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Sir Charles Mark Palmer (1822–1907) of Palmers Shipbuilding and Iron Co, first baronet coal-owner, ironmaster and shipbuilder
1822 Born at South Shields
1893 Charles resigned from the shipbuilding company
1902 Biographical Notes.
THE founder of the great works at Jarrow, Sir Charles Mark Palmer, Bart., M. P., who may be described as the father of iron shipbuilding, was born at South Shields in 1822. He was trained for a mercantile life, and, having completed his education in France, he became, at an early age, a partner in his father's business at Newcastle-on-Tyne.
In 1845 he entered into partnership with Mr John Bowes, Sir William Hutt, and Mr. Nicholas Wood, in the Marley Hill and other collieries, and under his able management the concern known as John Bowes and Partners became one of the most extensive colliery enterprises in the Kingdom.
Early, however, in the history of the partnership the competition of the new Midland coal fields began to seriously affect the sale of North Country coal in the London market. Midland colliery proprietors were enabled by the railway system to reach the metropolitan market both speedily and cheaply, while the coal owners of the North had to depend, for the conveyance of their produce, on small collier brigs, which occupied a month in transporting so small a quantity as 600 tons. It thus became essential, in the interests of colliery owners, to devise some means by which the staple product of the district could be conveyed to London in an expeditious, regular, and economical manner.
The idea occurred to Sir Charles, then Mr. Palmer, that steam power on the sea afforded the only means of competing successfully with steam power on land, and, with this view, he designed the John Bowes, an iron-screw steamer having a carrying capacity of 650 tons, and capable of steaming nine miles an hour. But the notion met with much opposition. There was a prejudice against iron ships, a feeling that iron would not float on water, and even practical men scouted the idea as chimerical.
The John Bowes was, however, built in the shipyard which Sir Charles established at Jarrow, and on her first voyage was laden with 500 tons of coal in four hours. She reached London in forty-eight hours, discharged her cargo in thirty hours, and in forty-eight hours more she was again in the Tyne. In five days she performed successfully an amount of work that would have taken two average sized colliers upwards of a month to accomplish.
Mr. Palmer not only solved the problem of speedy transit, but he entered into arrangements for the prompt distribution of the coal. Hydraulic machinery was erected at Poplar Dock to facilitate discharge, and the South London Railway was taken over for the purpose of carrying the coal around London. The Northern coal trade was saved. Steam had accomplished for the north what it had previously accomplished for the Midlands, and the John Bowes was the instrument by means of which it became possible for North Country colliery owners to compete with their rivals in the South.
It was in the year 1851 that Sir Charles, in conjunction with his brother George, commenced shipbuilding at Jarrow. Mr. George Palmer had then just returned from India, and Sir Charles suggested that they should jointly start in business as iron shipbuilders. An inexpensive plant, consisting of one shearing and one punching machine, was laid down, and the John Bowes, one of the earliest steamers laid down in the yard, became the forerunner of a long list of vessels.
Mr. George Palmer afterwards retired from the firm, and the business was carried on by Sir Charles, who greatly enlarged the establishment by the addition of engine works, iron rolling mills, and blast furnaces. It was converted into a limited liability company on its present basis in 1865, and Sir Charles remained chairman of the company until 1893, when he retired.
At the date of the establishment of the shipyard Jarrow was a small colliery village, known only to antiquaries as the home, - more than 1,200 years ago, - of "the father of English literature," the venerable Bede. It is now, however, an important industrial town, with a population of over 40,000 inhabitants, who are all mainly employed in, or depending upon, Palmer's works. So completely, in fact, is the town identified with the works that Jarrow might more appropriately be called "Palmer's Town." The development of the neighbourhood since the establishment of the shipyard has been enormous, and the growth of the town has been described as a nineteenth century romance. It possesses commodious board schools, managed by a representative school board, a mechanics' institute, a hospital, a theatre and concert halls, a public park, and numerous churches and chapels. The hospital was built in 1870 by Sir Charles Palmer as a memorial of his first wife, and the mechanics' institute was also founded by him for the benefit of the workmen.
Palmers commenced their unrivalled record of war-ship building as early as the year 1854, when they constructed, during the Crimean War, the Terror, a floating battery, intended for the destruction of the forts of Cronstadt. She was completed in the phenomenally short period of three months. This result was largely due to the inventive genius of Sir Charles Palmer, who conceived the idea of rolling, instead of forging, the armour plates. They were originally known as "Palmer's rolled plates," and the utility and importance of the invention has since been fully demonstrated. The Terror was followed by a host of other vessels of war, while the merchant work turned out by the company includes many notable ships for the old Guion Line, the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, the Hamburg-American Company, and other important lines. Palmers during their career have built nearly eight hundred vessels, the aggregate gross register approaching two million tons.
The company's works cover an area of about 100 acres, and have a river frontage of nearly three-quarters of a mile. They consist of a shipbuilding yard, graving dock and slipway, engine and boilerworks, steel works, and blast furnaces, and include within themselves the entire range of operations from the smelting of the ore to the complete equipment of the vessel. The ore is received from mines in Spain controlled by the company, and from other sources. From the blast furnace wharf it goes to the furnaces, the pig-iron being sent to the steel works, converted into steel, and rolled into plates and bars, and these, in turn, pass to the shipyard, where the vessel is completed and engined. There are about eight miles of railway in the works, and twelve locomotives are employed in conveying material between the various departments. The works are also connected by private lines with the North-Eastern Railway, and with the various collieries from which supplies of coal and coke are obtained.
Sir Charles Palmer was the first Mayor of the Borough of Jarrow. In politics he is a Liberal. After unsuccessfully contesting his native town in 1868, he was elected member of Parliament in 1874 for the Northern Division of Durham, out of which the Jarrow division was formed, a seat which he continues to hold, and at the last two elections he was returned unopposed.
In conjunction with Mr. Martinez de las Rivas, he established large shipbuilding and engineering works at Bilbao, where he built three well-known vessels for the Spanish Government, the Infanta Maria Teresa, the Almirante Oquendo, and the Viscaya, which were destroyed in battle during the late Spanish-American War. He was for some time a director of the Suez Canal Company. He is honorary colonel of the Jarrow Engineer Volunteers, a magistrate for the County of Durham and the North Riding of Yorkshire, and Lord of the Manors of Easington and Seaton, where his residence of Grenoble Park, in Yorkshire, is situated.
1907 Obituary 
Sir CHARLES MARK PALMER, Bart., died at his residence in Curzon Street, London, W., on June 4, 1907, after a long illness. He was born at South Shields in 1822, and received his baronetcy in 1886. At a very early age he became connected with the coal-mining industry of the county of Durham. He joined the firm of John Bowes and Partners, well-known north country colliery owners, and ultimately became chairman.
He, and his brother George, established in 1851, on the southern bank of the river Tyne, a shipyard, which bordered on the pit village of Jarrow. This yard, from small beginnings, has become, by reason of its naval output, famous the world over. The site of the yard was formerly occupied by a business from which, in the early part of the eighteenth century, wooden frigates for the British Government were turned out. The first iron vessel which Palmer's launched from their yard was a paddle tug, the Northumberland. For his London coal trade Sir Charles shortly afterwards completed the John Bowes, the first iron screw collier that had been built. It carried 690 tons of coal from the Tyne to London, and proved a great success. To this enterprise of Sir Charles Palmer's is attributed the important development of iron-shipbuilding, which afterwards took place on the north-east coast of England.
To provide the materials used in shipbuilding he established blast-furnaces and ironworks and mills at Jarrow; ironstone mines, near Staithes, in the extreme east of Cleveland; and subsequently acquired limestone quarries. Thus he could produce in his own establishments everything from the ore itself to the finished vessel. It was in 1857 that four blast-furnaces were erected at Jarrow, and in 1859 rolling-mills were added. Then he opened out ironstone mines in a part of Cleveland, a good distance away from where the main seam had been discovered some few years before. Cleveland ironstone had been obtained from the neighbourhoods of Staithes for many years, but it was stone which had fallen from the face of the cliffs, and quite an industry was carried on in picking up the nodules on the beach, these being loaded in small vessels and carried to the furnaces on the Tyne. As the nearest railway to the new mines which the brothers Palmer opened out was Redcar, at least thirteen miles away, they constructed a harbour at Port Mulgrave, and a tunnel was made through the hill from the Grinkle Mines to this new port. The ironstone was shipped in seagoing barges which were towed to the Jarrow works. Some of the screw colliers which carried coals to London also called at Port Mulgrave on their way back, and took cargoes of stone to the Tyne. That undertaking is reported to have cost nearly £50,000. Thus the late Sir Charles was one of the earliest to work the Cleveland ore. The battleship-building of the Jarrow firm dates from the outbreak of the Crimean war, when Sir Charles Palmer built the Terror, a floating battery, intended for the destruction of the forts of Kronstadt. He conceived the idea of rolling instead of forging armour-plates, and by putting this idea into practical use the firm were enabled to do the work with a despatch such as had not hitherto been known.
Sir Charles Palmer early saw the necessity of introducing the cooperative principle into the work of shipbuilding, and year after year he steadily extended his business at Jarrow, until he was able to boast the possession of manufactories by which he could receive the raw material and turn it out on the river Tyne in the shape of fully-equipped vessels of all grades. Jarrow works include, beside shipyards, blast-furnaces, steelworks, boiler- and engine-shops, pig and iron wharves, rolling-mills, and gasworks. They cover an area of over 100 acres, and have a frontage on the Tyne of fully three-quarters of a mile. A special fleet of steamers conveys the iron ore from the Cleveland district of Yorkshire to Jarrow blast-furnaces.
Sir Charles Palmer was the first mayor of Jarrow, in 1875, and very many of the public institutions of the town, including the Mechanics' Institute and the Jarrow Memorial Hospital, owe their existence to his benefactions. With regard to Parliamentary matters, he unsuccessfully contested South Shields, his native place, as a Liberal, in 1869, fought North Durham successfully in 1874, with the late Sir Lothian Bell as a colleague, but they were both unseated on petition. At the election which followed Sir Charles headed the poll. He was again chosen for the same constituency in 1880. In 1885 the Jarrow division was given separate Parliamentary representation, and Sir Charles was elected member, a position which he occupied till his death. He was again Mayor of Jarrow in 1902, and a statue has been erected in that town in his honour. He was highly respected and esteemed by the working classes, who recognised the great benefits he had conferred on the town and district. He was a Deputy-Lieutenant for Durham, and also for the North Riding of Yorkshire, and, among other honours, he held the Knight-Commandership of SS. Maurice and Lazarus of Italy. He was owner of the Easington and Hinderwell Manors, and of the Grinkle Park and Seaton Hall estates.
He was one of the original members of the Iron and Steel Institute, at the first annual general meeting of which, held in London in 1870, he contributed a paper on "Iron as a Material for Shipbuilding."
1907 Obituary 
. . . He was one of the most prominent of the colliery owners of Durham; a large shipowner, shipbuilder, and maker of marine engines; the founder of the Jarrow blast furnaces, finished iron and steel works, an owner of ironstone mines, both at home and abroad; . . . [Long, detailed obituary with image]
1907 Obituary