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Alfred Blechynden

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Alfred Blechynden (1849-1897), Engineer, inventor of the Blechynden watertube boiler

of Roxburgh, Vanbrugh Park-road west, Blackheath.

1849 March 26th. Born at Falstone, North Tyne

Apprenticed at Morrisons, Ouseburn Works and Thompsons of Spring Gardens Engine Works.

Then worked for R. and W. Hawthorn as leading marine draughtsman and engnine works manager.

1881 Worked for John Penn and Sons[1]

1884 General manager of the Rio Tinto Copper Mines.

1887 Manager of engineering department at Barrow Shipbuilding Co, which became the Naval Construction and Armaments Co.

1891 Alfred Blechynden of Barrow in Furness read a paper before the I Mech E on "a review of marine engineering in the past 10 years"[2]

1896 Became general manager of John Penn and Sons, Greenwich

1897 Died aged 47.


1897 Obituary [3]

ALFRED BLECHYNDEN was born at Falstone, North Tyne, on 26th March 1849.

After leaving school, he continued his education, while an apprentice, at evening classes in Newcastle-on-Tyne.

In 1864 he commenced his professional life by being apprenticed to Messrs. J. and G. Joicey and Co., whence he went to Messrs. Robert Morrison and Co., and later to Messrs. Thompson, Boyd and Co., now the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co.

He next went to Messrs. Palmer's Co.; and later on became a leading draughtsman, then head draughtsman, and subsequently engine works manager, at the St. Peter's Works of Messrs. R. and W. Hawthorn, Newcastle-on-Tyne.

In 1884 he was appointed general manager of. the Rio Tinto Copper Mines, which position he was obliged to resign in 1886 on account of ill health.

Returning to England he carried out the trials of the French cruiser "Condor" at Rochefort-sur-mer on behalf of Messrs. Hawthorn; after which in June 1887 he was appointed head of the engineering department of the Barrow Shipbuilding Co., which became the Naval Construction and Armaments Co.

At the end of 1895 he became general manager of the works of Messrs. John Penn and Sons, Greenwich.

The chief work of his life was the designing of marine engines. Among these were the engines of the "Oruba" and "Orizaba," the "Empress of India," "Empress of China," and "Empress of Japan;" the last three were mail steamers for the Pacific service, both built and engined at Barrow.

He also designed the machinery for several war vessels, of which the latest and perhaps the most important was the big cruiser "Powerful." The engines of the first-class battleship "Majestic " were planned and carried out by him.

He designed the machinery for the second-class cruisers "Latona," "Naiad," "Melampus," and "Flora," for the third-class cruisers "Jaseur," "Jason," and "Niger," and for several torpedo-boats, and torpedo- boat destroyers; the latter were fitted with his water-tube boilers. The big sand-dredger "Brancker," built for the Mersey Dock and Harbour Board, was fitted with machinery of his design, which has done good work in clearing a passage through the Mersey bar.

In 1891 he contributed to the Liverpool meeting of this Institution a paper giving a review of marine engineering during the preceding. decade (Proceedings 1891, page 306).

His death took place at his residence at Blackheath, London, from heart disease, on 20th February 1897, in his forty-eighth year.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1881, and was also is Member of the Institution of Naval Architects.


Obituary [4]

.. Mr. Blechynden served his apprenticeship with Messrs Morisons, Ouseburn Engine Works, and Messrs. Thompson, of Spring Gardens Engine Works, Newcastle-on-Tyne. Subsequently he became draughtsman at the Ouseburn Works, and afterwards filled the same position at Messrs. Thompson and Boyd's.

He then went to the Forth Banks Works, of Messrs. R. and W. Hawthorn, as leading marine draughtsman, and became successively head draughtsman and engine works' manager at their St. Peter's Works. While there the Esmeralda was engined. She was the first of the protected deck fast cruisers. In 1884 he became the general manager of the Rio Tinto Copper Mines, a position which he had to relinquish after two years on account of ill health. In 1887 he joined the Barrow Shipbuilding Company as manager of the engineering department, and retained the position on the re-organisation of the company into the Naval Construction and Armaments Company, until the end of 1895. In February, 1896, he became general manager of Messrs. John Penn and Sons, Limited, Greenwich.

While at Barrow, Mr. Blechynden designed and constructed the engines of the Oratava. and Oruba of the Pacific Line ; Malacca. and Formosa of the Peninsular and Oriental ; the Empress of India, Empress of China., Empress of Japan, and many other large mail boats; and of the battleship Majestic, and the second-class cruisers Latona, Naiad, Melampus, and Flora, and of the third-class cruisers Jasseur, Jason, and Niger. He also designed and constructed the machinery of the torpedo catchers Sturgeon, Skate, and Starfish; and designed and erected on board the engines of the Powerful, but he did not carry out the trials. At Penn's, at present, they have in hand from his design the engines of the Pomona. and Pactolus, each of 7500 indicated horse-power, and those of the battleship Goliath.

He was the inventor and patentee of the Blechynden watertube boiler, which has been fitted in several of the catchers, and is being fitted in the Pomona and Pactolus, and in several foreign war vessels. He was a member of the Institute of Naval Architects, and of the North-East Coast Institute of Shipbuilders and Engineers, and has read papers on various professional matters.


1897 Obituary[5][6]

IT is with extreme regret we have to announce the death of Mr. Alfred Blechynden which occurred suddenly at his residence, Roxburgh, Blackheath, on Saturday last, the 20th inst. He was in his 48th year. It is just a year since Mr. Blechynden became the general manager of the historic engineering works of John Penn and Sons, Limited. His death, in the prime of manhood, is the more sad because he had fairly entered upon a period in his life which gave every promise of adding fame and prosperity to a career in the marine engineering world already distinguished by unusual brilliance.

After leaving school Mr. Blechynden continued his education, while an apprentice, at evening classes in Newcastle, and to these he was largely indebted for the scientific knowledge he possessed. He commenced his professional life by being apprenticed to Messrs. J. and G. Joicey and Co., Newcastle-on-Tyne, from whence he went to Messrs. Robert Morison and Co., and later to Messrs. Thompson, Boyd, and Co., now the Wallsend Slipway and Engineering Co. He then went to Messrs. Palmer's Company, and in 1873 was associated with the design of the triple-expansion engines for the s.s. Sexta, which were almost contemporaneous with lUrk's engine for the Propontis, and were designed to the specification of Mr. A. C. Franklin, and constructed at the Ouseburn Works in 1873-4.

Later on he became a leading draughtsman in the marine engineering department of Messrs. R. and W. Hawthorn. It was during this period that the engines of the celebrated cruiser Esmeralda- built by Armstrongs - were constructed at the St. Peter's shops. This vessel was one of the first of the fast cruisers. It will be remembered what an impression she .created at the time, and how important was the part she played in the evolution of the modern fast cruiser.

In 1884 Mr. Blechynden became the general manager of the Rio Tin to Copper Mines, a post of considerable responsibility, which he was obliged to resign in 1886 on account of ill health. After his return to England he became head draughtsman, and subsequently engine works manager, at the St. Peter's works, the firm having become R. and W. Hawthorn, Leslie, and Co.

In June, 1887, he was appointed the head of the engineering department of the Barrow Shipbuilding Company. This position he held when the late Mr. Bryce-Douglas was the leading spirit in the reorganisation of the celebrated west coast yard, after the late Mr. William John had resigned his connection with the establishment. When the Barrow Company was reorganised as the Naval Construction and Armaments Company, Mr. Blechynden continued to be the head of the engine works, remaining in that position until the end of 1895.

After his resignation at Barrow he became, as already stated, the general manager at Messrs. John Penn and Sons, Limited, at Greenwich. Such, in brief, is the professional career of the engineer the news of whose death will come as a shock to many who knew him best. He was in active work almost until the hour of his death, for he was at his office at Greenwich on the evening of Friday, when he was discussing in a very sanguine manner the way in which he proposed conducting the trials of H.M.S. Pactolus, about which he had great hopes of success. In the evening he was discussing with a friend the design of a new type of marine boiler he had in view, and was not taken ill until midnight. About 12 hours after this he died.

The chief work of Mr. Blechynden's life was in the designing of marine engines. We have already referred to the cruiser Esmeralda, but it is difficult to speak of the work he did on the Tyne, as he was not then in the position of chief. There is no doubt, however, that in the application of light and highspeed machinery to large war vessels he played an unimportant part. It was when he took up the work at Barrow that he was able to exercise the full bent of genius uncontrolled. His first important work there was designing the engines of the Oruba and Orizaba. The Empress of India, the Empress of China, and the Empress of Japan were three important mail steamers also built and engined at Barrow... Read more


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Sources of Information

  1. Proceedings of Inst Mech Eng [1]
  2. Scientific American Supplement [2]
  3. 1897 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  4. The Engineer 1897/02/26
  5. Engineering 1897/02/26
  6. Engineering 1897 Jan-Jun: Index: General Index