Portrait of William Symington

William Symington (1764–1831) inventor of steam navigation, was born in Leadhills and designed and built the first marine steam engine at the Old Manse in Wanlockhead and tested it in a paddleboat on Dalswinton Loch, near Dumfries, on the 14th October 1788 witnessed, it is said, by Robert Burns.   It may be difficult to fathom why marine steam power was developed in a place so far from the sea, but the difficulties of removing excess water from the mine workings attracted some of Scotland’s most famous and innovative steam engineers to the Wanlockhead and Leadhills area.   There are firm references to 32 engines built by Symington up to 1808 however William Symington was not only an engine builder but also a colliery manager. His first appointment was at Kinnaird colliery and when the appointment ended in 1800 Symington took over management of the Grange colliery near Bo'ness.   In 1829, in ill health and dogged by debts, Symington and his wife moved to London to live with their daughter Margaret and her husband, Dr Robert Bowie. Symington died in March 1831 and was buried in St Botulph's churchyard in London. In 1890 a bust in his memory was unveiled in Edinburgh, in the National Museum. Today you can see the monument which stands to his memory in Leadhills village.
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Wanlockhead Museum Trust
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