Expatriate British Engineers in the Industrial Revolution
From Graces Guide
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.
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
Andrew Mitchell Steam engine maker
Nelthropp and Harris Paper-makers
Thomas Potter (1745-1811) Ironfounder
Benjamin Adkins of Rouen - Engineer and millwright
Aitken et Steele - steam engines, etc.
John Barnes - marine engines
Allcard, Buddicom and Co - Railway equipment
John Hardy (Railway engineering)
Job Dixon of France, Belgium and Holland
Henry Hinde Edwards of Chaillot
Humphrey Edwards of Chaillot
Hall, Powell and Scott of Rouen
John Holker of Rouen
James Jackson Steel, St Etienne
Thomas Waddington (France) of Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre
William Wilkinson (1744-1808) - iron production
John Hardy of Rouen and Vienna
John Levers of Rouen
James Martin (France) of Rouen
John Steele of Rouen
Sudds, Adkins et Barker of Rouen
Henry Sykes (France) of Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre
Philip Taylor of Marseilles
Samuel Aston - Machine production, ironfounding
Samuel Dobbs - iron production, steam engines, machinery
James Edward Earnshaw - Steam engines
Joseph Hall (2) - Locomotives
Nicholas Oliver Harvey - Marine engineering
William Lindley (Hamburg - water supply and drainage)
William Richards (Hettstedt) - Steam engines
Edward Thomas - Steam engines, machinery
Alfred Henry Neville Bridge designer and ironworks proprietor
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
William Handyside - Engineer and ironfounder
William Richards (1816-1893) - gas industry
Note: Vast numbers of workers emigrated from the British Isles to America. Just a few are listed below.
James Brindley (USA) - Canal builder
George Chatterton (1816-1908) - Files
James Croft - Brass
William Crompton - Textile machinery
John Crowther - Ironmaking
William Firmstone - Ironmaking
James B. Francis - Hydraulic engineering
Garrard Brothers - steel production
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
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 (USA) - Ironfounding
Benjamin Perry - Ironmaking
James Renwick - Railway and canal engineer
John and Arthur Scholfield - Woollen cloth and machinery
Samuel Slater - Textile production
James Smallman - Steam engines
John Steptoe - Machine tools
David Thomas (1794-1882) - Ironmaking
Hopkin Thomas - Ironmaking
Henry Warrington - Engineer and ironfounder
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
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
Iron puddling was a skill developed in Britain, and puddlers were in great demand on the Continent in the early 19thC. A German source 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.
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.
A figure of about 16,000 artisans arriving in France from Britain, and registered in Paris, was given for the two years 1823 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.
'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.'
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!'. 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 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.'
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.     .
An excellent account of early technology transfer, with particular reference to John Holker, was written by J. R. Harris. 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.'
Sources of Information
- 'British Technology and European Industrialization' by Kristine Bruland, Cambridge University Press, 1989
-  'The Engineers of Cornwall at the Mines of Pontgibaud in France' by Michael T. Kiernan, Cornish Global Mining Programme
-  '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
-  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
-  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.
- Bell's Weekly Messenger - Monday 26 April 1824, reporting from the 3rd Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery
- Globe - Tuesday 19 September 1837
- Carlisle Journal - Saturday 20 May 1843
- Worcestershire Chronicle - Wednesday 22 March 1848
- Stamford Mercury - Friday 16 June 1848
-  '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
-  Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery
-  '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
-  'Des Aventuriers' by Jean-Pierre Hervieux, 2013
- Google translation of the Jean-Pierre Hervieux article
-  '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
- 'John Holker: a Lancashire Jacobite in French Industry' by J. R. HARRIS, Transactions of the Newcomen Society Vol. 64 , Iss. 1,1992