David MacIver (1840-1907)

Written by Jean Warburton

Occupations: Politician and Shipowner

His family

David MacIver was born on 21st August 1840 in Liverpool, the eldest of nine siblings. His father was Charles MacIver (1812-1885) a merchant and shipowner, the son of David MacIver and Jane Boyd of Glasgow. In 1839 in Liverpool, Charles MacIver married Mary Ann Morison (1818-1901) son of Daniel Morison (1774-1844) and Margaret Hall also of Glasgow. David MacIver was educated at the Royal Institution School in Colquitt Street, Liverpool. 

In the third quarter of 1863, David MacIver married Ann Rankin (1803-1869) the daughter of Robert Rankin (1803-1870), a merchant and shipowner who was the Chairman of the Liverpool Dock Board, and his wife Ann. They had three children, Helen born in 1865, Charles in 1866 and Robert in 1868. Sadly, Ann MacIver died in August 1869 by drowning in the Menai Straits whilst bathing. On 13th May 1873 in Bebington on the Wirral, David MacIver married Edith Eleanor Squarey (1853-1940), the daughter of Andrew Tucker Squarey (1822-1911), the solicitor to the Liverpool Dock Board, and his wife Eleanor. They had eleven children David born in 1875, Annie 1876, Andrew 1878, Margaret 1880, Edith 1882, Edward 1884, Dorothy 1888, Ruth 1889, Lois 1890, Reginald 1892 and Alan 1894


The MacIver Family were pioneers in the steamship business from Glasgow, David MacIver’s father, Charles, being born in Port Glasgow. Charles MacIver and his brother, David (1811-1845), established the shipping firm of David MacIver & Company in 1835 which, by 1845, had become D & C MacIver and prosperous in the trade between Liverpool and Glasgow. D & C MacIver were closely associated with Sir Samuel Cunard Bt. (1787-1865: ODNB) in the formation of the Cunard line. Cunard received a contract from the government to carry Royal Mail from Britain to America in a fleet of steamships which would maintain a weekly service. After his brother’s death in 1845, Charles MacIver took over as superintending the Liverpool branch of the British and North American Royal Mail Steam Packet Co, which later became Cunard.

After he left school, David MacIver joined his father’s office where he acquired a wide knowledge and a very close insight into shipping matters. In 1863, he was admitted into the Cunard partnership and remained a partner until the partnership was dissolved in 1874 following differences with his father. David MacIver then founded his own steamship line, David MacIver & Co, with offices in Brunswick Street Liverpool and a branch in London. His earliest ships were registered under Birkenhead Shipping Ltd with later ships being registered under one ship companies. However registered, all the ships were managed by David MacIver & Co. In 1894, a new company was registered in the name of David MacIver & Sons and all subsequent steamships were registered in this name.

Initially, the company had no regular routes but by 1885 David MacIver & Co had established a regular route between Liverpool and Montevideo, Buenos Aires and Rosaria. David MacIver’s son, Robert Rankin MacIver (1868-1901) had responsibility for the Buenos Aires office of the shipping line. Unfortunately, he died of an illness contacted in Buenos Aires shortly after he returned to England to take up the position of Commodore of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club for 1901. Sir Charles MacIver (1866-1935) followed his father as a steamship owner.

David MacIver was Chairman of the Liverpool Steamship Owners’ Association and President of the American Chamber of Commerce. He had business interests beyond shipping and was a director of the Great Western Railway and of the Fishguard and Rosslare Railway and Harbour Co and also Chairman of the Bala and Ffestiniog Railway.

Public service

David MacIver was elected Conservative Member of Parliament for Birkenhead in the general election held on 31st January 1874. He was re-elected in 1880 with a reduced majority and did not seek re-election in 1885 because of indifferent health. He was approached many times to return to Parliament and, on the death of Sir George Baden-Powell, agreed to return and was elected unopposed as the Member of Parliament for Liverpool Kirkdale. In the following elections in 1900 and 1906 he was again returned as MP for Liverpool Kirkdale and died in office in 1907.

He was an active parliamentarian. His particular concern was revision of the trade tariff laws to ensure the safeguarding of British trade against attack by foreigners. He was pro Protection and against Free Trade and considered tariff reform would restore markets, improve export trade and provide ship owners with more goods to carry. He was regarded as one of the ablest leaders of the Tariff Reform movement. Another of his concerns was the Merchant Shipping legislation which led to his knowledge of shipping questions being displayed to advantage both in Parliament and the subsequent legislation. He published a number of pamphlets in this area.

The local constituency party was important to David MacIver and he spoke at many functions, keeping the constituency informed on matters being debated in Parliament. He joined in social occasions including an August Bank Holiday constituency outing to Rhyl in 1883 which took four special trains to take all the party members and their families from Birkenhead to Rhyl.

David MacIver also held local public office. He was a member of the Liverpool Town Council for the Castle Ward from 1873 until 1880 when he became an Alderman, a position he held until he retired in 1886. He became a magistrate in Liverpool in 1873. His interest in the volunteer movement led to him becoming a major in the Lancashire Artillery Volunteers.

Wanlass Howe

David MacIver grew up living in Abercromby Square in Liverpool and after his first marriage lived at Woodlee, Old Chester Road, Bromborough on the Wirral. Woodlee remained the family home but in 1872 he bought Wanlass Howe in Ambleside which had been built in 1841-1842 on a blasted-out rock outcrop overlooking the head of Windermere. David MacIver extended the house and bought sixteen acres of surrounding land.

Wanlass Howe became the holiday home of David MacIver, with members of his large family living there from July to October each year. They had the run of a house which had four large reception rooms and twelve bedrooms with coach house, stables and three adjacent cottages. The house was heated by warm air conducted through a tunnel from furnaces at the back of the stables. The family kept a variety of boats including rowing boats and yachts and sailed from their own jetty adjacent to the house. Family outings took place on Dodo, a paddle steam launch.

David MacIver died at Wanlass Howe on 1st September 1907 from gastritis and internal haemorrhage. After his death, his widow, Edith, moved to live there permanently. She became a very active member of the local community being involved with many local organisations including the Ambleside Nursing Association and the British Women’s Total Abstinence Union. Members of the family came to stay at Wanlass Howe filling the house to overflowing and often grandchildren came without their mothers enjoying the swimming and sailing and use of a houseboat.

Edith MacIver died at Wanlass Howe in 1940 and the house was sold. After a number of changes of ownership, including use for a while as a small knitting factory, the house was acquired by the John Lewis Partnership. It is now called Ambleside Park and is residential club for partners of John Lewis.


David MacIver’s favourite pastime was yachting and he sailed at Southampton, on the Mersey, on the Clyde and, after he bought Wanlass Howe, on Windermere. He liked to experiment with design innovations in yachts which was reflected in his increasing fleet which started with the smaller yachts Meta and Brenda. Away from Windermere, he owned two 20 ton racing yachts, Shadow and Sunshine, a 30 ton yawl Minna, a 70 ton schooner Myth and a 40 ton cutter Gleam. He also owned two sea going launches, Puffin and Chester. On Windermere, he sailed the racing yachts Spray, Lurline, Fatima, Porpoise and Grampus and the yachts Wirral, Dabchick and Manana. For those of his family less inclined to yachting, he owned the steam paddle launch Dodo and the steam yacht Wagtail.

David MacIver employed two boatmen at Waterhead, one Maltese and the other Norwegian who not only sailed but also had boat building skills. One winter they stayed at Windermere and built Fatima in a barn behind Wanlass Howe. Edith MacIver, herself a competent sailor, described it as resembling ‘a large round vegetable dish in shape, shallow but with immense sails and a very deep keel’. Despite the defects, Fatima was raced on Windermere but subsequently sank in Bowness Bay, somewhat ignominiously for her owner who was the Commodore of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club in 1882.

Robert Rankin MacIver (1868-1901) and Charles MacIver (1866-1935) both followed their father in racing yachts on Windermere and becoming Commodore of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club in, respectively, 1901 and 1891. Charles MacIver went on to win a silver medal for yachting in the 1908 Olympics in London and in his obituary was described as ‘one of the two most skilful yachtsmen in the world’. Annie Archer (1876-1967), David MacIver’s daughter, learnt to sail on Windermere with her brother David (1875-1945) but was not allowed to become a member of the Royal Windermere Yacht Club until the rules changed in 1907.


David MacIver came from a family that had, at the time of his death, been identified with the trade and commerce of Liverpool for over a century. He continued and grew the standing of the family both by his connection with Cunard and later with his own shipping line. His own reputation with his fellow shipowners can be seen from his position as Chairman of the Liverpool Steamship Owners Association and the respect with which his contributions to Parliament on shipping and commercial matters were received. Financially, he was very successful, having benefitted initially under the will of his uncle David MacIver (1811-1845) and then from his own business acumen. He was able to support a large establishment of governess and eleven servants at Woodlee, Bromborough, to run and staff Wanlass Howe and to indulge his interest in yachting. When he died in 1907, he left £31,798.

David MacIver was a man of strong convictions, in particular his Protestant principles. He spoke fearlessly both in and out of Parliament but his views were received with deep respect by political opponents and friends alike. Rather than generating antagonism, his character, as the obituary in the Birkenhead and Chester Advertiser noted, mingled firmness with gentleness in such a way that he drew men towards himself and held them by no ordinary influence. David MacIver was very popular with his constituents in both Birkenhead and Liverpool Kirkdale. Indeed, after he became MP for Liverpool Kirkdale, he remained active and popular in the Birkenhead constituency association.

Unlike many men of his generation, David MacIver was philanthropic in a quiet and unostentatious way. His charitable actions were performed quietly so that in most cases only the people directly concerned knew what was being done. He was always ready to open both his heart and his purse to those suffering sickness and distress.

Those who knew David MacIver personally regarded him with affection. His character was such that almost everyone who came into contact with him felt that his friendship had a very personal element to it. In his private life, he was a man of kindly and amiable disposition supported by a wife who was remembered for her all embracing sympathy and wise understanding.

After his death, Annie Archer described her father as a handsome and clever man of integrity and charm who at his death was the best loved man in Liverpool.

Primary sources

  • England and Wales Census 1851-1911
  • Cheshire Parish Registers 1538-1909
  • Cheshire Select Bishop’s Transcripts 1576-1933
  • Scotland Select Births and Baptisms 1564-1950
  • England and Wales Civil Marriage Index 1837-1915
  • England and Wales Civil Registration Death Index
  • National Probate Calendar Index of Wills and Administrations 
  • Birkenhead and Cheshire Advertiser 4th September 1907
  • Liverpool Daily Post 30th July 1940
  • Liverpool Mercury 7th August 1883
  • Manchester Courier and Lancashire General Advertiser 2nd September 1907
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 2nd September 1907

Secondary sources

  • http://www.thepeerage.com/p22356.htm
  • http://www.theshipslist.com/ships/lines/maciver/shtml
  • https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/Charles_MacIver
  • https:jlmemorystore.org.uk/content/being-a-partner/leisure/residential-clubs/ambleside_park/ambleside_park_before_the_partnership
  • https:api.parliament.uk/historic_hansard/people/mr.david.maciver/1882
  • https://maritimeviews.co.uk/byy-biographies/maciver-david-m-p
  • Ian Jones, The Royal Windermere Yacht Club Celebrates 150 years 1860-2010 (2010), 25, 36, 127, 168, 179
  • M Hyde and N Pevsner, The Buildings of England Cumbria (2010), 101
  • J Renouf and R David, Voices of the Lake District (2011), 27.