Thomas Morton (shipwright)

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For other people named Thomas Morton, see Thomas Morton (disambiguation).
Thomas Morton
Born (1781-10-08)8 October 1781
Died 24 December 1832(1832-12-24) (aged 51)
Nationality British
Occupation Shipwright
Known for Patent slip

Thomas Morton (8 October 1781 – 24 December 1832) was a Scottish shipwright and inventor. His most widely known invention is the patent slip.[1]


Morton was born in Leith in October 1781 and grew up to become a shipwright like his father, Hugh. After spending some time working for his father, Morton went on to form his own shipbuilding company in the borough which later became S. & H. Morton & Co.[1]

Unable to afford the installation of a dry dock in his Leith shipyards, Morton "resorted to the process of hauling up [ships] on greased ways".[2] As this method was both dangerous and time-consuming, in 1818 he invented and installed the first patent slip; a slipway with cradle to haul ships out of the water. He was granted a patent for the invention the following year.[2] In 1824 Morton sued John Barclay in Edinburgh for patent infringement after he had installed a similar design in the yards of his company, Stobcross, three years before. Barclay's version was described as a poor copy by fellow shipwright William Denny, and the court found in favour of Morton.[3]

Despite the popularity of the invention, Morton did not profit from it for the first six years of the patent. A total of 45 slips were built (in Scotland, England, Ireland, Russia and the United States), earning the shipwright a total profit of £5737, before he applied for an extension to the patent in 1832. The extension was denied and instead a House of Commons select committee awarded Morton the sum of £2500.[1][2]

In his later life he is listed as living at 1 Pilrig Place, a Georgian house on Leith Walk.[4]

Morton died in December 1832 and is interred in South Leith church.[1] His company, S. & H. Morton & Co. continued operating.


Thomas Morton Hall, a performance hall holding up to 400 persons and sharing the Leith Town Hall with the Leith Theatre, is named after him. It was built in 1925.

Ships built by S. & H. Morton & Co.[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d R. B. Prosser. Morton, Thomas (1781–1832), shipbuilder and inventor of a ship-building slip. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press. 
  2. ^ a b c Institution of Engineers in Scotland (1858). "Transactions of the Institution of Engineers in Scotland". 1–3. W. Mackenzie. 
  3. ^ Morton, Thomas & John Barclay (15 March 1824), Infringement of a patent: notes of a trial before the Jury Court at Edinburgh, Leith: W. Reid & Son 
  4. ^
  5. ^ "Christian Salvesen & Co.". The Shiplist.