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Herbert Francis Mackworth

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1856. Improvements in washing and separating minerals.

Herbert Francis Mackworth (1823-1858), Inspector of Mines.

1850s Ebenezer Rogers and Herbert Francis Mackworth patented a design of open top kiln for coking.

1856 Patent to Ebenezer Rogers, of Abercarn, and Herbert Mackworth, of Clifton, in the county of Gloucester, for the invention of "improvements in cooking, and in apparatus for that purpose.[1]

1857 Patent to Herbert Mackworth, of Clifton, Mining and Civil Engineer, for an invention of "improvements in the classification, preparation, and treatment of mineral substances, coke and furnace cinders, and in removing and depositing such substances, and in machinery and apparatus for such purposes"[2]


1859 Obituary [3]

MR. HERBERT FRANCIS MACKWORTH was born September 27th, 1823, in the Island of Trinidad, of which his father, on retiring from the Navy, was for many years High Sheriff.

In 1829, he came to England, and was placed for education at the Rev. J. Barron’s school at Stanmore, where his progress was not remarkable.

In 1837, he spent a year with his family, at Mannheim, laying the foundation of that intimate acquaintance with the French and German languages which proved so useful to him in after-life. At that period, too, the resolution was formed, to which he ever afterwards steadily adhered, to push his own way through the world, independent of private resources, and for this purpose to arouse every faculty which had hitherto lain dormant.

Returning to England in 1838, he went to the Old Proprietary School at Blackheath, where he was always first in mathematical studies, and gained several prizes, and acquired the good-will both of the masters and his schoolfellows.

Mr. Mackworth then entered, in 1840, as a student at King’s College, London, with a special view to the profession of civil engineering. Notwithstanding the tastes for amusement and society natural to his age, there were few instances in which he could be tempted away from his books, and his remarkable diligence and success were apparent in the result of the examinations, and have been subsequently testified in the most gratifying manner by the heads of the college. His own high value for the instruction there received was proved by his invariable recommendation, to the many young men who afterwards sought his advice, as to the best training for the profession, a King’s College course being always included in the plan of education sketched out for them. Another visit to Germany, during one of the vacations, was chiefly spent in a tour among the mines of the Rhenish provinces; and on leaving college he paid repeated visits to the mining districts of England. Ever on the alert to gain information, he added incessantly to his stores, making notes and sketches of all that might be afterwards useful to him as an engineer.

Mr. Mackworth commenced his professional career as a pupil to the late Mr. Alfred Jee, by whom he was employed on the Sheffield and Manchester, and other railways in the North of England. His rapid progress in practical engineering led to his appointment, at the early age of twenty-two, as Resident Engineer of the Huddersfield and Manchester Railway, having several pupils of his own. There he had the entire laying out and construction of the formidable works connected with the Standedge Tunnel.

The peculiarly hard strata, through which part of the tunnel was carried, presented fewer difficulties than the mass of quicksand occurring in another portion of the work, and in overcoming this obstacle the skill and energy of the young engineer were fully tried, and with the most successful result. The achievement was the more remarkable, from the fact that at a critical period of the operations, when delay was likely to cause almost irretrievable mischief, a dispute arose with the Contractors, when, in addition to all his other duties, and with only a very small addition to his staff, the Engineer immediately took the responsibility on himself, and executed the remainder of the work with complete success, and without a single accident to the men employed.

Some differences of opinion between the Directors and Engineers of the line resulted in Mr. Mackworth‘s retirement from his post, in 1848. Although the attendant circumstances could only reflect credit on his character and capacity, yet it was a check in the full career of young ambition, involving considerable disappointment ; but it produced a steadiness and maturity of experience which proved in the end invaluable, and his own impression was, that the trial was productive of unmixed good. Thenceforward be determined to abandon railway engineering, and to turn more special attention to the department in which he was afterwards destined to exhibit much scientific skill and benevolent usefulness.

He had already laid a careful foundation for this change, and he then entirely devoted himself to the working of mines and collieries, selecting for this purpose the South Wales coal-field as the most desirable scene, first of study, and afterwards of employment.

There he remained, industriously improving every opportunity until the dreadful accidents in coal-mines led to the appointment of Government inspectors. With little interest, but by evident acquaintance with the subject, he was chosen from among a large number of candidates, and entered upon his office as Inspector of Coal-mines, in November 1851.

It should be remarked that the acquaintance with Sir Henry de la Beche, begun during this examination, did not end there, but was kept up, with apparently mutual pleasure, until the death of that great and excellent man. The district assigned to the new Inspector comprised the counties of Somerset, Gloucester, and Monmouth, besides the three counties of South Wales; and though continually protesting against a system which reduced the inspection almost to a nullity, by distributing the efforts of one man over so wide a surface, he laboured incessantly to disprove it in his own case, until a wiser policy prevailed, and each district was divided between two Inspectors. Henceforth, it was his greatest pride to merit the title, which he frequently received, of ‘the colliers’ friend,’ and he lost no opportunity of making known their ill-understood hardships and dangers, in his reports to Government, and in numerous lectures, as well as in constant intercourse with men of every class. Still he took no partial, narrow view of the subject, believing that the masters were commercially interested in provisions of safety, quite as much as their workmen ; and while no one could be more firm in the performance of actual duty, he gained many friends among the iron and coal masters of South Wales, by his mild conciliatory manners, and earnest appreciation of their real interests.

Convinced that much valuable information might be obtained from foreign engineers, and from observation of their methods of working the continental mines, Mr. Mackworth early directed the attention of Government to the subject, and in the spring of 1853, he and Mr. Joseph Dickinson, a brother Inspector, received instructions to make a tour in France, Belgium, and Germany, with special reference to the collection of evidence for the committee of the House of Commons, then sitting to consider a further improvement of the Inspection Act. This introduction to men of talent, on the Continent, was the beginning of a friendly and useful intercourse, maintained by correspondence, the interchange of scientific books, and also by personal communication with those who visited England.

Always of an inventive turn of mind, Mr. Mackworth had not been long among the collieries, before he perceived several methods by which the economy of working them might be improved. A modification of the method of coking, which he had observed in Westphalia, was the object of his consideration for some time, and was afterwards introduced by him. At the Educational Exhibition of the Society of Arts, in 1854, and at the Paris Exhibition, in 1855, he exhibited various models for improvements in mining machinery ; on both occasions receiving medals. A compact little instrument for the use of geologists and mining engineers, called ‘the Metra,’ was invented by him about the same time.

Further experience led to other improvements in coking, and also in the purifying of the coal for coking, for which three patents were taken out, and were being very successfully worked for the owners of collieries, when the inventor was suddenly prostrated by the illness which shortly proved fatal.

Predisposed to fever by overstrained efforts of mind and body, even his powerful frame gave way at last, although with characteristic endurance he continued on a tour of inspection, for some days after he was first attacked. Even then he was only prevented by a decided medical opinion, from attending the examination of the Bristol Mining School, of which he had been the originator, and the establishment of which had been the reward of long perseverance. The result of the examination was extremely gratifying, and Mr. Mackworth's last conference with any one, except the attendants in his sick-room, was with Professor Warington Smyth, who kindly came down from London on that occasion. From that moment all secular matters were laid aside, and were replaced by thoughts of that higher state of existence for which he had only regarded this life as the needful preparation; and he calmly breathed his last on the 13th July, 1858, at the age of thirty-four years.

He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers, as a Member, in the year 1853, was a frequent attendant at the meetings, taking an active part in the discussions. He had made many friends, and his premature decease was much regretted by the profession of which he had apparently been destined to become an ornament.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The London Gazette 11 July 1856
  2. The London Gazette 13 May 1864
  3. 1859 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries