THE pioneer of turbine steamship enterprise is the youngest of the three sons of Captain Alexander Williamson who carry on the tradition of their father's connection with the passenger traffic of the Firth of Clyde. He was owner successively of the Benmore and the Glemnore, which ran to Rothesay and the Kyles of Bute, and he sold the latter in 1896 to Captain Wiggins whose name is well known in connection with Muscovite politics, and through whom she is now running in the interior of Russia. In the following year he built the Strathmore as a consort to the Benmore, and was thus the last private owner to build a steamer on the Clyde in the nineteenth century. He had the greater distinction of being the first to build a steamer for the firth in the twentieth century, and was still further notable from the fact that this was the first passenger vessel to be propelled by the new turbine method. The marine turbine engine, invented by the Hon. C. A. Parsons, had been first tested on the yacht Turbinia in 1894, and a torpedo boat destroyer, the Viper, had afterwards been fitted with it. Captain John Williamson's venture was the third vessel of the kind. The enterprise required considerable courage, but success justified the departure, and Captain Williamson can now congratulate himself on having given the lead to the practical commercial use of a method of propulsion likely to revolutionise locomotion hardly less than Watt's original invention of the steam engine itself. The King Edward was built in 1901 to the order of a syndicate of which Captain Williamson was managing director. The builders were Messrs. William Denny & Brothers, Dunbarton, and the engines were supplied by the Parsons' Marine Steam Turbine Company of Wallsend-on-Tyne. From the day of her trial trip, when she developed a speed of 20.48 knots, the vessel proved a great and popular success. In the following year Captain Williamson built a companion vessel, the Queen Alexandra, which proved equally successful. Since then hundreds of turbine steamers have been built - yachts, channel steamers, battle ships, and the leviathan turbines Lusitania and Mauritania, which brought back to Britain the blue ribband of the Atlantic.
In his speech at the annual dinner of the Institute of Marine Engineers in London in March, 1907, Mr. Parsons, as president, took occasion to say - "When turbines were not receiving support from certain engineers - when, indeed, the turbine was in very low water, Captain John Williamson became the managing owner of certain Clyde vessels, the first mercantile steam turbine vessel being the King Edward. The installation of the turbine in that vessel was its start for use in commercial steamers. If the King Edward had not been a turbine vessel the probability was that he (Mr. Parsons) would not have been with them that evening."
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)