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British Industrial History

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Henry Augustus Severn

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Henry Augustus Severn (1833-1883)

1883 Obituary [1]

HENRY AUGUSTUS SEVERN, the second son of Mr. Joseph Severn, H.B.M. Consul at Rome, the intimate friend of Heats, was born on the 21st of June, 1833, in the Via Rasella, Rome.

Mr. Severn was educated at Westminster, and at an early age exhibited singular aptitude for chemical and mechanical pursuits. But in those days the appliances necessary for the young student to prosecute his researches were too costly for him to think of purchasing them, so he literally had to make his own apparatus, and he took pleasure in relating to the young people about him, how he had bought a bit of copper here, and other unconsidered trifles there, to make something he had seen but could not afford to buy; how and why he had failed, and so on. The result of this rude early experience was that, later in life, he seemed never to be at a loss, because if the appliances wanted for any special object were not to be had, and this often happened in the early Colonial days, he always found materials wherewith to make them.

After serving three years’ pupilage, 1848-51, in Messrsrs. Fanham’s works, in Manchester, he joined Professor Lewis of Westminster, and in April, 1853, was employed at the London Mint.

He left England in 1854 for Sydney, New South Wales, where he accepted the appointment of Assayer to the Sydney Mint, and remained there until the Melbourne Mint was established.

At that time the Union Bank of Australia found it necessary to have an assayer, and the post was offered to and accepted by Mr. Severn. Heavy as his duties were, he not only kept abreast of the rapid progress then being made in natural science, but also studied civil engineering, especially that branch pertaining to gold-mining, and the treatment of auriferous quartz. After remaining six years in the position above-named, he accepted that of Manager of the Caledonian Mine, at that time the richest in the Thames gold fields in the northern part of New Zealand. The enormous yield of this mine is well known, and the quantity of amalgam was so large that it could with difficulty be treated in the usual way, and this led to the use of the simple apparatus known as 'Severn’s Amalgam Squeezer,' which does as much work in an hour as can be done by the old process in a day.

When the Caledonian mine became exhausted, he accepted the assayership of the Bank of New Zealand, at Grahamstown (Thames Gold Fields). Whilst here he constructed a reflecting telescope 12 feet long, with 13 inches aperture, for observing the transit of Venus in 1873.

He subsequently delivered lectures on scientific subjects in some of the principal places in the Colonies. These lectures were attended by upwards of 60,000 persons, a very large number, considering the then sparse population, creditable alike to the lecturer and to the Colonists.

Mr. Severn returned to England in 1880, and was elected an Associate Member of the Institution on the 7th of December in that year. Soon after his arrival he was appointed Engineer-in-chief to the Indian Gold Mines. Since then he resided principally at this Company’s mines near Devala in the Wynaad, where he personally superintended the execution of the works which he had designed. He was an indefatigable worker, but in his anxiety that the mines should be in every sense successful, he exposed himself unduly, and died of brain fever.

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