Courtesy Cripps Collection

William McKiernon 1807 – 1881

William McKiernon was born in Shropshire in 1807 and came to Burry Port in 1830. A little known engineer, during his time in Burry Port he did much to enhance his reputation and improve the developing town. He was decisive, a man of energy and vision and was described as ‘a new star in the firmament’. He lived in Burry Port with his wife Ann, whom he married on 21st January 1835 in Ellesmere, and they had four children.

McKiernon worked as a civil and marine engineer on the building of the inner harbour, supplying stone from his quarry at Cwm Capel. He was said to have been a good manager and a good business man. He built houses for the growing population of workers in Burry Port and sea embankments at Laugharne and Kidwelly. When the South Wales Railway Company built its railway line from Swansea in 1852 McKiernon constructed the sea walls at Pwll.

In 1842 and again in 1851 McKiernon was the Superintendent and Harbourmaster for the Burry Port Dock Company and railway contractor employing 52 men. He also held the license for the newly opened Neptune Hotel where he lived. It was described as “a commodious hotel erected for the accommodation of merchants, masters of vessels and others frequenting the harbour.”

The Neptune Hotel today

The 1851 Census shows him as the proprietor of the hotel, which at the time held auctions of wrecked vessels and sales of second hand barges, farming machinery and dockside equipment. It also served as an exchange where deals were struck and paid for.

McKiernon was a successful ship salvager. In December 1842 he salvaged a German ship – Die Gute Hoffrung – and part of its cargo included an 8ft marble statue for the King of Prussia. The statue was displayed in Pembrey before being returned to its rightful owner. At a public auction in 1848 he bought the wreck the Louisa, part of which was reputed to be buried 4 feet below the level of the sand. He skilfully salvaged the ship, towed it into Burry Port harbour, along with 50 tons of cargo which was said to be worth £1,000. As Harbour Superintendent with access to railway workers he did this with the assistance of 100 men from the railway company.

He was a resourceful Harbour Master and The Cambrian newspaper of 20th June 1851 reported how his quick action, when he saw distress signals from the brig Sea Adventure, avoided loss of life and enabled the ship to be brought safely into Burry Port Harbour. Huskinson Row (off Station Road and long demolished) was said to be named after the barque Husskinson salvaged in 1853 by McKiernon, the timbers of which built these houses and many others in Burry Port.

Fierce storms in December 1860 resulted in the Loughor Bridge needing to be rebuilt. William McKiernon was chosen to do this as he was respected for his skill and knowledge in solving difficult engineering problems in the Burry Estuary. He had built sea embankments at Kidwelly and Laugharne as well as sea walls for the South Wales Railway at Pwll.

After thirty years William McKiernon left Burry Port for Swansea but he returned to Burry Port in old age and the 1881 Census describes him as a retired civil engineer living with his daughter Elizabeth, and son in law Richard Williams, the postmaster, at 74 Station Road. He died in December 1881 and is buried at Pembrey church.


1. Pembrey and Burry Port, Their Harbours, Shipwrecks and Looters, John A Nicholson, Llanelli Borough Council.
2. The Burry Port & Gwendreath Valley Railway and its Antecedent Canals, Vol.1 The Canals,
Raymond E Bowen, Oakwood Press 2001
3. The Burry Port & Gwendreath Valley Railway and its Antecedent Canals, Vol.2 The Railway and Dock, R W Miller, Oakwood Press, 2009.
4. 1841, 1851, 1881 Census information.

ELLEN DAVIES January 2020