SON of the late manager of the large public works of Messrs. Gordon Barron & Company at Woodside, near Aberdeen, Mr. Kempt was born on the 25th May, 1831. At the age of twenty he entered the office of Mr. George Keith, then secretary and manager of the Scottish North-Eastern Railway Company, where before long he became superintendent of the goods traffic at Aberdeen. In 1858 he succeeded Mr. Reith as Secretary of the Company, and he was in this position when, in 1866, the Scottish North-Eastern and the Caledonian Railway Companies were amalgamated. He was then transferred to the office of the general manager of the Caledonian Railway in Glasgow, and on the death of Mr. Henry Ward in 1881 he succeeded to the position of General Superintendent. Under his supervision during the next twenty-one years the Caledonian Company attained an unrivalled reputation for punctuality and reliability, and its traffic enormously increased. In 1882 the line had an extent of 917 miles, the company carried 15,000,000 passengers and 14,000,000 tons of goods, and the revenue was £907,376. In 1902, when Mr. Kempt retired, there were 1,170 miles of line, the railway carried 40,000,000 passengers and 20,000,000 tons of goods, and the revenue was some £4,000,000. During that period his sagacity was of immense service, not only to the railway company itself, but to the general industries of the country, for when these industries were most formidably threatened by foreign competition he stepped into the breach and supplied the miners and engineers of the West of Scotland with improved facilities and cheapened and quickened transit. He also improved the amenities of passenger travelling to a vast extent, and he so arranged for the safety and comfort of the royal journeys which Queen Victoria made through Scotland that in all those years not a single hitch or mishap occurred in connection with the royal train. He had the honour of travelling upwards of one hundred times in Her Majesty's train between Aberdeen and Carlisle.
Mr. Kempt was twice, in 1886 and in 1900, elected Chairman of the Railway Clearing-House Conference of Superintendents, and when he retired in 1902, after fifty-one years of railway service, he was presented by the Conference in London with a superb service of silver-plate. He was at the same time presented at an influential public meeting in Glasgow with several handsome pieces of silver-plate, along with a cheque for £500.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)