and remarkably enterprising, John stood very high among others.


In early 1869 Elder became seriously ill with cirrhosis, also known as liver cirrhosis is a impaired liver function caused by the formation of fibrosis; damage caused by liver disease. John went to London to get a specialist advice, but died of the disease during his visit, on September 17, 1869. John was also unanimously (Without opposition) chosen president of the Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders in Scotland, but Elder died before he could take office. The Institution of Engineers and Shipbuilders is a multi-disciplinary professional body and learned society, founded in Scotland, for professional engineers in all those who are associated with or taken an interest in their works.