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George Elliot

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George Elliot (1814-1893), industrialist and politician, baronet

1814 George Elliot, born in Gateshead on 18 March, the son of Ralph Elliot, pitman, and his wife, Elizabeth, daughter of Henry Braithwaite, of Newcastle upon Tyne.

1823 Began work as a pit boy at the Pensher colliery owned by Charles Stewart

1831 Union leader at the pit during the strike in 1831 over the length of the working day.

c.1831 apprenticed to Thomas Sopwith, a local land surveyor and mining engineer (was this Thomas Sopwith (1803-1879)?); involved in investigation of coal resources in the Forest of Dean.

As one of the resident engineers, helped to survey the line of the proposed Great North of England Railway between Darlington and York.

1836 Married Margaret Green (d. 1880) of Houghton-le-Spring, Durham

1837 Returned to Pensher as overman

1841 Elliot became under-manager at Monkwearmouth pit, and manager in 1844.

Mid-1840s became a managing partner in Washington colliery

Opened the Unsworth mine.

1849 Came to know the wire-rope-making business of Kuper and Co through his mining interests; purchased the company when it had financial difficulties.

1850 Bought the Pensher colliery from Lord Londonderry

1851 Engineer in chief and Mining engineer of the collieries, railways, harbours, etc of the Marquis of Londonderry, which position he continued to hold for at least 5 years[1]

1852 helped to found the Institution of Mining Engineers.

Experimented with mining technology. Was an advocate of improved safety lamps, shaft detaching hooks, and coal-cutting machinery. Set up trials of new ventilating methods at his collieries

1850s Supported the establishment of the Mines Inspectorate.

1856 Became a member of the Inst of Civil Engineers[2]

1859 Mining Engineer, Houghton-le-Spring.[3]

1859 Joined I Mech E; MP; of Houghton-le-Spring, near Fence Houses.

1860s Acquired further mines in North Wales, Staffordshire, and in Nova Scotia.

1864 Formed a partnership which bought for £365,000 all the coal mines of the late Thomas Powell. Established the Powell Duffryn Steam Coal Co (PDSC) which grew to be the largest coal company in south Wales. He was acting manager of the company until 1877

Elliot extended the business, buying coalmines near Aberdare including the rich coalmine and ironworks of Crawshay Bailey. Elliott lived in the mansion of the estate; later Powell Duffryn made it their headquarters.

1864 Amalgamated the Kuper business with the Gutta Percha Co to form the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co which focussed on telegraph cables. A new company, George Elliot and Co ,was set up to take over the manufacture of wire rope at new works in Newcastle and Cardiff, convenient for the many collieries that Elliot owned. This company continued for nearly a century.

1868 Elected M.P. for Durham North to 1880 and again 1881-85

1874 Made a baronet

1875 Supported the development of Newport docks as an alternative to Cardiff; the Alexandra northern dock in Newport was opened in 1875

1878 Obtained parliamentary authority to lay the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, to serve his collieries in exporting coal.

1886 M.P. for Monmouth to 1892.

1880-88 Again managed the PDSC company

1886-89 Chairman of PDSC

1893 Three months before his death he published a plan for a trust to hold all the resources of the coal industry in Britain, with the owners holding shares but sharing the profits with the workers and an insurance fund. Died in London.

1893 December 23rd. Died.


1894 Obituary [4]

SIR GEORGE ELLIOT, BART., was one of a typical class of Englishmen. Born at Gateshead-on-Tyne on the 18th of March, 1816, he began his working career in one of the collieries of the then Lord Londonderry at an age when no boy would now be permitted to enter one.

Until about twenty years old he worked underground as a collier. During his youth, however, he applied his leisure to the study of mathematics and so successful was his self-tuition that he left the pit to be received into a surveyor’s office at Newcastle-on-Tyne. This engagement proved the first step to fortune. Close application to business as a draughtsman enabled him in six months to return to the colliery as overseer. He passed successively through all the stages of mining employment until he became head viewer at Monkwearmouth and when only twenty-four years of age was placed in sole charge of one of the largest and deepest pits in England.

George Elliot’s position now brought him into contact with capitalists and engineers. In 1840 he advised the purchase of Washington Colliery and guaranteed the venture if one-fourth of the shares were allotted to him. His advice was acted upon and Messrs. Russell, Backhouse, Mounsey and Elliot held equal shares in the mine.

Whilst managing this colliery he still retained his position as head viewer at Monkwearmouth. So successful was his management that in three years his credit stood so high that he was able to lease Usworth Colliery, an extensive undertaking with a daily output of 1,200 tons.

He then resigned his post at Monkwearmouth and was appointed chief consulting and mining engineer to the Marquis of Londonderry, for whom he shortly afterwards carried out the principal work in connection with the creation of Seaham Harbour as a shipping port.

One of the proudest moments of his life, however, may be said to have been that when in 1864 he was able to purchase the Whitfield Colliery in the county of Durham, where years before he had worked as a door-boy.

Shortly afterwards he acquired, in conjunction with the late Thomas Brassey, and others, the Powell Duffryn Collieries in South Wales.

For years he used his utmost endeavours to ameliorate the condition of the miner, and it was his boast that he had preserved a table on which Lord Aberdare and he had drawn up an agreement that led to the introduction of the Mines Regulation Act, by which the hours of labour were reduced from fourteen to nine. He was a member of the important Royal Commissions on Coal Supply and on Accidents in Mines. His signature to the report of the former Commission, issued in 1871, was qualified by the observation that he did not approve of the introduction of one of Professor Jevons’ calculations which seemed to imply the possibility of the exhaustion of British coalfields in one hundred and ten years. At the request of his fellow commissioners he undertook an investigation of the quantity of available coal in the fields of county Durham, which in the result he estimated at upwards of 6,200,000,000 tons, and he subsequently calculated, as the result of another inquiry, that the coal to be found at all depths in North Staffordshire amounted to more than 4,826,000,000 tons.

In 1874 he was created a baronet in recognition of his public services.

In addition to his enormous colliery undertakings, in which many thousand men were employed, Sir George Elliot had established, in conjunction with the late Sir Richard Glass, large and important works for the manufacture of wire-rope and submarine electric cables. The firm of Glass, Elliot and Co was converted in 1864 into the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Co, which successfully laid the second Atlantic cable, Sir George Elliot, in conjunction with a small number of capitalists, finding a large portion of the funds required.

When the enterprise of local capitalists in the Alexandra Docks at Newport was flagging and the work of construction was at a standstill for want of funds, Sir George Elliot was induced to come forward, and from that time he evinced a great and practical interest in the undertaking.

He also did much to improve the seaport of Whitby, which town owes its present importance as a watering-place largely to his liberality; and, as a partner in the firm of Greenfield and Co, he took an important share in the work of constructing the well-known harbour at Alexandria.

Of the many designs which occupied Sir George Elliot’s busy life none was more remarkable than the scheme for the amalgamation of the entire coalfields of Great Britain in which he was profoundly interested. In September, 1893, he proposed a gigantic coal trust, the working of which was largely based upon the principle of according to the workmen a voice in the regulation of their wages and of the selling-price of coal, and also a share in the profits. With this object it was provided that - after 1d. per ton had been set aside from the gross earnings for a Workmen’s Insurance Fund, and a profit of 8.3 per cent had been made upon the capital - any surplus profits not exceeding an amount sufficient to pay a dividend of 3.75 per cent. on the ordinary shares, should be divided in the proportion of two-thirds to the men and one-third to the owners. Any further profits were to be divided in equal thirds amongst the owners, the workmen, and the purchasers, in the latter case in the form of a discount. Committees in the several colliery districts, upon which the miners should be equally represented with the owners, were to be appointed to fix the scale of wages and the selling-price of coal within certain prescribed limits, any disputes or differences to be finally settled by a court of three independent referees who were not to be members of the trust. The formation of an insurance fund, by which an adequate provision for old age could be effected, particularly interested him, and not many days before his death he was heard to say that his most earnest wish in connection with the scheme was that he might be able to leave the whole body of the mining population better off than he had found them. His knowledge of engineering, combined with the practical interest he took in the most important mining developments of his time, helped to place him in the position of an authority upon all questions connected with the trade ; but possibly he owed as much to a homely northern strain of fidelity to interests which had once engaged his serious attention as to any other single quality, it was this characteristic which in all probability caused the miners of Durham to return him-under the good-humoured nickname of 'Bonnie Geordie' - more than once to Parliament.

From 1868 to 1885 he represented North Durham almost continuously, and from 1886 to 1892 he sat as member for Monmouth district. In the discussion of 1889 on the Employer's Liability Bill he differed from the Trades Unions on the contracting-out question and, while acknowledging that they were most useful institutions and asserting that he was the first employer who had co-operated with them, insisted that there ought to be a limit to their power. Sir George Elliot died on the 23rd of December, 1893, after an illness of three or four weeks' duration, the cause being a chill caught at a political meeting at Cardiff which resulted in pneumonia.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 4th of March, 1856.


1894 Obituary [5]

Sir GEORGE ELLIOT, Bart., was born on March 18, 1815, and died on December 23, 1893, at his London residence in Portland Place.

Beginning life as a pit lad, he became widely known in later years as a colliery owner. This career he entered upon in 1840, when Messrs. Backhouse and Mounsey purchased, on his advice, the Washington Colliery, near Durham - Mr. Elliot taking equal shares with them.

In 1851 he resigned his appointment as chief viewer of Monkwearmouth Colliery, and became mining engineer to the late Marquis of Londonderry. In addition to his colliery undertakings, he established, in conjunction with Sir Richard Glass, important works for the manufacture of wire-rope.

In 1864 the firm of Glass & Elliot was amalgamated with another and formed into the Telegraph Construction and Maintenance Company, who manufactured the second Atlantic cable much thicker and more costly than the former one. The firm afterwards became Elliot & Co., of Westminster, Cardiff, and Durham, wire-rope makers.

Sir George Elliot was a member of the Royal Commissions on Coal Supply and on Accidents in Mines, and in 1874, in recognition of his public services, he was created a Baronet. He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1877. He was also a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.


1894 Obituary [6]



1893 Obituary [7]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Civil Engineer Records 1820-1930
  2. Civil Engineer Records 1820-1930
  3. 1859 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  4. 1894 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  5. 1894 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  6. The Engineer 1893/12/29, p617.
  7. Engineering 1893 Jul-Dec: Index: General Index