Sir Walter Runciman (1847-1937)

A three quarter portrait of the ship owner, Walter Runciman. He wears a beard and is dressed in a dark suit, white shirt and bow tie. He stands leaning against a tallboy and looks directly out of the picture space to meet the viewer’s gaze. He has his right hand in his pocket and holds his glasses with his left. A man of strong character and striking appearance he was respected throughout the shipping industry for his individualism, geniality, and kindliness. The background is appropriately plain for this life-long teetotaller. His sailing interests are indicated through the model of a sailing ship sitting on the tallboy behind his left shoulder.

Runciman was born at Dunbar, East Lothian, the fourth son of Walter Runciman, schooner master and coastguard. In 1859 he began his career at sea as an apprentice in a coal brig, later serving in small sailing ships and other vessels. In 1877 he transferred to steam. After over 25 years at sea Runciman, became a shipowner at South Shields, Durham, and founded the Moor Line Ltd of cargo steamships. Runciman was president of the chamber of shipping of the United Kingdom in 1910–11 and in 1919 became senior partner in Walter Runciman & Co. Ltd of Newcastle and London. From 1914 to 1918, Runciman was Liberal MP for Hartlepool, and this portrait dated 1915 is from this time. In 1932 he succeeded to the presidency of the Shipping Federation and showed sympathy with the Seamen's and Firemen's Union. A popular employer, Runciman promoted good industrial relations. In 1935 Runciman acquired the controlling interest in the Anchor Line Ltd of Glasgow. He was also chairman or director of many other shipping companies.

A keen yachtsman, Runciman bought ‘Sunbeam’, in 1922. It was famous for the voyages of its former owner, Thomas, Lord Brassey and was succeeded by ‘Sunbeam II’ in 1929. He was a member of several yacht clubs and commodore of the Royal Northumbrian Yacht Club and honorary commodore of the Royal Naval Volunteer Supplementary Reserve. He wrote several books about sailing ships and an autobiography, ‘Before the Mast—and After’, 1924 which offers invaluable insights into 19th century life at sea. A Methodist and a lay preacher, Runciman was created baronet in 1906, and Baron Runciman of Shoreston in 1933. The painting is signed ‘R H Campbell’ and dated 1915.

Campbell, the painter, was born on 2 December 1877, and trained there at the Royal Scottish Academy School. He won a number of early artistic prizes and exhibited widely in Britain, including at the Royal Academy in London, where he mainly lived and practised. His date of death is as yet not certain, but he may have been the Reginald H. Campbell who died in Chelsea in the January-March quarter of 1962, though if so his age was then wrongly recorded as 87 rather than 84.

Object Details

ID: BHC2345
Collection: Fine art
Type: Painting
Display location: Not on display
Creator: Campbell, Reginald Henry
Date made: 1915
People: Runciman, Walter
Credit: National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London. We regret that Museum enquiries have not been able to identify the copyright holder and would welcome any information that would help us update our records. Please contact the Picture Library.
Measurements: Painting: 1442 x 984 mm; Frame: 1664 x 1217 mm

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