Henry Robb, Limited, known colloquially as Robbs, was a Scottish shipbuilding company based at Leith Docks in Edinburgh. Robbs was notable for building small-to-medium sized vessels, particularly tugs and dredgers.

Henry Robb
HeadquartersLeith, Edinburgh, Scotland
Key people
Henry Robb


The company was founded on 1 April 1918 by Henry Robb, a former yard manager for Ramage & Ferguson shipbuilders, who lay around 1 km to the east.[1] Robb was born in Partick, Glasgow in 1874 to Henry Robb (1843-1894), a ships caulker, and his wife Martha Simpson (1840–78). He married Mary Baird Mcintosh Cowan in 1903 and their son, Henry Cowan Robb (1932-2018), became a Director of the firm. Henry Robb died in Edinburgh in 1951.

Robbs grew by buying berths from Hawthorns in 1924, the business of Cran and Somerville in 1926 and the yards of Ramage and Ferguson in 1934.[1] The site became known as Victoria Shipyard.[2]

Robbs closed its Arbroath and Clyde operations in the 1920s and focused its activities on Leith.[3]

During World War II, Robbs built a large number of naval warships for the Royal Navy, including preparing the designs and building the prototype of the Basset-class anti-submarine / minesweeping trawler.[1] Three Bird-class corvettes were built for the Royal New Zealand Navy. Ordered in 1939, two of these ships would famously sink the Japanese submarine I-1 in January 1943,[4] while the third ship helped sink Japanese submarine I-17 seven months later.[5]

On 26 February 1940 King George VI and Queen Elizabeth toured the shipyard.[6]

Workers at Henry Robb's, portrayed on the Leith Mural

In 1968 Robbs merged with the Caledon Shipbuilding & Engineering Company of Dundee, forming Robb Caledon Shipbuilding,[7] and in 1969 the new company took over the Burntisland Shipbuilding Company in Fife. In 1977, under the provisions of the Aircraft and Shipbuilding Industries Act 1977, Robb Caledon was nationalised as part of British Shipbuilders. The Caledon yard in Dundee closed in 1981. Robb's yard in Leith survived two more years, closing in 1983.[7]

The site of Robb's shipyard is now the Ocean Terminal shopping centre, where the Royal Yacht Britannia is berthed.[8] An early 20th-century pitched roof paint shed that once belonged to the yard, built from rivetted iron plates, survives and was a Category B listed building before being relocated.[9]

The yard features in the video to the song "Letter From America" (1987) by The Proclaimers, whose father worked in the yard. The overall sentiment of the song stresses the loss of Scotland's traditional industries and the mass emigration of Scots to North America due to circumstances such as the Highland Clearances.

Ships built by RobbsEdit


Flower-class corvettes

Castle-class corvettes

Bird-class minesweepers

River-class frigates

Loch-class frigates

Bay-class frigates

Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships

Bustler-class ocean rescue tugs

Hecla-class survey vessel

Wild Duck-class RMAS cable-laying and salvage ships


Yard No Name Type Launch Owner/Notes
216 Argos cargo 1935 Cia. Argentina de Lanchas, Buenos Aires
267 South Steyne Manly ferry 1 April 1938 Port Jackson & Manly Steamship Company
355 SS Tinto cargo 1947 Ellerman's Wilson Line
356 SS Truro cargo 1947 Ellerman's Wilson Line
357 SS Bravo cargo 1947 Ellerman's Wilson Line
358 SS Silvio cargo 1947 Ellerman's Wilson Line
361 MV Kaitangata cargo 1948 Union Steamship Company
362 MV Konui cargo 1949 Union Steamship Company
375 MV Kaitawa collier 1949 Union Steamship Company
376 MV Kaiapoi cargo 1949 Union Steamship Company
377 MV Kamona cargo 1949 Union Steamship Company
379 MV Mombasa passenger/cargo 1950 British India Steam Navigation Company
399 MV Kawatiri cargo 1950 Union Steamship Company
393 MV Mtwara passenger/cargo 1951 British India Steam Navigation Company
398 MV Waimate cargo 1951 Union Steamship Company
400 MV Kokiri cargo 1951 Union Steamship Company
406 MV Cavallo cargo 1951 Ellerman's Wilson Line
407 MV Trentino cargo 1952 Ellerman's Wilson Line
418 MV Wareatea refrigerated cargo 1952 William Holyman and Sons Pty., Melbourne
427 MV Marwick Head cargo 1952 A.F. Henry & MacGregor, Leith
426 MV Karamu refrigerated cargo 1953 Union Steamship Company
428 MV Longfellow cargo 1953 Rodney Steamship Company
430 MV Golden Bay bulk carrier 1954 Tarakohe Shipping Co, Wellington
434 MV Auby passenger/cargo 1954 Sarawak Steam Ship Company, Singapore
437 SS Cicero refrigerated cargo 1954 Ellerman's Wilson Line
438 SS Rollo refrigerated cargo 1954 Ellerman's Wilson Line
508 RRS Bransfield ice-strengthened research vessel 4 September 1970 British Antarctic Survey
515 MV Pioneer ferry 4 January 1974 Caledonian MacBrayne
516 S.A. Wolraad Woltemade salvage tug 15 May 1975 South African Marine Corporation
521 MV Borthwick[10] LPG Tanker 1977 Geo. Gibson & Co.
522 Claymore ferry 31 August 1978 Caledonian MacBrayne
530[11] THV Patricia lighthouse tender 1982[12] Trinity House
534 MV St Catherine ferry 1983 Sealink/Wightlink
535 MV St Helen ferry 1983 Sealink/Wightlink


  1. ^ a b c "Henry Robb". Grace's Guide: The Best of British Engineering 1750–1960s. 10 April 2014.
  2. ^ "Hawthorn Shipbuilders". Edin Photo.
  3. ^ Todd, Daniel (1985). The World Shipbuilding Industry. London: Palgrave Macmillan. p. 117. ISBN 0312892519.
  4. ^ Waters, Sydney David (1956) The Royal New Zealand Navy, Page 307-309, Historical Publications Branch, Wellington.
  5. ^ Waters, Sydney David (1956) The Royal New Zealand Navy, Page 327-328, Official History, Historical Publications Branch, Wellington.
  6. ^ "Features – Notable Dates in History". Timeline of Scottish History. Scots Independent. Archived from the original on 23 May 2014.
  7. ^ a b "Masts from the past". The Scotsman. Johnston Press. 1 September 2007.
  8. ^ "Steering its own course". The Scotsman. Johnston Press. 12 June 2007.
  9. ^ Historic Environment Scotland. "Leith Docks, Paint Shed at Shipbuilding Yard (LB27071)". Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  10. ^ "Geo. Gibson & Co". British Coastal Shipping Companies. Retrieved 3 July 2010.[permanent dead link]
  11. ^ "Ship No 36 to Ship No 40". Leith Built Ships. Retrieved 2 July 2010.
  12. ^ "Patricia". ShipPhotos.co.uk. Archived from the original on 14 June 2010. Retrieved 2 July 2010.

External linksEdit