Killed by a paddle
About a year later, however, in 1874, the firm ran into financial difficulties and it became necessary for Mitchell to take over the Wallsend shipyard. This he entrusted to the management of his brother-in-law, Charles Sheridan Swan, who continued the work of the firm through mixed fortune until his untimely, accidental death in 1879, when returning from the continent after a business trip, he fell from the bows of a paddle steamer and was struck and killed by one of the paddles. It was about this time, however, that George Burton Hunter, a young Wearside shipbuilder who had earned a reputation on the North East Coast, had dissolved his partnership with a Mr. S. P. Austin and entered into negotiations with Charles Mitchell and H. F. Swan. The outcome of this was a new partnership with Charles Swan's widow in the style of C. S. Swan & Hunter, with Hunter as managing director.
George Burton (ultimately Sir George) Hunter, the grandfather of Sir John, who would later become the Chairman of the Swan Hunter Group, was a man of outstanding technical and commercial ability, whose interests extended far beyond his professional life. He associated himself with the interests of the Wallsend community, already expanding round the shipyard. He found congenial occupation with 'C.S.Swan & Hunter', being called upon to run this business almost single-handed until 1895, when he brought about a remarkable transformation in the Wallsend shipbuilding scene.
When he took over, the yard covered less than seven acres, with a river frontage of less than one hundred yards. In 1883 he acquired the adjoining land of a chemical manufacturer amounting to some 16 acres, constructing upon it what was then known as the East Yard, making the company's total area for the two yards 23 acres, containing six building berths.
In 1897 the company acquired the adjoining shipyard of Schlesinger, Davis & company which increased the yard's total area by a further seven acres. The latter yard was re-equipped to handle a new type of construction for which the company then become famous - the construction of floating docks. In 1902, however, the Schlesinger Davis yard was reorganised for still more spectacular purposes, namely the preparation of two new building berths, 750 feet in length, for the construction of the largest types of ships.