John Rubie was a pioneer shipbuilder on the banks of the River Itchen in Southampton. He came from a strong shipbuilding tradition. Baptized in St Leonard's Church, Bursledon, on 13 August 1781, he was the eldest son of Edward Rubie, then a shipwright in HM Dockyard, Portsmouth, and his wife Elizabeth, daughter of George Parsons, lessee of the Bursledon shipyard and a major figure in the construction of ships for the Royal Navy. John worked for his maternal grandfather, first at Bursledon and, after the lease of the yard was lost in 1807, at Warsash. Here, in collaboration with George Parsons and his son John, Rubie helped to construct a new shipyard, where the tradition of building ships for the Royal Navy was continued. George Parsons died in 1812, aged 82. The partnership between his son and Rubie, which saw the building of one more naval vessel, the 38-gun frigate HMS Laurel (launched in May 1813), was dissolved by mutual consent in March 1814 when John Parsons left the business. Two years later, in May 1816, Rubie went to Prussia with the naval engineer John Barrett Humphreys to establish, under exclusive license from the government of Prussia, steam navigation on the River Elbe.

The Prinzessin Charlotte, built near Spandau in 1816, was the first steam-driven vessel in continental Europe. The venture was ultimately a failure, and in 1819 Rubie returned to England, settling a year later in Southampton. He brought with him his German-born wife, Charlotte Henrietta Auguste (nee Rennschuh), who he had married on 27 April 1819 in Potsdam (Rubie family tree:

John Rubie was the only representative of the south Hampshire shipbuilding industry to move to Southampton in the early nineteenth century. He took over the Cross House Yard in Chapel in 1824, where he began by building small fishing vessels, later, on the prompting of members of the Southampton Yacht Club, concentrating on the building of racing yachts. Early commissions included the 180-ton schooner Galatea for Christopher Rice Mansel Talbot MP (a yacht which, according to Ian Dear, The Royal Yacht Squadron 1815-1985, published in 1985, later took part in the first proper ocean race in the world), the Arrow for Captain George Ackers, the 85-ton yacht Petrel for the 3rd Earl of Ilchester, the Miranda for Captain George Maxse, the Iris for Thomas Hall of Romsey and lengthening (in 1830) the Harriet, owned by G W Heneage MP. Rubie's most prestigious commission was the Anna Eliza, built in 1827 for Richard Temple, 1st Duke of Buckingham. At an estimated cost of £16,000, the 254-ton yacht had ten apartments for 'gentlemen' and eight for officers or servants, and a formidable armoury of twelve brass guns (18 and 12 pounders). Rubie clearly drove a hard bargain. An entry in the duke's diaries of 4 August 1827 describes him as "the greatest Jew and unlikeable blackguard in Southampton" ( The duke spent the next two years in what has been described as "an enforced Grand Tour", cruising the Mediterranean, with a crew of thirty including a chaplain and surgeon, in a failed attempt to stabilize his tottering finances. In July 1839, Rubie launched the 392-ton three-mastered schooner Brilliant, a ship which gained fame twelve years later - August 1851 - as one of the British yachts to challenge the America for a 100 guinea trophy put up by the Royal Yacht Squadron: the first race for what was to become known as the America's Cup. The largest yacht in the field, the Brilliant was commanded by its owner George Holland Ackers of Moreton Hall in Cheshire, Commodore of the Royal Victoria Yacht Squadron. Equally revolutionary but in another tradition was the wooden paddle-steamer Emerald, a collaboration between Rubie and John Barnett Humphreys, built in late 1829 for the Southampton/Hythe and Southampton/Cowes ferry services. This was the first steam-powered boat built in Southampton, and clearly owed much to its designers' experiences in Prussia. John Rubie left the Cross House Yard around 1842, selling out to John Ransom who (according to Adrian Rance, Shipbuilding in Victorian Southampton, 1981) had previously worked with Rubie in the yard. Rubie moved to the rapidly developing suburb of Northam, establishing a yard on the Itchen immediately downstream of the Northam Iron Works. He retired from shipbuilding in 1851, succeeded by Summers, Groves and Day of Millbrook, who moved their boilermaking and iron shipbuilding works to Northam.

John Rubie was a councillor for St Mary's Ward. Returned at the first post-Municipal Reform election of 1835, Rubie was part of a strongly radical grouping which included Thomas Bradby, Joseph Hill junior, James Whitchurch and Joseph Lankester. In company with the first three named, Rubie was part of what political opponents termed "The Section" ("so frequently toasted in draughts of Salisbury beer within the precincts of St Mary's ward" according to the Hampshire Advertiser, 26 March 1836). Each feeling financially threatened by the "nefarious bargain" concluded between Southampton Corporation and the newly-formed London-based Southampton Dock Company, they spearheaded opposition to the new docks, protesting the decisions of the Corporation and petitioning the House of Commons. John Rubie took his oaths as a Commissioner of Southampton Harbour Board on 9 March 1836 specifically to add weight to the campaign. He retired from the Town Council in November 1841, his resignation address (Southampton Archives D/Z 190) bemoaning the economic stagnation of St Mary's vis-à-vis other more influential wards and calling for practical measures of economy in the running of the town. When a councillor - in August 1841 - he purchased 200 trees on the Common from the Corporation: perhaps for use in his shipyard? Parochial offices held by Rubie included Commissioner of Waterworks (elected March 1835) and Poor Law Guardian (elected April 1835) of the parish of All Saints.

The earliest known address for John Rubie in Southampton (February 1832) is Bedford Place. He is then listed at Bellevue Place until c.1842 when he moved to 4 Waterloo Place. At his death he owned the freehold of no.147 High Street, occupied by the jeweller Henry Abraham, and stock in Pennsylvania and New York. There were five children to his marriage with Charlotte:

1. George Parsons Rubie. Baptized 16 January 1820 at St Leonard's, Bursledon. A shipbuilder of Northam (up to 29 June 1849 in partnership with his brother John Parsons Rubie) and later a shipwright surveyor to the Board of Trade. He died at his house, Heimath, in Bassett, on 10 January 1899.
2. John Parsons Rubie. Baptized 7 October 1821 at St Leonard's, Bursledon. After the dissolution of the partnership with his brother, he became a land steward, recorded in the 1850s at Fonthill Gifford in Wiltshire and later at Portswood and (after 1866) in the Isle of Wight. He married, 30 May 1855 at All Saints Church, Harriet Alice Brooks, daughter of John Coupland of Newtown House, part proprietor of the Hampshire Advertiser. The naval architect Charles Andrew Felix Rubie was a son. John Parsons died on 28 May 1905 at Debourne near Cowes.
3. Auguste Parsons Rubie. Baptized 28 March 1824 at St Mary's Church, Southampton. Died 8 August 1880 in Hanover.
4. Carl Parsons Rubie. Baptized 7 May 1826 at St Mary's Church, Southampton. Died 7 January 1848 in Southampton.
5. Elizabeth Parsons Rubie. Baptized 4 July 1830 at All Saints Church, Southampton. Died February 1832 in Southampton.

John Rubie died on Christmas Day 1855, aged 74 years, at the residence of his eldest son in Dorset Place. His wife, Charlotte, died aged 72 in July 1866 in Bassett and was buried (on 26 July) in St Leonard's Church, Bursledon.

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