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William Henry Merrett

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William Henry Merrett (1871-1938)


1938 Obituary [1]

Major William Henry Merrett, T.D., A.R.S.M., an Original Member of the Institute, and, until recently, Assistant Professor of Metallurgy at the Royal School of Mines, London, who died on October 29, 1938, had a long and distinguished record of service to the profession of metallurgy, both as an investigator and as a teacher.

Born on December 18, 1871, the only son of Henry and Frances Merrett of Wallington, Surrey, he was educated at St. Olaves School, and entered the Royal School of Mines as a Royal Exhibitioner in 1891.

Completing the course for the Associateship in 1894 with a First Class Diploma in Metallurgy, he then became a private research assistant to the late Sir William Roberts-Austen at the Royal Mint. The seven years spent by Merrett in the closest association with Roberts-Austen, who always regarded him with great esteem and affection, were very eventful years in the progress of physical metallurgy in relation to the adaptation of materials to structural and engineering purposes. The researches, which had occupied Roberts-Austen continuously from the time of his own association with Thomas Graham (who, as the last executive officer to hold the title of "Master of the Mint," had inspired his early efforts), were now rapidly coming to fruition, and were being embodied in the Reports of the Alloys Research Committee which had been set up on the initiative of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

The immense amount of pioneer experimental work which is represented in a very condensed form in these Reports was carried out by Henry C. Jenkins, Alfred Stansfield, and Merrett. While Merrett worked in close association with Stansfield in the development and application of pyrometric methods to the study of metals and alloys, it is to Merrett alone that credit must be given for responding so eagerly to Roberts-Austen's clear visions of the future importance of metallography. Much of the apparatus used at that time was constructed by Merrett himself and, stimulated by the admirable technique which Osmond was developing in France, he set himself the task of providing photomicrographs, to accompany Roberts-Austen's Reports, which surpassed anything which had been published in this country at that time.

This work, in the later years, was mainly concerned with iron and steel, comprising, in addition to the Research Reports, a lengthy investigation for a Departmental Committee of the Board of Trade on the "Wear of Steel Rails " (following a disaster at St. Neots) and numerous inquiries on behalf of the War Office and Admiralty in relation to gun steels and the erosion of gun tubes.

After the death of Roberts-Austen in 1902, Merrett, who had for some time acted as Lecture-Assistant to him at the Royal School of Mines, now became a whole-time member of the staff there, under Professor William Gowland, F.R.S. Together, they completed the unfinished Sixth Report to the Alloys Research Committee, and from thenceforth Merrett's metallurgical activities were confined almost exclusively to teaching, until his retirement in 1937.

He is remembered with real affection by generations of students to whom his attributes of modesty, cheerfulness, and readiness to give any possible assistance he could, were a great help and inspiration. These attributes and his entire freedom from personal ambitions had endeared him to a wide circle of friends. He was associated with many scientific and technical bodies: a Member of Council of the Institution of Mining and Metallurgy, a Fellow of the Institute of Chemistry and Examiner in metallurgical subjects, an Original Member of the Institute of Metals, and a member of the Governing Body of the Camborne School of Metalliferous Mining. No record of Merrett's work would be complete without some mention of his military activities and associations, of which a hint has already been given.

Joining the 3rd Middlesex Artillery Volunteers in 1888, he transferred as a Sapper to the Corps of London Electrical Engineers on its formation in 1898, was given commissioned rank shortly afterwards, and retired in 1926 with the rank of Major. He was awarded the Territorial Decoration and Long Service Medal. He served throughout the War, first with his own unit in coast-defences and anti-aircraft work, and then as instructor in metallurgy, chemistry, and explosives at the Ordnance College at Woolwich. —S. W. S.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1938 Institute of Metals: Obituaries