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British Industrial History

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Archibald Dundonald

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Archibald Cochrane, ninth Earl of Dundonald (1748–1831), chemical manufacturer

1748 born on 1 January, the son of Thomas Cochrane, eighth earl of Dundonald (1691–1778), and Jean Stuart (1722/3–1808). His mother was keenly interested in technical matters.

After brief service in both army and navy, he turned to scientific projects, applying chemical principles to manufacturing processes.

Married three times:

  • on 17 October 1774 to Anne (1755–1784), daughter of Captain James Gilchrist;
  • on 12 April 1788 to Isabella (d. 1808), widow of John Mayne;
  • in April 1819 to Anna Maria (d. 1822), daughter of the writer Francis Peter Plowden.

The eldest son of his first marriage was Admiral Thomas Cochrane, the tenth earl; there were no children of the second and third marriages.

1758 Known as Lord Cochrane from 1758 to 1778

1778 succeeded to the title earl of Dundonald on the death of his father but the family estates were severely impoverished

1790 Dundonald joined the brothers John and William Losh in experiments on the production of synthetic soda from salt at Woodside near Carlisle.

By 1793 the results were sufficiently promising to justify setting up a works at Bells Close, west of Newcastle upon Tyne, where Dundonald had a tar distillery.

1797 the Losh family inherited a share in a coalmine on the Tyne at Walker in which a brine spring had been discovered. This provided a private source of salt for making soda, though to avoid the heavy duty on salt, it was mixed with soot or ashes.

Several of Dundonald's patents were worked at Walker, but all depended on the successful sale of by-products.

Dundonald suggested William Losh visit Paris to learn what he could about Leblanc's process for converting salt to soda. The Walker works was the first in England to work the Leblanc process, the partners with Dundonald were Lord Dundas, the Losh brothers, and bankers John and Aubone Surtees but the original partnership was soon dissolved.

Dundonald also had the idea that coal tar could protect ships' hulls from worm but it was traditionally made from wood - he designed and built retorts for the distillation of tar from coal at Culross Abbey. His 1781 patent, was to avoid the use of an external fuel, allowing coal in the retort to smoulder slowly by controlling the air intake. He envisaged a complete industrial package in which, as well as tar, coke would provide a clean fuel, and sal ammoniac would be sold to calico printers and metal finishers. He also foresaw, but did not develop, the possibility of gas lighting.

To satisfy his partners, formed the British Tar Co, whose partners were Newcastle businessmen. The coal-tar industry was destined to become an important provider of dyes, perfumes, drugs, and explosives, but not within Dundonald's lifetime.

Established a factory for the production of alum as a mordant for silk and calico printing.

Also proposed the use of salt residues as manure, a new process for making white lead, the malting of grain for cattle feed, an improved method for preparing flax and hemp for sailcloth, and a scheme for purifying rock salt by washing out the impurities with brine.

1831 Despite all of his inventions, Dundonald died in Paris in poverty.

See Also

  • Biography of Archibald Cochrane, Lord Dundonald, ODNB

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