Lives Remembered

Naval architect was first Irishman to set eyes on Titanic wreck

SHIPPING EXPERT: Titanic divers from Ireland at the 2012 opening of the Titanic Experience in Belfast. From left, Mike McKimm, the late David Livingstone, Robert Ballard and Rory Golden

David Livingstone (73) was the last chief naval architect of Harland and Wolff.

He was also one of the world's leading experts on the construction of the Titanic and became the first man from the island of Ireland to go down to the wreck.

From Milford in Co Armagh, David was educated at the Royal School in the city from where he joined the shipyard as an apprentice in the drawing office in the 1960s.

He had missed the golden period of shipbuilding in Belfast, 1957 being the last of the good years.

The jet airliner was eating into the the yard's sea passenger business. New builders in mainland Europe and Japan were competing with modern production using welding instead of rivets.

The yard was slow to react to the threat but the construction of the great building dock with the huge cranes Samson and Goliath in the early 1970s put H&W in a position to build massive bulk carriers such as British Steel, 170,000 tons deadweight, upon which David would have worked.

He began his career using slide rules and ended it using computers, illustrating the extraordinary changes he experienced as he rose to the top of his profession.

By the mid-nineties he was recognised as an authority on various aspects of shipping design and his expertise was being sought worldwide.

This led to an approach in 1996 from the Discovery TV channel which was assembling experts for a dive on the Titanic, discovered in 1985.

Thus David became the first person from Ireland to make the two-and-a-half hour journey down 12,500ft to the wreck in a special submersible.

When he gazed at the Titanic through a small porthole, he reported to the mother ship: "The stern is a terrible mess, but the bow is still a very beautiful structure."

David was keen to see the engines and the submersible was able to enter the cavernous engine room of the stern section. Unfortunately it then became apparent that a one-knot current was pushing them into the wreck and the craft did not have sufficient power to counteract.

They were in danger. Escape was eventually managed by using the mechanical arms of the submersible to grip parts of the boat and pull themselves out.

Rory Golden, the Dublin diver who visited the wreck on two occasions, said of David: "He was always a gentleman. His knowledge of ships and shipbuilding was enormous. When we dived in 2005 we placed a commemorative plaque from Harland & Wolff. For me something of the spirit of David now lies on the Titanic."

Mike McKimm, the then BBC Belfast environment correspondent, also dived in 2005. He and David examined video of the Titanic.

"He suddenly asked me to freeze the video. He then pointed out an S-shaped buckle in the hull caused when the bow hit the bottom at over 30mph. He told me that this image proved beyond any possible doubt that the steel was not brittle and the rivets were not substandard."

The wild theories about shortcomings in the original construction of the ship surfacing during the 2012 Titanic centenary celebrations exasperated this very even-tempered man.

Even before the wreck was discovered, he was ever pointing to record of the Titanic sister ship, the Olympic, built the year before with the same steel and the same rivets. The Olympic gave 24 years trouble-free service before being scrapped in 1935.

David Livingstone was a member of the trust which restored the SS Nomadic, a tender to the Titanic, which is now open to the public at Belfast Harbour.

In his spare time, he was also a life-long motorcycle enthusiast and a stalwart of the Newtownards Motorcycle Club.

David's wife, Helen, died three years ago. He is survived by his daughter Jill, a teacher, and his son Andrew, a dentist.

Don Anderson

Lives Remembered