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James Timmins Chance

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Sir James Timmins Chance (1814-1902) of Chance Brothers and Co, Lighthouse Engineer.

1854 Patent. '2182. And James Timmins Chance, of Birmingham, in the county of Warwick, has given the like notice in respect of the invention of "improvements in manufacturing articles from the minerals or rocks of the descriptions commonly called Basalt or Trap, sometimes Rowley-rag and Whinstone."'[1]

1855 Patent. '1985. And James Timmins Chance, of Birmingham, and Henry Adcock, of the same place, have given the like notice in respect of the invention of "improvements in casting articles of the slags produced by the smelting of iron and other ores."'[2]

1902 March 22nd. Died


1902 Obituary [3][4]

...Eldest son of William Chance, Spring Grove, Birmingham.

Educated at University College, London, and Trinity College, Cambridge, where be held a scholarship, he graduated as seventh wrangler in 1838, proceeding to the degree of M.A. in 1841, and M.A., Oxon., in 1848.

In the year 1839, shortly after leaving Cambridge, be became a partner in the firm of Chance Brothers and Co. In this position be continued for over fifty years, and in 1865 became head of the firm.

In 1859 he commenced the manufacture of optical apparatus for lighthouses, and devoted his whole energy and eminent mathematical attainments to the development of the scientific side of lighthouse engineering. Till that date, practically all lenses for lighthouse purposes had been manufactured in France, and to Sir James must be ascribed the credit of introducing this industry into England. Even at the present day (1902) his firm remains the only manufacturer in this department of scientific industry in Great Britain.

Until the year 1872, when Sir James was succeeded in the scientific direction of the lighthouse works by the late Dr. John Hopkinson, F.R.S, the entire management of the department was in his hands. To him are due many of the valuable improvements in the optical apparatus of lighthouses. Amongst these may be mentioned the dioptric mirror, which has superseded to a great extent the use of the older silvered reflectors.

The earliest apparatus of this kind manufactured was shown at the Exhibition of 1862 by the Commissioners of Northern Lighthouses, for whom it had been constructed. To Chance was also due the practice of appropriating certain elements of t he dioptric lens and reflecting prisms to different distances on the sea. The first examples of this adjustment were in the optical apparatus for the electric light at the South Foreland constructed in 1871.

Chance introduced the use of the now common condensing prisms for converging beams of light in certain directions over restricted arcs. One of the most ingenious applications of these prisms is at Souter Point Lighthouse. At the suggestion of the late Sir James Nicholas Douglass, F.R.S., Mr. Chance designed these prisms to divert a portion of the light, from the principal apparatus, vertically downwards from the lantern, to a lower level in the tower, where expanding prisms distribute the rays over a danger located some distance from the shore in Sunderland Bay. It may be said that he was the first English engineer or mathematician to apply the science of mathematics to the practical optics of lighthouse engineering. His paper, read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, on "Optical Apparatus used in Lighthouses," in 1867, is a most masterly dissertation on the calculations and designs for lighthouse lenses, and remains a standard work of reference on the subject. After an interval of eleven years Sir James again read a paper on "Dioptric Apparatus in Lighthouses for Electric Light," before the same body. He was awarded the " Telford " gold medal of the Institution for his earlier paper.

During the period between 1860 and 1872 Messrs. Chance manufactured practically all the optical apparatus supplied to the various lighthouse authorities of Great Britain. The optical elements were in most instances designed by Mr. Chance himself. Among the lights may be mentioned the well-known apparatus at Souter Point, South Foreland, Flamborough, Hartland Point, Start Point, Great Ormes Head, South Stack, Whitby, besides many for foreign countries and British Colonies.

Mr. Chance served on the Royal Commission of 1859 to consider the improvement of the lighthouse service of Great Britain. He married, in 1845, Elizabeth, daughter of Mr. George Ferguson, of Houghton Hall, Carlisle, who pre-deceased him in 1887. He is succeeded in the baronetey by his eldest son, William Chance, of Godalming. He leaves three sons and five daughters.

The deceased baronet was elected an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in 1867, and in addition was a member of many other learned societies.

He was created a baronet in 1900. His name will be long remembered, not only in the Birmingham district but also in scientific and engineering circles at home and abroad, both for his eminent services to coast lighting and for his kindly disposition and wide philanthropy.

1902 Died aged 88.


1902 Obituary [5]

. . . . the principal work of his life was upon dioptric apparatus for lighthouses. This difficult manufacture had been carried on in England from 1831 to 1845 by Cookson and Co, of South Shields, but when they relinquished it, it became again the monopoly of two Parisian firms.

About the year 1850 Chance Brothers and Co undertook it, engaging for its superintendence Mr. Tabouret, who had been employed for thirty years in the lighthouse department of the 'Ponts et Chaussbes,' and had worked under Augustin Fresnel, the great inventor of the dioptric system. He constructed the first-order apparatus shown by the firm in the Great Exhibition of 1851; but he left in 1853, and not much further was done till 1855, when Messrs. Chance largely extended their plant, and began to send lights to all parts of the world. . . . . [more]



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Sources of Information

  1. The London Gazette Publication date:31 October 1854 Issue:21616 Page:3286
  2. The London Gazette Publication date:2 October 1855 Issue:21792 Page:3665
  3. The Engineer 1902/01/10
  4. The Engineer 1902 Jan-Jun: Index: Miscellaneous
  5. 1902 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries