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James Davidson (1819-1889)
1889 Obituary 
JAMES DAVIDSON was born at Dee Tillage, Aberdeen, on 11th May 1819.
The school education he received was very slight as he started work at the age of nine in a brick field. When about fourteen years old ho was apprenticed to Messrs. Madden and Co, at Grandholm Mills, near Aberdeen, which were then being worked as flax mills. He had previously been employed for a year or two at Messrs. Blaikie Brothers, Footdee Iron Works, Aberdeen.
In 1845 he went to Glasgow, where he was employed as a mechanic at the works now carried on by Messrs. Napier and Sons. During his apprenticeship and while working at Glasgow he tried to make up for his lack of education by availing himself of all the means in his power for increasing his knowledge of the theory of mechanics.
Early in 1846 he moved to London, and obtained work at Messrs. H. and O. Robinson's, Millwall.
On 17th September of the same year he left them to enter the Royal Arsenal, Woolwich, having been offered employment there by Mr. Anderson, who was then in charge of the Dial Square, Royal Gun Factory. Here he was engaged in carrying out Mr. Anderson's idea of forming conical lead bullets from the rod by machinery, and it was largely owing to his mechanical skill that these bullet-making machines were so successful. About 1853, when the machines were transferred to the laboratory department, he went with them to superintend their working.
Shortly afterwards, at a time of great emergency, he was chosen by Capt. Boxer to aid in establishing and working what was then known as the "temporary factory."
In 1855 he was appointed manager of the Royal Laboratory, in conjunction with Mr. Tozer, who was in charge of combustible stores. On the retirement of the latter in 1871 he became sole manager; and this position he held up to October 1885, when he retired, after a service of nearly forty years, thirty of which had been as manager.
He died on 4th March 1889, after only a week's illness, in the seventieth year of his age.
He became a Member of this Institution in 1865.
Amongst the inventions and improvements due to him may be mentioned the present pattern of machine for making conical bullets, which is more compact than the old machines, and turns out the bullets at a much quicker rate; also machines for rounding the head and canneluring the bullets; and machines for punching and cupping four cups at once for the base cups in Snider and Martini cartridges; in fact a large portion of the machinery employed in the manufacture of the Snider and Martini rolled cartridges may be ascribed to his inventive mechanical skill (Proceedings 1868, page 129). The method of chilling the heads of cast-iron Palliser projectiles is also due to him. Indeed the laboratory department itself affords ample evidence of his mechanical and administrative ability.