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British Industrial History

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John Matthew

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John Matthew (1819-1869) of John Penn and Sons

1856 engineer, of Greenwich, subscribed 10 guineas to the Smith Testimonial Fund, commemorating the work of F. P. Smith in promoting the screw propeller.


1870 Obituary [1]

MR. JOHN MATTHEW, the son of a Russian merchant, was born in London, in February, 1819. He was educated at a private school at Clapham, and in the year 1840 he entered, as a pupil, the engineering establishment of Messrs. John Penn and Son, of Greenwich.

His natural aptitude for mechanical pursuits finding there a favourable field of exercise, he steadily advanced to high proficiency in the more scientific departments of his profession. He filled for some years the position of Chief Draughtsman, and on the 1st January, 1847, he became a partner in the firm - taking a very active and intelligent part in the management of the works. In this position the designing and the general superintendence of constructing the great marine engines emanating from that celebrated manufactory, to a considerable extent, devolved upon him.

The number of these marine engines and, in some cases, their stupendous proportions, the position in respect of excellence which they so deservedly held, the reputation for pre-eminence in regard to rapid and economical transport which they have helped to confer upon the British navy, and the high appreciation in which they have been and are held in the navies of other countries, render it easier to do justice in thought than in word to the skill and ingenuity-called for in every grand feature of design and all the minutiae of workmanship-on the part of those who were concerned in the direction of their manufacture.

Mr. Matthew was eminently fitted for the position he filled; he had a keen perception and a clear mind; and although his character was decisive, his sociability and good-fellowship caused him to be a favourite with all who knew him. As a skilful draughtsman and a dexterous workman he could in turn instruct the student at the drawing board, the turner at the lathe, the artificer at the bench; and from each he could educe excellence by example. Handiwork to him was recreation: he had a well equipped workshop at his private residence, where on a fine lathe, by Holtzapffel, fitted with a geometric chuck and all appliances, it was his delight to execute elegant examples of engine turning.

Scientific amusements alternated, in his leisure, with mechanical pursuits. He possessed a varied collection of astronomical, meteorological, and philosophical instruments. At his residence in Greenwich he had a small but good equatorial telescope mounted in a dome upon the house-top. At his country seat at Box Hill, where he resided at intervals for about twelve years before his death, he set up a reflecting telescope; and at his subsequent residence in Park Lane, London, he had a small observatory, containing a transit and other instruments.

He pursued science, however, rather for the pleasure it gave him in following the doings of others than with the idea of advancing it by researches or observations of his own making; indeed the occupations of his busy life would have left him small opportunity for so doing if the inclination had existed.

He was an enthusiastic amateur fireman, and upon every convenient occasion donned the uniform of the Metropolitan Fire Brigade, and gave assistance to the officers of that service, often at considerable sacrifice of personal comfort, and not unfrequently incurring personal danger. He had a small museum of objects more or less curiously damaged by heat and water, which he had recovered from the numerous fires at which he had assisted.

Success, professional and material, attended Mr. Matthew’s connexion with the firm of Messrs. John Penn and Son, and in the year 1867 he retired from business with fair hopes of long and healthfully enjoying the fruits of his prosperous labour. In July, 1868, however, but one year after his relief from business avocations, an indisposition came upon him which gradually assumed a serious aspect. His mind became weakened and eventually collapsed; and he died on the 7th of August, 1869.

Mr. Matthew was fond of attending the meetings of scientific societies. He was a Fellow of the Meteorological Society, and of the Royal Microscopical Society. He was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 3rd of April, 1849. He frequently attended the meetings, taking great interest in the proceedings, but he could not be persuaded to impart, in the discussions, the stores of knowledge which he possessed. He was a very worthy good man, and a firm friend, and he will deservedly live in the recollection of all who knew him.



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