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Thomas Turner

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Professor Thomas Turner (1861–1951), M.Sc., F.I.C., Professor of Metallurgy in the University of Birmingham.

Thomas Turner Sc., A.R.S.M., F.R.I.C. was the first Professor of Metallurgy in Britain, at the University of Birmingham. The University was created in 1900 and the department founded in 1902. Turner was instrumental in the early development of the sclerometer for testing hardness of metals. He retired in 1926. He was also a leading member of the Christadelphian church.

1861 Born in Ladywood, Birmingham

1882 Listed as the Editor of "Mechanical World", Manchester[1]

1885 Listed at the New British Iron Works, Corngreaves, near Birmingham[2]

1887 Married Christian Smith of Edinburgh in 1887 and had two sons and two daughters.

He studied metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines in London, and won the annual De la Beche medal awarded in memory of the school's founder. Turner was demonstrator at Mason Science College from 1883, then 1887 lecturer in metallurgy, a new science that "was to develop greatly under his guidance during the next forty years."

From 1894-1902 he was Director of Technical Instruction to Staffordshire County Council, but in 1902 was chosen as the first Professor of Metallurgy in the newly established University of Birmingham. He retired in 1926 but continued to publish and lecture.

His most notable work was seminal research in the influence of silicon in cast iron. He was a founder member of, and later president of the Institute of Metals, vice president of the Iron and Steel Institute, and on the Advisory Committee of the Imperial Institute.

Turner was active in the Christadelphian church and for many years was first assistant editor, with Joseph Hadley, then editor of the Fraternal Visitor magazine of the Suffolk Street fellowship. In this function he was also involved in support of the Gemeinde in Germany, corresponding with Albert Maier and Ludwig von Gerdtell. As a hymn writer he contributed to his church's hymnal

See The Engineer; 23 November 1923 page 552.

1951 Obituary [3]

A NOTABLE career in metallurgy has come to an end with the death of Professor Thomas Turner, which occurred at his home, Netheridge, Elm Drive, Leatherhead, on January 31st, in his ninetieth year. For twenty-four years he was Professor of Metallurgy in the University of Birmingham, where he was also Dean of the Faculty of Science.

Thomas Turner was born in Ladywood, Birmingham, in 1861, and received the earlier part of his education at a private school in Edgbaston.

Subsequently he studied at the Royal School of Mines, London, and in 1883 he was appointed a demonstrator of chemistry at Mason College, London. There he began his studies of the influence of silicon on the properties of iron and steel, and later became lecturer in metallurgy at Mason College.

In 1894 Mr. Turner was appointed Director of Technical Instruction to the Staffordshire County Council, a position which he occupied for the next eight years. The next period of his career, which may be said to have established his reputation throughout the country, was from 1902 to 1926, when he was the first holder of the Chair of Metallurgy at Birmingham University. In that appointment, Professor Turner was responsible not only for the design and equipment of the metallurgical department of the University, but also for the technical training of many well-known metallurgists of the present day.

Professor Turner was elected to membership of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1887, was appointed to its council in 1924, and was elected an honorary vice-president in 1931. The Institute's highest honour, the Bessemer Gold Medal, was a warded to him in 1925 for his distinguished services in the advancement of the science of metallurgy of iron and steel.

In addition, Professor Turner took a leading part in the formation of the Institute of Metals in 1908 and was its treasurer for the first ten years of its existence. Later, he was elected President and in recognition of his many services was appointed a Fellow of the Institute.

There were other honours which were it deservedly bestowed upon Professor Turner, among them being the Seaman Gold Medal of the American Foundrymen's Association and the E. J. Fox Gold Medal of the Institute of British Foundrymen.

In 1921 a trust was established for the award of the Thomas Turner Gold and Bronze Medals and prizes for metallurgy at Birmingham University.

In addition to his researches on the influence of silicon and other elements on iron and steel, the results of which have been applied in iron foundries throughout the world, Professor Turner was the author of papers on several other subjects, including the puddling of wrought iron, the reheating and rolling of finished iron and various aspects of the study of hardness. His expert knowledge was widely recognised by numerous technical organisations and by the Government, and there are many committees and technical organisations which have benefited by the advice he was at all times ready to give. Professor Turner was an examiner in metallurgy to the Universities of London, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Manchester, Birmingham and Wales, and to the Civil Service Commission and the City and Guilds Institute.

Upon his retirement from Birmingham University in 1926, Professor Turner was given the title of Professor Emeritus, and for several years afterwards he engaged in consulting work. His old students, and all who came into contact with him during his distinguished career, will keenly regret his death.

1951 Obituary [4]

The death of Professor Thomas Turner on January 31st, 1951, marked the close of a long and distinguished career devoted unceasingly to the advancement of metallurgy over a very wide field.

Born in Birmingham in 1861, he had reached his 90th year, and until quite recent years he had been seen as a welcome and honoured figure at metallurgical gatherings. His presence gave evidence of his sustained interest in metallurgical science, in which, during his long life, he had witnessed such remarkable progress. To this progress he had himself made many valuable contributions, both by his own researches and by the training of others to realize, as he had found, how very much worthwhile the pursuit of metallurgy may be.

It is difficult to realize that one who was so recently with us and whose friendship one had valued for so many years, had entered the Royal School of Mines as a student of 17 so long ago as 1878, the year in which Thomas and Gilchrist gave to the world the results of their epoch-making efforts in regard to basic steel. Dr. John Percy still occupied the Chair of Metallurgy at the time of the triumph of his two former students, but his retirement took place in the following year, so that Turner completed the course as one of Roberts-Austen's first students.

It was, however, directly due to Percy's personal instigation and encouragement that Turner responded to an appeal made by him to young metallurgists in his Presidential Address to the Iron and Steel Institute in 1885. Turner was then occupying a position at Mason's College, Birmingham, as Demonstrator in Chemistry, and had already contributed several papers to the chemical journals as a result of his skill in metallurgical analysis, the real basis, if one may say so, of all metallurgical training. Percy's appeal had been for someone to co-ordinate and interpret the results of chemical analysis, and Turner's response was a remarkable paper of some 28 pages which he presented to the Iron and Steel Institute in the following year (1886) on "The Constituents of Cast Iron". This paper received the warm commendation of Percy and of others who were present, among them Sir Lowthian Bell, Sir Frederick Abel, Professor Huntington, and Professor Bauerman.

Thus, it was in the realms of ferrous metallurgy that he achieved success and recognition in the 80's of the last century. His paper is remembered chiefly for the clear exposition he gave of the relations of iron to silicon in cast iron, though it was by no means confined to this aspect of the metallurgy of cast iron.

After a period of ten years or so at Mason's College as Lecturer in Metallurgy, his services were sought, in 1894, by the Staffordshire County Council to organize and direct technical instruction in that area. It was while here that his work "The Metallurgy of Iron" was published. This received world-wide recognition, and has been a standard text-book on the subject ever since.

With the establishment of a University at Birmingham in 1902, Turner became the first to occupy the Chair of Metallurgy. To him fell the responsibility of planning and equipping the Metallurgical Department in the new University Buildings which were being erected at Edgbaston. This task he carried out so successfully that Birmingham was furnished with laboratories as fine as any in the kingdom. Those engaged in the non-ferrous industries of the district gave generous support to the Department and, as its head, Professor Turner increased his already close association with these industrialists. With them, he saw the need for setting up some appropriate body for ensuring a closer contact between the members of these industries.

It was in Birmingham that the decision was reached to form a Society for this purpose, and the Institute of Metals came into being in 1908 with temporary quarters in the University itself, with Shaw Scott as the first Secretary and Turner undertaking the duties of Honorary Treasurer. It was not long before suitable headquarters were found in London, and with the late Sir William White as its first President, the Institute was successfully launched on its career.

Meanwhile, from 1902 onwards, Turner had been steadily building up a school of metallurgy at Birmingham, with Dr. 0. F. Hudson, from the outset and for some time, as his only Lecturer. Later on he was joined by the late Dr. G. D. Bengough, who was succeeded by Dr. Donald M. Levy when Bengough went to Liverpool. Hudson remained with Turner until 1916. The sincere regard in which he was held and a generous appreciation of his services have been expressed to the writer on many occasions by Professor Turner.

One could compile a long list of those of Turner's students who have since gained distinction as metallurgists, but mention may perhaps be made of two who subsequently achieved distinction on an even wider horizon. It was a source of justifiable pride to Turner that he had numbered among his students Stanley Baldwin and Neville Chamberlain, two future Prime Ministers. So, when the time came for his retirement from the University in 1926, with the title of Professor Emeritus, he could look back on the 24 years of his occupancy of the Chair of Metallurgy with satisfaction and with the full assurance that the foundation upon which the Department had been built would sustain even greater things in the future, and it must have been a great reward to him to have lived to witness the subsequent and remarkable developments that have taken place.

Turner, who had seen the parallel growth of the science and practice of Ferrous and of Non-Ferrous Metallurgy, lived to see the inevitable tendency to recognize their virtual indivisibility.

For many years after his retirement, and indeed up to the time of his death, Professor Turner acted as Consultant to Fry's Metal Foundries. Ltd., London. Many honours and distinctions came to him in the course of his long life, among them the De la Beche Medal of the Royal School of Mines, as long ago as 1883, the Bessemer Gold Medal of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1925, and also Gold Medals awarded by the Institute of British Foundrymen and by the American Foundrymen's Association.

He was president of the Institute of Metals from 1924 to 1926, and was elected a Fellow in 1929. In 1939 the wheel had made a full turn when the Governing Body of the Imperial College of Science and Technology (of which the School of Mines, to which he had gone 60 years before, forms an integral part), elected him an Honorary Fellow. Quite apart from his profession as a metallurgist, Professor Turner always appeared to have mastered the art of living, as in fact he had. There was a composure in his demeanour and a spiritual detachment from the more mundane aspects of his profession which were traceable, perhaps, to the happy relation- ships that he and his family enjoyed.

He married in 1887 Miss Christian Smith, who survived him for only a short time, and they had two sons and two daughters. One of the sons, Mr. T. Henry Turner, is of course, well known in the metallurgical world, and the elder daughter is the wife of Mr. G. Shaw Scott, Secretary of the Institute from 1908 to 1944. S. W. SMITH.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. I.Mech.E. Membership
  2. I.Mech.E. Membership
  3. The Engineer 1951/02/09
  4. 1951 Institute of Metals: Obituaries