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Industrial Biography - Iron Workers and Tool Makers
by Samuel Smiles
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Although the Cort patents expired in 1796 and 1798 respectively, they continued the subject of public discussion for some time after, more particularly in connection with the defalcations of the deceased Adam Jellicoe. It does not appear that more than 2654L. was realised by the Government from the Cort estate towards the loss sustained by the public, as a balance of 24,846L. was still found standing to the debit of Jellicoe in 1800, when the deficiencies in the naval account's became matter of public inquiry. A few years later, in 1805, the subject was again revived in a remarkable manner. In that year, the Whigs, Perceiving the bodily decay of Mr. Pitt, and being too eager to wait for his removal by death, began their famous series of attacks upon his administration. Fearing to tackle the popular statesman himself, they inverted the ordinary tactics of an opposition, and fell foul of Dundas, Lord Melville, then Treasurer of the Navy, who had successfully carried the country through the great naval war with revolutionary France. They scrupled not to tax him with gross peculation, and exhibited articles of impeachment against him, which became the subject of elaborate investigation, the result of which is matter of history. In those articles, no reference whatever was made to Lord Melville's supposed complicity with Jellicoe; nor, on the trial that followed, was any reference made to the defalcations of that official. But when Mr. Whitbread, on the 8th of April, 1805, spoke to the "Resolutions" in the Commons for impeaching the Treasurer of the Navy, he thought proper to intimate that he "had a strong suspicion that Jellicoe was in the same partnership with Mark Sprott, Alexander Trotter, and Lord Melville. He had been suffered to remain a public debtor for a whole year after he was known to be in arrears upwards of 24,000L. During next year 11,000L. more had accrued. It would not have been fair to have turned too short on an old companion. It would perhaps, too, have been dangerous, since unpleasant discoveries might have met the public eye. It looked very much as if, mutually conscious of criminality, they had agreed to be silent, and keep their own secrets."

In making these offensive observations Whitbread was manifestly actuated by political enmity. They were utterly unwarrantable. In the first place, Melville had been formally acquitted of Jellicoe's deficiency by a writ of Privy Seal, dated 31st May, 1800; and secondly, the committee appointed in that very year (1805) to reinvestigate the naval accounts, had again exonerated him, but intimated that they were of opinion there was remissness on his part in allowing Jellicoe to remain in his office after the discovery of his defalcations.

the report made by the commissioners to the Houses of Parliament in 1805,[10] the value of Corts patents was estimated at only 100L. Referring to the schedule of Jellicoe's alleged assets, they say "Many of the debts are marked as bad; and we apprehend that the debt from Mr. Henry Cort, not so marked, of 54,000L. and upwards, is of that description." As for poor bankrupt Henry Cort, these discussions availed nothing. On the death of Jellicoe, he left his iron works, feeling himself a ruined man. He made many appeals to the Government of the day for restoral of his patents, and offered to find security for payment of the debt due by his firm to the Crown, but in vain. In 1794, an appeal was made to Mr. Pitt by a number of influential members of Parliament, on behalf of the inventor and his destitute family of twelve children, when a pension of 200L. a-year was granted him. This Mr. Cort enjoyed until the year 1800, when he died, broken in health and spirit, in his sixtieth year. He was buried in Hampstead Churchyard, where a stone marking the date of his death is still to be seen. A few years since it was illegible, but it has recently been restored by his surviving son.

Though Cort thus died in comparative poverty, he laid the foundations of many gigantic fortunes. He may be said to have been in a great measure the author of our modern iron aristocracy, who still manufacture after the processes which he invented or perfected, but for which they never paid him a shilling of royalty. These men of gigantic fortunes have owed much—we might almost say everything—to the ruined projector of "the little mill at Fontley." Their wealth has enriched many families of the older aristocracy, and has been the foundation of several modern peerages. Yet Henry Cort, the rock from which they were hewn, is already all but forgotten; and his surviving children, now aged and infirm, are dependent for their support upon the slender pittance wrung by repeated entreaty and expostulation from the state.

The career of Richard Crawshay, the first of the great ironmasters who had the sense to appreciate and adopt the methods of manufacturing iron invented by Henry Cort, is a not unfitting commentary on the sad history we have thus briefly described. It shows how, as respects mere money-making, shrewdness is more potent than invention, and business faculty than manufacturing skill. Richard Crawshay was born at Normanton near Leeds, the son of a small Yorkshire farmer. When a youth, he worked on his father's farm, and looked forward to occupying the same condition in life; but a difference with his father unsettled his mind, and at the age of fifteen he determined to leave his home, and seek his fortune elsewhere. Like most unsettled and enterprising lads, he first made for London, riding to town on a pony of his own, which, with the clothes on his back, formed his entire fortune. It took him a fortnight to make the journey, in consequence of the badness of the roads. Arrived in London, he sold his pony for fifteen pounds, and the money kept him until he succeeded in finding employment. He was so fortunate as to be taken upon trial by a Mr. Bicklewith, who kept an ironmonger's shop in York Yard, Upper Thames Street; and his first duty there was to clean out the office, put the stools and desks in order for the other clerks, run errands, and act as porter when occasion required. Young Crawshay was very attentive, industrious, and shrewd; and became known in the office as "The Yorkshire Boy." Chiefly because of his "cuteness," his master appointed him to the department of selling flat irons. The London washerwomen of that day were very sharp and not very honest, and it used to be said of them that where they bought one flat iron they generally contrived to steal two. Mr. Bicklewith thought he could not do better than set the Yorkshireman to watch the washerwomen, and, by way of inducement to him to be vigilant, he gave young Crawshay an interest in that branch of the business, which was soon found to prosper under his charge. After a few more years, Mr. Bicklewith retired, and left to Crawshay the cast-iron business in York Yard. This he still further increased, There was not at that time much enterprise in the iron trade, but Crawshay endeavoured to connect himself with what there was of it. The price of iron was then very high, and the best sorts were still imported from abroad; a good deal of the foreign iron and steel being still landed at the Steelyard on the Thames, in the immediate neighbourhood of Crawshay's ironmongery store.

It seems to have occurred to some London capitalists that money was then to be made in the iron trade, and that South Wales was a good field for an experiment. The soil there was known to be full of coal and ironstone, and several small iron works had for some time been carried on, which were supposed to be doing well. Merthyr Tydvil was one of the places at which operations had been begun, but the place being situated in a hill district, of difficult access, and the manufacture being still in a very imperfect state, the progress made was for some time very slow. Land containing coal and iron was deemed of very little value, as maybe inferred from the fact that in the year 1765, Mr. Anthony Bacon, a man of much foresight, took a lease from Lord Talbot, for 99 years, of the minerals under forty square miles of country surrounding the then insignificant hamlet of Merthyr Tydvil, at the trifling rental of 200L. a-year. There he erected iron works, and supplied the Government with considerable quantities of cannon and iron for different purposes; and having earned a competency, he retired from business in 1782, subletting his mineral tract in four divisions—the Dowlais, the Penydarran, the Cyfartha, and the Plymouth Works, north, east, west, and south, of Merthyr Tydvil.

Mr. Richard Crawshay became the lessee of what Mr. Mushet has called "the Cyfartha flitch of the great Bacon domain." There he proceeded to carry on the works established by Mr. Bacon with increased spirit; his son William, whom he left in charge of the ironmongery store in London, supplying him with capital to put into the iron works as fast as he could earn it by the retail trade. In 1787, we find Richard Crawshay manufacturing with difficulty ten tons of bar-iron weekly, and it was of a very inferior character,[11]—the means not having yet been devised at Cyfartha for malleableizing the pit-coal cast-iron with economy or good effect. Yet Crawshay found a ready market for all the iron he could make, and he is said to have counted the gains of the forge-hammer close by his house at the rate of a penny a stroke. In course of time he found it necessary to erect new furnaces, and, having adopted the processes invented by Henry Cort, he was thereby enabled greatly to increase the production of his forges, until in 1812 we find him stating to a committee of the House of Commons that he was making ten thousand tons of bar-iron yearly, or an average produce of two hundred tons a week. But this quantity, great though it was, has since been largely increased, the total produce of the Crawshay furnaces of Cyfartha, Ynysfach, and Kirwan, being upwards of 50,000 tons of bar-iron yearly.

The distance of Merthyr from Cardiff, the nearest port, being considerable, and the cost of carriage being very great by reason of the badness of the roads, Mr. Crawshay set himself to overcome this great impediment to the prosperity of the Merthyr Tydvil district; and, in conjunction with Mr. Homfray of the Penydarran Works, he planned and constructed the canal[12] to Cardiff, the opening of which, in 1795, gave an immense impetus to the iron trade of the neighbourhood. Numerous other extensive iron works became established there, until Merthyr Tydvil attained the reputation of being at once the richest and the dirtiest district in all Britain. Mr. Crawshay became known in the west of England as the "Iron King," and was quoted as the highest authority in all questions relating to the trade. Mr. George Crawshay, recently describing the founder of the family at a social meeting at Newcastle, said,—"In these days a name like ours is lost in the infinity of great manufacturing firms which exist through out the land; but in those early times the man who opened out the iron district of Wales stood upon an eminence seen by all the world. It is preserved in the traditions of the family that when the 'Iron King' used to drive from home in his coach-and-four into Wales, all the country turned out to see him, and quite a commotion took place when he passed through Bristol on his way to the works. My great grandfather was succeeded by his son, and by his grandson; the Crawshays have followed one another for four generations in the iron trade in Wales, and there they still stand at the head of the trade." The occasion on which these words were uttered was at a Christmas party, given to the men, about 1300 in number, employed at the iron works of Messrs. Hawks, Crawshay, and Co., at Newcastle-upon-Tyne. These works were founded in 1754 by William Hawks, a blacksmith, whose principal trade consisted in making claw-hammers for joiners. He became a thriving man, and eventually a large manufacturer of bar-iron. Partners joined him, and in the course of the changes wrought by time, one of the Crawshays, in 1842, became a principal partner in the firm.

Illustrations of a like kind might be multiplied to any extent, showing the growth in our own time of an iron aristocracy of great wealth and influence, the result mainly of the successful working of the inventions of the unfortunate and unrequited Henry Cort. He has been the very Tubal Cain of England—one of the principal founders of our iron age. To him we mainly owe the abundance of wrought-iron for machinery, for steam-engines, and for railways, at one-third the price we were before accustomed to pay to the foreigner. We have by his invention, not only ceased to be dependent upon other nations for our supply of iron for tools, implements, and arms, but we have become the greatest exporters of iron, producing more than all other European countries combined. In the opinion of Mr. Fairbairn of Manchester, the inventions of Henry Cort have already added six hundred millions sterling to the wealth of the kingdom, while they have given employment to some six hundred thousand working people during three generations. And while the great ironmasters, by freely availing themselves of his inventions, have been adding estate to estate, the only estate secured by Henry Cort was the little domain of six feet by two in which he lies interred in Hampstead Churchyard.



[1] Life of Brunel, p. 60.

[2] SCRIVENOR, History of the Iron Trade, 169.

[3] Although the iron manufacture had gradually been increasing since the middle of the century, it was as yet comparatively insignificant in amount. Thus we find, from a statement by W. Wilkinson, dated Dec. 25, 1791, contained in the memorandum-book of Wm. Reynolds of Coalbrookdale, that the produce in England and Scotland was then estimated to be

Coke Furnaces. Charcoal Furnaces.

In England ......73 producing 67,548 tons 20 producing 8500 tons In Scotland......12 " 12,480 " 2 " 1000 " —— ——— — —— 85 " 80,028 " 22 " 9500 "

At the same time the annual import of Oregrounds iron from Sweden amounted to about 20,000 tons, and of bars and slabs from Russia about 50,000 tons, at an average cost of 35L. a ton!

[4] "It is material to observe", says Mr. Webster, "that Cort, in this specification, speaks of the rollers, furnaces, and separate processes, as well known. There is no claim to any of them separately; the claim is to the reducing of the faggots of piled iron into bars, and the welding of such bars by rollers instead of by forge-hammers."—Memoir of Henry Cort, in Mechanic's Magazine, 15 July, 1859, by Thomas Webster, M.A., F.R.S.

[5] Letter by Mr. Truran in Mechanic's Magazine.

[6] In the memorandum-book of Wm. Reynolds appears the following entry on the subject:—

"Copy of a paper given to H. Cort, Esq.

"W. Reynolds saw H. C. in a trial which he made at Ketley, Dec. 17, 1784, produce from the same pig both cold short and tough iron by a variation of the process used in reducing them from the state of cast-iron to that of malleable or bar-iron; and in point of yield his processes were quite equal to those at Pitchford, which did not exceed the proportion of 31 cwt. to the ton of bars. The experiment was made by stamping and potting the blooms or loops made in his furnace, which then produced a cold short iron; but when they were immediately shingled and drawn, the iron was of a black tough."

The Coalbrookdale ironmasters are said to have been deterred from adopting the process because of what was considered an excessive waste of the metal—about 25 per cent,—though, with greater experience, this waste was very much diminished.

[7] Mr. Webster, in the 'Case of Henry Cort,' published in the Mechanic's Magazine (2 Dec. 1859), states that "licences were taken at royalties estimated to yield 27,500L. to the owners of the patents."

[8] In the 'Case of Henry Cort,' by Mr. Webster, above referred to (Mechanic's Magazine, 2 Dec. 1859), it is stated that Adam Jellicoe "committed suicide under the pressure of dread of exposure," but this does not appear to be confirmed by the accounts in the newspapers of the day. He died at his private dwelling-house, No. 14, Highbury Place, Islingtonn, on the 30th August, 1789, after a fortnight's illness.

[9] This is confirmed by the report of a House of Commons Committee on the subject Mr. Davies Gilbert chairman, in which they say, "Your committee have not been able to satisfy themselves that either of the two inventions, one for subjecting cast-iron to an operation termed puddling during its conversion to malleable iron, and the other for passing it through fluted or grooved rollers, were so novel in their principle or their application as fairly to entitle the petitioners [Mr. Cort's survivors] to a parliamentary reward." It is, however, stated by Mr. Mushet that the evidence was not fairly taken by the committee—that they were overborne by the audacity of Mr. Samuel Homfray, one of the great Welsh ironmasters, whose statements were altogether at variance with known facts—and that it was under his influence that Mr. Gilbert drew up the fallacious report of the committee. The illustrious James Watt, writing to Dr. Black in 1784, as to the iron produced by Cort's process, said, "Though I cannot perfectly agree with you as to its goodness, yet there is much ingenuity in the idea of forming the bars in that manner, which is the only part of his process which has any pretensions to novelty.... Mr. Cort has, as you observe, been most illiberally treated by the trade: they are ignorant brutes; but he exposed himself to it by showing them the process before it was perfect, and seeing his ignorance of the common operations of making iron, laughed at and despised him; yet they will contrive by some dirty evasion to use his process, or such parts as they like, without acknowledging him in it. I shall be glad to be able to be of any use to him. Watts fellow-feeling was naturally excited in favour of the plundered inventor, he himself having all his life been exposed to the attacks of like piratical assailants.

[10] Tenth Report of the Commissioners of Naval Inquiry. See also Report of Select Committee on the 10th Naval Report. May, 1805.

[11] Mr. Mushet says of the early manufacture of iron at Merthyr Tydvil that "A modification of the charcoal refinery, a hollow fire, was worked with coke as a substitute for charcoal, but the bar-iron hammered from the produce was very inferior." The pit-coal cast-iron was nevertheless found of a superior quality for castings, being more fusible and more homogeneous than charcoal-iron. Hence it was well adapted for cannon, which was for some time the principal article of manufacture at the Welsh works.

[12] It may be worthy of note that the first locomotive run upon a railroad was that constructed by Trevithick for Mr. Homfray in 1803, which was employed to bring down metal from the furnaces to the Old Forge. The engine was taken off the road because the tram-plates were found too weak to bear its weight without breaking.



CHAPTER VIII.

THE SCOTCH IRON MANUFACTURE—DR. ROEBUCK DAVID MUSHET.

"Were public benefactors to be allowed to pass away, like hewers of wood and drawers of water, without commemoration, genius and enterprise would be deprived of their most coveted distinction."—Sir Henry Englefield.

The account given of Dr. Roebuck in a Cyclopedia of Biography, recently published in Glasgow, runs as follows:—"Roebuck, John, a physician and experimental chemist, born at Sheffield, 1718; died, after ruining himself by his projects, 1794." Such is the short shrift which the man receives who fails. Had Dr. Roebuck wholly succeeded in his projects, he would probably have been esteemed as among the greatest of Scotland's benefactors. Yet his life was not altogether a failure, as we think will sufficiently appear from the following brief account of his labours:—

At the beginning of last century, John Roebuck's father carried on the manufacture of cutlery at Sheffield,[1] in the course of which he realized a competency. He intended his son to follow his own business, but the youth was irresistibly attracted to scientific pursuits, in which his father liberally encouraged him; and he was placed first under the care of Dr. Doddridge, at Northampton, and afterwards at the University of Edinburgh, where he applied himself to the study of medicine, and especially of chemistry, which was then attracting considerable attention at the principal seats of learning in Scotland. While residing at Edinburgh young Roebuck contracted many intimate friendships with men who afterwards became eminent in literature, such as Hume and Robertson the historians, and the circumstance is supposed to have contributed not a little to his partiality in favour of Scotland, and his afterwards selecting it as the field for his industrial operations.

After graduating as a physician at Leyden, Roebuck returned to England, and settled at Birmingham in the year 1745 for the purpose of practising his profession. Birmingham was then a principal seat of the metal manufacture, and its mechanics were reputed to be among the most skilled in Britain. Dr. Roebuck's attention was early drawn to the scarcity and dearness of the material in which the mechanics worked, and he sought by experiment to devise some method of smelting iron otherwise than by means of charcoal. He had a laboratory fitted up in his house for the purpose of prosecuting his inquiries, and there he spent every minute that he could spare from his professional labours. It was thus that he invented the process of smelting iron by means of pit-coal which he afterwards embodied in the patent hereafter to be referred to. At the same time he invented new methods of refining gold and silver, and of employing them in the arts, which proved of great practical value to the Birmingham trades-men, who made extensive use of them in their various processes of manufacture.

Dr. Roebuck's inquiries had an almost exclusively practical direction, and in pursuing them his main object was to render them subservient to the improvement of the industrial arts. Thus he sought to devise more economical methods of producing the various chemicals used in the Birmingham trade, such as ammonia, sublimate, and several of the acids; and his success was such as to induce him to erect a large laboratory for their manufacture, which was conducted with complete success by his friend Mr. Garbett. Among his inventions of this character, was the modern process of manufacturing vitriolic acid in leaden vessels in large quantities, instead of in glass vessels in small quantities as formerly practised. His success led him to consider the project of establishing a manufactory for the purpose of producing oil of vitriol on a large scale; and, having given up his practice as a physician, he resolved, with his partner Mr. Garbett, to establish the proposed works in the neighbourhood of Edinburgh. He removed to Scotland with that object, and began the manufacture of vitriol at Prestonpans in the year 1749. The enterprise proved eminently lucrative, and, encouraged by his success, Roebuck proceeded to strike out new branches of manufacture. He started a pottery for making white and brown ware, which eventually became established, and the manufacture exists in the same neighbourhood to this day.

The next enterprise in which he became engaged was one of still greater importance, though it proved eminently unfortunate in its results as concerned himself. While living at Prestonpans, he made the friendship of Mr. William Cadell, of Cockenzie, a gentleman who had for some time been earnestly intent on developing the industry of Scotland, then in a very backward condition. Mr. Cadell had tried, without success, to establish a manufactory of iron; and, though he had heretofore failed, he hoped that with the aid of Dr. Roebuck he might yet succeed. The Doctor listened to his suggestions with interest, and embraced the proposed enterprise with zeal. He immediately proceeded to organize a company, in which he was joined by a number of his friends and relatives. His next step was to select a site for the intended works, and make the necessary arrangements for beginning the manufacture of iron. After carefully examining the country on both sides of the Forth, he at length made choice of a site on the banks of the river Carron, in Stirlingshire, where there was an abundant supply of wafer, and an inexhaustible supply of iron, coal, and limestone in the immediate neighbourhood, and there Dr. Roebuck planted the first ironworks in Scotland.

In order to carry them on with the best chances of success, he brought a large number of skilled workmen from England, who formed a nucleus of industry at Carron, where their example and improved methods of working served to train the native labourers in their art. At a subsequent period, Mr. Cadell, of Carronpark, also brought a number of skilled English nail-makers into Scotland, and settled them in the village of Camelon, where, by teaching others, the business has become handed down to the present day.

The first furnace was blown at Carron on the first day of January, 1760; and in the course of the same year the Carron Iron Works turned out 1500 tons of iron, then the whole annual produce of Scotland. Other furnaces were shortly after erected on improved plans, and the production steadily increased. Dr. Roebuck was indefatigable in his endeavours to improve the manufacture, and he was one of the first, as we have said, to revive the use of pit-coal in refining the ore, as appears from his patent of 1762. He there describes his new process as follows:—"I melt pig or any kind of cast-iron in a hearth heated with pit-coal by the blast of bellows, and work the metal until it is reduced to nature, which I take out of the fire and separate to pieces; then I take the metal thus reduced to nature and expose it to the action of a hollow pit-coal fire, heated by the blast of bellows, until it is reduced to a loop, which I draw out under a common forge hammer into bar-iron." This method of manufacture was followed with success, though for some time, as indeed to this day, the principal production of the Carron Works was castings, for which the peculiar quality of the Scotch iron admirably adapts it. The well-known Carronades,[2] or "Smashers," as they were named, were cast in large numbers at the Carron Works. To increase the power of his blowing apparatus, Dr. Roebuck called to his aid the celebrated Mr. Smeaton, the engineer, who contrived and erected for him at Carron the most perfect apparatus of the kind then in existence. It may also be added, that out of the Carron enterprise, in a great measure, sprang the Forth and Clyde Canal, the first artificial navigation in Scotland. The Carron Company, with a view to securing an improved communication with Glasgow, themselves surveyed a line, which was only given up in consequence of the determined opposition of the landowners; but the project was again revived through their means, and was eventually carried out after the designs of Smeaton and Brindley.

While the Carron foundry was pursuing a career of safe prosperity, Dr. Roebuck's enterprise led him to embark in coal-mining, with the object of securing an improved supply of fuel for the iron works. He became the lessee of the Duke of Hamilton's extensive coal-mines at Boroughstoness, as well as of the salt-pans which were connected with them. The mansion of Kinneil went with the lease, and there Dr. Roebuck and his family took up their abode. Kinneil House was formerly a country seat of the Dukes of Hamilton, and is to this day a stately old mansion, reminding one of a French chateau. Its situation is of remarkable beauty, its windows overlooking the broad expanse of the Firth of Forth, and commanding an extensive view of the country along its northern shores. The place has become in a measure classical, Kinneil House having been inhabited, since Dr. Roebuck's time, by Dugald Stewart, who there wrote his Philosophical Essays.[3] When Dr. Roebuck began to sink for coal at the new mines, he found it necessary to erect pumping-machinery of the most powerful kind that could be contrived, in order to keep the mines clear of water. For this purpose the Newcomen engine, in its then state, was found insufficient; and when Dr. Roebuck's friend, Professor Black, of Edinburgh, informed him of a young man of his acquaintance, a mathematical instrument maker at Glasgow, having invented a steam-engine calculated to work with increased power, speed, and economy, compared with Newcomen's; Dr. Roebuck was much interested, and shortly after entered into a correspondence with James Watt, the mathematical instrument maker aforesaid on the subject. The Doctor urged that Watt, who, up to that time, had confined himself to models, should come over to Kinneil House, and proceed to erect a working; engine in one of the outbuildings. The English workmen whom he had brought; to the Carron works would, he justly thought, give Watt a better chance of success with his engine than if made by the clumsy whitesmiths and blacksmiths of Glasgow, quite unaccustomed as they were to first-class work; and he proposed himself to cast the cylinders at Carron previous to Watt's intended visit to him at Kinneil.

Watt paid his promised visit in May, 1768, and Roebuck was by this time so much interested in the invention, that the subject of his becoming a partner with Watt, with the object of introducing the engine into general use, was seriously discussed. Watt had been labouring at his invention for several years, contending with many difficulties, but especially with the main difficulty of limited means. He had borrowed considerable sums of money from Dr. Black to enable him to prosecute his experiments, and he felt the debt to hang like a millstone round his neck. Watt was a sickly, fragile man, and a constant sufferer from violent headaches; besides he was by nature timid, desponding, painfully anxious, and easily cast down by failure. Indeed, he was more than once on the point of abandoning his invention in despair. On the other hand, Dr. Roebuck was accustomed to great enterprises, a bold and undaunted man, and disregardful of expense where he saw before him a reasonable prospect of success. His reputation as a practical chemist and philosopher, and his success as the founder of the Prestonpans Chemical Works and of the Carron Iron Works, justified the friends of Watt in thinking that he was of all men the best calculated to help him at this juncture, and hence they sought to bring about a more intimate connection between the two. The result was that Dr. Roebuck eventually became a partner to the extent of two-thirds of the invention, took upon him the debt owing by Watt to Dr. Black amounting to about 1200L., and undertook to find the requisite money to protect the invention by means of a patent. The necessary steps were taken accordingly and the patent right was secured by the beginning of 1769, though the perfecting of his model cost Watt much further anxiety and study.

It was necessary for Watt occasionally to reside with Dr. Roebuck at Kinneil House while erecting his first engine there. It had been originally intended to erect it in the neighbouring town of Boroughstoness, but as there might be prying eyes there, and Watt wished to do his work in privacy, determined "not to puff," he at length fixed upon an outhouse still standing, close behind the mansion, by the burnside in the glen, where there was abundance of water and secure privacy. Watt's extreme diffidence was often the subject of remark at Dr. Roebuck's fireside. To the Doctor his anxiety seemed quite painful, and he was very much disposed to despond under apparently trivial difficulties. Roebuck's hopeful nature was his mainstay throughout. Watt himself was ready enough to admit this; for, writing to his friend Dr. Small, he once said, "I have met with many disappointments; and I must have sunk under the burthen of them if I had not been supported by the friendship of Dr. Roebuck."

But more serious troubles were rapidly accumulating upon Dr. Roebuck himself; and it was he, and not Watt, that sank under the burthen. The progress of Watt's engine was but slow, and long before it could be applied to the pumping of Roebuck's mines, the difficulties of the undertaking on which he had entered overwhelmed him. The opening out of the principal coal involved a very heavy outlay, extending over many years, during which he sank not only his own but his wife's fortune, and—what distressed him most of all—large sums borrowed from his relatives and friends, which he was unable to repay. The consequence was, that he was eventually under the necessity of withdrawing his capital from the refining works at Birmingham, and the vitriol works at Prestonpans. At the same time, he transferred to Mr. Boulton of Soho his entire interest in Watt's steam-engine, the value of which, by the way, was thought so small that it was not even included among the assets; Roebuck's creditors not estimating it as worth one farthing. Watt sincerely deplored his partner's misfortunes, but could not help him. "He has been a most sincere and generous friend," said Watt, "and is a truly worthy man." And again, "My heart bleeds for him, but I can do nothing to help him: I have stuck by him till I have much hurt myself; I can do so no longer; my family calls for my care to provide for them." The later years of Dr. Roebuck's life were spent in comparative obscurity; and he died in 1794, in his 76th year.

He lived to witness the success of the steam-engine, the opening up of the Boroughstoness coal,[4] and the rapid extension of the Scotch iron trade, though he shared in the prosperity of neither of those branches of industry. He had been working ahead of his age, and he suffered for it. He fell in the breach at the critical moment, and more fortunate men marched over his body into the fortress which his enterprise and valour had mainly contributed to win. Before his great undertaking of the Carron Works, Scotland was entirely dependent upon other countries for its supply of iron. In 1760, the first year of its operations, the whole produce was 1500 tons. In course of time other iron works were erected, at Clyde Cleugh, Muirkirk, and Devon—the managers and overseers of which, as well as the workmen, had mostly received their training and experience at Carron—until at length the iron trade of Scotland has assumed such a magnitude that its manufacturers are enabled to export to England and other countries upwards of 500,000 tons a-year. How different this state of things from the time when raids were made across the Border for the purpose of obtaining a store of iron plunder to be carried back into Scotland!

The extraordinary expansion of the Scotch iron trade of late years has been mainly due to the discovery by David Mushet of the Black Band ironstone in 1801, and the invention of the Hot Blast by James Beaumont Neilson in 1828. David Mushet was born at Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, in 1772.[5] Like other members of his family he was brought up to metal-founding. At the age of nineteen he joined the staff of the Clyde Iron Works, near Glasgow, at a time when the Company had only two blast-furnaces at work. The office of accountant, which he held, precluded him from taking any part in the manufacturing operations of the concern. But being of a speculative and ingenious turn of mind, the remarkable conversions which iron underwent in the process of manufacture very shortly began to occupy his attention. The subject was much discussed by the young men about the works, and they frequently had occasion to refer to Foureroy's well-known book for the purpose of determining various questions of difference which arose among them in the course of their inquiries. The book was, however, in many respects indecisive and unsatisfactory; and, in 1793, when a reduction took place in the Company's staff, and David Mushet was left nearly the sole occupant of the office, he determined to study the subject for himself experimentally, and in the first place to acquire a thorough knowledge of assaying, as the true key to the whole art of iron-making.

He first set up his crucible upon the bridge of the reverberatory furnace used for melting pig-iron, and filled it with a mixture carefully compounded according to the formula of the books; but, notwithstanding the shelter of a brick, placed before it to break the action of the flame, the crucible generally split in two, and not unfrequently melted and disappeared altogether. To obtain better results if possible, he next had recourse to the ordinary smith's fire, carrying on his experiments in the evenings after office-hours. He set his crucible upon the fire on a piece of fire brick, opposite the nozzle of the bellows; covering the whole with coke, and then exciting the flame by blowing. This mode of operating produced somewhat better results, but still neither the iron nor the cinder obtained resembled the pig or scoria of the blast-furnace, which it was his ambition to imitate. From the irregularity of the results, and the frequent failure of the crucibles, he came to the conclusion that either his furnace, or his mode of fluxing, was in fault, and he looked about him for a more convenient means of pursuing his experiments. A small square furnace had been erected in the works for the purpose of heating the rivets used for the repair of steam-engine boilers; the furnace had for its chimney a cast-iron pipe six or seven inches in diameter and nine feet long. After a few trials with it, he raised the heat to such an extent that the lower end of the pipe was melted off, without producing any very satisfactory results on the experimental crucible, and his operations were again brought to a standstill. A chimney of brick having been substituted for the cast-iron pipe, he was, however, enabled to proceed with his trials.

He continued to pursue his experiments in assaying for about two years, during which he had been working entirely after the methods described in books; but, feeling the results still unsatisfactory, he determined to borrow no more from the books, but to work out a system of his own, which should ensure results similar to those produced at the blast-furnace. This he eventually succeeded in effecting by numerous experiments performed in the night; as his time was fully occupied by his office-duties during the day. At length these patient experiments bore their due fruits. David Mushet became the most skilled assayer at the works; and when a difficulty occurred in smelting a quantity of new ironstone which had been contracted for, the manager himself resorted to the bookkeeper for advice and information; and the skill and experience which he had gathered during his nightly labours, enabled him readily and satisfactorily to solve the difficulty and suggest a suitable remedy. His reward for this achievement was the permission, which was immediately granted him by the manager, to make use of his own assay-furnace, in which he thenceforward continued his investigations, at the same time that he instructed the manager's son in the art of assaying. This additional experience proved of great benefit to him; and he continued to prosecute his inquiries with much zeal, sometimes devoting entire nights to experiments in assaying, roasting and cementing iron-ores and ironstone, decarbonating cast-iron for steel and bar-iron, and various like operations. His general practice, however, at that time was, to retire between two and three o'clock in the morning, leaving directions with the engine-man to call him at half-past five, so as to be present in the office at six. But these praiseworthy experiments were brought to a sudden end, as thus described by himself:—

"In the midst of my career of investigation," says he,[6] "and without a cause being assigned, I was stopped short. My furnaces, at the order of the manager, were pulled in pieces, and an edict was passed that they should never be erected again. Thus terminated my researches at the Clyde Iron Works. It happened at a time when I was interested—and I had been two years previously occupied—in an attempt to convert cast-iron into steel, without fusion, by a process of cementation, which had for its object the dispersion or absorption of the superfluous carbon contained in the cast-iron,—an object which at that time appeared to me of so great importance, that, with the consent of a friend, I erected an assay and cementing Furnace at the distance of about two miles from the Clyde Works. Thither I repaired at night, and sometimes at the breakfast and dinner hours during the day. This plan of operation was persevered in for the whole of one summer, but was found too uncertain and laborious to be continued. At the latter end of the year 1798 I left my chambers, and removed from the Clyde Works to the distance of about a mile, where I constructed several furnaces for assaying and cementing, capable of exciting a greater temperature than any to which I before had access; and thus for nearly two years I continued to carry on my investigations connected with iron and the alloys of the metals.

"Though operating in a retired manner, and holding little communication with others, my views and opinions upon the RATIONALE of iron-making spread over the establishment. I was considered forward in affecting to see and explain matters in a different way from others who were much my seniors, and who were content to be satisfied with old methods of explanation, or with no explanation at all..... Notwithstanding these early reproaches, I have lived to see the nomenclature of my youth furnish a vocabulary of terms in the art of iron-making, which is used by many of the ironmasters of the present day with freedom and effect, in communicating with each other on the subject of their respective manufactures. Prejudices seldom outlive the generation to which they belong, when opposed by a more rational system of explanation. In this respect, Time (as my Lord Bacon says) is the greatest of all innovators.

"In a similar manner, Time operated in my favour in respect to the Black Band Ironstone.[7] The discovery of this was made in 1801, when I was engaged in erecting for myself and partners the Calder Iron Works. Great prejudice was excited against me by the ironmasters and others of that day in presuming to class the WILD COALS of the country (as Black Band was called) with ironstone fit and proper for the blast furnace. Yet that discovery has elevated Scotland to a considerable rank among the iron-making nations of Europe, with resources still in store that may be considered inexhaustible. But such are the consolatory effects of Time, that the discoverer of 1801 is no longer considered the intrusive visionary of the laboratory, but the acknowledged benefactor of his country at large, and particularly of an extensive class of coal and mine proprietors and iron masters, who have derived, and are still deriving, great wealth from this important discovery; and who, in the spirit of grateful acknowledgment, have pronounced it worthy of a crown of gold, or a monumental record on the spot where the discovery was first made.

"At an advanced period of life, such considerations are soothing and satisfactory. Many under similar circumstances have not, in their own lifetime, had that measure of justice awarded to them by their country to which they were equally entitled. I accept it, however, as a boon justly due to me, and as an equivalent in some degree for that laborious course of investigation which I had prescribed for myself, and which, in early life, was carried on under circumstances of personal exposure and inconvenience, which nothing but a frame of iron could have supported. They atone also, in part, for that disappointment sustained in early life by the speculative habits of one partner, and the constitutional nervousness of another, which eventually occasioned my separation from the Calder Iron Works, and lost me the possession of extensive tracts of Black Band iron-stone, which I had secured while the value of the discovery was known only to myself."

Mr. Mushet published the results of his laborious investigations in a series of papers in the Philosophical Magazine,—afterwards reprinted in a collected form in 1840 under the title of "Papers on Iron and Steel." These papers are among the most valuable original contributions to the literature of the iron-manufacture that have yet been given to the world. They contain the germs of many inventions and discoveries in iron and steel, some of which were perfected by Mr. Mushet himself, while others were adopted and worked out by different experimenters. In 1798 some of the leading French chemists were endeavouring to prove by experiment that steel could be made by contact of the diamond with bar-iron in the crucible, the carbon of the diamond being liberated and entering into combination with the iron, forming steel. In the animated controversy which occurred on the subject, Mr. Mushet's name was brought into considerable notice; one of the subjects of his published experiments having been the conversion of bar-iron into steel in the crucible by contact with regulated proportions of charcoal. The experiments which he made in connection with this controversy, though in themselves unproductive of results, led to the important discovery by Mr. Mushet of the certain fusibility of malleable iron at a suitable temperature.

Among the other important results of Mr. Mushet's lifelong labours, the following may be summarily mentioned: The preparation of steel from bar-iron by a direct process, combining the iron with carbon; the discovery of the beneficial effects of oxide of manganese on iron and steel; the use of oxides of iron in the puddling-furnace in various modes of appliance; the production of pig-iron from the blast-furnace, suitable for puddling, without the intervention of the refinery; and the application of the hot blast to anthracite coal in iron-smelting. For the process of combining iron with carbon for the production of steel, Mr. Mushet took out a patent in November, 1800; and many years after, when he had discovered the beneficial effects of oxide of manganese on steel, Mr. Josiah Heath founded upon it his celebrated patent for the making of cast-steel, which had the effect of raising the annual production of that metal in Sheffield from 3000 to 100,000 tons. His application of the hot blast to anthracite coal, after a process invented by him and adopted by the Messrs. Hill of the Plymouth Iron Works, South Wales, had the effect of producing savings equal to about 20,000L. a year at those works; and yet, strange to say, Mr. Mushet himself never received any consideration for his invention.

The discovery of Titanium by Mr. Mushet in the hearth of a blast-furnace in 1794 would now be regarded as a mere isolated fact, inasmuch as Titanium was not placed in the list of recognised metals until Dr. Wollaston, many years later, ascertained its qualities. But in connection with the fact, it may be mentioned that Mr. Mushet's youngest son, Robert, reasoning on the peculiar circumstances of the discovery in question, of which ample record is left, has founded upon it his Titanium process, which is expected by him eventually to supersede all other methods of manufacturing steel, and to reduce very materially the cost of its production.

While he lived, Mr. Mushet was a leading authority on all matters connected with Iron and Steel, and he contributed largely to the scientific works of his time. Besides his papers in the Philosophical Journal, he wrote the article "Iron" for Napiers Supplement to the Encyclopaedia Britannica; and the articles "Blast Furnace" and "Blowing Machine" for Rees's Cyclopaedia. The two latter articles had a considerable influence on the opposition to the intended tax upon iron in 1807, and were frequently referred to in the discussions on the subject in Parliament. Mr. Mushet died in 1847.



[1] Dr. Roebuck's grandson, John Arthur Roebuck, by a singular coincidence, at present represents Sheffield in the British Parliament.

[2] The carronade was invented by General Robert Melville [Mr. Nasmyth says it was by Miller of Dalswinton], who proposed it for discharging 68 lb, shot with low charges of powder, in order to produce the increased splintering or SMASHING effects which were known to result from such practice. The first piece of the kind was cast at the Carron Foundry, in 1779, and General Melville's family have now in their possession a small model of this gun, with the inscription:—"Gift of the Carron Company to Lieutenant-general Melville, inventor of the smashers and lesser carronades, for solid, ship, shell, and carcass shot, &c. First used against French ships in 1779."

[3] Wilkie the painter once paid him a visit there while in Scotland studying the subject of his "Penny Wedding;" and Dugald Stewart found for him the old farm-house with the cradle-chimney, which he introduced in that picture. But Kinneil House has had its imaginary inhabitants as well as its real ones, the ghost of a Lady Lilburn, once an occupant of the place, still "haunting" some of the unoccupied chambers. Dugald Stewart told Wilkie one night, as he was going to bed, of the unearthly wailings which he himself had heard proceeding from the ancient apartments; but to him at least they had been explained by the door opening out upon the roof being blown in on gusty nights, when a jarring and creaking noise was heard all over the house. One advantage derived from the house being "haunted" was, that the garden was never broken into, and the winter apples and stores were at all times kept safe from depredation in the apartments of the Lady Lilburn.

[4] Dr. Roebuck had been on the brink of great good fortune, but he did not know it. Mr. Ralph Moore, in his "Papers on the Blackband Ironstones" (Glasgow, 1861), observes:—"Strange to say, he was leaving behind him, almost as the roof of one of the seams of coal which he worked, a valuable blackband ironstone, upon which Kinneil Iron Works are now founded. The coal-field continued to be worked until the accidental discovery of the blackband about 1845. The old coal-pits are now used for working the ironstone."

[5] The Mushets are an old Kincardine family; but they were almost extinguished by the plague in the reign of Charles the Second. Their numbers were then reduced to two; one of whom remained at Kincardine, and the other, a clergyman, the Rev. George Mushet, accompanied Montrose as chaplain. He is buried in Kincardine churchyard.

[6] Papers on Iron and Steel. By David Mushet. London, 1840.

[7] This valuable description of iron ore was discovered by Mr. Mushet, as he afterwards informs us (Papers on Iron and Steel, 121), in the year 1801, when crossing the river Calder, in the parish of Old Monkland. Having subjected a specimen which he found in the river-bed to the test of his crucible, he satisfied himself as to its properties, and proceeded to ascertain its geological position and relations. He shortly found that it belonged to the upper part of the coal-formation, and hence he designated it carboniferous ironstone. He prosecuted his researches, and found various rich beds of the mineral distributed throughout the western counties of Scotland. On analysis, it was found to contain a little over 50 per cent. of protoxide of iron. The coaly matter it contained was not its least valuable ingredient; for by the aid of the hot blast it was afterwards found practicable to smelt it almost without any addition of coal. Seams of black band have since been discovered and successfully worked in Edinburghshire, Staffordshire, and North Wales.



CHAPTER IX.

INVENTION OF THE HOT BLAST—JAMES BEAUMONT NEILSON.

"Whilst the exploits of the conqueror and the intrigues of the demagogue are faithfully preserved through a succession of ages, the persevering and unobtrusive efforts of genius, developing the best blessings of the Deity to man, are often consigned to oblivion."—David Mushet.

The extraordinary value of the Black Band ironstone was not at first duly recognised, perhaps not even by Mr. Mushet himself. For several years after its discovery by him, its use was confined to the Calder Iron Works, where it was employed in mixture with other ironstones of the argillaceous class. It was afterwards partially used at the Clyde Iron Works, but nowhere else, a strong feeling of prejudice being entertained against it on the part of the iron trade generally. It was not until the year 1825 that the Monkland Company used it alone, without any other mixture than the necessary quantity of limestone for a flux. "The success of this Company," says Mr. Mushet, "soon gave rise to the Gartsherrie and Dundyvan furnaces, in the midst of which progress came the use of raw pit-coal and the Hot Blast—the latter one of the greatest discoveries in metallurgy of the present age, and, above every other process, admirably adapted for smelting the Blackband ironstone." From the introduction of this process the extraordinary development of the iron-manufacture of Scotland may be said to date; and we accordingly propose to devote the present chapter to an account of its meritorious inventor.

James Beaumont Neilson was born at Shettleston, a roadside village about three miles eastward of Glasgow, on the 22nd of June, 1792. His parents belonged to the working class. His father's earnings during many laborious years of his life did not exceed sixteen shillings a week. He had been bred to the trade of a mill-wright, and was for some time in the employment of Dr. Roebuck as an engine-wright at his colliery near Boroughstoness. He was next employed in a like capacity by Mr. Beaumont, the mineral-manager of the collieries of Mrs. Cunningham of Lainshaw, near Irvine in Ayrshire; after which he was appointed engine-wright at Ayr, and subsequently at the Govan Coal Works near Glasgow, where he remained until his death. It was while working at the Irvine Works that he first became acquainted with his future wife, Marion Smith, the daughter of a Renfrewshire bleacher, a woman remarkable through life for her clever, managing, and industrious habits. She had the charge of Mrs. Cunningham's children for some time after the marriage of that lady to Mr. Beaumont, and it was in compliment to her former mistress and her husband that she named her youngest son James Beaumont after the latter.

The boy's education was confined to the common elements of reading, writing, and arithmetic, which he partly acquired at the parish school of Strathbungo near Glasgow, and partly at the Chapel School, as it was called, in the Gorbals at Glasgow. He had finally left school before he was fourteen. Some time before he left, he had been partially set to work, and earned four shillings a week by employing a part of each day in driving a small condensing engine which his father had put up in a neighbouring quarry. After leaving school, he was employed for two years as a gig boy on one of the winding engines at the Govan colliery. His parents now considered him of fit age to be apprenticed to some special trade, and as Beaumont had much of his father's tastes for mechanical pursuits, it was determined to put him apprentice to a working engineer. His elder brother John was then acting as engineman at Oakbank near Glasgow, and Beaumont was apprenticed under him to learn the trade. John was a person of a studious and serious turn of mind, and had been strongly attracted to follow the example of the brothers Haldane, who were then exciting great interest by their preaching throughout the North; but his father set his face against his son's "preaching at the back o' dikes," as he called it; and so John quietly settled down to his work. The engine which the two brothers managed was a very small one, and the master and apprentice served for engineman and fireman. Here the youth worked for three years, employing his leisure hours in the evenings in remedying the defects of his early education, and endeavouring to acquire a knowledge of English grammar, drawing, and mathematics.

On the expiry of his apprenticeship, Beaumont continued for a time to work under his brother as journeyman at a guinea a week; after which, in 1814, he entered the employment of William Taylor, coal-master at Irvine, and he was appointed engine-wright of the colliery at a salary of from 70L. to 80L. a year. One of the improvements which he introduced in the working of the colliery, while he held that office, was the laying down of an edge railway of cast-iron, in lengths of three feet, from the pit to the harbour of Irvine, a distance of three miles. At the age of 23 he married his first wife, Barbara Montgomerie, an Irvine lass, with a "tocher" of 250L. This little provision was all the more serviceable to him, as his master, Taylor, becoming unfortunate in business, he was suddenly thrown out of employment, and the little fortune enabled the newly-married pair to hold their heads above water till better days came round. They took a humble tenement, consisting of a room and a kitchen, in the Cowcaddens, Glasgow, where their first child was born.

About this time a gas-work, the first in Glasgow, was projected, and the company having been formed, the directors advertised for a superintendent and foreman, to whom they offered a "liberal salary." Though Beaumont had never seen gaslight before, except at the illumination of his father's colliery office after the Peace of Amiens, which was accomplished in a very simple and original manner, without either condenser, purifier, or gas-holder, and though he knew nothing of the art of gas-making, he had the courage to apply for the situation. He was one of twenty candidates, and the fortunate one; and in August, 1817, we find him appointed foreman of the Glasgow Gasworks, for five years, at the salary of 90L. a year. Before the expiry of his term he was reappointed for six years more, at the advanced salary of 200L., with the status of manager and engineer of the works. His salary was gradually increased to 400L. a year, with a free dwelling-house, until 1847, when, after a faithful service of thirty years, during which he had largely extended the central works, and erected branch works in Tradeston and Partick, he finally resigned the management.

The situation of manager of the Glasgow Gas-works was in many respects well suited for the development of Mr. Neilson's peculiar abilities. In the first place it afforded him facilities for obtaining theoretical as well as practical knowledge in Chemical Science, of which he was a diligent student at the Andersonian University, as well as of Natural Philosophy and Mathematics in their higher branches. In the next place it gave free scope for his ingenuity in introducing improvements in the manufacture of gas, then in its infancy. He was the first to employ clay retorts; and he introduced sulphate of iron as a self-acting purifier, passing the gas through beds of charcoal to remove its oily and tarry elements. The swallow-tail or union jet was also his invention, and it has since come into general use.

While managing the Gas-works, one of Mr. Neilson's labours of love was the establishment and direction by him of a Workmen's Institution for mutual improvement. Having been a workman himself, and experienced the disadvantages of an imperfect education in early life, as well as the benefits arising from improved culture in later years, he desired to impart some of these advantages to the workmen in his employment, who consisted chiefly of persons from remote parts of the Highlands or from Ireland. Most of them could not even read, and his principal difficulty consisted in persuading them that it was of any use to learn. For some time they resisted his persuasions to form a Workmen's Institution, with a view to the establishment of a library, classes, and lectures, urging as a sufficient plea for not joining it, that they could not read, and that books would be of no use to them. At last Mr. Neilson succeeded, though with considerable difficulty, in inducing fourteen of the workmen to adopt his plan. Each member was to contribute a small sum monthly, to be laid out in books, the Gas Company providing the members with a comfortable room in which they might meet to read and converse in the evenings instead of going to the alehouse. The members were afterwards allowed to take the books home to read, and the room was used for the purpose of conversation on the subjects of the books read by them, and occasionally for lectures delivered by the members themselves on geography, arithmetic, chemistry, and mechanics. Their numbers increased so that the room in which they met became insufficient for their accommodation, when the Gas Company provided them with a new and larger place of meeting, together with a laboratory and workshop. In the former they studied practical chemistry, and in the latter they studied practical mechanics, making for themselves an air pump and an electrifying machine, as well as preparing the various models used in the course of the lectures. The effects on the workmen were eminently beneficial, and the institution came to be cited as among the most valuable of its kind in the kingdom.[1]

Mr. Neilson throughout watched carefully over its working, and exerted himself in all ways to promote its usefulness, in which he had the zealous co-operation of the leading workmen themselves, and the gratitude of all. On the opening of the new and enlarged rooms in 1825, we find him delivering an admirable address, which was thought worthy of republication, together with the reply of George Sutherland, one of the workmen, in which Mr. Neilson's exertions as its founder and chief supporter were gratefully and forcibly expressed.[2]

It was during the period of his connection with the Glasgow Gas-works that Mr. Neilson directed his attention to the smelting of iron. His views in regard to the subject were at first somewhat crude, as appears from a paper read by him before the Glasgow Philosophical Society early in 1825. It appears that in the course of the preceding year his attention had been called to the subject by an iron-maker, who asked him if he thought it possible to purify the air blown into the blast furnaces, in like manner as carburetted hydrogen gas was purified. The ironmaster supposed that it was the presence of sulphur in the air that caused blast-furnaces to work irregularly, and to make bad iron in the summer months. Mr. Neilson was of opinion that this was not the true cause, and he was rather disposed to think it attributable to the want of a due proportion of oxygen in summer, when the air was more rarefied, besides containing more aqueous vapour than in winter. He therefore thought the true remedy was in some way or other to throw in a greater proportion of oxygen; and he suggested that, in order to dry the air, it should be passed, on its way to the furnace, through two long tunnels containing calcined lime. But further inquiry served to correct his views, and eventually led him to the true theory of blasting.

Shortly after, his attention was directed by Mr. James Ewing to a defect in one of the Muirkirk blast-furnaces, situated about half a mile distant from the blowing-engine, which was found not to work so well as others which were situated close to it. The circumstances of the case led Mr. Neilson to form the opinion that, as air increases in volume according to temperature, if he were to heat it by passing it through a red-hot vessel, its volume would be increased, according to the well-known law, and the blast might thus be enabled to do more duty in the distant furnace. He proceeded to make a series of experiments at the Gas-works, trying the effect of heated air on the illuminating power of gas, by bringing up a stream of it in a tube so as to surround the gas-burner. He found that by this means the combustion of the gas was rendered more intense, and its illuminating power greatly increased. He proceeded to try a similar experiment on a common smith's fire, by blowing the fire with heated air, and the effect was the same; the fire was much more brilliant, and accompanied by an unusually intense degree of heat.

Having obtained such marked results by these small experiments, it naturally occurred to him that a similar increase in intensity of combustion and temperature would attend the application of the process to the blast-furnace on a large scale; but being only a gas-maker, he had the greatest difficulty in persuading any ironmaster to permit him to make the necessary experiment's with blast-furnaces actually at work. Besides, his theory was altogether at variance with the established practice, which was to supply air as cold as possible, the prevailing idea being that the coldness of the air in winter was the cause of the best iron being then produced. Acting on these views, the efforts of the ironmasters had always been directed to the cooling of the blast, and various expedients were devised for the purpose. Thus the regulator was painted white, as being the coolest colour; the air was passed over cold water, and in some cases the air pipes were even surrounded by ice, all with the object of keeping the blast cold. When, therefore, Mr. Neilson proposed entirely to reverse the process, and to employ hot instead of cold blast, the incredulity of the ironmasters may well be imagined. What! Neilson, a mere maker of gas, undertake to instruct practical men in the manufacture of iron! And to suppose that heated air can be used for the purpose! It was presumption in the extreme, or at best the mere visionary idea of a person altogether unacquainted with the subject!

At length, however, Mr. Neilson succeeded in inducing Mr. Charles Macintosh of Crossbasket, and Mr. Colin Dunlop of the Clyde Iron Works, to allow him to make a trial of the hot air process. In the first imperfect attempts the air was heated to little more than 80 degrees Fahrenheit, yet the results were satisfactory, and the scoriae from the furnace evidently contained less iron. He was therefore desirous of trying his plan upon a more extensive scale, with the object, if possible, of thoroughly establishing the soundness of his principle. In this he was a good deal hampered even by those ironmasters who were his friends, and had promised him the requisite opportunities for making a fair trial of the new process. They strongly objected to his making the necessary alterations in the furnaces, and he seemed to be as far from a satisfactory experiment as ever. In one instance, where he had so far succeeded as to be allowed to heat the blast-main, he asked permission to introduce deflecting plates in the main or to put a bend in the pipe, so as to bring the blast more closely against the heated sides of the pipe, and also increase the area of heating surface, in order to raise the temperature to a higher point; but this was refused, and it was said that if even a bend were put in the pipe the furnace would stop working. These prejudices proved a serious difficulty in the way of our inventor, and several more years passed before he was allowed to put a bend in the blast-main. After many years of perseverance, he was, however, at length enabled to work out his plan into a definite shape at the Clyde Iron Works, and its practical value was at once admitted. At the meeting of the Mechanical Engineers' Society held in May, 1859, Mr. Neilson explained that his invention consisted solely in the principle of heating the blast between the engine and the furnace, and was not associated with any particular construction of the intermediate heating apparatus. This, he said, was the cause of its success; and in some respects it resembled the invention of his countryman, James Watt, who, in connection with the steam-engine, invented the plan of condensing the steam in a separate vessel, and was successful in maintaining his invention by not limiting it to any particular construction of the condenser. On the same occasion he took the opportunity of acknowledging the firmness with which the English ironmasters had stood by him when attempts were made to deprive him of the benefits of his invention; and to them he acknowledged he was mainly indebted for the successful issue of the severe contests he had to undergo. For there were, of course, certain of the ironmasters, both English and Scotch, supporters of the cause of free trade in others' inventions, who sought to resist the patent, after it had come into general use, and had been recognised as one of the most valuable improvements of modern times.[3]

The patent was secured in 1828 for a term of fourteen years; but, as Mr. Neilson did not himself possess the requisite capital to enable him to perfect the invention, or to defend it if attacked, he found it necessary to invite other gentlemen, able to support him in these respects, to share its profits; retaining for himself only three-tenths of the whole. His partners were Mr. Charles Macintosh, Mr. Colin Dunlop, and Mr. John Wilson of Dundyvan. The charge made by them was only a shilling a ton for all iron produced by the new process; this low rate being fixed in order to ensure the introduction of the patent into general use, as well as to reduce to a minimum the temptations of the ironmasters to infringe it.

The first trials of the process were made at the blast-furnaces of Clyde and Calder; from whence the use of the hot blast gradually extended to the other iron-mining districts. In the course of a few years every furnace in Scotland, with one exception (that at Carron), had adopted the improvement; while it was also employed in half the furnaces of England and Wales, and in many of the furnaces on the Continent and in America. In course of time, and with increasing experience, various improvements were introduced in the process, more particularly in the shape of the air-heating vessels; the last form adopted being that of a congeries of tubes, similar to the tubular arrangement in the boiler of the locomotive, by which the greatest extent of heating surface was provided for the thorough heating of the air. By these modifications the temperature of the air introduced into the furnace has been raised from 240 degrees to 600 degrees, or the temperature of melting lead. To protect the nozzle of the air-pipe as it entered the furnace against the action of the intense heat to which it was subjected, a spiral pipe for a stream of cold water constantly to play in has been introduced within the sides of the iron tuyere through which the nozzle passes; by which means the tuyere is kept comparatively cool, while the nozzle of the air-pipe is effectually protected.[4]

This valuable invention did not escape the usual fate of successful patents, and it was on several occasions the subject of protracted litigation. The first action occurred in 1832; but the objectors shortly gave in, and renewed their licence. In 1839, when the process had become generally adopted throughout Scotland, and, indeed, was found absolutely essential for smelting the peculiar ores of that country—more especially Mushet's Black Band—a powerful combination was formed amongst the ironmasters to resist the patent. The litigation which ensued extended over five years, during which period some twenty actions were proceeding in Scotland, and several in England. Three juries sat upon the subject at different times, and on three occasions appeals were carried to the House of Lords. One jury trial occupied ten days, during which a hundred and two witnesses were examined; the law costs on both sides amounting, it is supposed, to at least 40,000L. The result was, that the novelty and merit of Mr. Neilson's invention were finally established, and he was secured in the enjoyment of the patent right.

We are gratified to add, that, though Mr. Neilson had to part with two-thirds of the profits of the invention to secure the capital and influence necessary to bring it into general use, he realized sufficient to enable him to enjoy the evening of his life in peace and comfort. He retired from active business to an estate which he purchased in 1851 in the Stewartry of Kirkcudbright, where he is found ready to lend a hand in every good work—whether in agricultural improvement, railway extension, or the moral and social good of those about him. Mindful of the success of his Workmen's Institution at the Glasgow Gas-Works, he has, almost at his own door, erected a similar Institution for the use of the parish in which his property is situated, the beneficial effects of which have been very marked in the district. We may add that Mr. Neilson's merits have been recognised by many eminent bodies—by the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Chemical Society, and others—the last honour conferred on him being his election as a Member of the Royal Society in 1846.

The invention of the hot blast, in conjunction with the discovery of the Black Band ironstone, has had an extra ordinary effect upon the development of the iron-manufacture of Scotland. The coals of that country are generally unfit for coking, and lose as much as 55 per cent. in the process. But by using the hot blast, the coal could be sent to the blast-furnace in its raw state, by which a large saving of fuel was effected.[5] Even coals of an inferior quality were by its means made available for the manufacture of iron. But one of the peculiar qualities of the Black Band ironstone is that in many cases it contains sufficient coaly matter for purposes of calcination, without any admixture of coal whatever. Before its discovery, all the iron manufactured in Scotland was made from clay-band; but the use of the latter has in a great measure been discontinued wherever a sufficient supply of Black Band can be obtained. And it is found to exist very extensively in most of the midland Scotch counties,—the coal and iron measures stretching in a broad belt from the Firth of Forth to the Irish Channel at the Firth of Clyde. At the time when the hot blast was invented, the fortunes of many of the older works were at a low ebb, and several of them had been discontinued; but they were speedily brought to life again wherever Black Band could be found. In 1829, the year after Neilson's patent was taken out, the total make of Scotland was 29,000 tons. As fresh discoveries of the mineral were made, in Ayrshire and Lanarkshire, new works were erected, until, in 1845, we find the production of Scotch pig-iron had increased to 475,000 tons. It has since increased to upwards of a million of tons, nineteen-twentieths of which are made from Black Band ironstone.[6]

Employment has thus been given to vast numbers of our industrial population, and the wealth and resources of the Scotch iron districts have been increased to an extraordinary extent. During the last year there were 125 furnaces in blast throughout Scotland, each employing about 400 men in making an average of 200 tons a week; and the money distributed amongst the workmen may readily be computed from the fact that, under the most favourable circumstances, the cost of making iron in wages alone amounts to 36s. a-ton.[7]

An immense additional value was given to all land in which the Black Band was found. Mr. Mushet mentions that in 1839 the proprietor of the Airdrie estate derived a royalty of 16,500L. from the mineral, which had not before its discovery yielded him one farthing. At the same time, many fortunes have been made by pushing and energetic men who have of late years entered upon this new branch of industry. Amongst these may be mentioned the Bairds of Gartsherrie, who vie with the Guests and Crawshays of South Wales, and have advanced themselves in the course of a very few years from the station of small farmers to that of great capitalists owning estates in many counties, holding the highest character commercial men, and ranking among the largest employers of labour in the kingdom.



[1] Article by Dugald Bannatyne in Glasgow Mechanic's Magazine, No. 53, Dec. 1824.

[2] Glasgow Mechanic's Magazine, vol. iii. p. 159.

[3] Mr. Mushet described it as "a wonderful discovery," and one of the "most novel and beautiful improvements in his time." Professor Gregory of Aberdeen characterized it as "the greatest improvement with which he was acquainted." Mr. Jessop, an extensive English iron manufacturer, declared it to be "of as great advantage in the iron trade as Arkwright's machinery was in the cotton-spinning trade"; and Mr. Fairbairn, in his contribution on "Iron" in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, says that it "has effected an entire revolution in the iron industry of Great Britain, and forms the last era in the history of this material."

[4] The invention of the tubular air-vessels and the water-tuyere belongs, we believe, to Mr. John Condie, sometime manager of the Blair Iron Works.

[5] Mr. Mushet says, "The greatest produce in iron per furnace with the Black Band and cold blast never exceeded 60 tons a-week. The produce per furnace now averages 90 tons a-week. Ten tons of this I attribute to the use of raw pit-coal, and the other twenty tons to the use of hot blast." [Papers on Iron and Steel, 127.] The produce per furnace is now 200 tons a-week and upwards. The hot blast process was afterwards applied to the making of iron with the anthracite or stone coal of Wales; for which a patent was taken out by George Crane in 1836. Before the hot blast was introduced, anthracite coal would not act as fuel in the blast-furnace. When put in, it merely had the effect of putting the fire out. With the aid of the hot blast, however, it now proves to be a most valuable fuel in smelting.

[6] It is stated in the North British Review for Nov. 1845, that "As in Scotland every furnace—with the exception of one at Carron—now uses the hot blast the saving on our present produce of 400,000 tons of pig-iron is 2,000,000 tons of coals, 200,000 tons of limestone, and #650,000 sterling per annum." But as the Scotch produce is now above a million tons of pig-iron a year, the above figures will have to be multiplied by 2 1/2 to give the present annual savings.

[7] Papers read by Mr. Ralph Moore, Mining Engineer, Glasgow, before the Royal Scottish Society of Arts, Edin. 1861, pp. 13, 14.



CHAPTER X.

MECHANICAL INVENTIONS AND INVENTORS.

"L'invention nest-elle pas la poesie de la science? . . . Toutes les grandes decouvertes portent avec elles la trace ineffacable d'une pensee poetique. Il faut etre poete pour creer. Aussi, sommes-nous convaincus que si les puissantes machines, veritable source de la production et de l'industrie de nos jours, doivent recevoir des modifications radicales, ce sera a des hommes d'imagination, et non point a dea hommes purement speciaux, que l'on devra cette transformation."—E. M. BATAILLE, Traite des Machines a Vapeur.

Tools have played a highly important part in the history of civilization. Without tools and the ability to use them, man were indeed but a "poor, bare, forked animal,"—worse clothed than the birds, worse housed than the beaver, worse fed than the jackal. "Weak in himself," says Carlyle, "and of small stature, he stands on a basis, at most for the flattest-soled, of some half square foot, insecurely enough; has to straddle out his legs, Jest the very wind supplant him. Feeblest of bipeds! Three quintals are a crushing load for him; the steer of the meadow tosses him aloft like a waste rag. Nevertheless he can use tools, can devise tools: with these the granite mountain melts into light dust before him; he kneads glowing iron as if it were soft paste; seas are his smooth highway, winds and fire his unvarying steeds. Nowhere do you find him without tools: without tools he is nothing; with tools he is all." His very first contrivances to support life were tools of the simplest and rudest construction; and his latest achievements in the substitution of machinery for the relief of the human hand and intellect are founded on the use of tools of a still higher order. Hence it is not without good reason that man has by some philosophers been defined as A TOOL-MAKING ANIMAL.

Tools, like everything else, had small beginnings. With the primitive stone-hammer and chisel very little could be done. The felling of a tree would occupy a workman a month, unless helped by the destructive action of fire. Dwellings could not be built, the soil could not be tilled, clothes could not be fashioned and made, and the hewing out of a boat was so tedious a process that the wood must have been far gone in decay before it could be launched. It was a great step in advance to discover the art of working in metals, more especially in steel, one of the few metals capable of taking a sharp edge and keeping it. From the date of this discovery, working in wood and stone would be found comparatively easy; and the results must speedily have been felt not only in the improvement of man's daily food, but in his domestic and social condition. Clothing could then be made, the primitive forest could be cleared and tillage carried on; abundant fuel could be obtained, dwellings erected, ships built, temples reared; every improvement in tools marking a new step in the development of the human intellect, and a further stage in the progress of human civilization.

The earliest tools were of the simplest possible character, consisting principally of modifications of the wedge; such as the knife, the shears (formed of two knives working on a joint), the chisel, and the axe. These, with the primitive hammer, formed the principal stock-in-trade of the early mechanics, who were handicraftsmen in the literal sense of the word. But the work which the early craftsmen in wood, stone, brass, and iron, contrived to execute, sufficed to show how much expertness in the handling of tools will serve to compensate for their mechanical imperfections. Workmen then sought rather to aid muscular strength than to supersede it, and mainly to facilitate the efforts of manual skill. Another tool became added to those mentioned above, which proved an additional source of power to the workman. We mean the Saw, which was considered of so much importance that its inventor was honoured with a place among the gods in the mythology of the Greeks. This invention is said to have been suggested by the arrangement of the teeth in the jaw of a serpent, used by Talus the nephew of Daedalus in dividing a piece of wood. From the representations of ancient tools found in the paintings at Herculaneum it appears that the frame-saw used by the ancients very nearly resembled that still in use; and we are informed that the tools employed in the carpenters' shops at Nazareth at this day are in most respects the same as those represented in the buried Roman city. Another very ancient tool referred to in the Bible and in Homer was the File, which was used to sharpen weapons and implements. Thus the Hebrews "had a file for the mattocks, and for the coulters, and for the forks, and for the axes, and to sharpen the goads." [1] When to these we add the adze, plane-irons, the anger, and the chisel, we sum up the tools principally relied on by the early mechanics for working in wood and iron.

Such continued to be the chief tools in use down almost to our own day. The smith was at first the principal tool-maker; but special branches of trade were gradually established, devoted to tool-making. So long, however, as the workman relied mainly on his dexterity of hand, the amount of production was comparatively limited; for the number of skilled workmen was but small. The articles turned out by them, being the product of tedious manual labour, were too dear to come into common use, and were made almost exclusively for the richer classes of the community. It was not until machinery had been invented and become generally adopted that many of the ordinary articles of necessity and of comfort were produced in sufficient abundance and at such prices as enabled them to enter into the consumption of the great body of the people.

But every improver of tools had a long and difficult battle to fight; for any improvement in their effective power was sure to touch the interests of some established craft. Especially was this the case with machines, which are but tools of a more complete though complicated kind than those above described.

Take, for instance, the case of the Saw. The tedious drudgery of dividing timber by the old fashioned hand-saw is well known. To avoid it, some ingenious person suggested that a number of saws should be fixed to a frame in a mill, so contrived as to work with a reciprocating motion, upwards and downwards, or backwards and forwards, and that this frame so mounted should be yoked to the mill wheel, and the saws driven by the power of wind or water. The plan was tried, and, as may readily be imagined, the amount of effective work done by this machine-saw was immense, compared with the tedious process of sawing by hand.

It will be observed, however, that the new method must have seriously interfered with the labour of the hand-sawyers; and it was but natural that they should regard the establishment of the saw-mills with suspicion and hostility. Hence a long period elapsed before the hand-sawyers would permit the new machinery to be set up and worked. The first saw-mill in England was erected by a Dutchman, near London, in 1663, but was shortly abandoned in consequence of the determined hostility of the workmen. More than a century passed before a second saw-mill was set up; when, in 1767, Mr. John Houghton, a London timber-merchant, by the desire and with the approbation of the Society of Arts, erected one at Limehouse, to be driven by wind. The work was directed by one James Stansfield, who had gone over to Holland for the purpose of learning the art of constructing and managing the sawing machinery. But the mill was no sooner erected than a mob assembled and razed it to the ground. The principal rioters having been punished, and the loss to the proprietor having been made good by the nation, a new mill was shortly after built, and it was suffered to work without further molestation.

Improved methods of manufacture have usually had to encounter the same kind of opposition. Thus, when the Flemish weavers came over to England in the seventeenth century, bringing with them their skill and their industry, they excited great jealousy and hostility amongst the native workmen. Their competition as workmen was resented as an injury, but their improved machinery was regarded as a far greater source of mischief. In a memorial presented to the king in 1621 we find the London weavers complaining of the foreigners' competition, but especially that "they have made so bould of late as to devise engines for working of tape, lace, ribbin, and such like, wherein one man doth more among them than 7 Englishe men can doe; so as their cheap sale of commodities beggereth all our Englishe artificers of that trade, and enricheth them." [2]

At a much more recent period new inventions have had to encounter serious rioting and machine-breaking fury. Kay of the fly-shuttle, Hargreaves of the spinning-jenny, and Arkwright of the spinning-frame, all had to fly from Lancashire, glad to escape with their lives. Indeed, says Mr. Bazley, "so jealous were the people, and also the legislature, of everything calculated to supersede men's labour, that when the Sankey Canal, six miles long, near Warrington, was authorized about the middle of last century, it was on the express condition that the boats plying on it should be drawn by men only!" [3] Even improved agricultural tools and machines have had the same opposition to encounter; and in our own time bands of rural labourers have gone from farm to farm breaking drill-ploughs, winnowing, threshing, and other machines, down even to the common drills,—not perceiving that if their policy had proved successful, and tools could have been effectually destroyed, the human race would at once have been reduced to their teeth and nails, and civilization summarily abolished.[4] It is, no doubt, natural that the ordinary class of workmen should regard with prejudice, if not with hostility, the introduction of machines calculated to place them at a disadvantage and to interfere with their usual employments; for to poor and not very far-seeing men the loss of daily bread is an appalling prospect. But invention does not stand still on that account. Human brains WILL work. Old tools are improved and new ones invented, superseding existing methods of production, though the weak and unskilled may occasionally be pushed aside or even trodden under foot. The consolation which remains is, that while the few suffer, society as a whole is vastly benefitted by the improved methods of production which are suggested, invented, and perfected by the experience of successive generations.

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