Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 148,369 pages of information and 233,846 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Expatriate British Engineers in the Industrial Revolution

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search


Many countries were keen to adopt technology developed in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Buying machinery, or gaining knowledge of designs and techniques, was often not sufficient to make progress, and there was a demand for the direct involvement of experienced engineers and other workers.

For a time, British government policy was firmly against such transfer of technology, discouraging emigration of skilled workers and banning the export of machinery and information. Many British industrialists disagreed with this policy, partly because it limited the market for their products, and partly because other countries would be encouraged to make strenuous efforts to develop their own machinery, and become competitors.

For the present purposes, the period of interest is up to the 1850s.

As well as 'engineers', a number of other technologists, scientists, skilled workers and entrepreneurs are included.

The list generally excludes people working for British firms on overseas construction contracts. There were very many such workers, particularly during the construction of the early railways. It also generally excludes British engineers and entrepreneurs working within the British Empire.

Engineers and Entrepreneurs

Individuals or companies are categorised below according to their main overseas domicile(s). In some cases the town is included.


John Baillie - Railway engineering

John Hardy - Railway engineering

John Haswell - Railway engineering

Matthew Rosthorn - Metalworking

Joseph John Ruston - Shipbuilding and engineering

John Thornton - Textile and machinery production


Richard Brain

John Cockerill

William Cockerill

James Hodson

George Saunders - Newcomen engines


Thomas Bracegirdle

Edward Thomas


Andrew Mitchell Steam engine maker

Nelthropp and Harris Paper-makers

Thomas Potter (1745-1811) Ironfounder


James Finlayson

John Barker


Benjamin Adkins of Rouen - Engineer and millwright

Aitken et Steele - steam engines, etc.

Michael Alcock (1714-1785)

John Barnes - marine engineering

George Arthur Biddell

Allcard, Buddicom and Co - Railway equipment

John Collier (France)

Job Dixon of France, Belgium and Holland

James Douglas (France)

Henry Hinde Edwards of Chaillot

Humphrey Edwards of Chaillot

Thomas Foxlow

Hall, Powell and Scott of Rouen, the second major manufactory for steam engines in the city, opened in the 1830s; it was followed by several others.

George Hards - Textile machinery

John Hardy (Railway engineering)

John Heywood (1771-1855)

John Holker of Rouen

John Hulse of Rouen (textile machinery)

James Jackson Steel, St Etienne

John Kay (1704-1780)

Thomas Lawday founded the first important factory for manufacture of steam engines at Rouen about 1833[1]

William Lawday of Rouen - steam engines

James Morrison (1806-1878) - Ironworks

Thomas Waddington (France) of Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre

William Wilkinson (1744-1808) - iron production

John Hardy of Rouen and Vienna

Thomas Lester (of Tipton)

John Levers of Rouen

David Lloyd (b.1797)

Manby, Wilson and Co

Aaron Manby

Charles Manby

James Martin (France) of Rouen

Thomas Scott (Rouen)

John Steele of Rouen

Sudds, Adkins et Barker of Rouen

Henry Sykes (France) of Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre

Philip Taylor of Marseilles

Daniel Wilson

John Oliver York - Iron


Samuel Aston - Machine production, ironfounding

Samuel Dobbs - iron production, steam engines, machinery

James Edward Earnshaw - Steam engines

Evan Evans - Cotton spinning, machine making, machine tools

Samuel Godwin

Joseph Hall (2) - Locomotives

Nicholas Oliver Harvey - Marine engineering

William Lindley (Hamburg - water supply and drainage)

William Richards (Hettstedt) - Steam engines

Wharton Rye

Edward Thomas - Steam engines, machinery


Robert Jeffrey - Railway Engineering

Alfred Henry Neville Bridge designer and ironworks proprietor

Philip Taylor

Robert Whitehead


William Blakey

Nicholas Oliver Harvey Marine engineering


John Trenery - Marine, steam, and general engineering


John Baildon - Iron and engineering

William Preacher - Machinery production


David Hargreaves - Ironfounder

John Eccles Martin - Ironfounder


Charles Baird - Engineer and ironfounder

Francis Baird - Engineer and ironfounder

Samuel Bentham

Charles Gascoigne

William Handyside - Engineer and ironfounder

William Hastie (1755-1832)

William Hopper

Matthew Murray, Junior

Francis Wrigley


Samuel Kent

William Richards (1816-1893) - gas industry


Samuel Owen

Thomas Stawford


Matthew Murray Jackson (1821-1892)

Charles Brown (1827-1896)


Note: Vast numbers of workers emigrated from the British Isles to America. Just a few are listed below.

William Allen Boilers, etc.

William T. Bate - Boilers

James Brindley (USA) - Canal builder

William Buffham - Optical instruments

George Chatterton (1816-1908) - Files

James Clayton - Pumps & compressors

James Croft - Brass

William Crompton - Textile machinery

John Crowther - Ironmaking

William Firmstone - Ironmaking

James B. Francis - Hydraulic engineering

Garrard Brothers - steel production

Alexander Gordon (of USA) - Machine tools (Niles Tool Works Co)

Lawrence Greatrake - Papermaking machinery

John Isaac Hawkins - Inventor

Benjamin Haywood - Steam engines, ironworks, machine making

John Hewitt (1777-1857) - Steam engines

Paul Rapsey Hodge - Self-propelled fire engine

Robert Hoe (1784-1833) - Printing machines

John Hope - engraving machines

Josiah Hornblower - Steam engines, mining

William S. Hudson - Locomotive design and production

Thomas Kensett- Food canning

Thomas Kingsford - Starch production

James Pugh Kirkwood - Civil engineering

Daniel Large - Steam engines

James Laurie - Civil engineering

Thomas Cotton Lewis - Iron

George Peacock - Ironfounding

Benjamin Perry - Ironmaking

James Renwick - Railway and canal engineer

Thomas Rutter - Ironmaking

John and Arthur Scholfield - Woollen cloth and machinery

Samuel Slater - Textile production

James Smallman - Steam engines

John Steptoe - Machine tools

Thomas T. Tasker

David Thomas (1794-1882) - Ironmaking

Henry Warrington - Engineer and ironfounder

Henry Warwood - Tools

Francis Wedge - Portable engines

Thomas Wood (Philadelphia) - Textile machinery

Other Workers

It was often the case that merely acquiring a machine or process was of no use to the purchaser, making it necessary to hire skilled operators from Britain or Ireland. Rarely do we know their names, but one notable exception applies to workers employed by a number of textile producers in Norway[2]

Many miners from Cornwall took their skills abroad, and their history is the subject of research by the Cornish Global Mining Programme. An example of the Programme's published work includes the biographical details of a number of British workers employed by the Societe des Mines at Fonderies de Pontgibaud in France[3]

Iron puddling was a skill developed in Britain, and puddlers were in great demand on the Continent in the early 19thC. A German source[4] provides valuable information, with some names of British puddlers who went to work in Europe. For example, Eberhard Hoesch used Samuel Dobbs to recruit puddlers. The source includes the names of eight puddlers, mostly from Plymouth ironworks in South Wales, some of whom went on to work at various Continental ironworks. These included Fourchambault, Châtillon, Orban, Seraing, Hoesch, Remy, Frankreich, and Decazeville.

Some operatives in the cotton industry who had been temporarily employed overseas gave evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery in the 1820s. For example, James Lever, a carder, had been encouraged in 1822 to go to the cotton spinning mill of Victor Jolly at St. Quintin (Quentin?) in France, where John Fell from Manchester had been recruited as a manager. There he was paid £2 a week instead of 34s. One of his reasons for returning to England was that he preferred English food to that on offer in France! He mentioned that the contractor for the machinery at Jolly's mill was John Marsden, who had left Manchester about 1819.[5]

William Shoults and John Greenwood were bobbin-net lace makers from Nottingham, and represented themselves and fellow lace-makers in giving evidence to the Committee about the smuggling of lace-making machinery and technology to France. They were concerned about the loss of their business to overseas makers, and gave a great deal of information about the smuggling of information, patent infringement, etc. They referred to a family named Levers who had emigrated to France and set up business at Grancion, near Rouen, and to a man named Derbyshire, who intended to go to France to start making bobbin-net machinery. Other names given were a Mr Barrett, from New Radford, who took machinery to Dunkirk. George Shore went to Lisle (Lille?). Mr Bates from Leicester established a business in Antwerp.[6]

1839 'Emigration of Mechanics. — We understand, that in February last, a band of nineteen mechanics left Manchester per railway for Amiens. On Tuesday morning, at half-past eight, another band of fifteen, all mechanics, took their departure from Manchester for the same destination. From particular inquiries made respecting the latter deportation, it appears that they are all of them machine makers, and several of them from the eminent machine-making establishment Messrs. Cocker & Higgins, of Salford. It is quite impossible for any but those who pay great attention to the matter (and who have at the same time ready access to the parties commissioned by the Continental manufacturers and spinners to enter into engagements on their behalf), to form the least idea of the extent to which this sort of emigration is now conducted. But our readers will be still more surprised, perhaps, to learn that even women and young girls who have been brought up as spinners and piecers &c. are now also regularly going to the Continent, to be employed in cotton mills. When it considered, too, that such parties can now reach Ostend, or even Ghent, in less time, and at as little expense, as it took but only twenty years ago to reach London, there is little to be wondered at that the labouring classes should thus endeavour to dispose of their only merchandise (labour) to the best advantage.—(Manchester Times.)[7]


A figure of about 16,000 artisans arriving in France from Britain, and registered in Paris, was given for the two years 1822 and 1823. They were employed in practically all industries, including iron mills and foundries, woollen, cotton, calico-printing, engraving, steam engine and machine factories. Only about 5 or 6 Englishmen were then employed at Chaillot, 'Mr. Edwards does not wish to have Englishmen now, as he can manage the French better.[8]

'The French iron-workers at Forchambault, in the department of the Nievre, are exceedingly jealous of the English artisans, who get higher wages than they, but who, after all, have taught the trade in that department. Several English workmen, Lewis, Morgan, and Humphries, were attacked on the 15th of August. Their houses were beset, their windows broken, and Morgan saved by a French baker, in whose house he took refuge. Seven of the refractory were brought up the other day for trial, and condemned to terms of imprisonment —some for six months, some for two.'[9]

Various reasons impelled people to seek work overseas, and the push, or pull, continued in the 1840s. Here's one example: 'On Friday, seven mechanics sailed from Sunderland for the continent, in search of employment. Several English artisans, masons, sawyers, &c, have of late, from time to time, emigrated from the Wear for France, with a view to better their condition. What a glorious thing to have a Corn Law to secure marriage portions for the aristocracy, and to drive our best artisans from the country!'.[10] Later, the push would go the other way.....

Some idea of the extent to which British artisans continued to be employed in French textile mills comes from reports of unrest in the 1840s, during the crisis in France. One newspaper[11] reported in 1848 that 'There are 2500 English workmen employed in Normandy', and hundreds were being driven out of the flax mills by angry mobs. 'The managers of a large factory at Boulogne have been compelled to dismiss their English workmen, who, with their families, number nearly 700 persons.' Large numbers of people, in fear for their lives, were returning to Britain and arriving destitute. 'The number of English artisans and mechanics who have been obliged to leave France since the revolution of February is upwards of 7000.'[12]

Other Aspects of Technology Transfer

Although beyond the scope of this entry, much has been written about the acquisition of technical know-how, particularly by France, by means of overt and covert intelligence gathering. The sources provide fascinating information, and often include the names of expatriate workers.[13] [14] [15] [16] [17] [18].

An excellent account of early technology transfer, with particular reference to John Holker, was written by J. R. Harris[19]. Aspects that come across clearly include the relatively primitive nature of many aspects of French industry in the mid-18th century, and the extent to which Holker, through his web of contacts in Britain, was able to introduce improvements in many diverse aspects of the production of textiles, machinery, and even chemicals. Another insight from Holker, in the context of importing British expertise, is 'that it is no small matter to find [a dyer] who would suit; men of talent and good behaviour do not readily agree to leave their country .... it is not possible to find a dyer who can make himself understood when he gets to France, and sometimes [the employers] to whom one entrusts this kind of worker [abandon them] when they have got hold of their secret and can manage without them.'

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Engineering 21 June 1878 p504
  2. 'British Technology and European Industrialization' by Kristine Bruland, Cambridge University Press, 1989
  3. [1] 'The Engineers of Cornwall at the Mines of Pontgibaud in France' by Michael T. Kiernan, Cornish Global Mining Programme
  4. [2] 'Die belgische Beeinflussung der Frühindustrialisierung im Aachener Raum, ca. 1820-1860' (The Belgian influence on early industrialization in the Aachen area, c. 1820-1860), Ph.D. thesis submitted by Hartmut Schainberg, University of Trier, p.165 ff. NB: Large PDF, in German
  5. [3] Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery, pp335-340
  6. [4] Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery, p.374ff.
  7. The Suffolk Chronicle; or Weekly General Advertiser & County Express. - Saturday 13 April 1839
  8. Bell's Weekly Messenger - Monday 26 April 1824, reporting from the 3rd Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery
  9. Globe - Tuesday 19 September 1837
  10. Carlisle Journal - Saturday 20 May 1843
  11. Worcestershire Chronicle - Wednesday 22 March 1848
  12. Stamford Mercury - Friday 16 June 1848
  13. [5] 'Examples of industrial and military technology transfer in the eighteenth century / Des exemples de transferts techniques industriels et militaires au dix-huitième siècle, by Margaret Bradley, 2e semestre 2010 : Les techniques et la technologie entre la France et la Grande-Bretagne XVIIe-XIXe siècles
  14. [6] Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery
  15. [7] 'Quelques remarques sur le rôle des Anglais dans la Révolution industrielle en France, particulièrement en Normandie, de 1750 à 1850' J. Vidalenc, Annales de Normandie, 1958, Volume 8 No. 2 pp. 273-290
  16. [8] 'Des Aventuriers' by Jean-Pierre Hervieux, 2013
  17. [9]Google translation of the Jean-Pierre Hervieux article
  18. [10] 'L'innovation technique dans l'industrie textile pendant la Révolution' by Serge Chassagne: Histoire, économie et société, 1993, Volume 12 No. 1 pp. 51-61
  19. 'John Holker: a Lancashire Jacobite in French Industry' by J. R. HARRIS, Transactions of the Newcomen Society Vol. 64 , Iss. 1,1992