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John Downie

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John Downie ( -1875) of North Woodside Iron Works and later the British Dynamite Co

1856 Method of moulding pipes and hollow cast ware


1875 Obituary [1]

IT is with regret that we record the death of Mr. John Downie, of Glasgow, a gentleman who was well known in connexion with the dynamite industry, of which indeed he may be said to have been the founder in this country.

His death occurred on Tuesday week, at Crookhaven, in the extreme south-west of Ireland, and was due to an accident from an explosion which occurred at that place on the 5th of March, nearly five weeks previous. A steamer owned by the British Dynamite Company had put into that port in consequence of having experienced some very stormy weather in passing from the English coast, where she had been delivering several consignments of dynamite for the district store magazines, to the west coast of Ireland, where she was about to discharge the remainder of her cargo. There was very violent weather at sea towards the end of February, and the vessel in question was caught in it, the result being that a large quantity of sea-water was shipped, which in part found its way into the cases of dynamite cartridges in the hold. The dynamite was thus greatly injured, and it was not deemed prudent to store it in that condition in any of the company's magazines. Forthwith Mr. Downie betook himself to Crookhaven so that he might personally judge of what should be done under the peculiar circumstances. He resolved to have the injured material brought ashore and burned upon the beach, and himself superintended the operations. While the burning was in progress be observed very near to the fire a small mass of frozen nitro-glycerine which had exuded from the dynamite cartridges through the action of the sea-water, and he immediately made an effort to remove it from the influence of the heat. But the act resulted fatally, for before he had got it safely removed it exploded with such extraordinary violence that he was carried bodily into the sea to a distance of some 15 ft. or 20ft.

The deceased gentlemen was very prominently identified with the dynamite industry during the last four or five years, and during that time his energies and professional abilities were almost exclusively devoted to the Interests of the British Dynamite Company; but for many years he was regarded as one of the leading members of the profession of mechanical engineers in Glasgow.

He served his apprenticeship with the well-known engineering and millwright firm of Randolph, Elliott, and Co. (the predecessors of the present firm of John Elder and Co.), and afterwards spent some time at Greenock, in the service of Messrs. Caird and Co., as well as in London and at the Woolwich Arsenal.

He returned to Glasgow to become the manager of the London Vulcan Iron Works, then established at Port Dundas by a firm of Glasgow capitalists; and from that establishment be went to Maryhill, one of the suburbs of Glasgow, where be commenced business on his own account at the Kelvin Iron Works, and in 1853 or 1854, he took possession of a very large engineering and ironfounding establishment.

Mr. Downie continued at the North Woodside Works for some years, until they failed commercially, and he then became manager-in-chief of the Phoenix Iron Works, Glasgow, an engineering and ironfounding establishment which was carried on in the name of Thomas Edington and Sons for the greater portion of the present century.

About 1866 Mr. Downie quitted the Phoenix Iron Works, and went into business as a consulting engineer, but latterly he devoted himself almost exclusively to the British Dynamite Company, a connexion which terminated so fatally to himself.

Mr. Downie was a member of the Institution of Engineers in Scotland, and to this body he communicated the following papers : "On Renewing the Substructures of Railway Bridges and Viaducts without stopping the Traffic," "On Low's Machinery, as applied to working in Rock or Minerals, in Tunnelling, Driving Adits, Perpendicular and Inclined Shafts for Mines; working against Face and Surface of Quarries; open Rock Cuttings for Railways, or other such purposes; to Coal Cutting, and to Mining Operations generally."


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