Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 163,372 pages of information and 245,906 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Life of Sir William Fairbairn by William Pole: Chapter XXI

From Graces Guide

Note: This is a sub-section of Life of Sir William Fairbairn by William Pole


IN THIS and the following chapter it is intended to collect brief notices of a great variety of matters in which Mr. Fairbairn was engaged during the later years of his life, all of more or less importance, but not of sufficient magnitude to be recorded under special heads.

These notices will serve to show the extraordinary activity, both mental and bodily, that he possessed at a period of life when most men feel inclined to relax their energies and rest from their labours. He had no motive for continuing to work but love of the work itself, for he had already acquired both wealth and fame, and if he had ambition, it was only to show that his heart was in his profession, and to render himself useful to mechanical science.

Visit to Northern Europe.—About the middle of 1850 Mr. Fairbairn, accompanied by his son Peter, visited Northern Europe. He had occasion to go to Sweden, to examine some mills and machinery the firm were erecting there, and he extended his tour to Russia, with the object of negotiating for the construction of some large bridges over the Neva and other rivers.

The following extracts from some of his letters to his family will give sufficient information as to the events of his journey and the impression they made upon him.

Stockholm, June 17, 1850.

I thought to have written you from Gefle, but I was uncertain as to the time we should have a vessel for Russia, and I purposely deferred it until our return to this city. We have travelled through nearly the whole of Sweden. Two days after our arrival at Copenhagen we had to proceed to Gottenburg, and then embark in a steamer which traverses the line of the great lakes, and after a voyage of nearly 400 miles we again entered the Baltic at a town called Soderkoping, esteemed as a famous watering-place by the citizens of Stockholm.

The tour through the interior has been so exceedingly interesting, that I must endeavour to describe it. It commenced at Gottenburg by ascending the river Gotta, which is navigable for nearly 100 miles from the sea, where it terminates by a series of picturesque falls, over which the water pours and thunders from a height of 120 feet. These falls are surmounted by a series of twelve locks, which land the vessel on the surface of the great lake Wenner. Here we commence a new voyage to Carlstad, at the extreme end of the lake, 100 miles distant. This lake—the largest in Sweden—is 100 miles long and 50 miles wide, and, like most of the Swedish lakes, is covered with a number of small islands, wooded down to the water's edge.

At Carlstad we remained all night, and next morning crossed the lake, where we entered the canal which unites the great lake with another of half the size. This brought us to Motala, where we found a large engineering establishment in a flourishing condition. Some distance below Motala we entered the lake Roxen, and from thence through another series of lakes reached Soderkoping, where we entered the Baltic, on the opposite side of the kingdom.

From Soderkoping a sea voyage amidst innumerable islands, with which the coast is studded, carried us to the entrance of the 111filar lake, at a place called Sodertelge. From this little town, a short voyage of only thirty miles opened out some of the finest views in Sweden. The lake contains upwards of 130 islands beautifully covered with oak, birch, and pine, and the romantic rocks and sylvan dells which mark the surface of those enchanting spots are scarcely to be equalled in any other country, Norway alone excepted.

On reaching Stockholm, I found that the objects of my journey and other particulars had been announced before my arrival. I was, therefore, at no loss for introductions; but, unfortunately for our visit as a matter of business, there is nothing to be done, as the King and the whole of the administration are incessantly occupied with arrangements for the grand ceremony of the marriage of the Prince Royal to the Princess of the Netherlands, whom I dined with at Potsdam, and who landed here yesterday under the firing of cannon and the greatest rejoicings. I cannot, therefore, do anything at present with the authorities, excepting only with some members of the university and some of the leading men connected with the public works. To them I have communicated all the information required, and we must wait the result.

After a couple of days' sojourn in Stockholm we proceeded by sea to Gefie, about 150 miles north of Stockholm. At this town we are building the large factory; and after having given the necessary instructions and made the requisite arrangements for the buildings, I was presented with 1001. for my trouble, and, having been feasted for two days, we hired carriages and travelled overland and through almost interminable forests to Upsala, the ancient capital of Sweden. Here I was received by the students as if I had been the friend of Linnaeus or Berzelius. Our arrival, they told me, had been announced in the papers, and they welcomed me to Sweden as if I had been a great man. I was introduced to the Governor and the Archbishop of Sweden, who is well known in England from his writings.

Before reaching Upsala we crossed the river Elfertilge, and visited the falls, which are about the same height as those of Trollhatta. They are, however, still more magnificent from the greater quantity of water which plunges all at once over a precipice of rock, and dashes forward at an astounding rate till it is lost in the deep water below. From the falls to Upsala the road passes through interminable forests of pine, with here and there a cultivated patch to mark an occasional habitation. From Upsala to Stockholm the journey is made by water on a lake which presents the same picturesque features as described in the fofmer route.

I am this moment called off to dine with a party made up for us, and must bring this letter to a close. We sail to-morrow at six in the morning, and hope to reach Abo, in Friedland, on Wednesday night, and Petersburgh on Saturday or Sunday.

St. Petersburgh, July 22, 1850.

I have this moment returned from Peterhoff, where we have had a kind and most gracious reception from the Emperor, the Empress, and the Grand Duke Alexander. The Emperor met me like an old schoolfellow, shook me cordially by the hand, and listened with great interest to everything I had to say about the bridges. The audience lasted nearly an hour, and I found myself in familiar conversation not only with a sovereign of the highest rank in Europe, but with a gentleman of sound judgment and great good sense. His Majesty at once placed me perfectly at ease, and received with attention all the information I was able to communicate. At parting he again took me by the hand, thanked me for the presentation of the book, and, without pledging himself to any ulterior measures, said he hoped I would occupy myself on my return to England with plans and drawings for a bridge across the Neva.

On board the ' Nicholas,' July 25.

Now that I have finished the object of my journey to Russia, I cannot but feel highly gratified with my reception in every quarter. My name had reached Petersburgh before me; and I may not probably be accused of too much vanity if I state that I was received with marked attention, and particularly by the members of my own profession. Generals . . . and . . . all of them at the head of the civil as well as military engineering, were most kind and attentive; and during the whole of my professional career I never spent a month more gratifying to my feelings or more flattering to my self-esteem. I have often put the question to myself, Do I merit all this distinction ? I always get alarmed on this subject, as I have more than once seen the ill effects of undue presumption. I hope and pray that a just sense of the value of what I have done, and what I might have done had I been more industrious and persevering, will keep me equally safe in the height of prosperity, as it would nerve me with resolution in the depths of adversity. I write thus my feelings and sentiments freely, in order that you [this was to his sons] may benefit from them. I have had some experience in the world, and I think it is safer in an estimate of one's own abilities to be within than beyond the bounds of moderation.

I believe we may calculate upon some good orders for cranes and other work at Petersburgh and Cronstadt. At the latter place a great deal has to be done. Large engineering works, double the extent of those at Woolwich, are in progress of erection. I spent the whole of yesterday with the different officers in command, and, as at Petersburgh, was most kindly received.

Last night we sailed for Lubeck; and I am now completing the letter ready for the post when we reach Hamburg.

As a result of Mr. Fairbairn's visit to Sweden, he was honoured with a distinction by King Oscar, as the following letter will explain:—

Stockholm, le 19 Juillet, 1850.

Monsieur,—Le Roi ayant daigne decerner a M. William Fairbairn une medaille en or a l'effigie de sa Majeste, en temoignage de la haute satisfaction avec laquelle sa Majeste a recu Pouvrage scientifique que cet ingenieur distingue lui a offert, j'ai recu l'ordre de vous transmettre ci-prés, Monsieur, cette medaille, et de reclamer vos soins obligeans pour la faire parvenir a M. Fairbairn, dont l'adresse est inconnue ici.

Je profile de cette occasion, &c. &c.


Monsieur Goanon, Chargé d'Affaires de S.M. Britannique.

Inventors.—It was the lot of Mr. Fairbairn, as it is that of all eminent engineers, to be pestered by inventors, often with the most absurd and trumpery schemes. The following letter, introducing one of these worthies, is worth preserving:—

London, Feb. 3, 1851.

Dear Sir,—You have, I dare say, frequently to endure the misery of listening to an enthusiast who dreams that he has discovered the perpetual motion. Perhaps I am going to add one more to this class of tormentors.

I got a letter from a person at Ilchester some time ago, saying that a friend of his, a mechanic, who had previously invented a glove-cutting machine, had discovered a new engine which was likely to supersede steam; and, as he was a Free Trader, he had pitched upon me as the only person to whom he would impart his secret. I wrote, in reply to this complimentary epistle, to say that I had no technical knowledge in such matters, but offered to name a trustworthy engineer; and in reply to the enclosed letter I have taken the liberty of referring the writer to yourself. Should the genius in question present himself to you, you will, I am sure, be kind enough to give him a courteous hearing. I have no doubt it will turn out a waste of time for him and yourself.

Do not take the trouble to reply, but believe me,

Ever faithfully yours,



Exhibition of 1851.—Mr. Fairbairn acted as a juror in the machinery department of the Great Exhibition of 1851.

At the close of the work he received the following letter from the Rev. Professor Moseley, who wrote the official Reports on the department to which he was attached:—

Wandsworth. Feb. 11, 1852.

My dear Sir,—The reports are about, I believe, to be struck off at length. It has been a tedious affair; but in completing it, and thus bringing to a close my own labours in connection with Jury V., I am reminded of its special obligations, and of my own personally to some of its members, and among others to yourself.

We are indebted to you in a great measure, I believe, for the report on which we acted as to Sections E, F, G, than which in the compilation of my own report I found none more - full, complete, and satisfactory. Your guidance and judgment in matters of which you have so extensive an experience was of the utmost value to the jury; and considering how many and important are your other occupations, it has great obligations to you for the time and labour you devoted to the work it had undertaken.

I beg of you also to accept my own thanks for the support and assistance I, as chairman, always received from you, and to subscribe myself

Yours, my dear Sir, truly,


British Association at 1853:- Mr. Fairbairn was appointed President of the Mechanical Section of the British Association, at their meeting at Hull, and he delivered, on the opening of the business, an address On the Progress of Mechanical Science.' He alluded to the improvements that had taken place, and to the progress going on in the same direction, referring particularly to the great advance in naval architecture and steam navigation, as exemplified in the Duke of Wellington' and the Great Eastern ' steam-ships; the extension of the scale of manufacturing industry by the erection of gigantic manufactories, and other improvements in various departments of the mechanical art.

Cooling Air in Tropical Climates.— In 1853 and 1854, Mr. Fairbairn formed one of a committee of the British Association appointed to consider a matter of much sanitary importance to the European residents in India. The purport of it may be shown by the following copy of a memorial, which was drawn up by another member of the committee, the late Professor Macquorn Rankine:—

To the Honourable the Board of Directors of the East

India Company.

The Memorial of the British Association for the Advancement of Science, showeth:

That your memorialists are deeply impressed by the well- known pernicious effects upon the health of Europeans produced by the high temperature of the air in tropical climates.

That they are convinced that if the means existed in tropical climates of furnishing for the ventilation of buildings —especially hospitals for the sick—large supplies of cool air, much disease and mortality would be prevented, and the comfort and health, and consequent vigour and efficiency in thought and action, of Europeans in such climates greatly promoted.

That the means of cooling air at present employed depend upon the evaporation of water, and are not only uncertain and imperfect in their action, but, even while depriving the air of its heat, tend to make it pernicious in another way, by loading it with moisture.

That your memorialists have had submitted to them the descriptions of proposed machines whereby the property which elastic substances possess of causing heat to disappear when they expand, may be made available for the cooling of air in tropical climates.

That the proposed method of cooling air is founded on correct scientific principles, and that there appears to be no reason to doubt its practical efficiency.

That it could be applied to large volumes of air without affecting the dryness or purity, and at a moderate expense.

Your memorialists, therefore, beg leave respectfully to submit for the consideration of your Honourable Board the description of the proposed method of cooling air, and to suggest the expediency of a trial of its efficiency being made in some large building containing many inmates, such as a hospital.

In respect whereof this memorial is subscribed, and the seal of the British Association for the Advancement of Science appended hereto.

The design of the machine in question was suggested by Professor Piazzi Smith (now Astronomer Royal for Scotland), and a grant was made by the Association for experiments; but the sum was too small for any efficient trial, and for want of further encouragement the proposal fell to the ground; but the idea is a good and laudable one, and the fact of its having been thought practicable by such eminent men, deserves to be put on record.

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers.— In 1854 Mr. Fairbairn was elected President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. This society was founded in 1847, for the study and encouragement of the mechanical branch of engineering, particular attention being devoted to the details of that department of the profession. The head-quarters of the society were fixed in Birmingham, for the sake of being near the more important iron manufacturing districts, and many eminent mechanical engineers gave it their active support. Mr. Fairbairn joined it in October 1847. He took a warm interest in the proceedings of the society, and communicated many papers to the Transactions. He retained the presidency during the years 1854 and 1855.

Business in France.--During the year 1854 Mr. Fairbairn went, with his son Adam, to Paris, where he remained a few days. During this time he was introduced to the Academy of Sciences, and visited many objects of scientific and engineering interest. He was also honoured, through the mediation of Lord Cowley, by an interview with the Emperor Louis Napoleon, who received him in a flattering manner, and on taking leave of him presented him with a handsome gold snuff-box set with diamonds.

As a sequel to this he was chosen one of the jurors sent from this country to the Paris Exhibition of 1855, and was nominated by the French Imperial Commission as chairman of one of the mechanical sections.'

After the conclusion of the Exhibition, he made an elaborate report to the Right Hon. Lord Stanley of Alderley, President of the Board of Trade, On the Machinery of the Paris Universal Exhibition, 1855.' It was afterwards published in his Useful Information for Engineers,' Third Series, 1866, and it contains some remarks on the comparative merits of British and Continental manufactures which are of permanent interest. Mr. Fairbairn says:-

I am of opinion that the locomotive engines of Great Britain are superior to most others; and although they may not have the same amount of polish, there is nevertheless a simplicity of form and a soundness of workmanship which give character and stability to these important constructions.

The following letter from an eminent friend of Mr. Fairbairn's, now deceased, who did not serve as a juror, is highly characteristic of the man:—

Dorset Place, July 9, 18.55.

My dear Sir,—On my return home after a few days' absence, I found your very kind letter, enclosing an opinion which is the more valuable because it is founded on the most extensive personal experience of one who has himself contributed so large a share to the present advanced state of constructive engineering. It is gratifying to me to acknowledge the strong support I have ever received from practical engineers, and it is curious that the warmest supporter of the analytical engine, Lord Bosse, has also himself a claim to a high place in that class. I wish, when you are in Paris, you would explain on fit occasions why I was not on the list of jurors of the French Exhibition. I declined the recommendation which came to me through the English Government, and it was on that ground alone that I declined it. You who know with what injustice I have been treated will not be surprised at my decision.

I am, my dear Sir,

Yours sincerely,


To Wm. FAIRBAIRN, Esq., Manchester,


The marine engines will not bear a comparison with those that were exhibited at the Great Exhibition of 1851.

The French ouvriers are active, intelligent, and well employed; the Germans swift, and Belgians patient and enduring; and although foreigners may take a longer time in executing works than English workmen, they are nevertheless expert, and, in many cases, better educated, and therefore better able to cope with the difficulties and surmount the obstacles in the way of a successful progress.

I do not mean to intimate that the mass of the workmen abroad are better informed in the practice of their respective callings than in England; but I firmly believe, from what I have seen, that the French and Germans are in advance of us in theoretical knowledge of the principles of the higher branches of industrial art; and I think this arises from the greater facilities afforded by the institutions of those countries for instruction in chemical and mechanical science.

When reporting on the manufacture of iron, I endeavoured to show that, notwithstanding the natural resources placed at our disposal, the quality of our cast-iron is not to be depended on; that under the powerful stimulus of self-aggrandisement we have perseveringly advanced the quantity, whilst other nations, less favoured and less bountifully supplied, have been studying with much more care than ourselves the numerous uses to which the material may be applied, and are in many cases in advance of us in quality.

In regard to machinery for the manufacture of textile fabrics, Great Britain has assuredly every reason to be proud of the position she holds.

In regard to steam-engines, iron bridges, and machinery, our superiority is not so strongly marked; and although we still take the lead, we are not so much in advance of others, as the engines exhibited at Paris fully proved. In marine construction we are still superior to all other nations, but abroad rapid advances are making in that direction also.

In the construction of mill-work this country stands unrivalled; our millwrights stand alone for neatness of design and judicious proportion of parts. In tools for workshops we are also unequalled.

With the exception of reaping machines, in which America excels, our agricultural implements, including those for working plastic materials, are superior to those of most countries; and this superiority appears to be due to the variable nature of our climate, which necessitates an improved system of culture and the use of machines calculated to save time and to ensure success in the labour of the farm.

But although Mr. Fairbairn thus gave, on the whole, the superiority to Great Britain in machinery, he was not blind to the deficiency of our countrymen in regard to such portions of manufacture as were dependent on the fine arts. In a letter to Lord Overstone, written January 16, 1856, he expressed the idea, that had occurred to many careful observers, of the superiority of continental over English designs. He said, alluding to a proposition that had been made:—

I am glad to find you approve of the proposal of Lord Ashburton to move for a committee.

I quite agree with you that there is no reason for alarm; but it is nevertheless good policy, on the part of a nation as well as a general, never to despise the strength of an enemy.

As an observer and a juror at the Paris Exhibition, I had opportunities of noticing in what we appeared to excel and in what we were inferior to our competitors; and it is rather mortifying to find that in matters of taste and design in our own manufactures we are indebted to the intellect of others. In our porcelain, silversmiths', calico printing, and some other trades, the [best] results are from foreign and not from native talent; and the same defects are observable in architecture, which, by the bye, is now improving, as in some other of the useful and industrial arts. Altogether I think the enquiry will do good, and I am glad to find we shall have the benefit of your lordship's valuable assistance.

Shortly after this Mr. Fairbairn had some correspondence on the subject with Lord Ashburton himself; and received from his lordship the following letter, the opinions in which are of public and enduring importance:—

Grange, Jan. 27, 1856.

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—Were it not for prolonged illness, I should have proposed to have met you at Manchester on your return from abroad, so anxious am I to state in person to those who might possibly co-operate in the proposed enquiry, the spirit in which it may be worked, and the precise nature of the evil which it is calculated to remedy. We cannot but be proud as Englishmen of the lead we have taken in scientific discovery, as well as in the ingenious applications of those discoveries to the most extensive development of industry that has ever existed.

This has been due to the instinctive genius of great minds, who have made their own way upward in spite of all their disadvantages. They had no Polytechnic School, no systematic instruction to level half the ascent for them. They had to win the whole way for themselves.

Perhaps they were the greater for this; but the mass was left behind in hopeless ignorance; and it is to the condition of that mass that I wish to draw general attention.

England possesses special advantages, such as are not enjoyed, such as will never possibly be compassed by any other nation.

We have the most accessible coal and iron, the cheapest system of transit; we have operatives superior in physical strength, in constancy of application to labour, in the conscientious execution of their work; but our greatest superiority consists in that habit of self-reliance and independent effort which will now right this mischief of which I have to complain, as it has uniformly righted other similar mischiefs, as soon as the public mind has been convinced of their existence.

The mischief consists, as I have said before, in the ignorance of the masses, in which masses I include our peers, gentry, tradesmen and mechanics, as well as our manufacturers and operatives. As for our peers and gentry and tradesmen, no evidence is wanting. They plead guilty; I trust that I may obtain such evidence with regard to the manufacturing classes as will show not only the existence among them of this general ignorance, but evidence also of the evils consequent upon it.

If you ask me my present private opinion of the cause of this ignorance, I feel disposed to impute it to the monastic teaching of our universities, which impart to all the special instruction required for the Church. It is from the universities that have been drawn the masters of our principal middle and commercial schools, and their fashion has been followed elsewhere. As for teaching the workman before you have enlightened his employer, as for teaching the tradesman before you have enlightened the customer, we may set up a thousand benevolent schools and institutes, we shall only lose our labour. The course of nature is that the demand should precede the supply, and we may as well seek to persuade water uphill as attempt to reverse this course.

But I am now launching into the field of speculation. Such opinions may or may not result from the enquiry.

The enquiry is into the ignorance of the masses with regard to science, and the evils resulting therefrom.

2ndly. The conditions of our present system of education, which permit the continuance of such ignorance.

3rdly. The remedies, and those remedies will be designated by better heads than mine.

I have written you this that you may show it and obtain opinions, and, if possible, secure co-operation.

I believe this move to be capable of working great good; but for that good I look not to the Government, but to the combined efforts of all classes of the nation.

I remain, dear Sir,

Yours truly,


In the same year Mr. Fairbairn was applied to by the Emperor of the French to give advice in regard to some bridges proposed to be erected in France, one an ornamental one in the Bois de Boulogne, and others at Brest and elsewhere. He had an audience of his Majesty, and submitted some suggestions awl drawings, but it does not appear that any of his proposals were carried into execution.

As an acknowledgment of the services he had rendered in this and other matters concerning France, he was, on November 13, 1855, awarded by the decree of the Emperor, the distinction of the Legion of Honour.

Watt. —The inhabitants of Manchester have, with much public spirit, ornamented their city with statues of many eminent men. The esplanade in front of the Infirmary contains statues of 'Wellington, Peel, and Dalton, the discoverer of the atomic theory. To these it was determined to add a statue of the great engineer, Watt, to whom the town was so much indebted for its mechanical advantages.

The statue, an enlarged copy in bronze of Chantrey's marble one in Westminster Abbey, was inaugurated on June 26, 1857, Mr. Fairbairn, as the most eminent mechanic in the city, being deputed to take the lead in the ceremony. He said, addressing the Mayor and Corporation:-

It is my pleasing duty, as President of the Literary and Philosophical Society and Chairman of the Watt Memorial Committee, to transfer from our hands to your superior keeping and to that of your successors this statue and memorial of the inventor of the steam-engine, James Watt.

The character of the statue and its position render it an appropriate and fitting companion to that of our distinguished townsman, the late Dr. Dalton. It will show, though late, that Manchester has not been ungrateful, but remembers and deeply appreciates the services of Watt to her and all mankind; and this day I trust will show that among her other art treasures [alluding to the 'Exhibition of Art Treasures' then open in Manchester] she numbers this as a most precious memorial of a great and good man.

It would be superfluous for me to attempt to eulogise the inventions and discoveries of Watt; the world knows and feels them, and is now living by them. The steam-engine is the pioneer and promoter of civilisation. By its agency the weak become strong, and time and distance become short. It gives employment to thousands, and transports with the same celerity, on land as on water, the products of industry of every clime to any part of the globe.

The smallest honour we can do to the great benefactors of mankind is occasionally to bring them to our recollection; and I trust that this statue will stimulate in the minds of future generations a spirit of emulation to excel, and will cherish a desire in every right-minded person to treasure up in his memory the honour and obligations ever due to the virtues of our great men.

This statue is the property of the mayor, aldermen, and citizens of Manchester.

In 1857 Mr. Fairbairn contributed a note on the merits of James Watt, to a memoir of him by Arago, published in a translation of Arago's Biographies of Distinguished Scientific Men.' He conceived that sufficient justice had not been done to Watt by the French author, and he endeavoured to correct the error.

Henry Cort.—About the same time, Mr. Fairbairn interested himself warmly in the case of the family of an inventor, Henry Cort, who had contributed largely to the improvement of the iron manufacture, but who had been ruined in the carrying out of his inventions (see Chap. II., pages 31, 32). In the article on Iron, written in 1856 for the Encyclopmdia Britannica, Mr. Fairbairn bad said:—

It would be a difficult task to enumerate all the services rendered by Mr. Cort to the industry of this country, or sufficiently to express our sympathy with the descendants of a man to whose mechanical inventions we owe so much of our national greatness.

As a sequel to this Mr. Fairbairn, in February 1857, made a powerful appeal directly and personally to Lord Palmerston on behalf of certain descendants of Henry Cort who were in distress. Lord Derby had kindly relieved them temporarily from the royal bounty fund, and had held out a hope that a pension should be granted; but for two years nothing was done.

In July 1859 Mr. Fairbairn brought the case to public notice by a letter to the Times, and got up a memorial to the Government, which was signed by 130 iron manufacturers, and was presented to Lord Palmerston by a deputation including many men of the first eminence in the mechanical world. These measures resulted in a grant of 100L. per annum to the only surviving son, and of 50L. each to the three surviving daughters.

In addition to this, Mr. Fairbairn exerted himself to get up a private subscription among persons interested in the iron manufacture; but this was not taken up by the iron masters with a liberality at all corresponding to his zeal or their own means; and the total sum raised for the family was only a little over 500L., of which 100L. was contributed by Mr. Fairbairn himself.

Manchester Art Treasures Exhibition.— In 1857 the Art Treasures Exhibition was held in Manchester. It was got up with great expense and trouble, and brought much credit to the town. Mr. Fairbairn aided the committee in regard to the arrangements of the building (which was very large, chiefly composed of iron, and erected for the express purpose), but otherwise did not take a prominent part in the management. His son Thomas was the chairman of the Committee of the exhibition, and its principal promoter.

Tourney to Italy.—In the latter part of 1857, Mr. Fairbairn suffered from a slight rheumatic attack, and as it lasted some months he determined to endeavour to cure it by a visit to the warmer climate of the south of Europe. He accordingly left England with his son George- on December 11, 1857, and went through Paris to Marseilles. From thence they took the steamer to Nice, and travelled by land along the beautiful Cornice Road to Genoa. The journey was then extended to the most important cities of Italy, including Naples, Rome, Florence, Bologna, Milan, and Turin. The whole journey occupied two months and eight days, during which he derived, as he states, unmixed pleasure and gratification.'

His powers of observation were in active exercise the whole time, for he wrote, for the benefit of his family, a diary of the whole journey, in which he gave animated descriptions of the novel scenes he passed through, interspersed with many philosophical reflections and remarks on the habits and customs of the people. It is unnecessary to reproduce any portions of this diary, for there were no incidents in his journey much differing from those ordinarily met with; and descriptions of the routes, the places, and the objects of interest are now common enough in all sorts of forms.

But there was one element of the journey which especially interested him, namely, the change of climate; and as he conceived the general information on this topic was imperfect, he wrote, soon after his return, a paper On the Comparative Temperature of the Climates of England and some parts of Italy.'

This he read before the Manchester Literary and Philosophi6alSociety on April 6, 1858, and it was published in their Proceedings, vol. i. p. 45. The object was to point out that although Italy had usually the credit of possessing a warm and agreeable climate in the winter season, this really only applied to those parts which lay south of the Apennines. In the northern districts, including the cities of Milan, Venice, Turin, Bologna, and in fact the whole of Lombardy and the depression lying between the Alps and the Apennines, the cold in winter was generally intense, sometimes almost Russian in its character. In January, when he was there, the thermometer was usually below freezing, and on arriving at Milan it descended as low as 19°. On the 13th the minimum had touched-12.5° Reaumur, or nearly our zero.

The Atlantic Cable— From 1859 to 1865 Mr. Fairbairn interested himself actively in regard to the grand enterprise of carrying electric telegraph communication to America.

The Atlantic Telegraph Company was formed in 1856, and the first cable was laid in 1858, but after a few days' working it became useless, partly from imperfect construction, and partly from want of care in laying. The Company, however, nothing daunted, appealed to the Government to assist them in an undertaking of such great public importance, and in 1859 the Board of Trade appointed a commission, consisting of Captain Galton, RE., Professor Wheatstone, Mr. Fairbairn, and Mr. G. P. Bidder, to join with the engineers and the secretary of the Company in holding an enquiry into the best form for the composition and outer covering of submarine telegraph cables. This joint committee sat for nearly two years; they took a great amount of evidence from all those who had most experience on the subject, and made many important investigations of their own. In April 1861 they laid before Government a full report, embodying their views and recommendations, which was afterwards published, with the evidence and many valuable documents, as a Parliamentary paper. In the course of the enquiry Mr. Fairbairn undertook personally a series of experiments on the permeability of various kinds of insulators,' an account of which, written by him, was appended to the report.

The result of the enquiry was to lead the committee to the following statement:—

We are clearly of opinion that the failures of the existing submarine lines have been due to causes which might have been guarded against, had adequate preliminary investigation been made into the question. And we are convinced that if regard be had to the principles we have enunciated in devising, manufacturing, laying, and maintaining submarine cables, this class of enterprise may prove as successful as it has hitherto been disastrous.

To this able report we owe probably the establishment of public confidence in the undertaking, and the prompt measures that were taken to re-organise the arrangements for another cable. But the Company wisely resolved that they would not risk a second failure for want of advice, and they accordingly appointed a Permanent Consulting Scientific Committee,' consisting of Captain Galton, Mr. Fairbairn, Professor Wheatstone, Mr. Whitworth, and Professor Wm. Thomson, to whom mechanical questions as to the construction and laying of the cable might be referred to from time to time. Mr. Fairbairn was asked to give more immediate aid by joining the Company, but he declined to do so, on the ground of his advancing years.

In 1863 he wrote a long report giving a strong opinion on the practicability of the scheme; on the tests for insulation; on the strength, the laying, &c. He also aided in the negotiations with the Government on the matter, and was in constant communication with various parties on the subject. At the British Association meetings in

1864 and 1865 he presented papers descriptive of the investigations in which he had taken part.

In 1865 the second cable was laid by the Great Eastern' steamer, and during that year Mr. Fairbairn was still in active correspondence on various matters connected with the undertaking; always expressing great confidence as to its ultimate success. The operation failed by the fracture of the cable, and some discouragement was again felt for a time; but in the following year a new cable was successfully laid, and ultimately that of 1865 was picked up and repaired, thus giving a duplicate communication which has been in almost constant work to the present time.

In the third series of Useful Information for Engineers, 1866, Mr. Fairbairn republished his papers on this subject.

Manchester Literary and Philosophical Society.—M r. Fairbairn was long connected with this Institution. It was founded in 1781 as a weekly club, but, was more formally established, with the present name, in 1789. The second president was the celebrated Dr. Henry, and the still more eminent Dr. Dalton became secretary in 1800. In 1817 he was chosen president, and remained so till his death in 1844. A few years afterwards the same office was filled by Mr. Eaton Hodgkinson. The Society has held the first rank among provincial associations of the kind, and its proceedings have been highly esteemed.

From about 1820 Mr. Fairbairn had been a constant and active member of this society, and he states, when he was young, in the pursuit of knowledge, how delightful and instructive it was to listen, on the days of meeting, to the plain, straightforward style of Dalton; the polished periods of Henry, and the animated remarks of Dr. Holme and other members who used to lighten up the conversation, and render the meetings attractive.'

Mr. Fairbairn was elected President of the society in 1855, and remained in that office till 1860, working zealously to maintain its character and promote its interests. At the opening meeting of the session of 1859-60 he gave a presidential address, which began as follows:-

In most societies having for their object the advancement of science, it is the custom for the president to open the session with an address. This, although not hitherto practised in this society, is nevertheless a salutary custom, as it affords an opportunity for taking in review the discoveries and improvements of the past, and of giving encouragement to the members in the production of papers for the future. Under the impression that such a retrospect might be useful, I venture to lay before you such a statement, showing what has already been done and what, in my opinion, remains to be accomplished in the present session.

The address consisted of an able review of the history of the society, and of its connection with the progress of different branches of science.

Royal Society Gold Medal.— In 1860 a further distinction was paid him by the Royal Society. The Society have the power of distributing annually four medals— one Copley Medal,' from a legacy in 1709 by Sir Godfrey Copley, Bart., for great general eminence in science; one Rumford Medal,' founded in 1796 by Count Rumford, specially to reward discoveries in regard to heat and light; and two ' Royal Medals,' established by George IV., and continued by the sovereigns ever since, for any important recent scientific investigations.

This year Mr. Fairbairn was awarded one of the Royal medals. In the annual address, the President said:—

A Royal Medal has been awarded to Mr. William Fairbairn, for his various experimental enquiries on the properties of the materials employed in mechanical construction, contained in the 'Philosophical Transactions,' and in the publications of other scientific societies.

He then enumerated several of Mr. Fairbairn's most important works and papers, and concluded:-

Perhaps it may be said with truth, that there is no single individual living who has done so much for practical science, who has made so many careful experimental enquiries on subjects of primary importance to the commercial and manufacturing interests of this country, or who has so liberally contributed them to the world.

In presenting this medal to you from this chair, I will venture to say that the award of the Royal medal,—the medal which Her Majesty the Queen has been graciously pleased to place at the disposal of the President and Council, for scientific services such as yours, so eminently conducive to the general good, is even peculiarly appropriate.

British Association at Manchester.— In 1861 the meeting of the British Association was held at Manchester, and Mr. Fairbairn, as one of the most eminent scientific celebrities of the town, was appropriately chosen as President.

The opening meeting was held on September 4, when Lord Wrottesley, the retiring President, said:-

In retiring from the office I have had the honour to hold, it is a great pleasure to me to know that I am to be succeeded by one who is so well worthy of your support. We may derive important instruction from the career of Mr. Fairbairn, whether we view him as the successful engineer or as the distinguished man of science. In the former capacity he is one who has by perseverance, combined with talent, risen from small beginnings to the summit of his profession, and he forms one of that noble class of men, the Stephensons, the Brunels, the Whitworths, the Armstrongs, which have conferred such important services on their country, and some of whom, unfortunately for that country, have perished, alas, too soon, exhausted by their arduous toils. Mr. Fairbairn, therefore, is one of the many examples of what can be done in England by such men who resolve, undaunted by the difficulties and obstructions that beset their path, to struggle gallantly onward till success crown their efforts.

Again, if we look at Mr. Fairbairn's claims to scientific distinction, they read to us an important lesson; for they show what can be done by zeal and energy, and the exercise of a strong and resolute will, fully determined to carry out objects in which the public is deeply interested. It is extraordinary that any man should have been able, during the few leisure hours that can be snatched from an important and engrossing business, to accomplish for science what Mr. Fairbairn has done; and not only has he been a most successful contributor to mechanical science, but his liberality has been unbounded in placing all his great mechanical resources at the disposal of his fellow-labourers in the same field.

Such a man is one whom all should delight to honour, and to such a man I resign with great satisfaction the chair which I now vacate.

Mr. Fairbairn then took the chair, and gave his inaugural address, which opened with the following remarks:-

A careful perusal of the history of this Association will demonstrate that it was the first, and for a long time the only institution which brought together for a common object the learned professors of our universities and the workers in practical science. These periodical reunions have been of incalculable benefit in giving to practice that soundness of principle and certainty of progressive improvement which can only be obtained by the accurate study of science and its application to the arts. On the other hand, the men of actual practice have reciprocated the benefits thus received from theory, in testing by actual experiment deductions which were doubtful, and ratifying those which were erroneous. Guided by an extended experience, and exercising a sound and disciplined judgment, they have often corrected theories apparently accurate, but, nevertheless, founded on incomplete data, or on false assumptions inadvertently introduced. If the British Association had effected nothing more than the removal of the anomalous separation of theory and practice, it would have gained imperishable renown in the benefit thus conferred.

Were I to enlarge on the relation of the achievements of science to the comforts and enjoyments of man, I should have to refer to the present epoch as one of the most important in the history of the world. At no former period did science contribute so much to the uses of life and the wants of society; and in doing this, it has been only fulfilling that mission which Bacon, the great father of modern science, appointed for it when he wrote that the legitimate goal of the sciences is the endowment of human life with new inventions and riches; ' and when he sought for a natural philosophy which, not spending its energy on barren disquisitions, should be operative for the benefit and endowment of mankind

Looking, then, to the fact that whilst in our time all the sciences have yielded this fruit, engineering science, with which I have been most intimately connected, has pre-eminently advanced the power, the wealth, and the comforts of mankind. I shall probably best discharge the duties of the office I have the honour to fill, by stating as briefly as possible the more recent scientific discoveries which have so influenced the relations of social life. I shall therefore not dwell so much on the progress of abstract science, important as that is, but shall rather endeavour briefly to examine the applications of science to the useful arts, and the results which have followed, and are likely to follow, in the improvement of the condition of society.

Mr. Fairbairn then went on to trace the applications of astronomy, magnetism, chemistry, geology, botany, zoology, &c., and devoted the latter part of his address to a retrospect of the progress of his own science, mechanics, as applied to engineering and to machinery, closing with some observations on the patent laws.

He had asked Mr. Hopkins to look over the address previously to his delivering it, and Mr. Hopkins, in returning it, said:-

I think the address will do extremely well, and has the great merit of individuality. Your historical sketch of engineering is very good and very appropriate. It illustrates well the advantage of having men of different pursuits and habits of thought to occupy the presidential chair of the Association. Engineering has scarcely been touched upon before by our presidents, for the obvious reason that they have not been engineers.

The meeting was very successful, and, as was appropriate to the President and the place of meeting, mechanical science had a large share of attention, the presidency of that section being taken by Mr. Fairbairn's son-in-law, Mr. J. F. Bateman.

Mr. Fairbairn was highly complimented by many distinguished friends, as the following letters will show:-

Brougham, Penrith, September 6, 1861.

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—I hope you will excuse the liberty I take in congratulating you upon your most admirable and most useful address, which I have read with the greatest satisfaction, and I believe that it will most effectually serve to convince all classes of the practical tendency of the sciences and their beneficial effects in promoting the business of society.

Believe me to be most sincerely yours,


The following was from one of the most eminent scientific engineers of his day:-

The Priory, Hateham, Newbury, Berks, September 10, 1861.

My dear Sir,—I have read, in my retreat at this place, the daily proceedings of the British Association at Manchester, so ably presided over by you, and so creditable to our order. I was particularly struck with your able address, not only on matters of physical science, but in the department of applied mechanics in which you were, as the French say, an fait. But it is the steam-engine and its labours, whether administering to our necessities, comforts, or luxuries, or for the purpose of aggression or defence, and the wonderful changes it has produced in our social and political existence, that has contributed so much to the interest of your address. It recalls to my mind an occasion when old Mr. Watt and Mr. Lovell Edgeworth were sitting before dinner, when my father, not having made his appearance, and I being alone with them, ventured to remark that it was the steam-engine that carried on the war.' When asked why? I replied, 'it made things so much cheaper than making them by hand,' for which answer I was commended by Mr. Edgeworth.

Your observations comprised under science applied to manufactures were particularly applicable at Manchester.

In one passage of the address Mr. Fairbairn had alluded to the great invention of the multitubular boiler for the locomotive, without which the railway system of transit, as now known, could hardly have existed. The inventor, not an engineer, but the secretary of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway, said of this, in a letter to a friend:-

Princes Park, September 6, 1861.

Thanks to you for Mr. Fairbairn's address, and your reference to page 17. It is pleasant to see recognised, now and then, my claim (which has never been denied) to be the inventor of the modern tubular boiler, though neither George Stephenson nor I knew the importance of it at the time.

When you see Mr. Fairbairn, my respects to him, with my thanks.

Truly yours,


During the meeting, Mr. Fairbairn received, as guests in his house, many eminent scientific men from all parts of the kingdom. Dr. Whewell was invited, but wrote from Vevey, September 2:—

Your kind letter has followed me hither. As you will see from the date of this, I shall not be able to attend the meeting over which you are so worthily elected to preside, and I cannot help writing a line to thank you, on my own part and Lady Affleck's, for your still giving me an opening to join your party if it had been possible. You are very kind in wishing for my presence, but 1 am sure that I shall be very little missed.

I am glad to hear from the Astronomer Royal that he is to preside over Section A, a post which I have several times filled with great interest. He tells me now that he is to give an evening lecture on the eclipse which we, as well as he, witnessed last year in Spain. He will, I know, try to convey to his audience the wonderful impression which is produced by seeing the sun blotted out from the heavens and the stare coming into view. It is not easy to exaggerate the striking effect of this phenomenon.

Lady Affleck joins me in very kind regards to you and Mrs. Fairbairn, and I am, my dear sir,

Yours very truly,



Another Cambridge celebrity, then at a very advanced age, attended the meeting, and afterwards wrote on November 5, 1861:-

I ought not to write any letters. The attacks of giddiness still return upon me occasionally, and sometimes bring me to the ground. My Cambridge doctor, almost every time he has called, has commanded me to abstain sternly from all letter- writing.

I remain, dear Sir,

Very faithfully yours,


Offer of Knighthood.—The following gracious offer from Her Majesty arose out of this meeting:-

Balmoral, October 18, 1861.

Sir,—I have much satisfaction in informing you that I have received Her Majesty's command to signify to you her pleasure that, if you are willing to accept the honour, the dignity of Knighthood should be conferred upon you in consideration of your distinguished services to engineering science, and of your able presidency of the British Association.

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your obedient servant,


W. Fairenentx, Esq.

Mr. Fairbairn returned the following reply:—

Athenaeum, London, October 23, 1861.

Sir,--I shall ever retain a lively sense of gratitude for Her Majesty's consideration in offering to me the dignity of Knighthood for the services I have rendered to science. My thanks to the Queen could not be more hearty in accepting the proffered honour than they are now felt by me in respectfully declining it.

During a long life I have tried above all things to make myself useful. For more than seventy years I have found the plain names I bear sufficient for the furtherance of the great object of my life, and I pray Her Majesty to permit me to retain them in their simplicity to the end. Thanking you for the courteous terms of your communication,

I have the honour to be, Sir,

Your faithful servant,


The Right Hon. Sir GEORGE GREY, Bart., M.P.

Richard Roberts.—At the end of 1861 he interested himself warmly in endeavouring to obtain a pension for Mr. Richard Roberts, one of his fellow-townsmen and brother-engineers. Mr. Roberts was a man of great mechanical ability, and was particularly noted for his elegant and useful invention of the self-acting mule, and for many other ingenious contrivances, he being in fact one of the most prolific and useful inventors of his time.' He had been a partner in the great and flourishing locomotive and manufacturing firm of Sharp, Roberts & Co., Manchester, but had fallen into poverty.

Mr. Fairbairn applied directly to Lord Palmerston, armed with the force of his position as President of the British Association, and obtained the following characteristic and truthful reply:—

94 Piccadilly, Dec. 3, 1861.

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—I will give due consideration to the case of Mr. Roberts, in connection with those of other candidates for a civil list pension. But I rather fear that it will scarcely fall within the limits of the rules by which the grants of civil list pensions are governed.

Moreover, the whole amount disposable is very small, and it is scarcely ever possible to give to any person more than a hundred pounds a year; and one should think that if the invention of Mr. Roberts has been greatly advantageous to the manufacturers of cotton, those who have grown rich by the use of his invention might, among them, well be able to give him a better annuity than the civil list could afford.

Yours sincerely,


He continued his aid, for in 1864 we find him still agitating for a private subscription to be got up in the same cause.

Honorary Degrees.— Mr. Fairbairn received honorary degrees from two British Universities.

In 1860 his old and distinguished friend, Lord Brougham, was elected Chancellor of the University of Edinburgh; and Mr. Fairbairn received the following letter:—

Edinburgh, May 11, 1860.

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—Lord Brougham is to be installed as Chancellor of our University on Friday, the 18th inst.; and it is proposed on that occasion to confer the degree of LL.D. on a few individuals distinguished in science.

I am authorised to enquire if it would be convenient for you to be present on that day to receive the degree?

Ever most truly yours,


The degree of LL.D. was accordingly given. The following letter of congratulation from the late Right Rev. Prince Lee, then Bishop of Manchester, was much prized by its recipient:—

Manchester, May 26, 1860.

My dear Dr. Fairbairn,—No one can rejoice more sincerely than both Mrs. Lee and myself at any recognition of services like yours, or any circumstance which can cause happiness to you, Mrs. Fairbairn, and your family. During the twelve years I have been in Manchester, I have seen your utterly unselfish pursuit of what was calculated to advance the moral and temporal advantage of others, combined with a thorough devotion to the investigation of scientific truth.

In the present case this recognition has come from the highest scientific body of your own countrymen, to you most gratifying, but to those who see how Government honours are given a proof that our rulers are not acting as they ought to do.

That you may long enjoy the honour and happiness you so richly and truly merit is, my dear friend, the sincere hope and prayer of

Your most attached and obliged,



The following letters relate to a degree from the University of Cambridge:—

Devonshire House, May 16, 1662.

Sir,—According to ancient usage, a considerable number of honorary degrees will be conferred on the occasion of my first visit to Cambridge as Chancellor of the University.

If it would be agreeable to you to accept this compliment from the University, I should have great pleasure in adding your name to the list which I have been invited to draw up.

I am, Sir,

Your obedient Servant,



The Lodge, May 16, 1862.

My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—I find that at the Chancellor's suggestion you are to receive an honorary degree on the occasion of his installation. I hope when you come to Cambridge you will consider yourself my guest. If I am not able to give you a room in the lodge you can have one in the college near to us, and will be our guest in all other respects.

Believe me,

Yours very truly,



The honorary degree of D.C.L. was conferred in due course.

British Association, 1862.—At the meeting of the British Association at Cambridge, in October 1862, Mr. Fairbairn occupied, for the second time, the position of President to the Mechanical Section; and he opened the proceedings with an address on the progress of mechanical science generally, on the International Exhibition of that year, and on the iron plate armour experiments in which he was then engaged.

International Exhibition of 1862.—In the Great International Exhibition of 1862 his son Thomas had been nominated one of the five Royal Commissioners, and Mr. Fairbairn himself was appointed President of the Jury for machines and tools employed in the manufacture of wood and iron.

No communication from him was published in the official documents of the Exhibition, but he appears to have written an elaborate Report on the Department of Machinery generally. With what object this was done, or to whom the Report was addressed, does not appear, but an abstract of it is given in his Useful Information for Engineers,' Third Series, 1866. It concludes with the following passage:—

Having thus glanced, however imperfectly, at some of the leading objects in the machinery department of the great International Exhibition recently closed, we may safely state in conclusion that more splendid and more instructive examples of the useful arts were never at any previous time brought under the inspection of the public. There is no department of practical science which has remained unrepresented, and the student, mechanic, or engineer had only to read in his own department of study the great page of nature and art which at this Exhibition was laid open for his perusal. It is a great privilege for the present generation to have had before their eyes the finest specimens of the manufacturing machines in operation in their day, and in the construction of which it is their ambition to excel. This is an advantage of which few countries can boast, and it is of a character that will leave its impress upon the public mind, and will raise the thinking and industrial position of the community of this and of all other nations much higher in the scale of civilisation.

Work for the Admiralty.—Owing to the great experience he had had in iron ship-building, his opinion and judgment were highly esteemed by the Admiralty, and during the last twelve or fifteen years of his life, he was frequently consulted by them, and was, indeed, almost in constant communication with them on matters affecting naval construction.

In July 1863, he gave, in answer to the request of Mr. Reed (then chief constructor of the Navy), a long Report on the general design of a proposed new ship of war; which was followed by other reports and communications. These however were considered confidential documents, and have not been made public.

Baronetcy.—It was in 1869, when Mr. Fairbairn had arrived at the 80th year of his age, that the crowning honour of his life was conferred on him, the dignity of the baronetage.

The following is a copy of the letter communicating the offer to him:—

Raby Castle, Darlington, Sept. 9, 1869.

Dear Mr. Fairbairn,—I am empowered by Her Majesty to signify her desire to confer on you the honour of the baronetage, and if I may anticipate your acceptance of a distinction so well earned by your scientific eminence and services, I am sure that the public will unanimously recognise the marked propriety of the selection.

It is extremely agreeable to me to convey to you this intimation.

I remain, faithfully yours,



Mr. Fairbairn, as in duty bound, intimated his grateful acceptance of the favour, and the patent was issued soon afterwards.

He was overwhelmed with congratulations, among which was one from a nobleman with whom Mr. Fairbairn and his family were often in friendly communication:—

Knowsley, Prescot, Nov. 10, 1869.

Dear Sir William Fairbairn,— Let me congratulate you on a well-earned honour, which I only regret that the Government of which I was a member did not gain the credit of conferring upon you.

Very truly yours,



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