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British Industrial History

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John Bethell

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1858. Machinery for Cultivating Land.

John Bethell (c1804-1867), solicitor and inventor and patented the use of Creosote for preserving timber

c1804 Born in Bristol the son of Richard Bethell and his wife Jane Baverstock. His brother was Richard Bethell (Lord Westbury) who married Ellinor Mary, another daughter of Robert Abraham

1833 February 28th. Married at Bloomsbury to Louisa Sarah the daughter of Robert Abraham

1838 John Bethell of Lincolns Inn Fields, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1858 of Parliament Street, London. [2]

1861 Living at Winfred House, Bath: John Bethell (age 56 born Bristol), Solicitor. With his wife Louisa M. Bethell (age 46 borm St. George's, Mddx) and their seven children and a daughter-in-law. Seven servants.[3]

1867 February 22nd. Died. Of 8 Parliament Street, Westminster.

1867 Probate to his widow Louisa Sarah Bethell


1868 Obituary [4]

MR. JOHN BETHELL, only brother of Lord Westbury, late Lord Chancellor, was the second son of Dr. Bethell, of Clifton, and was educated for the common law bar.

He subsequently practised as a solicitor in London, and in 1833 became interested in a factory for making screws, bolts, and rivets, by Samuel Wright's machinery, for the improvement of which he took out his first patent in 1834.

From Dr. Neill Arnott, and the late Dr. Ure, he acquired sound views of physics and chemistry; and in 1835 he patented a complete system of diving-apparatus, consisting of an air-tight dress and helmet to which air is supplied of a density proportionate to the depth descended by the diver, together with an arrangement of available air-bladders and weights which enable him to rise or sink in the water.

On July the 11th, 1838, Mr. Bethell took out a patent for his process of preserving timber from decay and from the attacks of insects and worn, by impregnating it with creosote oil.

This invention has been adopted on a large scale both in England and on the Continent, notwithstanding there has been much diversity of opinion as to its value. It renders timber brittle, and it is no protection against white ants. Even on the score of durability the question has been raised, whether the compound interest of the money spent in creosoting sleepers does not amount to more than the value of the process. In marine works, however, creosoting is almost indispensable, as it forms the only known protection against the ravages of the teredo and the limnoria terebrans.

By this process fir timber can be injected with 10 lbs. of oil per cubic foot, and beech timber with nearly 20 lbs. He took his idea of preserving mood by creosote from the embalming of mummies, the creosote having the property of coagulating albumen.

Coal tar contains a considerable quantity of creosote, and when boiled, to expel its ammonia, it is called coal oil. The proportion of creosote in this oil is ascertained by mixing it with 10 per cent. of its own bulk of a strong caustic alkaline solution. After shaking and settling, three layers will be formed, the lower layer of caustic alkali ; the next being creosote ; while the bituminous oils float at the top.

In 1840 Mr. Bethell took out a patent for treating inferior animal and vegetable oils, by depositing the mucilaginous and gelatinous matter from them, and mixing them with light hydrocarbons, to obtain good lamp oils.

In 1848 he devised a method of drying grain upon a system of endless cloths on revolving rollers ; also a method of preserving meat by injecting pyroligneous acid, and afterwards common brine, into the arteries of a recently-killed beast; and besides these a mode of preserving milk or acid wines by impregnating them with carbonic acid gas.

In 1853 he patented an improved method of retting flax by the aid of warm water ; and in the following year a method of making coke from non-coking coal, by previously mixing it with from 20 to 25 per cent. of coal-tar pitch.

In 1855 he patented a method of preserving meat, vegetables, and fruit by vapourizing the water contained in them, at a temperature lower than that required for the coagulation of albumen.

In 1857 he took out a provisional specification for a method of building composite ships of T iron and wooden planks; and in the same year patented a steam plough, consisting of a rotary digger or excavator combined with a traction engine. In 1S58 he patented a method of separating iron pyrites from coal, the former to be used in the making of vitriol ; and he obtained a provisional specification for a method of protecting iron cylinders from the action of sulphate of copper and other salts used in preserving wood.

In 1861 he patented the use of steatite in railway greases; and in 1864 a method of injecting timber with hydrocarbon vapours. Mr. Bethell also bestowed much labour upon a plan for concentrating all the London gas-works at a site some miles down the river. He carried on for some time a distillery of beetroot spirit in Berkshire. He also effected considerable improvements in the extraction of copper from ores of low percentage.

Mr. Bethell was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 20th of March, 1838; and on the 24th of the following month read a Paper “On firing blasts under water by galvanism.” He was one of the Auditors of the Accounts in the years 1843 and 1844, and occasionally took part in the discussions at the evening meetings.

He died, after a short illness, at his temporary residence, Cleveland Square, Hyde Park, on the 22nd of February, 1867, in his sixty-third year.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1838 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. The Engineer 1858/06/18
  3. 1861 census
  4. 1868 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries