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Albert Edward Seaton

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Albert Edward Seaton (1848-1930) of Belliss and Morcom

1930 Obituary [1]

ALBERT EDWARD SEATON'S name had for long been familiar to marine engine builders. His "Manual of Marine Engineering," first published in 1883, had passed through twenty editions and had long been a classic work of reference in the drawing office and at sea. He was a member of the Marine Oil-Engine Trials Committee of the Institution from its inception.

He was born in 1848 at Padstow, and was a descendant of Captain Scoresby, the arctic explorer. He entered Devonport Dockyard at the age of 16 and obtained a scholarship to the School of Naval Architecture. In 1872 he won a Whitworth Scholarship and became technical secretary and engineer inspector with Sir E. J. Reed.

He was subsequently appointed chief engine designer for Earle's Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Hull, and was a director from 1885 to 1901.

He then practised as a consulting engineer in Westminster and in 1905 succeeded Alfred Morcom as chairman of Messrs. Belliss and Morcom.

Mr. Seaton became a Member of the Institution in 1882 and he was also an honorary Vice-President of the Institution of Naval Architects, and it was largely due to his work that the unification of boiler rules was accomplished and accepted in 1920. He served on the consultative committee of the Board of Trade and Lloyds' technical sub-committee, and was also associated with the British Engineering Standards Association and other technical bodies. He contributed many Papers to the Institution of Naval Architects and other societies, and he was a keen lover of music and the arts.

He died on 8th August 1930.

1930 Obituary [2]

ALBERT EDWARD SEATON died at his home at Hemel Hempstead on August 8, 1930.

Born at Padstow in 1848, Mr. Seaton was the son of a shipowner and came of a seafaring family. Wishing to join the Navy, he entered Devonport Dockyard as an engineer student at the age of sixteen. By competitive examination he entered the Royal School of Naval Architecture at South Kensington in 1868, and was there associated with students who were afterwards eminent in their profession and life-long friends. Among these was Alfred Morcom.

After studying at the school for four years, Seaton gave up the idea of a naval career, and became assistant to Sir Edward Reed, who had recently resigned his position as Chief Constructor. He thus became connected with Earle's Shipbuilding Company of Hull, and rose to be General Manager and Director, which position he held till 1901. Here he had wide experience in the design of ships and in marine engineering.

In 1905 he left Hull, having commenced practice in Westminster as a consulting marine engineer. On Alfred Morcom's death Seaton succeeded him as Chairman of Belliss and Morcom, the well-known firm of Birmingham engineers. This position he retained till the end of his life. Before leaving Hull, Seaton had lectured at Greenwich Engineering College, and from the notes of these lectures was written his "Manual of Marine Engineering," which became a standard work on the subject, and of which twenty editions have been issued.

In London Seaton was an old and valued member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the Institution of Naval Architects. In the last named he was specially interested, and contributed a number of papers to the Transactions. He was elected a Member of Council in 1889 and Vim-President in 1919.

He was for a time lecturer at the Engineering School of the University of Cambridge, and was author of "Screw or other Propellers," and joint author with Rounthwaite of the "Marine Engineer's Pocket-Book." One research, which was published jointly with Mr. A. Jude, dealt with "Impact Tests on the Wrought Steels of Commerce"; it attracted much attention, and was pioneer work in a field which has since been much studied.

Among the important committees of which Seaton was chairman was the British Marine Engineering Design and Construction Committee, which prepare rules and regulations for the design and construction of marine boilers and shafting. He was also much interested in the work of Lloyd's Register of Shipping.

He took part in local government, and served for many years as a member of the County Council for Hertfordshire, and was a Justice of the Peace. He was an Original Member of the Institute of Metals, and served on the Council for sixteen years, being elected in 1908 and serving as Honorary Treasurer from 1915 to 1924. In this capacity he rendered valuable aid to the Council, by which, in 1924, he was appointed as a Fellow of the Institute as a recognition of the special services he had given over a long period of years. Increasing age caused his visits to the Institute to be very few in recent years, but to the older members his was a conspicuous figure, and his personality and wise counsels will be long remembered and appreciated.— T. TURNER.

1930 Obituary[3]


It is with great regret that we record the death of Mr. Albert Edward Seaton, the eminent marine engineer, who died on August 8, at Hemel Hempstead, in his eighty-third year. From almost the beginning of his career, Seaton was associated with men who rose to high positions in their profession, and with whom he enjoyed lifelong friendships. The majority of his contemporaries have already passed away, and his own death severs one of the few remaining links with a most interesting period in the history of the steamship. Liberally endowed by nature with imagination, great powers of application and memory, he belonged to a small group of men whose services to a great industry and to the nation can scarcely be over-estimated, and whose work enabled us to maintain that supremacy at sea which proved the Nation’s salvation in the day of need.

The son of a Cornish shipowner, Seaton was born at Padstow in 1848, and as a boy attended Probus School. Desirous of joining the Navy, at the age of 16 he entered Devonport Dockyard as an engineer-student. For many years the engineering branch of the Navy had been recruited from engineer boys trained in one or other of the Dockyards, but just prior to Seaton’s time their rank had been changed to that of engineer-students. Generally speaking there was little to distinguish the students from the ordinary Dockyard apprentices, but among the treasured possessions of Seaton was the original petition sent from Devonport to the Admiralty in 1865, requesting that the students might be allowed to wear uniform, as cadets and midshipmen did. Living at home or in lodgings, they worked much the same hours as the apprentices; these extended from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. two days a week and from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. on school days and lecture nights. On Saturdays, work did not cease till 3.40 p.m., and there were but four days’ holiday in the year. But, however long the hours, the practical work in Keyham factory and afloat, combined with the excellent instruction in the Dockyard schools, provided the students with a sound experience from which the country afterwards benefited.

Ever since the Crimea War had led to a great extension of the engineering branch, there had been a demand for a higher training of constructors and engineers, and in 1864 the Admiralty, largely through the representations of the Institution of Naval Architects, opened the Royal School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering, at South Kensington. To this engineer-students and shipwright apprentices gained admission by a severe competitive examination. The school was located in a house in the Cromwell-road, on a site now occupied by the Victoria and Albert Museum, wooden huts being erected for lecture rooms, while the kitchen became the chemical laboratory and the larder the “ stink ” room. Among the successful candidates for admission, in 1868, were Chilcott from Portsmouth, Corner from Sheemess, and Butler and Seaton from Keyham. Pratten, Hearson, Durston, Sennett, and Morcom were already members of the school, the courses at which extended over four years. In Seaton’s time Dr. Woolley was the inspector-general, Merrifield, the mathematician the principal, and Professor Cotterill the vice-principal; while Dr. Unwin—still, happily, with us—was the instructor in engineering. The curriculum, no less than the examination papers, show that the standard aimed at was a very high one, the text-books in use being those of Boole, Besant, Todhunter, Routh, and Rankine.

During its career of nine years, the school published several “ annuals ” of technical papers and one “ sessional almanac ” in lighter vein. For. both of these Seaton wrote. In the former is to be found what was probably his first contribution to engineering literature, a paper on “ The Marine Cylinder as fitted in the Navy,” while in the latter are some of his sketches of his contemporaries. Of the sketch of Farley, a private student, and his “ Kensington Tractrix Valve ” nothing need be said, but Seaton’s sketch of Alfred Morcom still remains of interest. Morcom, like Seaton, came from Cornwall. During their studentship they lodged together; they both left the Service for private enterprise, and on Morcom’s early death in 1905, Seaton succeeded him as Chairman of the well-known Birmingham firm of Belliss and Morcom. The sketch, too, has more than a personal interest, for it recalls an almost forgotten incident in the history of the Whitworth Scholarships. Sennett, Hearson, Yeo, and Seaton all took Whitworth Prizes, but while Morcom was studying for one, regulations were apparently issued debarring the members of the South Kensington school from the competition. Seaton therefore depicted his friend Alfred as studying in the kitchen, a burning cake on the hearth, while on the wall hung a petition against the recent rule. The sketch, it may be added, was taken from life by Seaton unknown to Morcom. Of his other friends, Corner and Chilcott, Seaton was destined to be at the bedside of Comer when he died at Bad Nauheim in 1912, and to be a fellow prisoner with Chilcott in Germany in 1914. Chilcott also died in Germany, and was buried beside Comer. Both had had long and distinguished careers in the Navy and had attained the rank of Engineer-Rear-Admiral. Sennett, who also came from Cornwall, and who died in 1891, was Engineer-in-Chief of the Fleet from 1887 to 1889, while Durston, who came from Plymouth, held that distinguished position from the latter year until 1897, being the first officer to attain the rank of Engineer Vice-Admiral.

After a four-year course Seaton left the school in 1872 without obtaining a fellowship, and almost immediately abandoned the idea of a naval career, He had seen the engineering branch at the Admiralty subordinated to the constructive branch; he had realised the inferior position accorded engineer officers in the Navy, and he' had further come into contact with Mr. Reed (afterward Sir Edward Reed, K.C.B.), who in 1870 had, at the age of 40, resigned his position as Chief Constructor at Whitehall. Reed, at that time, occupied a prominent position in shipbuilding circles, and to him Seaton became, as he himself said, “ a sort of technical secretary and remembrancer.” Through this appointment Seaton established connection with Messrs. Earle’s Shipbuilding and Engineering Company, Hull, with which Pratten was also associated, and after acting as chief designer, assistant manager and manager of the engine works, finally rose, in 1885, to be general manager and director, a post he held till 1901. His first task was to report on the Perkin’s water-tube boiler; then he was engaged on work for the once-famous cross-Channel saloon steamer Bessemer; after which he was responsible for the design and construction of a long list of merchant ships, warships and express cross-Channel steamers. His naval work began with the machinery for the composite corvette Ruby of 2,120 tons, and about 2,000 i.h.p. He was one of the first to construct triple-expansion engines for ships, engining the Draco in 1882, the Rosario in 1883, and the Dynamo, Electro, Finland and Martello in 1884. The last vessel had cylinders 31 in., 50 in. and 82 in. in diameter, a stroke of 4 ft. 9 in., and worked with steam at 150 lb. pressure. Among the vessels built at that time at Hull were the iron ships Grecian Monarch and St. Ronans of 4,364 and 4,484 gross tonnage, respectively. He finally severed his connection with Earle’s in 1901 and set up in Westminster as a consulting engineer, occupying offices at 32, Victoria-street.

Mr. Seaton was a member of the Institution of Naval Architects, the Institution of Civil Engineers, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and the Institute of Marine Engineers, though it was naturally at the meetings of the first, of which he was latterly an honorary vice-president that he was most often to be seen. His contributions to this body included Experiences with Triple-Compound Engines, 1885; Progress in Marine Engineering in the Mercantile Marine, 1891; Causes of Fractures in Steel as Revealed by the Microscope, 1896; Factors of Safety and their Influence on Marine Design, 1905 ; Research Designs in Marine Engineering, 1918 ; and TAe WorJfc of the British Marine Engineering Design and Construction Committee, 1919. He was elected a member of the Council in 1888, and served as a representative on Lloyd’s Technical Sub-Committee, the Consultative Committee of the Board of Trade, of both of which he was chairman, and on the Engineering Standards Sectional Committee, while I in 1919, was elected a Vice-President. He was also Chairman of the British Marine Design and Construction Committee, and of the Iron Trades Employers’ Insurance Association, as well as an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Metals.

His interest in the history of marine engineering was frequently shown by his remarks during discussions, and in 1921 he read a paper before the Institute of Marine Engineers on Marine Engineering Curiosities in Practice and Experiences. He was the author of several text books and there must be few who are unacquainted with his valuable Manual of Marine Engineering. Published first in 1883, a year after Sennett had written Marine Steam Engine, he stated his aim to be to assist in some degree “ the application of scientific investigation to those problems which the marine engineer is called upon, day by day, to solve.” It appeared at a time when such a work was urgently needed, and before the end of the century it had passed through no fewer than fourteen editions. His Manual of Engineering Rules and Tables was written jointly with Mr. H. M. Rounthwaite, who had worked with Seaton at Hull and again in Westminster. He was also responsible for a book on Screw and Other Propellers. He was one of the earliest lecturers at the Royal College, Greenwich, and acted in the same capacity at the Engineering School, Cambridge University.

After his removal to London, Seaton lived for many years at Hemel Hempstead, Herts, where he took a part in public affairs. He became a county councillor for Hertfordshire and a Justice of the Peace. To the end he retained lively recollections of his early contemporaries, and of the help he had received from some of those under whom he was trained, while he himself was always ready to place at the disposal of others some of that vast fund of information he had accumulated in his long and honourable career."

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