Shipbuilder's ancestor makes emotional visit

A SOUTH African man, a Great Great Grandson of one of Londonderry's most famous innovators, has told the Sentinel he was "thrilled" to visit the resting place of his ancestor.

On a trip to the city from his native Durban, Ronald Coppin said he was amazed to discover his Great Great Grandfather was Captain William Coppin-the builder of many of the most advanced sea-faring vessels of the Victorian era, including the world famous Great Northern.

And, Ronald also said he had only learned of his ancestors existence via a Welsh relative in 2005.

Speaking to the Sentinel at St Augustine's Church last weekend, where he visited the last resting place of Capt. Coppin Ronald said: "I am thrilled to have visited here and met so many wonderful people. I had only expected to come and visit the grave and perhaps learn more about what happened to Captain William's two daughters who ended up living at a house called Ravenscliff in Moville."

Captain William Coppin was born at Kinsale in Cork in 1805 and after a trip to New Brunswick, where invented boats that could run on frozen rivers, he was engaged by Londonderry Merchants in the West Indies who ordered a boat called the 'Edward Reid'.

The new boat amazingly arrived in Londonderry just 19 days later.

Capt.Coppin followed shortly afterwards, lived in Londonderry built many boats here, including his first major ship, 'City of Derry', for which Londonderry Corporation presented him with an inscribed silver service. Coppin employed up to 500 men at one period in his Londonderry Shipyard.

Credited with the invention of sea-faring equipment such as the diving helmet, perfecting the twining of steel rope and later becoming a leader in the salvage field, Coppin died in poverty at 14 Sackville Street in 1985.

Sadly, Coppin's five strong family had already been scattered. Amongst them were two sons, Alf and Mervyn, who stowed away to South Africa and ended up fighting for the British in the Boer War.

It is estimated that Capt Coppin lost approximately 60,000 of his own money, vast sums for that era and his lack of business acumen is blamed for his demise.

His Great Great Grandson Ronald has accumulated a lot of information on Captain William but is eager to plug the gaps and to this end asks anyone who can help to contact him on denron@coppin.co.za.

See next weeks Londonderry Sentinel for the full tale of Captain William Coppin and his importance to this city.