Sir George Burns, Bart. (1795-1890), English shipowner, was born in Glasgow on the 10th of December 1795, the son of the Rev. John Burns. In partnership with a brother, James, he began as a Glasgow general merchant about 1818, and in 1824 in conjunction with a Liverpool partner, Hugh Matthie, started a line of small sailing ships which ran between Glasgow and Liverpool. As business increased the vessels were also sailed to Belfast, and steamers afterwards replaced the sailing ships. In 1830 a partnership was entered into with the McIvers of Liverpool, in which George Burns devoted himself specially to the management of the ships. In 1838 with Samuel Cunard, Robert Napier and other capitalists, the partners (McIver and Burns) started the "Cunard" Atlantic line of steamships. They secured the British government's contract for the carrying of the mails to North America. The sailings were begun with four steamers of about 1000 tons each, which made the passage in 15 days at some 8½ knots per hour. George Burns retired from the Glasgow management of the line in 1860. He was made a baronet in 1889, but died on the 2nd of June 1890 at Castle Wemyss, where he had spent the latter years of his life.

John Burns (1829-1901), his eldest son, who succeeded him in the baronetcy, and became head of the Cunard Company, was created a peer, under the title of Baron Inverclyde, in 1897; he was the first to suggest to the government the use of merchant vessels for war purposes. George Arbuthnot Burns (1861-1905) succeeded his father in the peerage, as 2nd baron Inverclyde, and became chairman of the Cunard Company in 1902. He conducted the negotiations which resulted in the refusal of the Cunard Company to enter the shipping combination, the International Mercantile Marine Company, formed by Messrs J.P. Morgan & Co., and took a leading part in the application of turbine engines to ocean liners.