John Kempster (1864–1947)

An engineer and eventual head of the electrical department at Harland & Wolff, Kempster was born in Birmingham in 1864.

John Westbeech was the namesake son of a noted temperance campaigner who was also the founder and first editor of the Police Review. Approaching his half-century at the time of Titanic’s maiden voyage, he was married to Eleanor and the couple had been blessed with two daughters, Margaret Meredith, aged 11, and Sheila Elizabeth, aged 6.

He was educated in Dulwich College and also studied at Neuwied-on-the-Rhine and Finsbury Technical College. In his early career, Kempster was works manager with W.H. Allen & Sons and largely responsible for the transfer of that company’s entire undertakings from London to Bedford. He joined Harland & Wolff in Belfast in 1900, being appointed a managing director in 1906, in charge of the electrical plant. In due course he would become chairman of the managing directorsat the yard.

It was said of Kempster, in his obituary, that he ‘probably did more for the early development of marine electrical engineering than anyone else’. At the time when he became interested in it, electrical equipment generally was quite primitive in design, but soon special precautions were being taken to meet the rigorous conditions of marine service. ‘His insistence on high quality and a high factor of safety, his remarkable vision and judgment, and his meticulous care of detail were outstanding qualities in his work,’ it was said, and many of the same qualities were brought to his photography.

In May 1907 he made his second crossing of the Atlantic (the first being in 1897) on the maiden voyage of the RMS Adriatic from Liverpool. By 1911 he held £10,000 worth of shares in Harland & Wolff and was ‘closely involved’ in the construction and launch of the Titanic. Kempster hadbeen due to sail on her maiden voyage (having done so with Olympic), but shortly before the sea trials he was asked to go to Glasgow on urgent company business.

In 1915 he left Belfast to take charge of Harland & Wolff interests at Greenock in Scotland, and he became president of the Clyde Shipbuilders Association. He was later president of Greenock Chamber of Commerce and even chairman of Greenock Provident Bank. Kempster retired from Harland & Wolff’s service in 1928, by which time he had penned numerous works on financial, industrial and economic subjects. John Westbeech Kempster died in Guildford, Surrey on 24 January 1947 at the age of 82.