Slings and arrows

It’s not often that I find an actual maker of a model during my research at the Science Museum but today I did. And not only did I find his name but also his life story. An extraordinary life, at that.

His name was Andrew Webster Kiddie and he was born in 1843 in Dundee. He was the youngest child of the manager of a power loom factory. At the age of three, he moved to Spain when his father was offered a job in a factory there. Consequently, Andrew was educated in Spanish. By the age of 13, he didn’t speak English and his father had decided to send him to the UK to finish his education. Andrew had other ideas.

A friend of the family, one Captain Wardell, had taken an interest in the boy, taking him canoeing and camping in the Spanish wilds. So, when it came time to move on, Andrew asked his father if he could go to sea with the ‘good’ captain. For reasons unknown, his father agreed and gave him £3 pocket money for his travels.

The two set off on horseback, crossing the country to the port where Wardell’s ship was moored. As they took up residence on the ship, Wardell heard the money jingling in Andrew’s pocket and told him he had better look after it as the crew would no doubt steal it from such a young lad. Andrew happily handed it over.

Things were fine as they sailed along the Spanish coast, stopping here and there, Andrew serving as an interpreter. Once they left Spanish waters, however, things changed. Wardell, it seems, was the epitome of the awful captain. He beat Andrew for any reason he could think up, depriving him of food, leaving him to keep watch over the ship when everyone else enjoyed themselves ashore. Then, to cap it all off, when it was announced that the ship was heading to the cold north and Andrew asked for his money in order to buy a hammock and some warm clothes, Wardell told him there was no money.

So, wearing only the summer clothes he left Spain in, Andrew suffered the frozen north of Russian ports. Life was pretty dire and he decided he didn’t want to spend his life at sea any more.

In the meanwhilst, Andrew’s father had been posted back to England and Andrew was determined to go and live with him. Wardell told him he couldn’t. He had spoken to the ship’s owners and had had Andrew indentured for a three year apprenticeship. By the time they arrived in Sunderland, halfway round their circular trip, Andrew was desperate.

The owners came aboard in Sunderland to inspect things and to make sure their money was being spent wisely. Andrew took the opportunity to tell them of his terrible treatment at the hands of the captain but his complaints fell on deaf ears particularly after Wardell told them that Andrew was a thief and a liar. Things looked grim for poor Andrew and his ship mates told him he should leave because Wardell wouldn’t be happy. Andrew decided to jump ship the first opportunity he had.

On land, not knowing anyone or speaking any English he set off to find his father who was 220 miles away. Andrew managed to cover the distance (still in his original clothes) in ten days, surviving on carrots and turnips, hiding and sleeping in hedgerows each night. His resilience paid off and, eventually, he found his father.

Naturally, Wardell had already told his father how awful he was and that he had jumped ship but, to give him his due, Mr Kiddie ignored all of the accusations and took Andrew back, sending him to an English school.

Because Andrew couldn’t read, write or speak any English, he was put in an infant’s class, something he didn’t like. He begged his father to let him go to work. His father wasn’t keen, saying he needed an English education but eventually gave in to his son’s nagging.

There followed a succession of jobs in various engineering companies. Andrew was always the best at his various jobs and he would quickly become the best paid. But he would get easily bored and move on and up.

By 1865, he’d decided he’d prefer to have no boss and so set up his own business in Southport making furniture…and various other things.

At some point he realised he enjoyed making models. He rather liked yachts (he’d sail them on local ponds and even founded a model yacht group in Southport) but he also made models of buildings and towns.

He was also a prolific inventor, gaining patents for such things as segmented shop signs and a machine that sliced and buttered bread. Before sliced bread, of course.

Reading his autobiography, he sounds like a quiet, unassuming man who just wanted to sit in his shed and potter. And I’m very glad he wrote it all down.

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2 Responses to Slings and arrows

  1. Love stories like these! What an interesting life.

  2. hat says:

    Interesting life but what an awful beginning poor bloke to be let down like that by a man he thought was a friend, thank goodness it turned out well in the end.
    love mum and dad xx

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