Check all the Clans that have DNA Projects. If your Clan is not in the list there's a way for it to be listed.
Glenora Single Malt Whisky

Electric Scotland's Classified Directory An amazing collection of unique holiday cottages, castles and apartments, all over Scotland in truly amazing locations.
Scottish Review

Click here to get a Printer Friendly Page

The Life of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart
Chapter XXII - Literary Work


Among the voluntary labours of the latter portion of Mr. Fairbairn's life, one of the most prominent was the use of his pen. He was naturally fond of writing, and whenever he undertook a mechanical investigation, or studied a scientific subject, it seemed natural to him to 'fix his ideas' (to use the French expression) by putting them into a written form. His earlier books and papers had been well received, and when he found himself relieved from his arduous occupations at the manufactory, he began to write for publication more frequently.

A list of his writings, so far as can be ascertained, is given at the end of this volume, and it will show how prolific a writer he was. It consists in all of about eighty publications, including several large books, and many elaborate memoirs in scientific periodicals of- high character. The greater number of these were written after he had passed his 60th year ; several of them have already been mentioned under special heads, and it is intended in this chapter to give brief notices of the more important books and memoirs among the remainder.

In March 1850, Mr. Fairbairn contributed a paper to the Institution of Civil Engineers, on ' Tubular Girder Bridges.' The subject was not, however, so general as the title would make it appear. It had happened that a bridge which had been designed by Mr. John Fowler, d i> to cross the Trent at Torksey, In Lincolnshire, and which had been made by Messrs. Fairbairn, was objected to by the Government Inspector as too weak. The subject was brought before the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the strength was discussed at much length, the discussion involving some curious points that required novel mathematical treatment. Mr. Fairbairn's paper gave his own views on the subject, and many other engineers took part in the investigation ; the result being that the sufficient strength of the bridge was declared to be proved, and the objection to it was withdrawn.

Immediately after Mr. Fairbairn's election as a Fellow of the Royal Society, he presented to that body a paper entitled ' An Experimental Enquiry into the Strength of Wrought-iron I'lates and their Riveted Joints, as applied to ship-building and vessels exposed to severe strains.' It was read on June IS, 1850.

The following extract will give a general idea of the nature and objects of the investigation :—

At the commencement of iron ship-building, in which I took an active part, the absence of acknowledged facts relative 'to the strength and varied conditions under which the material was applied, was the principal reason which induced me to enter upon this enquiry. I have extended the investigation into the best methods of riveting, and the proportional strength of rivets, joints, &c., as compared with the plates and the uses for which they are intended. The latter is a practical and highly important enquiry ; as great difference of opinion exists among engineers and others as to the form, strength, and proportions of rivets, and the joints of which they form an essential part. I therefore considered an experimental investigation much wanted, not only on account of its important practical bearing, but what was probably of equal value, in order to remove existing discrepancies, and to establish a sounder principle of construction founded upon the unerring basis of experiment. From these considerations I bestowed increased attention upon the enquiry, and endeavoured to render it practically useful.

The paper was divided into four parts.

The first part was on the strength of wrought-iron plates to resist tearing asunder by direct tensile strains. This was illustrated by an account of twenty experiments on plates made of iron of different qualities.

The second part treated of the strength of the joints of iron plates when united by rivets, and on the best modes of riveting. A number of experiments were tried on riveted joints, formed in many varieties of ways, and the general mean result was that, considering the strength of the solid plate itself to be 100, that of a single-riveted joint (i.e. having the rivets disposed in one row), might be taken at 56, while if the joint were double-riveted (i.e. if the rivets were disposed in two rows), the strength would be 70, showing, in any case, a considerable loss of strength.

The third part of the paper treated of the strength of wrought-iron plates to withstand a force applied perpendicularly to one point in their surface, tending to indent or bulge them in, or if great, to burst them open; as, for example, in the case where the hull of an iron ship would strike against a projecting rock.

The fourth part was an investigation of the strength and value of the wrought-iron frames or ribs used in shipbuilding. The strengths of these, when in different shapes, were shown, and inferences were drawn as to the best forms and modes of construction.

In the course of the paper Mr. Fairbairn took occasion frequently to speak of the comparison between wood and iron as a material for ship-building. He said:—

In conclusion, I would venture a few remarks on the value and judicious use of iron in its adaptation to ship-building. It appears from the I facts already recorded, that iron is very superior in its powers of resistance to strain; it is1 highly ductile in its character, and easily moulded into any required form without impairing its strength. It is also stronger in combination than timber, arising from the nature of the construction ; and the materials composing the iron ship become a homogeneous mass when united together, forming as it were a solid, without joints, and presenting as a whole the most formidable powers of resistance. These are some of the properties which cannot be obtained in the union of timber, however ingeniously contrived. It moreover possesses the property of lightness along with strength; in fact its buoyancy, strength, and durability constitute the elements of its utility in the innumerable cases to which it may be applied. In ship-building it possesses other advantages over timber. Its hull is free from the risk of fire ; and in case of shipwreck, either on rocks or sandbanks, it will resist the heaviest sea, endure the severest concussion, and with proper attention to the construction it may be the means of saving the lives of all on board. It moreover has the advantage of bulkheads, which, made perfectly watertight, not only strengthen the vessel, but give greater security to it, and by a judicious arrangement in the divisions will float the ship under the adverse circumstance of a leak occurring in any one of the compartments.

These are the qualities anil the powers of the iron ship; and I trust the present research into the strength and proportions of the material of which it is composed, will not only give increased confidence in its security, but w ill lead to an extension of its application in every branch of marine and mechanical architecture.

There was also added a mathematical investigation relative to the experiments, contributed, at Mr. Fairbairn's request, by Mr. Tate.

The paper was selected by the Council of the Royal Society for publication in the quarto ' Philosophical Transactions' an honour awarded only to those papers that are considered of special scientific merit, and it accordingly appeared in the volume for 1850, page 077. It occupies 50 pages, and is illustrated with many tables and with five engraved plates.

Mr. Fairbairn, in his autobiographical notes, speaks of this paper as one of the most important he had ever undertaken. He says:—

These experiments were of great value, as they not only determined the strength and other properties of the iron, but they exhibited what was of greater importance, namely, that the riveted joint was little more than one-half the strength of the plate itself. These discoveries led to further experiments, which resulted in the single, double, and chain riveting joints being subsequently used in all well-proportioned and well-constructed iron ships. The principles they disclosed have been adopted in her Majesty's dockyards, and for many years have been in use throughout the kingdom.

At the meeting of the British Association in 1853, at Hull, he read a paper ' On the Mechanical Properties of Metals as derived from repeated Meltings, exhibiting the Maximum Point of Strength, and the Causes of Doterioration.'

This paper was written in pursuance of a request from the Association passed at the meeting of 1850. The object was to throw light on certain anomalous conditions observed by practical ironfounders in regard to the use of their material. It is the habit frequently to melt iron, for casting purposes, again and again, and it had been observed, or rather conjectured by certain appearances, that re-melting improved the quality. The object of Mr. Fairbairn's enquiries was to determine this, and to ascertain with precision the conditions of the problem. Numerous elaborate experiments were made, and the result seemed to be a gradual improvement, both in strength and elasticity, up to about the twelfth melting, beyond which a sudden and rapid deterioration set in.

In regard to this, Dr. Robinson, of Armagh, wrote to Mr. Fairbairn, as follows, dated May 28, 1855:—

I have only recently got the report of the Hull meeting of the British Association, and have just read your interesting report on the effect of repeated fusion on the strength of cast-iron. I was greatly struck by the abrupt loss of strength and the silvery grain assumed by the iron, and fear you have not kept the fragments; but if they are to be found, it would be very desirable to have a chemical analysis made of the iron so changed, and another of the original quality.

My reason is this : Many years ago, while working at chemistry, I reduced mixtures of lime and oxide of iron in charcoal crucibles at an extremely intense heat. The buttons sometimes contained the metallic basis of lime; they were excessively hard, and their fracture was fine and silvery. Now the repeated fusion with lime and coke seems not unlikely to alloy the iron with calcium. We want greatly, by the way, a well-arranged set of experiments on the combination of the metals of the earths with iron, which I suspect play an important part, especially in steel.

In 1854 Mr. Fairbairn published his second book, the title of which was, 'On the Application of Cast and Wrought Iron to Building Purposes.' It was originally intended to be an essay on 'Beams and Bridges,' more general in its scope than the former work on the Menai structures, and containing fuller information resulting from the large experience the firm had had in the manufacture of such works. But it was afterwards extended to other applications of iron.

The author says in his preface:—

In the following pages I have endeavoured to collect the sum of our practical knowledge on the use of iron, in its combination with other materials, iu the construction of fire-proof buildings. Tlie subject is one of vast public importance. It is undeniable that great want of judgment has been displayed in many examples of buildings even of very recent date, and it is to be lamented that so much ignorance of those undewiating laws which govern the strength of materials should still prevail. Experimentalists and mathematicians have provided the knowledge, but practitioners I fear have, in a great degree, failed to avail themselves of it.

Part I. treats of cast-iron beams for supporting the floors of buildings, giving many experiments on their form and strength, and the influence on them of various disturbing causes.

Part II. treats, in the same manner, of beams of the lighter and stronger material, wrought-iron.

Part III. refers to the construction of fire-proof warehouses, and the work concludes with a general description of the mill at Saltaire.

The book is dedicated to Sir David Brewster, and the following letter, from a well-known literary man, refers to a presentation copy sent to the writer :—

68 Lincoln's Inn Fields, May 10, 1854.

My dear Sir,—I have received with the greatest pleasure the volume you have kindly sent me, of which I mean to read every word. So far from connecting you with 'plain matter of fact,' I regard you, and men like you, as the great enchanters of modern time. What we mere bookmen used in old days to do with fiction and fancy, you now more nobly accomplish with fact and philosophy, and are properly become the leaders of the world. May your Government last long, and be as beneficently administered as it has been justly obtained.

Always, my dear sir,

Most sincerely yours,

John Fonstek.

Wm. Fairbairn, Esq.

A second edition of the work was brought out in 1857, incorporating a new part of considerable length, on the construction of bridges formed of malleable iron beams or girders. A third edition appeared in 1864, containing a few further additions.

It was also translated into French, by M. L. Ferret, in 1855.

In 1850, Messrs. Black, of Edinburgh, the publishers of the ' Encyclopedia Britannica,' applied to Mr. Fairbairn to re-write the article ' Iron' for the eighth edition of that work, which was then in process of publication. The publishers felt it was desirable to introduce into this edition a notice of the many improvements that had been effected in the iron manufacture; and knowing how completely Mr. Fairbairn had identified himself with the use of the material, they selected him as the best qualified person to undertake what they desired. It was soon found that it would be scarcely possible to alter satisfactorily the former article, and it was accordingly determined that he should write an entirely new essay.

The article contains twelve chapters, and is copiously illustrated with woodcuts, not the vague imperfect things publishers too often produce in scientific works, but prepared, as might be expected, from accurate engineering drawings.

Mr. Fairbairn acknowledged, in this article, the assistance he had received from many friends, who had furnished him with novel information on special points. Among these was his old friend Mr. James Nasmyth, who sent him complete descriptions of his steam hammer, an invention which was then only recent, but which may be said to have almost revolutionised the iron manufacture, by increasing to an enormous extent the; magnitude of its operations.

Mr. Nasmyth, in forwarding the particulars to Mr. Fairbairn, said:—

I am very happy to know that the article ' Iron ' has fallen into such able and authentic hands; and I am sure you will not only render it worthy of the theme, but also worthy of yourself, which is saying everything.

With respect to the description of the steam hammer, would fain that you gave it in your own words, as I don't like to do anything that savours of the 'Use Warren's Blacking' system. The steam hammer is so well known and so simple, that a mere figure of it is description enough. I am but a poor tool in the literary line; had I but the powers that you so happily possess, wouldn't I hold forth on things in general, and steam hammers in particular! The steam hammer has really been a great help in the mechanical arts, and will do more and more yet. I am at No. 489; they are making them by the thousand on the Continent and in America, but I am well satisfied with my share.

The article was so much approved that, a few years after it appeared, the publishers reprinted it as a separate book, Mr. Fairbairn having the opportunity of correcting the imperfections in the 'Encyclopaedia' copy, and of adding some new matter.

It was afterwards translated into French, with additions, by M. Gustave Maurier.

In 1856, Mr. Fairbairn brought out another work, entitled:—'Useful Information for Engineers, being a series of lectures delivered to the working engineers of Yorkshire and Lancashire. Together with a series of appendices containing the results of experimental enquiries into the strength of materials, the causes of boiler explosions, &c..'

The title will explain pretty clearly what the work consists of. Mr. Fairbairn had frequently delivered lectures to Mechanics' Associations and other similar institutions iu the manufacturing districts. -These had sometimes been printed in ephemeral pamphlets, or abstracts had been given of them in still more ephemeral local journals; but they were inaccessible to engineers in general, and the author reaped no profit from them, and but little fame. He consequently determined to collect and publish them in a volume.

In the preface he says, in his justification :—

In presuming to offer useful information to the members of an important profession, I would especially guard myself against an undue assumption of personal merit, and rather rest the justification of the title given to the present volume upon (he well-grounded opinion that the elementary principles of science are too much neglected in the study and practice of engineering.

It is generally admitted that one of the most popular and useful forms of imparting knowledge to others is that of public and entertaining lectures, and I may therefore state that the lectures which I have now the opportunity of publishing were mostly prepared at the request of the directors of the various educational institutions of the north of England, and delivered to the mixed assemblies of their members. The circumstances of passing events gave to some of the addresses considerable local and temporary interest; but it does not by any means follow that, thus hastily conceived, the subjects of which they treated were wanting in permanent value and importance to the mechanical student.....My object was to impart to working engineers, in intelligible and simple terms, all I myself knew of the varied branches of practical science which their calling embraces; and hence my main reliance was on the results of my own practice and experience.

The volume contains ten lectures, chiefly on steam and steam boilers. It was so well received by the public that it went through several editions, and the author was induced afterwards to follow it up with further collections of the same kind.

In 1859 Sir. Fairbairn presented a short memoir to the British Association, entitled 'Experiments to determine the efficiency of continuous and self-acting Brakes for Railway Trains;' but he afterwards re-wrote the paper in a more elaborated form, and submitted it to the Institution of Civil Engineers, where it was read on April 17, 1860.

In March 1860 he read an important paper before the Institution of Naval Architects, on ' The Strength of Iron Ships.'

He said that former investigations had related principally either to the strength of the material itself, or to the detailed arrangements of its use, riveted joints, &c. Nothing, however, had been done in determining the strength of an iron ship as a great whole, and this it was the object of the paper to do.

It explained the cases in which large iron ships might become strained in actual use. A ship might, for example, get on two rocks, one at each end, and so be without support in the middle; or she might lodge upon a single rock in the middle of her length, leaving the two ends overhanging. He pointed out that of late years it had been found convenient to increase the length of iron vessels to as much as eight or nine times their breadth of beam, partly to obtain an increase of speed by giving fine sharp lines to the bow and stern, and partly to secure an increase of capacity for the same midship section. This, he pointed out, seriously compromised the strength of the ship if she ever got into circumstances of the kind alluded to. And he remarked that even independently of the possibility of being stranded, the ordinary circumstances of floating under the swell of a heavy rolling sea would subject a ship to strains similar in nature, although less in amount.

Reasoning from the known laws established in regard to large iron tubes, he went on to determine the nature of the strains, and to compare them with the strength actually put into ships as ordinarily built; and he showed how insufficient was the resistance of the fabric.

lie then proceeded to explain how the defect might be remedied, by adding to the strength in certain ways which he pointed out and illustrated by diagrams and calculations.

In ] 800 he brought out a second series of ' Useful Information for Engineers,' containing reprints of four scientific papers contributed by him to scientific societies, and of eight lectures he had delivered at various places and times.

This volume was dedicated to General (now Sir) Edward Sabine, President of the Royal Society, who, in acknowledging the compliment, said:—

August 17. 1860.

This morning's post brought me your kind present, and I have read its inscription to myself with a gratification which I shall not attempt to describe.....

I regard the honour this inscription confers as one of the greatest which I have ever received; and on which I may reflect with confidence, should I ever be tempted to think that my life has been passed in vain.

At the Oxford meeting of the British Association in 1800, Mr. Fairbairn contributed a Report of:—Expert-merits to determine the effect of vibratory actions and long-continued changes of load on wrought-iron girders.

The frequent occurrence of accidents to railway trains by the fracture of wheel tyres and axles, and other iron parts of the engines or carriages, had raised an important question, whether the material suffered in its molecular structure by the repeated and long-continued blows, vibrations, and jarrings to which it was subject during the working of the trains. It had often been noticed that the parts so fractured exhibited a structure not favourable for strength and toughness, but it had been difficult to determine whether this was so originally, or whether such a condition had been induced by use. As is generally the case in difficult problems, all sorts of recondite explanations were volunteered ; electrical, magnetic, and chemical agencies were supposed to be at work, and it was often assumed that either by these, or by purely mechanical influences, the structure of the iron really underwent some deteriorating change.

There had, however, always been a want of positive proof of the fact; and it therefore occurred to engineers of a more practical mind that it might be possible to get, by direct experiment, some conclusive evidence whether the change was real or only imaginary. The Iron Structure Commission of 1849 had tried some experiments, but Mr. Fairbairn considered they were incomplete, and he therefore instituted others on a more comprehensive scale. lie directed attention chiefly to bridge girders of wrought-iron, with the view of testing whether the repeated passage of trains would produce any injury, and he contrived an apparatus by which a load could be alternately applied and removed for a great number of times. This was continued till the changes had reached a million and a half, and the results were thus expressed:—

It would appear, therefore, that with a load equal to one-fourth the breaking weight, the structure undergoes no deterioration in the molecular structure, and, provided a sufficient margin of strength is given, say from five to six times the working load, there is every reason to believe from the results of the above experiments that girders composed of good material and of sound workmanship are indestructible, so far as regards mere vibratory action.

At the Manchester meeting the next year, he reported a continuation of the experiments, confirming the results in the former paper.

In 18t54 he embodied the foregoing results in a paper which was read before the Royal Society on February 4 in that year, and was published in the ' Philosophical Transactions, vol. cliv.

About this time Mr. Fairbairn brought out an important work on a subject peculiarly his own, namely, a ' Treatise on Mills and Mill work. It was in two volumes or parts. Part I. appeared in 1801, and Part II. in 1863.

The editor of the present biography had occasion to review Mr. Fairbairn's book for a scientific periodical soon after its publication, and ventures to insert here some extracts from the opinions on it then expressed:—

It has often been remarked that, although the English have been in advance of all other nations in the practice of engineering, they have been sadly behindhand in its literature. Indeed, it has become a proverb that we have executed works for others to describe; and the students of engineering know well that the best accounts of many of our most important engineering operations must be sought for in the publications of France and Germany.

In regard to the great branch of the profession comprehended under the name of mechanical engineering, the want of correspondence between onr literature and our progress is most striking. We need not dwell on the fact that we are, and have long been, the first mechanicians in the world; but it is no less true that the evidence of this fact which will go down to posterity on the shelves of our libraries will be meagre in the extreme.

It is, therefore, with much satisfaction, that we greet the production of the veteran mechanic whose name appears at the head of onr article. He had founded, at an early part of his life, a firm in Manchester who have since become celebrated for the designs and manufacture of machinery in great variety, and on a very extensive scale ; and it is more especially to the illustrations of modern machinery, derived from the archives of this firm, that the present work owes its value.

The first volume is devoted to the general principles of mechanism and to prime movers. After a chapter of ten pages (which might have been much extended with advantage) on the history of mills, a discourse follows on the theory of mechanism, and the remainder of the book is occupied with notices of the modes by which water, steam, and wind are made available as sources of mechanical power. In regard to the former of these, Mr. Fairbairn has not confined himself, as previous authors have done, to the treatment of the machines for making use of the power, but he has traced the moving agent back to its source in the clouds, and followed in detail the circumstances of its fall, its distribution, its storage, and its conveyance to the point where it is to become useful. The construction of water wheels and other hydraulic machines is also given very fully—it is a department to which the author has evidently devoted much attention ; and this division of the book forms the best and most comprehensive essay on water power we have seen. We are the more pleased with this, because, since the general introduction of steam, water-power has been far too lightly esteemed.

The second part of the work is still more technical than the former, consisting, first, of chapters on wheels, straps, shafts, and couplings; and, secondly, information on the arrangement

1 This was written in 186-3; since that date the advanced education which has spread among the engineering profession hap induced a much more copious literature, as well as p higher tone of thought.

of mills of various kinds—for corn, cotton, woollen fabrics, flax, silk, oil, paper, gunpowder, and iron. This latter division is, if we mistake not, almost entirely a novelty in engineering literature—the only similar attempt we remember being contained in an old work, called 'Nicholson's Operative Mechanic,' which, though popular in its day, is now quite obsolete. We could find much in these essays to remark on, if we were writing a technical review; but we must here content ourselves with recommending the work as supplying a want of long standing, and as calculated to be of much practical utility. It is illustrated profusely with woodcuts, and contains also several plates, well drawn and engraved.

In 1865 Mr. Fairbairn brought out a 'Treatise on Iron Shipbuilding;' which he dedicated to the Duke of Somerset, then First Lord of the Admiralty.

It is an octavo volume of 300 pages ; the earlier chapters treat of the laws of strains, the properties of iron, and the modes of jointing; the later portions refer to iron armour and the effect of projectiles, with remarks generally on ships of war. The book contains also a theoretical essay on the strength of materials, contributed by Mr. Tate.

In 1866 appeared a Third Series of the 'Useful Information for Engineers,' containing, as before, several lectures and papers on miscellaneous subjects.

This volume was dedicated to Lord Brougham.

In 1869 Mr. Fairbairn gave his aid in the preparation of a work entitled 'Lancashire and Cheshire, Past and Present,' by Mr. Thomas Baines. The book was a large and handsome one, in four volumes quarto, giving a full history and topographical description of the two counties, and it was illustrated by many engravings of the scenery, buildings, and worthies of the locality.

Mr. Baines wisely saw that as subjects of a technical and industrial character entered so largely into the interest attaching to the county of Lancashire, it would be well to get some expert to write the portion of the book treating of these matters; and he accordingly applied to Mr. Fairbairn, who responded with his usual public spirit.

His contribution to the work was a very important feature of it, forming of itself one quarto volume of 2C0 pages, and it was probably the largest book he ever wrote. It had a separate title—' The Eise and Progress of Manufactures and Commerce, and of Civil and Mechanical Engineering, in Lancashire and Cheshire.'

He says in his preface :—

When I was invited to write this work I entertained grave doubts of my own competency. The task seemed to require rather the descriptive powers of the historian than the bare matter of fact views of the engineer ; and I must, therefore, crave the indulgence of the reader for the imperfections which will doubtless be found in my treatment of a large subject. If I have failed to make the essay as attractive as a more fluent writer might have done, I have, at least, endeavoured to bring together a mass of information which will be useful to the student who may desire to weigh and appreciate the wonderful development of this great centre of manufacturing industry.

I have endeavoured to trace the influence which the progress of manufacturing enterprise has had upon national character. The rapid growth and present high state of perfection of the trades touched upon in the following pages have raised the mechanics and artisans from mere labourers into a class remarkable for their intelligence, skill, and perseverance. They aiw now a great power in the state—one to be guided by wise laws and liberal encouragement, to the exercise of infinite good, but also capable of producing great evil to themselves and others, if their association and organisation are not regulated by high principles and sound judgment.

The book is (like the main body of the work to which it is attached) somewhat desultory and ill-arranged, and it is difficult to give a precise summary of its contents; but it contains a great deal of valuable information, historical and descriptive. Among the subjects treated of are the scientific institutions of Liverpool and Manchester, and the engineering works of the district, such as the canals, the railways, the water supply, the docks, and the landing stages : the engineering and iron trades, and the cotton manufacture, are also fully described.

Mr. Fairbairn was engaged on this work from August 1867 to July 1869, but he received no remuneration for his labour, charging only a trilling sum for the expenses of drawings. We do not even see, in the preface to the main work, any acknowledgment of the service he had rendered.

Sir William's last literary production was a paper read before the Royal Society on April 26,1873, ' On the Durability and Preservation of Iron Ships, and on Riveted Joints.'

The author, as an experienced iron shipbuilder, discussed the liability of such structures to injury by corrosion, which he believed might be entirely prevented by proper care and watchfulness; and he recommended the same measure which he had found so beneficial in the case of boilers, namely, periodical inspection.

He further treated various questions in regard to riveted joints, such as the relative merits of machine and hand riveting, the comparative effect of drilling and punching in forming the holes; and the paper was accompanied by various tables and theoretical investigations.

Mr. Fairbairn was in great request as a lecturer, and received frequent invitations to deliver lectures at scientific societies, mechanics' institutions, and the like, which he generally complied with if he could. Borne of these lectures were printed at the time in separate pamphlets, and some were republished by him in the 'Useful Information for Engineers.'

Independently, however, of regular lecturing, he had many calls upon him to take the chair at anniversary; meetings, distribution of prizes, &c., and he generally gave at each meeting an address appropriate to the object. On all these occasions his great popularity never failed to attract large audiences, and to give eclat to the institutions that asked his aid.

His last address was on October 28, 1873, at a meeting of the Manchester Scientific and Mechanical Society, of which he was president. Although suffering from severe illness and very weak, he contrived to write the address; but when the day came he was unable to leave his bed, and it was read by the secretary. A few extracts will show that age had done nothing to diminish the sound practical sense he had always manifested on such occasions :—

It is a source of pride to bear witness to the inventions and discoveries that have been effected in machine making in every department of industry. In the beauty, exactitude, and mathematical accuracy of these constructions, we stand unequalled ; and we have only to refer to the International Exhibition of 1851 and its successors to be assured that rapid strides and improvements haM been silently but progressively going on, not only in the machinery then in use, but the introduction of tin self-acting principle, so much wanted and so eagerly looked for in every manufacturing process where it could be introduced.

And here it is only just to state that the introduction of new machinery and the self-acting principle owed much of their efficacy and ingenuity to the system of strikes, which compelled the employers of labour to fall back upon their own resources, and to execute, by machinery and new inventions; work which was formerly done by hand. Let me give an example which strikingly illustrates the benefits as well as the inconveniences of a sudden cessation of labour. Some forty years ago, when 1 undertook the manufacture of boilers, I had large orders on hand, and being Tin-willing to allow the men to dictate the terms on which I should engage apprentices and conduct the work, I received notice of a turn out, which immediately took place, and the works were suspended for a number of weeks. In this dilemma, with impatient customers, I was driven to the necessity of supplying the place of riveters by a passive and unerring machine, which from that day to this has never complained, and did as much work in one day as was formerly accomplished by twelve of our best riveters and assistants in the same time, and executing the work with greater perfection than could possibly be done by the hammer. This is not the only example of the effects of strikes that may be quoted, as I might instance the late Mr. Roberts, with his self-seting mule and other inventions, which produced much benefit.

I have stated that we have reason to be proud of the numerous inventions and discoveries that have been made in the machinery for the manufacture of the textile fabrics. We must not, however, run off with the idea that we are the only improvers and inventors; on the contrary, we are on many occasions far behind, and I am anxious to impress upon the Society the necessity for exertion iu every scientific pursuit, if we are to maintain our position aud cope with the natives of other countries who have equal opportunities and are better educated than ourselves. This is actually the case in France, Switzerland, and Germany, and in the United States we have to contend with intelligent and very powerful rivals in both the scientific and the industrial arts.

I have dealt largely on the necessity of our members having a knowledge of first principles, and that all their designs and constructions must be founded on the unalterable laws of scientific truth. I intended to have said that the age of the rule of thumb was at au end, and that any design, however perfect and however ingenious in its development, is utterly useless unless it is also a work of science. It is true that great works have been sometimes accomplished by the master minds of men without education, but how much move certain and how much more perfect are the emanations and works of such men as James Watt, Smeaton, and others who have combined science with their discoveries.

As compared with many other professions, engineering has been in a dormant state within a period in my own recollection. In the year 1804, when I first entered business as an apprentice, there were not in the whole kingdom above half a dozen persons deserving the name of engineer. I recollect quite well when I first entered Manchester, in 1813, that the only important tools then in vogue were a few common lathes, a screw-cutter, and a boring machine for steam engine cylinders. These facts show the low ebb at which mechanical science was fifty years ago, and how much we are indebted to the late Mr. Roberts and our talented friend Sir Joseph Whitworth and others for the introduction of new and more perfect tool machinery, which has given not only mathematical precision, but almost a creative power—-as one machine creates another.

In Mr. Fairbairn's more important writings, and in the experimental investigations the}' related to, he availed himself freely of such assistance as he felt would be useful to him, and this he always honourably acknowledged. He was not a deep mathematician, and mathematical reasoning was often necessary for the reduction and generalisation of his experiments, and for the clear exposition of the results obtained.

In his earlier publications he was assisted in this way by Mr. Thomas Tate, mathematical master of Battersea Training School. But at a later period, when he began to devote himself more earnestly to scientific work, lie engaged as secretary a young engineer, Mr. W. O. Unwin, who, having had a good theoretical training, was able to take this work permanently for him. Mr. Unwin was with him from 1855 to 1863, during which time he gave active aid in the many important investigations undertaken by Mr. Fairbairn, and in the publications recording them, particularly those referring to boilers, the properties of steam, the strength of materials, submarine cables, railway brakes, and iron armour. Mr. Fairbairn always expressed a high opinion of Mr. Unwin's ability and the value of his assistance, and he now occupies an eminent position as one of the professors of engineering at the Royal East Indian Engineering College, 


Return to Book Index Page

 


This comment system requires you to be logged in through either a Disqus account or an account you already have with Google, Twitter, Facebook or Yahoo. In the event you don't have an account with any of these companies then you can create an account with Disqus. All comments are moderated so they won't display until the moderator has approved your comment.

comments powered by Disqus

Quantcast