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Sir Edward ThomasonsO
memoirs during half a century ... J

Edward Thomason *






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SIR EDWARD THOMASON'S



MEMOIRS



DURING HALF A CENTURY.



VOL. I.



BMTKRBD AT BTATIONBBS' HALL.



LONDON:
LONGMAN, BKOWN, GREEN, AND U>N01CAN8



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PREFACE.



A book without a preface is an anomaly. Custom
demands a preface, even though it be as brief as the
motto of the Author's crest, " Deo non fortuna ;" and
every writer finds, at least when his book is finished, if
not before, the benefit and expediency in the paying the
tax, and of availing himself of the opportunity thereby
afforded to apologize for the omission and commission,
inasmuch as he may have erred, and to conciliate, as
far as possible, by a statement of what he intended should
ensue, the favourable judgment of his fellow townsmen
upon what he has actually accomplished !

If the Author has at all succeeded in the object at
which he aims, he flatters himself that the Work may be
found (with deference be it, however, spoken) instructive
and useful to the young and rising manufacturers of the
great commercial town of Birmingham, comprising those
whose ambition and taste lead them to improve their
works and resources by inventions protected by patent
right ; and the ambition of others, who seek for honours
to be conferred by their Sovereign for improvements
which application and study may have developed in the
production of inventions novel and useful in science and
the arts I

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In the line of manufactures in which the Author was
engaged for upwards of forty years, and which was con-
fined to the highest class of the metallic arts, he is ani-
mated with the hope that he has succeeded in many
inventions calculated to reflect some credit on the inven-
tor, and in which opinion he conceives himself borne
out by his having been honoured with the Order of
Knighthood from his own Sovereign, as well as having
been honoured with more than thirty distinguished
tokens of approbation from Foreign Potentates, of deco-
rative orders of knighthood, gold medals of merit, dia-
mond rings, diamond snuff-boxes, and other foreign
specimens of art, for which gratifying compliments he
begs to avail himself of a line here to express his ever-
lasting gratitude.

The Author filled, for a period of twenty years, for
eight Foreign Governments, the honourable appointment
of Vice-Consul for the town of Birmingham, which regu-
larly introduced him to foreigners of the highest distinc-
tion — to princes, nobles, ambassadors, professors, &c. ;
thereby laying a foundation for a correspondence some-
what unique, and which may be found useful and instruc-
tive to the rising manufacturers of his native town.

The Author avails himself of these documents to
enable him to arrange a series of events during so long
a period, and to form therefrom a publication calculated,
it will bo said, to gratify the ambition of the Author ;
but he humbly hopes it may be held amusing and instruc-

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111



tiye to those into whose hands it may chance to fall, as
it will be exemplified that, in the year 1830, the Author
completed the laborious work of sia:ti/ large medals on
the Bible, and that the Author has assumed the liberty
of filling up the Sacred History from one medal to
another to the best of his ability, which will present to
the mind of the young reader an opportunity to inform
himself, by the most concise and easy way, of " the
beauty of holiness," and of the most important and sacred
historical events, which will mend and improve the
heart, and induce him, for his comfort, consolation,
and salvation, to

" Study the Holy Scriptures/*



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MEMOIRS



I WAS put a pupil — or, what is the fact in another 1795.
way of expressing it, I was, at the age of sixteen, articled
to Messrs. Boulton and Co., of Soho, to learn their
trades, until I attained the age of twenty-one years. The
extent of the manufactory, and the variety of machinery
used for the furtherance of the manufacturing of the
numerous articles made there, as buttons, bronzes, steel
toys, silver and plated wares, and steam-engines, excelled
all others of the like description in Europe. I was ini-
tiated in this scientific school of Soho, which induced in
me a versatility of taste for mechanism, and to cultivate
the arts and sciences. It, nevertheless, gave me an am-
bitious feeling far beyond the means I possessed, on
coming of age, to indulge in.

My father was in business, as a buckle-manufacturer,
above forty years, during which period buckles were
worn by all classes, from the monarch to the peasant ;
and it is supposed nearly six thousand persons, including
men, women, and children, were employed in the town of
Birmingham in making them. My father erected his
dwelling-house, in early life, in St* Philip's Square, on
that side called Colmore Row ; and the houses from his
own residence to the comer, and down part of Church
Street, were his property, behind which were his ware-
bouses and manufactory which he occupied during the
time he was in business. He was extremely industriow

B

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1796. in his habits, truly honourable in all the transactions of
life, and quite a domesticated character. He was what
was termed, in his days, a truly loyal Church and King
man. He had used to say that all nations ought to
envy our glorious constitution, for the legislature (or
people) check the lords, the lords check the legislature,
the sovereign checks them both ; and which, he said,
constitutes the true line of liberty and happiness of the
people. My father was what, in those days, was called
a pillar of the Church. In health, he never omitted
going twice, but upon no accoimt would he be induced to
go thrice in one Sunday. He was the best of husbands
and fathers, blest with a most amiable wife, and, with
their family, they lived in the utmost harmony and affec-
tion ; and he was so generally respected, that his towns-
men elected him to the honourable appointment of High
Bailiff of Birmingham.

I have heard my father say that his manufactory com-
pleted one thousand pairs of buckles per diem, or six
thousand pairs per week, when in full work. In those
days, buckles were worn by both sexes, and also by chil-
dren, and were principally made of white metal, which
looked like silver ; some few were plated with silver.
I heard my father say that he invented one pattern,
which he called the " silver penny,** by which pattern
he cleared above £1000 sterling. He obtained an inde-
pendence, and retired from business about the age of
sixty-two ; he, however, kept the buildings of warehouses
and workshops unoccupied, ready for me on my leaving
Soho.

I began my manufactories in the year 1793, first
establishing the trade of gilt and plated buttons, of the
finest class j I then annexed the trade of gilt tod gold



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jewellery ; to this I added a department for the making 1796.
of medals, tokens, and corns, of gold, silver, hronzed, &c. ;
to which I added works in hronze, including fine cut
glass ; and, lastly, I subjoined a manufactory for silver and
gold plate, and silver-mounted plated wares of the highest
class of workmanship in n^odelling, embossing, sculptuary,
and chasing, all of which trades occupied, including about
twelve showrooms, to the number of sixty to seventy
rooms.

Having been accustomed, during the last five years at
Soho, to witness continual new inventions in mechanism
and metallurgy, the mind became restless to produce
some novelty or invention worthy of being patented,
thereby handing my name a little to notice.

The war with France had commenced, and been already
carried on since 1793. Every effort was made to deprive
the French of their naval power. The French Govern-
ment, however, kept their fleets in the inner harbours of
Brest, Dunkirk, and other harbours on the French
coasts ; and as it was the law of all maritime nations,
that all persons taken in a fire-ship, with intent to set
fire to a fleet in harbour, should suffer death, it was
stated to be little less than the commission of murder to
permit any of our gallant sailors to attempt so hazardous
an enterprise

It appeared to me practicable to arrange machinery,
worked by a small steam engine, and all fixed in a
fire-ship, to steer herself into the enemy's harbours,
particularly as the French Government at that period
made a show of their vessels daily in the outer bar-
bour i and General Bentinck remarked to me, that Go-
vernment were in possession of a chemical combustion
that would set fire to the enemy's fleet, provided means

B 2

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4

1796. could be invented by machinery to force on the fire-ship,
and to turn the rudder at a few given points, and on
coming in contact with the fleet in the harbours would
release an arrangement by spring triggers, and set fire to
the combustibles. I turned my thoughts to such an
invention, and in August, 1796, having made a hand-
working model, with paddle wheels, and a small steam
engine to propel the same, as occasion required, moving a
train of wheels for the direction of the rudder at given times,
I communicated my invention to the Earl of Aylesford,
of Packington Hall, Warwickshire, to solicit him to
inspect the same, and afterwards to obtain for me an
interview with the first Lord of the Admiralty, then Earl
Spencer and the following letter I received from his
lordship, in reply : —

Packington Hall, September 28th, I796.

^i^jf/C^/M/U jg ygjy soH^ hc canuot ap-
point a time with Mr. Thomason for seeing the very
curious model he mentions of a fire-ship in his
letter. As he refers him to the Rev. Mr. Jacques, he
will have an opportunity of seeing him to-morrow, which
he should wish to do before he can with propriety write
to Lord Spencer. He should have been very glad to
have seen the model, but he goes early in the next week
to town, and his engagements make it impossible to fix
a time ; but he begs to acquaint Mr. Thomason that he
will be but an imperfect judge, having very little
acquaintance with the mathematics.

Soon after Lord Aylesford reached town, he sent me
the following communication : —



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"London, October 6th, 1796. 1796.
"Sir,

" I had fortunately an opportunity of speaking
to Lord Spencer yesterday, a few hours after I came
to town, when I did not neglect to mention to him the
subject of your letter, and his Lordship authorized me
to say that he shall be glad to see your model when-
ever it is convenient to you to bring it to London.

" I should recommend to you to call at the Admiralty,
and send in a card to Lord Spencer, requesting him to
appoint the time when you may wait on him with the
model.

" I am, Sir,

"Your very humble servant,*




I took the model up to town, and called at the Admi-
ralty. Lord Spencer being out, I left my card, and a
note to his Lordship. The next morning I received the
following letter : —

" Admiralty, 11th October, Tuesday, I796.
"Sir,

" Lord Spencer, in answer to the note he has
received from you to-day, has directed me to say that
he wiU be glad to see you, and your model, here on
Thursday next, at twelve o'clock,

" I am. Sir,
" Your obedient, humble servant.




" Mr. Thomason, at Mr. Chippendale's,
Salisbury Square, London.'*



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1796. On the Thursday I waited upon Lord Spencer with
my model, which filled one half of the coach, as it was
placed in a large case, under lock and key. A servant
carried it into Lord Spencer's room of business, called
the Board, and Lord Spencer desired to see me ; there
were many gentlemen and general officers there. I
worked the model upon the table, and explained the
nature of its general action, taking special care to state
to the Board of Officers present with his Lordship, that
I was prepared to know that a vessel so made could not
possibly succeed unless in still water ; that it would be
essential to know how many feet the vessel would be
propelled at each stroke of the engine upon what is
called a still wat^r. I explained how to get the train
of wheels to move the rudder, at a given space of time,
at the angle required, and to return the rudder to its for*
mer position at the period wished. Many compliments
passed as to the novelty of the idea, and the ingenuity
displayed ; but, observed one of the Artillery present,
addressing the First Lord of the Admiralty, " My Lord,
I cannot withhold expressing my admiration of the thought
and novel mode in the arrangement of the machinery, and
every merit is due to the inventor ; but I am clearly of
opinion that one important point will be fatal to its
success — that the sea near any harbour is never suffi-
ciently quiet to admit of the vessel being propelled and
steered compatible with any calculation.'*

From this observation I evidently perceived that no
absolute trial, upon a proper scale, would be adopted.

Lord Spencer was very polite, and said he would
retain the model for a short time, to afibrd an oppor-
tunity for some of the Lords of the Admiralty to
see it.



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Not hearing anything from the Admiralty for about a 1796.
month, I was induced to appeal to the Admiralty Board
for remuneration of my expenses, presuming that I had
succeeded in the attempt, so far as my part of the
mechanism went, after receiving so many flattering com-
pliments. This application brought the following reply.

" Admiralty, 6th Nov., I796.
**Sir,

" Lord Spencer has received your letter of yes-
terday, and has directed me in answer to it to say, that,
though he cannot but commend the ingenuity which you
have displayed in your invention, he is afraid it cannot
possibly be practically useful; on which account his
Lordship very much doubts whether it would be justi-
fiable in allowing a compensation for it. He will, how-
ever, lay your letter before the Lords of the Admiralty,
for their consideration and opinion.

" I am. Sir,
" Your very obedient humble servant.




" Mr. Thomason, Birmingham.'*

Here ended this matter, I having been given to under-
stand that no remuneration could be made for any
inventicm until it had bond fide done the thing intended
Indeed I was told by an influential person in the Admi-
ralty, that even admitting the success of any new and
eligible invention, the inventor must wear out a year or
two's patience, in absolute petitioning, before he would
receive the grant of one farthing.

I made up my mind that I would, for the friture, apply



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8

1796. my thoughts to inventions upon a scale best adapted for
general purposes, and not for the Government

At this period, 1796, fine dress steel buttons for the
Court were much in demand, and as all attempts had
failed in the trial of converting English iron into steel, I
was aware how valuable such a discovery would be if it
could be attained.

I was pursuing a course of these experiments in a
small furnace, just at the moment that his Excellency
Charles Frederic Bremer brought me a letter of intro-
duction from his Excellency the Swedish Ambassador,
the Hon. Claes GrilL I invited him to the subject, as
all our steel was at that time made with the Swedish
Dannemora iron. I could compel the English iron to
absorb two or three per cent of carbon in the cementa-
tion, but the steel produced was red, short, and full of
flaws and cracks. The difficulty with me was to be
informed what extra metallic substance formed a compo-
nent part in the Swedish iron, rendering it peculiarly
adapted for conversion into steel. The Hon. Mr.
Bremer kindly promised to send me some specimens of
Dannemora iron ore on his return to Sweden. In No-
vember, 1796, I received the following kind letter from
him, with eleven specimens of iron ore ; and a Swedish
Dictionary called Bergwerck's Lexicon.

" Edward Thomason, Esq., Birmingham.

** Stockhohn, Oct. 28th, 1796.
« Dear Sir,

** It is about a week since I sent you by
Captain Klingstrom, of the ship Nautilus, who was then
going to London, one box, enveloped in black waxed
linen, with your address, and marked , contain-
ing eleven different specimens of Dannemora iron- ore,



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and Mr. Rinman's Bergwerck's Lexicon ; I also sent 1796.
you a letter concerning it.

** This box Mr. Claes Grill, in London, wiU receive,
and forward to you by the first opportunity ; I have
mentioned to him the contents, that it might not be
delayed at the Custom-house, and hope, therefore, you
will soon and safely receive it

** I shall be happy if this is to your satisfaction.
" Your sincere and obliged friend,

" Mr. Edw. Thomason, Birmingham.

" London, 4th Feb., 1797- 1797.
"Sir,

" According to your request by your esteemed
£BiVor of the 28th ult, I have enquired about the men-
tioned box, which at present is at the Custom House.
On Monday or Tuesday next I may be able to forward
it to you, and I have, in the mean time, this day made
]>etition at the Custom House about it I remain, with
regard,

"Sir,
" Your most obedient servant.




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10

1797. In January, 1797> I perfected a working model of a
windmUl with one sail, for the purpose of pumping water
from ponds, &c.

The sail always placed itself at right angles to the
wind ; the centre of the mast moving upon an axle, per-
mitted the sail to be forced alternately down right and
left, describing about 90 degrees right, and 90 degrees
left. The top of the mast was attached to two sliding
iron rods, which alternately worked the handles of the
pumps. The machinery at the lower end of the mast
worked in a circle of about 180 degrees, corresponding
with the arch described by the whole range of the saiL

What I conceived was that a machine of this nature
placed on a pond for raising the water, and afterwards
used for the turning of a water wheel, might be made
available for the grinding of com, without much expense.

The model worked extremely well^ with a moderate
wind, and soon pumped the water out of the tub. I was
much complimented and flattered by the approval of it
by many engineers, if its force could be placed under
any controul, when moved by a high wind. This was
found impracticable, for even the sail of the model,
which was only 4^ feet in height and 2 feet wide, dis-
placed the machinery by a gust of wind.

I did not take out a patent for this invention, but I
presented it to the Society of Arts at the AdelphL

1798. The non-success in the inventions which I have
described, although attended with several hundred
pounds expense, did not damp my ardour, nor arrest,
for one day, my inclination and perseverance to produce
some novelty, both interesting to the public and lucra-
tive to myself.

I next turned my attention to carriage steps which



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11

should move up and down, and fold and unfold them- 1798.
selves, by the action of opening and shutting of the
carriage door, presuming that every physician and sur-
geon keeping a close carriage would adopt them. I
succeeded in bringing my invention to act in 1798. I
had the honour, through Mr. Hatchet, to show them to
George I£L, at Windsor; and Messrs. Hatchet and
Co., Leader and Co., and Mr. J. Vidler, the three
leading coachmakers in London, wrote me the following
letters, expressive of their opinion of the invention,
which they permitted me to publish. For this inven-
tion I went to the expense of obtaining his Majesty's
Royal Letters Patent.

" Rapport de Messrs. Hatchet and Co., Faiseurs des
Caresses de sa Majesty le Roi de la Grand Bretagne.
" M. Thomason,
" Monsieur,

" J'ai re9u votre Marchepied k Patentes,
lequel descend Sc se replace par Taction de la portiere
en s'ouvrant & se fermant Je ?ai fix6 k ma propre
voiture pour m*assurer qu'effectivement eUe fonctionne
ainsi que votre description Paffirme ; il a ei€ minutiese-
ment examine par moi & mes Associ^s, & nous pensons
que rinvention est tr^s digne de Tattention de chaque
famille, & en particulier des medicins ; href, nous la
coDsiderons comme une pi^ce de mechanisme tr^s judi-
cieuse et utile & nous souhaitons sinc^rement qu'elle ait
le succ^s qu'elle merite.

" Jai rhonneur d'etre,

" Pour moi-m6me & associ^s,
" Monsieur,
" Votre tr^s obeissant serviteur,
" (Sign6) Jean Hatchet.

" Londres, Janvier, 1799.*'

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1799. " Rapport de Messrs. Leader & Co., Faiseurs des
Carosses de S. A. R. La Prince & la Princesse de Galles,
les Dues de York & Clarence, &c. &c.
" M. Thomason.
" Monsieur,

" Nous pr^nons la liberty de vous informer
que nous avons examine vos marchepieds a patentes,
que vous nous avez envoy^s pour notre inspection ; nous



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