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The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart
Chapter XI - Journey to Constantinople and work for the Turkish Government


In the year 1838, Mahmoud, Sultan of Turkey, sent some intelligent and trustworthy officers to England for the purpose of making enquiries with a view to certain technical reforms which he desired to carry out. He wished to place several of the government works and manufactories, especially the arsenal and the dockyard, on a better footing, and to introduce such mechanical improvements into them as would enable them to meet the requirements of the service with greater promptitude and despatch. The commissioners reported the high state of perfection in which they found the mechanical and useful arts in England, and the benefits which would be likely to follow if some of those arts were introduced into Turkey.

It appears that the commissioners visited Mr. Fairbairn's works, both in Manchester and in London, and he may tell the result in his own words :—

A few months after the commission had given in their report, I received through the Ottoman ambassador then in London the commands of the Sultan that I should repair to Constantinople for the purpose of surveying and reporting upon the different establishments then in operation.

With the numerous engagements I had in hand in London and Manchester, and the mercantile difficulties which were pressing upon me, I found it next to impossible to absent myself for so long a time as the work would require; and I was about to give up the journey at once, when I was again summoned to London with fresh offers from the ambassador, and a renewed request that I would comply with the wish of the Sultan. This new application, and an understanding which I came to with Mr. Smith at Manchester, and Mr. Murray in London, that they would, to the best of their ability, manage the business at both places, induced me to undertake the journey; and I set out [in 1839] with the necessary credentials, taking with me my eldest son, for Marseilles, where we embarked in a French steamer for Constantinople.

On our arrival at the Turkish capital, we found an Armenian officer, Ohanes Dadian, and a dragoman, waiting our arrival, with an intimation that the Sultan would give us an audience at the palace on the following Wednesday. Unfortunately, that audience never took place, as his majesty died the very morning of the appointment. In consequence, my inspections and surveys of the public works were suspended for some days, and during that time I had an opportunity of delivering my introductory letters to the British ambassador, Lord Ponsonbv, at his residence up the Bosphorus at Therapia. His lordship received me with great courtesy, and invited my son and myself to remain with him till after the funeral.

During the interval I made several excursions into the country which surrounds the Ottoman capital; and as there were no roads excepting tracks for camels and horses, we had to perform our journey on horseback. What struck me very forcibly in these excursions was the immense area of good land lying waste in almost every direction in which we travelled. Some spots were under cultivation, and I noticed that the land was excellent. I remarked, however, that it was covered with what I at first thought were ladders, all of the same dimensions, but which, on inspection, I found to be tortoises engaged in devouring grubs and worms which infest the soil.

On our return to Stamboul— the Turkish quarter of Constantinople—I received orders from the Grand Vizier to proceed with my surveys and reports. In the performance of these duties, I found the Imperial dockyards, small-arms manufactory, cannon foundries, powder mills, and roperies, in a very primitive state. Some additions and new machinery had been introduced a year or two before my arrival, but they were far from perfect, and the native workmen appeared to me to he at a loss how to work and manage machinery of such a complicated character.

The object of my visit was, however, to report on the different works as I found them, and to advise the authorities what was necessary to be done, in order to place them in a more perfect and efficient state.

In the course of five or six weeks I had inspected and reported on all the government works, and recommended what I considered essential to their efficiency and improvement. Much was required in this way in the dockyards and roperies. In the former I found that a powerful steam-engine and a new set of pumps were required to empty the docks when repairs were wanted, instead of having to wait three or four days for the slow action of mules and horses, the only motive power then in use for driving the imperfect machinery. In the roperies the spinning, stranding, and laying of cables were entirely done by hand. Since that time good and improved machinery have teen introduced in both establishments, greatly to the benefit of the government.

At the powder-mills, under the superintendence of Boghos Dadian, I found things in a more forward state, with new machinery for grinding charcoal, saltpetre, &c., imported from England. The sheds for the grinding and dangerous processes were placed at distances of about 100 yards from each other, and the machinery was driven by compressed air conveyed through pipes to the different sites. This was an expensive plan, and I recommended the same system that has since been introduced into the powder-works of our own government at Valtham Abbey.

In the small-arms manufactory I found much new machinery from Messrs. Kennie, and Maudslay and Field, which had been introduced only some fifteen or eighteen months before. But with all this new plant, little or nothing was doing in the shape of manufacture, through the apathy of the Turks and their aversion to new things.

My attention was next directed to the cannon foundries; and here I found the works in the same state as when they were erected two centuries ago. They consisted of large circular buildings of great strength ; brick domes lighted from the top, and massive wood cranes and sheaves, and ropes almost as thick as small cables. These cranes were for raising and lowering the moulds in the casting-pit, and I was informed that it required many weeks to prepare the moulds ready for casting. As an example of the dilatory manaer in which the works were conducted, a day was appointed when a large gun, which had heen in the mould for a considerable number of weeks, had to be cast, and I was advised by the Seraskier to be present at the casting, and to see the superintendent, in order that there might be no mistake. In our visit to this dignitary, along with the dragoman, we found him seated on an ottoman with his attendants, in the full enjoyment of his coffee and pipe. Having intimated our desire to be present at the casting—as directed by the Seraskier Hallil Pasha--on the Monday, he took out a Turkish aimanack, and unfolded it from a ^mall bobbin, which he carefully consulted. After pondering for some time, he at last said that it could not be done, as the appointed day was unlucky, and the casting could not take place. Although all was then ready, it had to wait till some more fortunate day in the following week, before which I had sailed for Malta.

During my short residence in Constantinople, I bad opportunities of witnessing more of the Turkish habits and customs than most other visitors. Being engaged on the part of the government, I had access to the different government departments, and the officials by whom they were conducted. Among the most active was the Seraskier Hallil Pasha, who was at the head of the war department. With this functionary I had the honour of dining; and every person at the table, which was very low, had two servants in attendance; one with a glass goblet of clear water, and the other with a napkin. These were requisition after every course; and the repast, after a tureen or goblet of sherbet, wound up with pipes and coffee.

There was a party of twelve at dinner, composed of officers and effendis, connected with the war and ordnance departments. There were also present my Armenian friend, Ohanes Dauian. and the dragoman, whose presence was necessary in order to interpret the conversation which ensued at dinner and during the time pipes and coffee were introduced. This conversation was chiefly made up of queries as to the improved state of practical science in England, and the introduction of railways, which appeared to them inexplicable, if not entirely beyond their comprehension. They could not realise the idea of travelling at the rate of forty miles au hour, and doubted the correctness of the descriptions that had reached them. I could not object to this reserve, as railways had not extended beyond England and Belgium, and the results came so unexpectedly upon the public as to astonish those who had never seen a railway train.

My frequent intercourse with the ministers and officers of the different departments gave me opportunities of studying the habits and customs of the Turks in their daily intercourse, and the way in which they conducted their business. Constantinople proper, or Stamboul, is, like all other Oriental cities, divided into sections, where the different trades are carried on. The wares are exhibited in shops under brick arches lighted from the top, and well protected from the summer's sun and the winter's rain and snow.

These covered markets are laid out in departmental order. In one quarter will be found gold and silversmiths; in another, linen and woollen drapers; in a third, bookbinders, stationers, and workers in toys and other light ornamental articles. But what struck me as the greatest novelty was the way in which the work of manufacture was done. For example, in the trade of joiners, cabinet makers, turners, &c., a great part of the work appears to be done on benches in front of the shops, on which the operator or workman sits, with his tools and work before him. In turning—whether for furniture or tobacco pipes, which appears to be the most extensive trade in the capital—the lathe consists of two head-stocks, between which the article to be turned is placed, and by a line of catgut attached to a wood spring above and a treddle below, a reciprocating motion is produced, which being acted upon by the foot of a powerful operator, the shavings fly in all directions at every alternate stroke. It was surprising to me to witness the process, and in most cases I noticed the work was done sitting, and the tool was held and guided by the large toe and the hand. In fact, I was so much interested with this mode of working that I got permission from one of the workmen to try my own hand at it; but in taking off my stocking, I gathered such a crowd about me from the contiguous benches, as caused me to desist after a fruitless attempt to imitate the operation.

The visit to Constantinople was an important event for me, as it eventually led to large orders which I executed for the government after my return. Immense quantities of iron ore deposits were found at Samakoff, on the shores of the Black Sea, and furnaces, forges, and rolling-mills were sent out for the purpose of smelting, forging, and rolling it into bar and plate iron: but I never could learn with what success. I apprehend the enterprise was ultimately abandoned for want of fuel, as they chiefly depended on some beds of lignite for the reduction of the ore. I also sent out a large woollen mill and machinery for the manufacture of clothing for the army, and driven by a large and powerful water-wheel on the principle of suspension. There were also silk and cotton model mills, a corn mill, an iron house for the Seraskier Hallil Pasha, and a large workshop and tools.

In 1843 the Turkish Government sent a second mission to England, in furtherance of the designs of the Sultan for introducing useful arts and manufactures. The Turkish officer already mentioned—Mr. Ohanes Dadian—was the head of this mission, and he was aided in his object by his Excellency Ali Effendi, the Ambassador to the Court of England, and the Consul-General, Mr. Edward Zohrab. Mr. Dadian spent some months in England, during which time he was in frequent communication with Mr. Eairbairn on the subject of the Turkish works : and Mr. Fairbairn seems to have formed a high opinion of his ability and character.

Among other objects of his mission was one already alluded to iu Mr. Fairbairn's notes, namely, to investigate the best means of utilising certain iron ores which existed in the Turkish dominions in large quantities, and of a very pure quality.

Many scientific and practical men expert in the iron manufacture were consulted on the subject—Mr. Fairbairn among the number—and many experiments and trials were made at Mr. Dadian's suggestion. Mr. Fairbairn was led to combine with this enquiry others upon certain English ores of similar kinds, and the results are given in a paper that was laid before the Institution of Civil Engineers on April 30, 1844, and is printed in the volume of their Minutes for that year. It is entitled

'Experimental Researches into the properties of the Iron Ores of Samakoff in Turkey, and of the Haematite Ores of Cumberland, with a view to determine the best means for reducing them into the cast and malleable states. And on the relative Strength and other Properties of Cast-iron from the Turkish and other Hematite Ores.' By William Fairbairn, Mem. Inst. C.E.

In this paper the author, after stating that the art of reducing the richer class of iron ores had not kept pace with the advancement made in regard to the commoner and poorer varieties, gives an account of the experiments and enquiries undertaken by himself in conjunction with Mr. Clay, a metallurgical chemist, and others, upon the class of iron in question, and describes the processes which it was considered most advisable to follow in the manufacture. He also adds a classified table of the comparative strengths and other qualities of fifty-two different kinds of iron, including those mentioned in the paper.

This communication was rewarded by the Institution with a silver Telford medal.

Mr. Fairbairn gave some further account of his Turkish work at a meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers, March 21, 1843.1 The following are extracts from the published Proceedings :—

Almost all the houses and many of the public buildings in Turkey, being constructed of timber, destructive fires were frequent. In many parts of the country the common building materials were expensive, iron had therefore been resorted to for construction, and Mr. Fairbairn had already sent over an iron house for a corn mill, fifty feet long, twenty-five feet wide, of three storeys in height, and with an iron roof. It was finished iu 1840, and erected at Constantinople in the following year.

The success of this attempt led to a second order, which was for an extensive woollen factory, to be composed entirely of cast-iron plates, the interior being framed throughout of brick arches, upon cast-iron columns and bearers, with an iron roof. The machinery was to be driven by a fall of water twenty-five feet in height, of the computed average power of 180 horses.

Several ingenious devices were introduced for preventing any objectionable effects from the high conducting power of the metal. The piers between the windows were hollow, so as to admit a current of air through during the hot season, and the iron roofs were so arranged as to have beneath them a coating of plaster, to serve as a non-conducting substance.

The two principal rooms were, one 272 feet long, 40 feet wide, and 20 feet high; and the other 280 feet long, 20 feet wide, and 20 feet high; with a great number of other rooms for the several processes in the manufacture of coarse woollen cloths, for the counting-houses, apartments, &c. &c. The area of the enclosed surface, including the courtyard and buildings, was nearly three acres; the floor surface in the whole of the rooms was 71,100 square feet.

This building was erected near the town of Izmet in Turkey.

The following interesting letter, written a few years later by the Turkish officer who had been instrumental in employing Mr. Fairbairn, will show the estimation in which he was held by the Turkish authorities. It is given just as written by the author, in English :—

Malta, March 14, 1817.

William Fairbairn, Esq.

Dear Sir,—I have had the pleasure of writing you some time ago that I should have the honour of seeing you in England soon, and have an honourable conversation with you, which I intend to do in a few months, if God pleases, after having travelled over Italy, France, and some other countries in Europe.

Before I see you, allow me to inform you, and at the same time explain to you what I meant by an honourable conversation, that His Imperial Highness, Sultan Abdul-Megid has been good enough to give you a decoration set in diamonds along with a Ferman, in which he is kind enough to write you to be the chief fabricator of the machineries required to be cast and fitted up in England for the use of His Imperial Majesty's Factories, and that it is given to you as a reward for your old services to him in making a great number of machineries for the Government; so the Ferman is the document belonging to the grand decoration, indicating the right of you deserving such a mark of honour to be presented to you by His Majesty, which I shall take with me to London, and then write you the day you are to come there and meet at the Turkish Embassy, so as the Turkish Ambassador may present you the decoration with the valuable document, from the part of His Imperial Highness the Sultan, in my presence, and explain you the good and kind heart of His Imperial Majesty, which is sure to induce him to reward all the faithful persons who serve so well to His Government as you, my dear friend.

I hope you will not forget me to be your intimate friend, and you will think me always as one who has the interest of your welfare at heart, consequently I expect, hope, and I am also sure, that as you have had the same good feeling towards me, so you will also have it hereafter, and pay the greatest attention to my interest and honour, by executing carefully the small number of orders I shall have soon to give you, respecting some more machineries and other articles.

Please to remember me to Mrs. Fairbairn, and tell her that I hope I shall see her in perfect good health, when I come to England, and I shall also see your children and embrace them, as I long to have the pleasure of seeing them all.

I write with pleasure to inform you also that, though we have had a dispute with Mr. - some time past, consequently he was out of our service, yet as I was coming away from home to Europe, I did not wish to leave him in sorrow behind me, out of employment in a foreign country, therefore I have sent for him, and forgiving him his trespasses, as the Christianity demands from us to do so to one another, got him into the new Iron Works at Zetia Bourni, where is going to be a school built by the Government for the instruction of the young men of our country in different branches of mathematics and chymistry, &c. so Mr.----will be the professor of the mathematics in this new school at the Iron Works.

I remain your most faithful friend,

Ohanes Dadian.


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