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Charles Wye Williams

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Charles Wye Williams (c1779-1866)

1835 Charles Wye Williams of Liverpool, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

Many years connected with the City of Dublin Steam Packet Co


1869 Obituary [2]

MR. CHARLES WYE WILLIAMS commenced life as a Barrister ; but this career he speedily abandoned, for, although in many respects fitted for the legal profession, his tastes lay entirely in engineering and commercial pursuits.

In 1806-7 Mr. Williams erected a large linen mill in Ireland, introducing, for the first time in that country, a new process called ‘beetling,’ and the finishing of linens, and also iron spur gearing, cast by Edwards, of Belfast.

About the year 1819, he - with the intention, originally, of assisting Mr. John Oldham, the Engineer of the Bank of Ireland, and subsequently of the Bank of England - turned his attention to steam navigation, chiefly with respect to the introduction of Mr. Oldham’s patent feathering paddles, which, after numerous modifications, became known as ‘Morgan’s wheel.’

Mr. Williams consulted with the late Mr. A. Manby (M. Inst. C. E,), at the Horseley Iron Works, and thence was produced a small steam engine with two oscillating cylinders, the first of its kind and the precursor of all those which have since been so extensively used, with a pair of Oldham’s feathering paddles. These were adapted to a whale-boat at the Ring's-end Foundry, Dublin, by Mr. Charles Manby (Hon. Sec. Inst. C. E.), and the success was so great that the future career of Mr. Williams may be said to have been thus decided. Oldham’s paddles were immediately tried on board the Aaron Manby, the first iron steam vessel that ever made a sea voyage, and the general results of their trials were such as to lead to the formation of a steam company for the conveyance of passengers and goods between Liverpool and Dublin.

The Company was established pursuant to the provisions of an Irish Act of Parliament- the 21st and 22nd George III., with a capital of £50,000. The partnership deed was registered, in compliance with the Act, in the name of one shareholder, who was called the acting partner: he alone being subject to the bankrupt laws, all the rest being merely sleeping partners, whose liability was limited to the amount of their shares. The firm was called Charles Wye Williams and Co, and the Company built, in 1823, the steamers City of Dublin and Town of Liverpool, each of 300 tons burthen. Mr. Williams was denounced as a bold and rash man, to commence such a speculation with two ships. However, as it turned out, there was a call for more capital and ships, and four additional steamers were laid down,- viz., the ‘Hibernia,’ ‘Britannia,’ ‘Manchester,’ and ‘Leeds.’

This growth of steam property caused the firm of Williams and Co. to merge into the firm of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company. In this enlarged concern Mr. Williams found his fitting place as Managing Director, intrusted with the entire executive, assisted by a board of seven directors, for the financial and other departments. The increase of traffic continuing, Mr. Williams applied, in 1828, for a special Act of Parliament, 9th of George IV., 'For regulating and enabling the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company to sue and be sued, and thereby to encourage the use of vessels propelled by steam in Ireland.' This Act was obtained to enable the Company to place steamers on the Shannon, which river, at that period, had been surveyed, and on which a small steamer had been placed by Mr. John Grantham (M. Inst. C. E.).

With the object of accelerating the introduction of river and lake navigation, Mr. Williams wrote a pamphlet, in 1832, on inland navigation, pointing out the capability of establishing an intercourse along the Shannon, from Lough Allen, in the north, to 46 miles below Limerick seawards. Mr. Williams claimed as the result of that pamphlet the appointment of a Commission. The Commission reported so favourably, that an Act was passed under which half a million sterling was expended on the improvement of the navigation. Ireland, therefore, is largely indebted to the indefatigable labours of Mr. Williams, for the extension of her inland navigation, and the improvement of her chief water artery.

As Manager of the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company his duties were not light, for he had to keep pace with the times ; and as the necessity arose for extending the operations of the Company, new capital and fresh parliamentary powers had to be applied for.

The Company was granted a fresh Act of Parliament - the 6th and 7th William IV.; and in 1860 the Company, in conjunction with the London and North Western Railway Company, obtained an Act to enable them to raise the capital for the construction of the four powerful steamers, the ‘Leinster,’ ‘Munster,’ ‘Connaught,’ and ‘Ulster,’ which now maintain the service between Holyhead and Kingstown.

Mr. Williams, at the ripe age of eighty years, took a warm interest in the completion of these vessels, visiting London specially to witness the casting of the cylinders of the ‘Leinster ’ at the works of Messrs. Ravenhill, Salkeld, and Co.

The City of Dublin Steam Packet Company continued to add vessel after vessel, until they possessed a fleet of thirty steamers of large capacity and great power. Mr. Williams acted as Managing Director of the Company to within a few years of his death, when he retired, full of honours, to enjoy that rest and repose to which a life spent in earnest persevering work entitled him.

One of the branches of Irish trade which has benefited greatly by an uninterrupted steam communication with Liverpool has been the cattle traffic, and had Mr. Williams and his contemporaries achieved no greater results, by the establishment of the steam trade between Liverpool and Ireland, than facilitating the transit of cattle to the English markets, they would have accomplished a great and almost national work.

Having successfully inaugurated and developed this important trade, Mr. Williams directed his attention to the possibility of bridging the Atlantic by steam communication. Some scientific men declared against the project, on the ground that no vessel could carry a sufficient quantity of coal for the voyage, leaving the requisite space for goods and passengers to make the scheme commercially profitable. However, the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, acting under the advice of Mr. Williams and his co-manager, Mr. Francis Carleton, in the spring of 1837, built the Royal William, and subsequently purchased the Great Liverpool from the late Sir John Tobin, both of which vessels made several voyages to New York, shortly after the first trips of the 'Sirius’ and ‘Great Western.’

The experience gained in this enterprise was that no private association could undertake such a service with success, unless supported by a public subsidy. Not being favoured with Royal patronage, the Transatlantic Company was dissolved. But Messrs. Williams and Carleton, nothing cast down by this pecuniary loss, launched a new company, under the title of The Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company.

The ‘Great Liverpool’ was transferred to this new project, and formed one of the fleet of steamers destined to open up the overland route to Egypt. Although the ‘Great Liverpool’ had a short career, her proprietors were not wrecked, for the Peninsular and Oriental Company has now the largest capital of any Steam Company, and owns the greatest amount of tonnage

As possessing by-gone interest in steam matters, It may be noticed that Mr. Williams saw the difficulty of securing the engines to the ship’s framing. Engineers and ship-builders could not be made to act together; so Mr. Williams had a template, or pattern, made of the bottom, or bedplate of the engines, and marked the position of the holding-down bolts by which the engines were secured to the framing. Observing that not one-half of these bolts would have gone through floor timbers, but had no other holding than the 4-inch outside planking of the vessel, he inserted additional floor timbers, held by four sister keelsons. There are now so many iron-built and iron-framed steam vessels, that this original difficulty of holding the engines seems incredible ; but it was not until after the building of a few vessels that this weakness was discovered.

Mr. Williams had in many cases to act as his own engineer and naval architect, and at a very early date he applied water-tight bulkheads, to divide a ship into separate compartments, which he suggested for the iron steamer the ‘Aaron Manby;’ and this great improvement formed the subject of a communication which he presented to the British Association in 1837.

In the course of an experience in the building and equipping of ships, perhaps extending over a longer period than that of any other Director of Steam Packet Companies in England, Mr. Williams had perceived that 'notwithstanding the improved state to which the construction and appointments of the hull and general machinery of steam-vessels had arrived, great uncertainty and risk of failure still prevailed in the use of fuel and the generation of steam.'

The first edition of his essay on 'The Combustion of Coal and the Prevention of Smoke, chemically and practically considered,' is the result of his investigations; and the City of Dublin Steam Packet Company, by desire of the Directors, assumed the whole cost of the publication. The work was accompanied by large coloured diagrams, illustrating the atomic mixture and combustion of the gaseous and solid elements of fuel with oxygen.

His views on combustion are generally acknowledged to be sound, while they are expressed in a popular manner which every one may understand. This treatise has gone through several editions, and has been translated into French, under the auspices of the Minister of Marine. Whether it has really led to the better combustion of coal in land furnaces has been doubted, but there are many cases where the subdivided air jets have been employed with the best results. In locomotive engines it is only the application of the principle, so clearly urged by Mr. Williams, that of a regulated admission of air over the fire, that has enabled coal to be substituted for coke, burning the former with but little smoke often with scarcely any whatever.

In 1856, Mr. Williams received the Society of Arts’ gold medal for his essay 'On the Prevention of Smoke,' from the hands of the late Prince Consort, at that time the President of the Society.

In his laboratory at 'The Nook,' near Liverpool, he had a model boiler and furnace, to exemplify the principles he had laid down, and for which he contended so pertinaciously. With this invention he became a competitor, in the exhibition of marine steam-boilers at Newcastle, for a prize of £500. The professional umpires on that occasion were Sir William Armstrong, Dr. Richardson, and Mr. Longridge, and they decided in favour of Mr. Williams’s system, which they pronounced to be 'applicable to all descriptions of marine boilers,' while 'its extreme simplicity is a great point in its favour.' While retaining the enduring honour of this triumph, Mr. Williams presented the £500 to a popular institution, acting in that case, as throughout the whole history of his efforts for the perfection of steam-navigation and for the recognition of the simple laws regulating the combustion of coal and the prevention of smoke, with that indifference to personal gain which, throughout his eminently useful and active life, was one of his distinguishing characteristics.

Although during the greater portion of his long life Mr. Williams was essentially a man of business, he was also an ardent lover of science ; and it is from his scientific writings, rather than from his practice, that his name has become so widely known. Besides the treatises already referred to, and Papers in the Proceedings and Transactions of various Societies, in 1860 appeared his last work, 'On Heat, in its Relations to Water and Steam.'

To plan and carry out all the ideas originated by Mr. Williams requircd a large share of tact, talent, and industry. He was fortunate in having the means at his command, and the opportunity to enforce his views, to prove that practicable which, to other minds, mould appear to be mere shadowy theories. It is by the ingenuity and perseverance of such men as Mr. Williams that England owes her pre-eminence as a maritime nation. He cites, as his incentive to work, the words of Roger Bacon- 'That among the grounds of human ignorance are the trusting to inadequate authority and the force of custom. As the slaves of habit, we are still found following the untaught crowd, and flinch from the wholesome phrase: ‘We do not know,’ the remedy for which is honest research, original and independent thought, with strict truth in the comparison of what is already known by others.'

Mr. Williams was not wedded to the force of custom ; hence he achieved great objects, and lived to point to changes carried out under his auspices, which at times had been stigmatised as empirical or presumptuous.

Mr. Williams was elected an Associate of The Institution of Civil Engineers on the 16th of June, 1835, was a frequent attendant at the meetings, and frequently took part in the proceedings. His death occurred on the 2nd of April, 1866, in the eighty-seventh year of his age. To rich and poor alike, Mr. Williams was the same quiet, unobtrusive, approachable Christian gentleman. By men of' science he was universally esteemed and admired ; by his private friends he was deeply loved, and by all who hem him he was honoured and respected.



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1835 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. 1869 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries