James Steedman (1790-1865), Irvine inventor who designed a working design for the screw propeller.

On the 7th of May, 1839, the first steamship to be successfully driven by screw propeller, the SS Archimedes was launched from London and sailed to Sheerness at the mouth of the Thames. The first patent for a screw propeller was lodged by Francis Petitt Smith on 31 May 1835.

But did you know that James Steedman of Irvine first came up with the idea for a screw propeller in 1810 after observing the trout swimming in the streams at Eglinton, Kilwinning. He noticed that the fish propelled themselves through water using their tails. Through experimentation he refined his idea and eventually conducted a successful experiment in a ditch in a secluded field using a stake from a hedgerow, a stone for cargo and for the engine, a springwand from a mole trap combined with a screw.

In 1817 he demonstrated his discovery to several people and while some ridiculed his efforts others, including Irvine inventors Maxwell Dick and William McCririck showed an interest. By 1828 Dick and McCririck were able to prove that James Steedman’s simple propulsion method of stern force actually worked. In January 1829 Maxwell Dick wrote to Captain John Ross of the Royal Navy, who was due to set off on his second Artic expedition in the ship ‘Victory’, a side-wheel steamer, whose paddles could be lifted off of the ice.

On 12th November 1829 Maxwell Dick and William McCririck took a working model of the screw propeller including the stern, blade, half-turn double-thread and segmental screws to the Society of Arts in Edinburgh, who rejected it in favour of the common paddle. Not discouraged Maxwell Dick went to London in January 1830 to display both the model of the screw propeller and his own invention, a model of a suspension railway. In December 1830 Maxwell Dick and Mr A. Smith took both models to the Society of Arts in Adelphi, London, where the model of the screw propeller was once again rejected.

So who was James Steedman? James Steedman was born on 22nd December 1790 in Cullen, Banffshire, the first of nine children born to parents John Steedman, Baker to the Right Honourable, the Earl of Findlater, and his wife Sophia Simpson. Soon after his birth the Steedman’s moved to Abbotshall, Fife, and then to Kilwinning in Ayrshire, where they settled at Hillgate, on the Eglinton estate.

James Steedman married his first wife Margaret Murphy on 09 July 1818 in Kilbride, Arran and subsequently had nine children, three of whom died in infancy. While the monumental inscriptions reveal that Margaret died in September 1839, the Irvine Burial Records reveal that Margrate Humphey, wife of James Steadman, Wright, died on 22 December 1839 and was buried in the Old Parish Churchyard.

The 1820 Irvine and Halfway census reveals that James and Margaret set up home at Seagate, Irvine and James continued to live there until his death. On 3rd April 1842 he married his second wife Jean Murray. James Steedman died on 12th February 1865, 6am, at Seagate Head, Irvine, aged 75.