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John Wilson (1787-1851)

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John Wilson (1787-1851)


1852 Obituary [1]

Mr. John Wilson was a native of the parish of Govan, near Glasgow, being born in the year 1787, at his father's farm of Broomhill, where after receiving an ordinary plain education, he was engaged in agricultural pursuits, until his eighteenth year, when having exhibited considerable talent as a draughtsman, he was selected by the late Colin Dunlop, to fill a position of trust, as manager of a department of the Clyde Iron Works.

Here he commenced a severe course of study, at the University of Glasgow, to qualify himself for the duties he might have to perform, and acquired that knowledge of the theory of chemistry, mineralogy, geology, and Civil Engineering, which, being subsequently perfected by practice, was eminently useful in his own works, and induced his being frequently consulted by others on important undertakings.

Within a few years after his connexion with the Clyde Iron Works, his services were found so valuable, that he was admitted to a partnership in the concern, the chief management of which eventually devolved upon him, on the demise of Mr. Colin Dunlop.

About the year 1824 the experiments which led to the use of the 'hot-blast' in iron furnaces were commenced by Mr. J. B. Neilson (M.Inst.C.E.), of the Glasgow Gas Works. During their progress, Mr. Wilson evinced great interest in them, contributed materially to their success, by his advice, and eventually, having practically proved the value of the discovery, introduced it into the Clyde Works, and became a partner in the patent, which was granted in 1829.

The success and economy attending this invention, the revolution it produced in the manufacture of iron, the litigation with the infringers of the patent, by which upwards of one hundred thousand pounds were recovered, on the issue of one case, and, the vast revenue resulting from the Royalty of one shilling per ton of iron, manufactured under licence, are too well known, to be dwelt on here.

It should, however, be stated, that although, as possessing only one-tenth of the patent, it would have been manifestly to his interest, as an extensive iron-maker, to have abrogated the patent, yet, with great disinterestedness, he stood foremost in the battle for the patentees, and it was chiefly by his energy and through his means, that this protracted litigation was brought to a successful issue.

About he year 1831-32 he commenced the erection of the Dundyvan furnaces, and rolling-mills, in connexion with a large mineral tract, rented from Mr. Hozier, of Newlands, and Mr. Buchanan, of Drumpeller. Here the famous black-band iron ore and excellent fuel, with the use of hot-blast, combined to produce pig iron of great fusibility, in such quantities and at a price hitherto considered impossible, in Staffordshire and in Wales.

Only four blast-furnaces were originally built, but on the retirement of Messrs. Dunlop from the concern, which occurred in 1835-6, Mr. Wilson commenced the extension of the works, which now have nine furnaces, and a large rolling-mill, in which a capital of about £300,000 has been invested, and where upwards of four hundred workmen are employed.

In the year 1838, Mr. Wilson became the purchaser of the estate of Arden, near Airdrie, consisting of about 700 acres, whence he extracted the minerals for use at his various works, reserving a portion of the surface for the establishment of a large dairy farm. Here he built a village for the habitation of the workmen, with a school so endowed as to afford their children education at a very small expense, and by the general system adopted and the judicious improvements he executed, the actual value of the estate, for which he originally paid £l8,000 must now be doubled.

He then took a lease of the estate of Kinneil, where he erected four blast-furnaces, to consume the minerals on the spot, and at a very considerable cost, designed and executed the railway, with numerous inclined planes, by which the produce is brought to the shipping port. Part of this estate was subsequently purchased by him, and he at times occupied the Dean House and old Kinneil mansion, at one time the residence of the celebrated Dugald Stewart.

In conjunction with Messrs. Dunlop, in 1845-6, Mr. Wilson leased from Sir James Boswell, of Auchinleck, the minerals under the Lugar Estate, and erected there four blast-furnaces, which, with the opening of the mines, occasioned an outlay of full £150,000. Of these works he subsequently became the sole proprietor, and recently he purchased the Muirkirk Works, in Ayrshire, comprising two furnaces and a rolling-mill, at which were manufactured the rails which were the subject of the lawsuit with the Glasgow and South Western Railway Company, under which Mr. Wilson recently obtained £22,500 damages and £2,500 costs.

Recently he purchased from Sir James Colquhoun, Bart. of Luss, the mansion and estate of Ardenconnel, where he principally resided and where his decease occurred suddenly, from disease of the heart, on the 9th November 1851, in his sixty-first year.

The distinguished position in the manufacturing world, attained by Mr. Wilson, gave him considerable influence in Glasgow and its vicinity, and he employed it with great judgment and uprightness for the general good.

He was ever foremost in the promotion of public improvements, took great interest in municipal affairs, being a member of the Town Council, and devoted much attention to the works on the Clyde and the extension of the harbour at Glasgow. His opinion and advice were constantly in request, and his judgment as an arbitrator was always received with deference, on account of his acknowledged honesty of purpose.

From peculiar circumstances he never obtained a seat in Parliament, but had his life been spared, there was every probability of his being returned at the next election, to have swelled the ranks of those energetic men who by their own good sense, talents, and industry have arrived within the portals of St. Stephens, which only a few years since, rarely opened to the 'men of the people.'

Mr. Wilson joined the Institution, as an Associate, in 1844: whenever he visited the metropolis he rarely failed to be present at the meetings, and the announcement of the title of Member, or Associate, by any gentleman visiting the Dundyvan Works sufficed to insure for him the utmost attention and hospitality.

The notice of the rapid progress of Mr. Wilson, and of his ultimate acquisition of vast wealth, has been dwelt on chiefly for the purpose of exhibiting to those who are in similar positions, what may be accomplished by steady industry; for here we see without the development of any wonderful, or peculiar faculty, the farmer's son, attaining perhaps the most enviable position, - that of a British manufacturer and merchant, contributing largely to the prosperity of his country, giving employment to and conferring happiness upon a great number of his fellow-creatures, distributing his wealth liberally, free from the trammels entailed by titles, enjoying and feeling proud of his position, and at his death beloved by all who were admitted to his intimacy, and universally regretted publicly as an upright honest man.



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