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British Industrial History

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Brooke Evans

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Brooke Evans (1797–1862), senior partner of Evans and Askin, nickel refiner

1797 born in Bull Street, Birmingham, the son of a woollen draper and tailor.

School in Singer's Hill, Birmingham, and Aldridge, Staffordshire.

Apprenticed to a gun maker.

After completing his apprenticeship, Evans went to USA, and entered into partnership with a gun maker in New York.

1826 returned to England.

After this he went prospecting in Central America

On his return he purchased a small business in the glass and lead trade at Stratford-upon-Avon, where he lived for 6 years with his sister. This business prospered, and enabled him to save up to £6000.

A friend of his, Charles Askin discovered that a white metal called argentan contained nickel; he and Evans experimented with methods of refining nickel from speiss (an impure mixture of cobalt, nickel, and other metals), a residual product left after the preparation of cobalt blue for painting pottery. They were successful. Initially Askin went into partnership with Messrs H. and T. Merry to manufacture German silver, and subsequently went into partnership with Evans.

1834/5 Charles Askin formed a partnership with Brooke Evans at George Street, Birmingham, as Evans and Askin.

1835 The demand for Evans and Askin's refined nickel and German silver increased rapidly, because it was durable, attractive, and able to be stamped, spun, cast, and wrought.

Askin and Evans, with the assistance of Edward White Benson, developed a wet refining process to separate nickel and cobalt from the most abundant available ores. As well as refining nickel the firm produced a nickel alloy, German silver, which was used in metalware, and supplied cobalt to the pottery and glass industries as a dye.

The speiss produced by the cobalt blue manufacturers was quite insufficient for their requirements, however, and Evans explored Europe for new sources of ores containing nickel. He heard of its existence at the mines of Dobschan in Hungary, visited the place, and bought all the ore he could afford, although the ore contained half as much cobalt as nickel. As cobalt was detrimental to the German silver, and as Askin could not by his mode of refining separate these metals, new techniques had to be developed.

The demand for nickel was meanwhile steadily increasing, especially from the Birmingham electroplating business of Elkingtons; Evans and Askin discovered a process by which they obtained refined nickel in large quantities.

1847 To meet the demand Askin visited some nickel mines near Geisdal in Norway, where he died suddenly on 25 August. He was taken home and buried at Edgbaston.

1862 Evans continued the nickel business until his death at Edgbaston on 15 September 1862 when he was buried near his business partner.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Brooke Evans, ODNB