The dock was a hive of activity with up to two ships being worked on by large teams of men from the shipyards. The workers stood on wooden platforms called stages.
Brand new ships were also 'fitted-out' in the dock, with their final fixtures and fittings, including propellers, chains and anchors, before embarking on their maiden voyages.
Employed by Belfast Harbour Commissioners, the Harbour Master kept a meticulous record of the harbour's affairs. He 'should have a fair education, be of unimpeachable character and be possessed of a master's certificate.' He was employed to oversee a section of the port including Abercorn Basin and Hamilton Dock.
Deputy Harbour Master
A Deputy Harbour Master was in charge of the staff and day-to-day activities at Hamilton Dock. His office stood on the other side of the dock directly opposite the pump house.
The Berthing Master earned 27s 6d per week, double the weekly salary of a farmhand. He assisted the Deputy Harbour Master night and day in the berthing of vessels on the Co. Down side of the harbour and graving docks.
The Dock Gateman earned 18s 6d a week, which was significantly less than a foreman in a country mill who would have made 50s 0d a week. He was in charge of all chains,
tackles, gear, shores and stages of Hamilton Graving Dock and attended to the cleaning and maintenance of the dock.
As general labourers, the Deck Hands were employed by the Commissioners to board vessels and 'anything he is required to do'.
The Belfast Harbour Commissioners employed many staff to administer the running of the Harbour. Hamilton Graving Dock was operated by a team overseen by a Deputy Harbour Master.
[Photo captions read]
Below Men working to repair SS Graphic after the ship had been damaged in a collision. Alexandra Dock, 1923.
Bottom This ship has been dry docked for extension - it has been severed in two so that a section can be added in the middle to make it longer.
The Belfast Harbour Commissioners leased the use of Hamilton Dock to the shipyards. Once a ship had been safely dry docked with the help of a team of Harbour Commissioner's [sic - Commissioners'] employees, the shipyard workers would carry out whatever work was needed on the ship.
The time spent by ships in the dock was measured in tides rather than in days. Typically, ships would spend a maximum of two weeks in the dock, being cleaned, re-painted, repaired or fitted with propellers and anchors.
As the dock was filled, the huge volume of water could move the keel blocks and other materials could
wash into the dock when the caisson was removed. The Harbour Commissioners employed divers to move any stray underwater items and to check the position of the keel blocks before the dock was emptied and a ship's hull came to rest upon them.
Propellers could not be fitted during a ship's construction on the slipway, as they could spin as the ship was being launched, causing the ship to veer dangerously as she entered the water. Shipyard workers fitted propellers in a dry dock after the launch.
Ships were painted in dry docks, where shipyard workers were able to access every part of the hull. Ships were not painted just to look attractive; several layers of paint helped to prevent the corrosion and rusting of their hulls. A final layer of anti-fouling paint was applied to prevent marine life growing on the hull, which, if left unchecked, could reduce a ship's fuel efficiency.
A ship that had suffered serious damage would have had to be repaired in a dry dock. But ships needing less urgent work were also dry docked for period servicing. This would have included inspecting the hull and propellers for minor damage and repainting.
[Top yellow inset caption reads]
The shipyards mixed their own paints, which were stored in barrels.
[Lower yellow inset caption reads]
A damaged clipper awaits repair at Alexandra Dock.
[Photo captions read]
Above Propellers lie on the dock floor at Alexandra Dock before they are fitted to SS Teutonic in 1889. The first White Star Liner to be built without sails, she relied on steam engine power only.
Left Paint room
Below Hard hat diver entering the water.