St Clare John Byrne 

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Born in 1831, St Clare John Byrne was the son of an Irish ship owner.  He married Kate Chatteris in 1867, and they had three children: Henry, Arthur and Lionel.  Henry was Muriel’s father.  A world-renowned naval architect, St Clare John Byrne specialised in the design of luxury yachts - of which the Valiant was by far the largest. 


Muriel described her grandfather as “a bit of a genius”, but she went on to say that he “never passed on a speck of it to his sons. They were awfully good at doing what they wanted to do, but never wanted to do a stroke of work.”  Muriel’s mother and father settled down beside the Royal Liverpool Golf Club.  “He [Henry] spent his days playing golf, his nights playing bridge. Summers we moved to the golf course at Barnton, outside Edinburgh, where he did precisely what he did the rest of the year – played golf during the day and bridge at night.” 

The following article appeared in The New York Times on 26th August 1893: 


She Is the Biggest and Most Handsomely Furnished Vessel of Her Kind Afloat - Strong Head Winds and a Gale Prevented Her Making Faster Time Across the Atlantic - Her Rig, Dimensions, and Outfit - Luxurious Cabins and Commodious Saloons. 
The Valiant, the largest and handsomest steam yacht in the world, anchored off Stapleton, S.I., yesterday afternoon.  The Valiant is owned by Mr. W. K. Vanderbilt, and her owner and his secretary, W. S. Hoyt, made the trip across the Atlantic, and expressed themselves as well satisfied with the way the boat behaved. The Valiant left Glasgow at noon Wednesday, Aug. 16.  She passed Sandy Hook at 1:25 o’clock yesterday, having made the trip in about 8 days 21 hours.  On Thursday she met the big gale that caused such havoc in this city.  She rode through the seas splendidly and behaved admirably in the heavy headwinds.  She encountered head gales all the way across.  Mr. Vanderbilt believes that if the weather had been fair the Valiant would have made the trip over in about seven days.  To have done this she would not have had to develop so much speed as she did on her trial trip.  On that occasion, she steamed at 17.5 knots an hour. The Valiant was the centre of attraction in the harbour yesterday.  The simple-minded Staten Islanders gazed at her in amazement, wondering at her being a steam yacht.  She looked more like an ocean steamship, and no small one at that.  She is a well-shaped boat, with a graceful bow and a shapely stern.  She is painted blue with red pointings and red below the waterline.  Two rows of portholes on each side give her a still more important look.  She is full brig rigged, that is, she has two masts that tower away up in the sky.  Each mast is square-rigged, and on each, there are four yards.  Like all English steam yachts, her smokestack is a very tall one.  It is painted yellow. 
When Alva was wrecked last year Mr. Vanderbilt instructed Mr. St. Clare Byrne, the celebrated English naval architect, to design a yacht that was to be the largest and handsomest in the world, and at the same time was to be fast.  Mr. St. Clare Byrne designed the Alva.  Another of his famous yachts was Lord Brassey’s Sunbeam.  The contract to build the yacht was given to Laird Brothers of Birkenhead.  The yacht was successfully launched on May 3.  Lady Alva Montagu, daughter of the Duchess of Manchester, christening the boat as she slid from the ways. The Valiant is 332 feet in length over all, 310 feet in length between perpendiculars, 39 feet 3 inches extreme beam, and 25 feet 6 inches depth molded.  She is of 2,400 tonnage, and is driven by twin-screw engines that can develop 4,500 horse power.  The screws are of bronze and steel, and are worked by two sets of triple-expansion engines, the cylinders being 23 inches, 36 inches, and 60 inches in diameter, and 36 inches stroke. Having secured the largest yacht Mr. Vanderbilt then went to work to make her as comfortable as possible and to make her as handsome as a multi-millionaire could.  The best artists and decorators in Europe were engaged to fit out the interior of the Valiant. The handsomest part of the boat is the saloon.  It is 18 feet in length and extends the full width of the boat.  Messrs. Cusel of Paris were the decorators, and had carte blanche in carrying out the work.  The general design of the saloon is Louis Quatorze.  The woodwork is fine-grained French pine, resembling very much English poplar, but the original grain and colour of the wood is hidden beneath the fine white enamel with its golden embellishments.  The carving, which is out of the solid wood, is something to be wondered at.  It is simply exquisite, every foot of the wall panelling being rich in high-relief carving, beautifully done, and shining out in its added layer of enamel.  At one side of the hall is a piano.  Then slender-looking chairs, beautiful settees and sideboards, all of the best Chippendale style, inlaid with brass are provided.  The furniture is upholstered in rich crimson silk velvet.  The dome of the saloon rises to the upper deck.
The same decorators are responsible for the library.  This connected with the saloon by a passageway 100 feet in length, which is arched and beautifully decorated.  The library is of rich dark walnut, unpolished.  The panels and pilasters are rich with the most beautiful carving.  The settees, sideboard and general fittings are all of dark walnut.  The ceiling is of panel work of the same wood, each panel bearing some soft-tinted painting.  The fireplace and mantlepiece of the library form one of the finest pieces of work in the yacht, being massive and exquisitely carved.  The fireplace is of glazed brick, and in the grate is set a black iron caldron to hold the fire.  The saloon, library, and passageway are carpeted with a rich texture that cost $15 a yard.  These are on the main deck. Altogether the Valiant was twenty staterooms.  Many of them are on the upper deck. Probably the handsomest apartments on the yacht are those of Mrs. Vanderbilt.  They are on the main deck.  The bedroom is enamelled white and gold, the ceiling being of rich fibrous plaster enamelled ivory white.  The panelling and draperies are of rich flowered silk, old-rose colour.  A fine wooden bedstead is similarly enamelled and draped, and the carpet is a grey Saxony.  A bathroom connects with the bedroom on one side.  It is decorated with wooden panels instead of draperies.  The bath is of enamelled copper and the pipes are copper.  The fittings are of silver-white metal. Mrs. Vanderbilt’s sitting room is on the upper deck.  It is a beautiful apartment in the old Adams style, the furniture, framings and casings being of dark mahogany, and the upholsterings and hangings of a peculiar green-coloured silk, the tint being somewhat between an apple and a sage green.  The grate is an open one, the fire brasses and fenders having been designed to suit the general style of the room.  The panels above the mantlepiece and above a pretty little writing desk at one side of it are fitted with Wedgwood plaques.  The pilasters dividing the panels and the whole of the mantlepiece are beautifully carved.  The apartment is about 16 feet square. 
Miss Vanderbilt’s room is in the Cawthorne style of some ninety years ago, the draperies being a peculiar blue and the ceiling of Tynecastle work, with friezes of similar work. Mr. Vanderbilt’s stateroom is very luxuriously fitted.  The furniture is of richly-figured pollard oak.  The bedstead is of pollard oak, with convenient cupboards below, and having a canopy headboard.  The wall spaces are panelled with the same silk as is used in the upholstery, and the ceiling frieze beams are covered with Tynecastle tapestry decorated in white ivory.  The carpet is a Wilton blue of a floral design.  There is a large wardrobe fitted with every conceivable convenience.  One corner of the room is fitted with a corner or ingle-nook fitment, the seats upholstered in cream ground and floral design French silk, and above having cupboard and bookcases enclosed by doors panelled and fitted with bevelled glass.  Under and between the ports is a specially designed pollard oak cabinet or sideboard, an escritoire, bookcase, cupboards above, and a large lounge or settee. Two handsomely panelled passages lead to the bathroom, which is fitted with enamelled copper baths. Mr. Hoyte, Mr. Vanderbilt’s private secretary, has a room fitted especially for his secretarial duties.  The joiner work is in figured Spanish mahogany.  It has two large wardrobes fitted with drawers, trays, and a very compact dressing case on one and in the other a large writing cabinet.  The bath is cased in Spanish mahogany, panelled and molded, and has a moveable top upholstered in silk for use as a settee.  The bedstead is of the same wood.  The ceiling and frieze are covered with Tynecastle tapestry.  
The visitors’ rooms are fitted up in Spanish mahogany.  Each one is furnished with bath, sideboard, bookcase, lounge, and large bedstead.  The decorations in each one are different, but Tynecastle tapestry, mahogany, and silk draperies are used in each. On the upper deck there is a large social hall in the François I style.  The joiner work is of oak, and the carvings and draperies are very elaborate. The deckhouses are all of iron covered with fine teak.  The main companionway is panelled with highly-polished teak elaborately carved.  Every pipe in the ship is copper, and all the hand basins, baths &c., are fitted with a separate steam service for cleaning purposes. The Valiant carries a crew of sixty-two men.  Thirty-two are employed in the engine room, twenty as sailors, and the rest as cooks and stewards. The Valiant flew the English yacht ensign as she came into the harbour, and the Custom House officers are said to be wondering what Mr. Vanderbilt proposes to do. It was reported before the Valiant left Liverpool that she had been registered as the property of the Valiant Steam Yacht Company Limited, a corporation chartered under the laws of Great Britain.  It is presumed that it is Mr. Vanderbilt’s intention to purchase the Valiant from the English company.  As an English yacht she will be exempt from customs charges. The object of this move is to avoid any such unpleasantness as Mr. F. W. Vanderbilt experienced when he brought the English yacht Conqueror over two years ago.  Collector Fassett claimed that the yacht was dutiable as imported merchandise.  He seized the yacht, claiming $35,000 as duty.  Mr. Vanderbilt refused to pay.  The case was carried to the courts and Mr. Vanderbilt won. 
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