The Life of Sir William
Fairbairn, Bart Chapter XXIII - Illness and Death
We now approach the close of this long life, so
actively and so usefully employed.
William Fairbairn came from a long-lived family.
His grandfather, John Fairbairn, died in 1797, at the ripe age of
eighty-one, and his grandmother also lived to a great age. His father,
Andrew, died in 1844, aged eighty-six, and his mother lived to her sixtieth
year. William himself inherited a robust constitution, and enjoyed generally
good health for the greater part of his life. It was not till between his
fiftieth and sixtieth years that he had any serious illness. Owing to some
irregularity or other exciting cause during a journey, he was seized,
somewhere about 1845, with an obstruction of the bowels, and was for some
time considered in danger, powerful remedies being applied. He recovered
from this attack, but it left evil consequences behind, from which he
suffered more or less during the remainder of his life. He was obliged
frequently, and often continuously, to take medicine for the purpose of
ensuring proper digestive action, and he was subject at intervals to attacks
of spasms in the stomach and intestines, which were very painful and
Still he had nearly reached his eightieth year
before he began to feel the approach of the last enemy. At the beginning of
1867 he lost his eldest son, John ; he felt this affliction deeply, and an
aggravated recurrence of his spasmodic attacks at the same time brought him
Two of his oldest and most valued friends, both
eminent in science, and both, like himself, well advanced in years, wrote to
him as follows :—
Brae Lodge, Murravfield, March i, 1867.
My dear Mr. Fairbairn,—My wife and I grieve to
bear of your illness, and of the severe domestic affliction which you and
Mrs. Fairbairn have suffered. We hope that the genial air of the south will
hasten your convalescence, and that the hope of rejoining the son you have
lost will alleviate a dispensation which would otherwise be difficult to
Since I had -the pleasure of seeing you, I have
suffered a severe loss in the death of the widow of my eldest son; a
beautiful woman, worshipped by everybody that knew her.
I have also been an invalid like yourself, but
from a different cause. When on a visit to my daughter in autumn, I
caught whooping cough, a horrid complaint, from the effects of which I am
not yet free.
Time too, has begun to tell upon limbs that have
been doing duty for more than 85 years, and the brain work which I have gone
through has begun to tamper with the upper part of the machine, so that I am
burning the candle of life at both ends.
Having been unable to get a house in Edinburgh
this winter, we are living in a charming villa in the immediate
neighbourhood, and if business should bring you northwards, we have a spare
room at your service.
Not withstanding my ailments, I have
written three papers for the Itoyal Society, of which I hope soon to have
the pleasure of sending you copies.
My wife joins me in kindest regards to Mrs.
Fairbairn and yourself, and to Mr. and Mrs. Bateman, and I am, My dear Mr.
Ever most truly yours,
Observatory, Armagh, Whraary 22 1867.
My dear Friend,—We are greatly grieved at
learning through Miss Holland of your severe illness, and the subsequent
death of your son. But I trust you are fully recovered in health, and I know
that one so good and wise will bear the bereavement, however painful, as
coining from God and therefore appointed for the best. I know how precious
your time is, but I entreat, you to spare so much of it as to tell us how
you are, and how .Mrs. Fairbairn has borne her affliction.
Of myself and mine I have little to tell,
except, that my sight is failing fast. If deprived of it, I shall feel the
loss very heavily, but I hope I shall bear it in a proper spirit. I have at
least this consolation— that during my long life I have used it not
Ever yours affectionately,
T. R. Robisson.
W. Fairbairn, Esq.
Early in 1868 he wrote to an old friend :—
I have had a second attack of my painful and
The approach of winter seizes on me in the shape
of spasms in the chest, and I have suffered more or less ever since. The
doctors say I must give up my juvenile propensities, and consider myself an
old man. This I am unwilling to do, and although I entered my 80th year last
month, I am still unable to realise the fact that I am old. I hope you will
long continue to have the same feeling when you get to my age, and be free
from the torments under which I almost daily labour.
In July 1869 he alluded to 'more spasmodic
attacks;' and in August of the same year he was, to his great
disappointment, prevented by them from attending the British Association
meeting at Exeter.
In April 1870 he was better. He wrote :—
I am glad to inform you I have got a reprieve
from the spasmodic attacks under which I have laboured for nearly two years;
and, as an old man, I must not now romp. I still go to the works, and
although a little stiff, I nevertheless endeavour to keep the judgment sound
and the mind clear.
On May 23, 1871, he wrote to Dr. Robinson :—
I still continue to do a little in the field of
practical science and improvement, but I find it difficult to keep up with
the present generation, whose minds are better prepared and better
instructed than they were in my time. I, however, endeavour to the best of
my ability, even at the advanced age of 82, to keep pace with them; but it
is difficult to keep the mind young when the exterior casing becomes brittle
In December 187® he complained again of spasms,
but not so severe as a year or two before.
In April 1873, writing to Professor Rankine, he
I cannot work now as I used to do, not so much
from mental deficiency as from physical ailments and the wear and tear of
life. I ought not, however, to forget that I entered my 84th year only six
weeks ago, and might yet be useful for some time longer but from severe
spasmodic attacks, under which I have been suffering for the last three
In October of the same year, the new buildings
of Owen's College, Manchester, were opened; and he, somewhat imprudently,
resolved to be present at the ceremonial. he, no doubt, felt himself
compelled to do so, because not only was the Duke of Devonshire, the
president, his guest on the occasion, but in 1870 his Grace had appointed
him one of the three governors of the Institution. Here he caught a severe
bronchial cold, which prostrated him for some time, and from the effects of
which he never recovered.
About the middle of 1874 his strength began
rapidly to fail; and being much troubled by the bronchial irritation, he was
recommended to try to get relief by a change of air to the South Coast. A
friend opportunely offered him the use of his house at Brighton, and it was
during this visit he wrote, on June 8, the letter to Mr. Fletcher, mentioned
in Chap. XVI., the following passage in which may be repeated here :—
I am sorry to say I do not improve. I will,
however, give the clear air, which is warm and excellent, a trial for
another fortnight, and if I get no better I will return and prepare for the
change which cannot be far distant.
He did not get better, and he left Brighton to
pay a short visit to his son William, at Holland Park, London. Here in July,
he complained of frequent nausea, and consulted Sir William Gull, who
(warning the family of his critical condition) recommended absolute rest,
and great caution in avoiding all risk of increasing the bronchial
irritation by taking fresh cold.
The middle of this month, one of his
grand-daughters, the second daughter of Mr. Bateman, was married to Major
Maxwell (since unhappily deceased); he was very desirous to be present at
the wedding at Moor Park, but was too ill to go. He sent, however, to the
bridegroom the following letter, which was the last he wrote. It will show
that although so ill, his exuberant animal spirits had not yet forsaken him
My dear Major Maxwell,—I would have written to
Maggie, but she is busy. She will never have patience to read anything on
such an occasion from such an old scratch as myself. I therefore address you
on so momentous an occasion as the present to express Lady Fairbairn's and
my own deep regret that the extremely infirm state of my health prevents us
being present. Let me, however, recommend you, like all experienced and
prudent husbands, to follow a piece of advice which I received from an old
friend on a similar occasion, namely—
'Be sure, on every occasion of difference (and
where is the family that have not differences), that you and the wife are
never in a passion at the same time.'
He added, however, in a half-whisper, ' But when
she is done, 'gad, you may then give her a round.'
You will pardon me for adding more, as I am
scarcely able either to read or write, and can only add our united blessing,
and prayer for your future happiness, and remain, Your affectionate,
[Date.—July 11, 1874.]
Immediately after the marriage he went down to
Mr. Bateman's country seat at Moor Park, near Farnham, Surrey. There had
always been a warm and reciprocal attachment between him and his daughter,
Mrs. Bateman, and during the later years of his life, when he had given up
the cares of business, although he retained to the last his home at the
Polygon, Manchester (where his widow-still resides), he had spent much time
every year with Mr. and Mrs. Bateman and their family. The large works which
Mr. Bateman had frequently been required to carry on in various parts of the
kingdom had led him, partly for business convenience, and partly by a
preference for country scenery, to occupy from time to time residences in
picturesque districts; Morecambe Bay, Ambleside, North Wales, and Perthshire,
were some of the situations chosen; and it was a great delight to Mr.
Fairbairn to visit at these places. The house at Cardross in Perthshire, was
taken by Mr. Bateman when carrying out the great works of the Loch Katrine
water supply to Glasgow; it was held several years, and here, or at
the house in which he subsequently lived, Fern Tower, near Crieff, Mr.
Fairbairn spent, with his wife, much of the summer and autumn of each year.
He was fond of the neighbourhood, from his old Scotch associations, and he
met here many friends who esteemed him for his talents and worth, and loved
him for his estimable social qualities.
The Glasgow Water Works being finished, Mr.
Bateman gave up his Scotch residence, and bought, in 1859, the Surrey
estate, where Sir William Fairbairn was afterwards a frequent visitor. After
his arrival there, about the middle of July, 1874, he was for a short time
able to walk about and dine with the family. One day he walked round the
grounds with Mrs. Bateman, after having visited, with her, the camp at
Frenshain, during the autumn manoeuvres. He took great interest in military
matters, and conversed freely on what they had seen; after which he spoke to
her of his own state, and of what he felt was the approaching change. The
walk was perhaps too much for him, for after it he took to his room, which
he never again left alive. The windows of this room looked out on the flower
garden, and on a beautiful rural prospect, which he often expressed himself
His last attack was a painful one, but he bore
it with exemplary patience, no murmur ever escaping from his lips. He loved
life and the exercise of his active mental power, but he looked upon death
as an inevitable doom, and he was quite prepared to die. He spoke little of
the probability of his own decease, beyond an expression of resignation to
it. He gave few directions as to the future, and made no particular
communications either to his wife or his children. He gradually sank,
retaining to the last a silent consciousness, and he died quite peacefully
on August 18, 1874.
His friend Bishop Sunnier lay on his deathbed at
Farnham Castle at the same time, and each took great interest in the state
of the other. The bishop died two days before Sir William.
It was the wish of the family that the funeral
should be strictly private, but it was desired by the authorities of the
town of Manchester and many friends of the deceased that a demonstration of
respect should be made. The following account is extracted from a Manchester
The mortal remains of the late Sir William
Fairbairn, Baronet, were interred yesterday at Prestwich parish church. The
distinguished position of the deceased, and the fact that, notwithstanding
his Scotch birth, he was pre-eminently a Manchester man, combined to make
the occasion one of a public character, and the result was a public
demonstration of respect for the deceased and of sympathy with the bereaved
family. The deceased Baronet died on Tuesday last at Farnham, in Surrey, and
his body was brought to Manchester on Friday night. The funeral cortage left
the residence of the deceased—the Polygon, Ardwick—about eleven o'clock,
and, accompanied by bodies of the city police and fire brigade, proceeded by
way of Ardwick Green, Piccadilly, Market Street, Strangeways, and Bury New
Road to the place of interment. In Stockport Road and along the line of
route large crowds collected to witness the procession, and to pay the last
token of respect to an eminent citizen. The shops were partially closed, and
the blinds of many private houses were drawn. The body of police consisted
of twelve men from each division of the city constabulary; and the fire
brigade was represented by twelve men from the central station.
As the procession passed through the town,
several other private carriages and a number of gentlemen on foot joined it,
and it was not until one o'clock that it reached Prestwich. The corpse was
met at the church gates by the Rev. Canon Gibson and the Rev. Canon Birch,
the officiating ministers, and the path from the gates to the porch was
lined by workmen in the employ of the deceased, who stood uncovered as the
coffin was borne by. The church was thronged by a large congregation. The
service was brief but impressive. The coffin, which was covered with wreaths
of choice flowers, was deposited in the family vault near the south-west
corner of the burial-ground, where three sons of the deceased are interred,
A brass plate on the coffin bore the simple inscription, WilliamFairbairn, Baronet: Born
19th February, 1789; Died 18th August, 1874,
The number of people present at the funeral was
estimated at from 50,000 to 70,000.
The death was promptly announced in almost all
the newspapers of the country, as that of a well-known public character, and
memoirs of considerable length were given.
The Times, in the course of a biographical
It is almost useless to state here that no name
stood higher than that of Fairbairn in the world of civil engineering; and
that although late in life he accepted a well-earned title, his reputation
hereafter will date from a generation at least earlier than his patent as a
The Daily News, a journal always prominent in
scientific matters, gave a leading article, containing such an admirable and
truthful estimate of Sir William's position, character, and merits, that we
may be pardoned for giving extracts from it at some length.
The death of Sir William Fairbairn, occurring as
it does during the British Association week, breaks in upon the meeting of
his scientific brothers almost as harshly as the death of the official in
the Faroe Islands did upon the ceremonies at the reception of the King of
Denmark. Of course Sir William Fairbairn's was not a premature end. He had
lived to a good and even to a great old age. He had multiplied his years by
intellectual activity and unceasing enterprise in the fields of industrial
science. Nature could hardly have prolonged much farther his busy and
fruitful career ; and even in this age of longevity, when men turn to the
real work of a public life at a time when their forefathers would have
thought of retirement and rest, Sir William Fairbairn would be considered an
old man. Still the death of such a colleague, occurring at the opening of
the annual meeting of the British Association, must come upon its leading
members with a painful shock. Sir William Fairbairn was one of the founders
of the British Association, and he was one of its most distinguished
presidents. He was a fitting representative of the spirit which made that
Association a success, and of the age of industrial science, illustrated by
literary intelligence, which allowed it to be successful. It used to be the
habit at one time to sneer at the Association of philosophers.' But in the
days when philosophy was a profession and a culture we should like to know
what its teachers would have thought of an age when, even as a sneer, the
title of philosopher could be conferred npon a maker of roads or a worker in
iron. Sir William Fairbairn was emphatically a man who might be accredited
with having helped to bring about the condition of things in England which
proved that philosophy can enter into the building of bridges and the
putting together of the hulls of ships. The career of him and of his like
expounds the secret of modern England's greatness.
He was an indefatigable worker in what we may
call the literary illustration of his enterprises and objects. Treatise
after treatise, lecture after lecture, on all subjects in connection with
this branch of industrial science, came from his active and unresting hand.
He was associated with almost every society formed here or abroad to develop
the true principles of engineering. Nothing that concerned in any way the
interests of industrial science escaped his attention, or failed to enlist
his sympathy. Thus he became known widely beyond the limits of his own
profession. In every calling of life, as our social life is now constituted,
there are men who acquire high reputation and enjoy entire confidence within
the limits of that particular craft, but who are hardly known to the public
outside. Every lawyer, every soldier, every engineer, every scholar, can
tell of men in his vocation who rank, by common consent of its members,
second to none there, and yet whose names, when told to an outsider, are
spoken to unfamiliar ears. Sir William Fairbairn was not a man of this type
and always seems to have enjoyed a reputation with the general public as
well as with those who were qualified to judge more accurately of the value
of his career. That literary faculty, if we may so call it, in which the
elder Stephenson was so entirely deficient, enabled Sir William Fairbairn to
secure the whole public sometimes for his audience, and his death will
therefore be felt as a national loss. The distinction which was conferred
upon him at the recommendation of Mr. Gladstone, in 1869, was, we need not
say, much better deserved than in nine cases out of ten in which a Prime
Minister is the means of bestowing such an honour. It was a tribute to a
very remarkable career, in which talents and perseverance fought their way
from the lowliest rank and amid immense difficulties; and it is only to be
regretted that such distinctions are not made of more genuine value by being
less frequently conferred as the reward of plodding and brainless political
partisanship. But Sir William Fairbairn was of all men the son of his own
works. If he bore a title towards the close of his life we are glad of it,
rather because it affirmed that the State acknowledges the dignity of
industrial science than because we think it m any way ennobled him.
The Engineer said :— A GREAT engineer in a past
generation has departed. Sir William Fairbairn died a little after noon on
Tuesday, at Moor Park, Farnham, Surrey, full of years, and not without
honours, hardly earned and very fully deserved. Fairbairn's forte lay in
millwright work. It is not too much to say that he revolutionised the art of
making mills, whether for grinding wheat or spinning cotton. He introduced,
to begin with, most important improvements in water-wheels. Some of his
Scotch wheels have never been excelled in efficiency by any water-power
motor, except a very few turbines. He was not content with this. From end to
end he remodelled the system on which mills were constructed. He gave the
milling world new shafting, new couplings, new gear accurately made and
properly proportioned to the work to be accomplished. No man, liv ing or
dead, has done so much to make mechanical engineering in two important
branches so nearly perfect. Fairbairn found millwrighting a second-rate
trade. He abolished the millwright, and introduced the mechanical engineer;
and for this achievement alone he would deserve to be honoured. In one word,
it is difficult to discover a branch of the art of mechanical engineering to
which Fairbairn has not contributed something. His footprints may be found
on every path which the engineer can tread, and the sands of time will never
The Manchester papers especially made the
occurrence their most prominent piece of news, and devoted many columns to
The Manchester Examiner said :—
A full account of Sir William Fairbairn's life
would be to a large extent identical with a history of half a century of
progress in mechanical science, in the development of the productive power
of Manchester manufactures, in the application of iron to the building of
ships, and in a wide range of invention and discovery connected with the
strength of materials of construction and the economy of motive forces. Some
of the greatest works of peace and war in our time are associated with Sir
William Fairbairn's name.
In whatever way we seek to account for
Fairbairn's remarkable success in life, compared with that of the mass of
men who start from a similar station, it is a magnificent instance of the
rewards that may attend such persistent endeavours directed to aims so
Another Manchester paper said :
But the story of his life points a moral of the
most valuable kind.
It was by the force of his will and the
integrity of his character that Sir William Fairbairn won bis position. He
learned to labour and to wait, and, having a large faith in time, looked
cheerfully forward to the ' perfect end.' No mere dreamer, he utilised every
hour, and when disappointment came, as come it often did, if he retreated
from what seemed to be an untenable position, it was only to gather strength
for renewed effort and fresh enterprise. ' Something attempted, something
done,' every day earned him physical and mental repose. Patient study
enabled him to acquire that knowledge of first principles which resulted in
the exercise of foresight akin to the marvellous, and the steady momentum
imparted to his life by continuous application imparted an onward impetus to
his fortunes, which resulted in the establishment of his reputation as the
foremost mechanical engineer of his day. That branch of industry to which he
devoted himself with so much zeal is now one of the most important in the
world. Thousands owe their daily bread in a measure to the ardent
mechanician who demonstrated with such telling effect the utility of iron,
and the resources of the world have been augmented to an almost fabulous
extent by his labours. It is natural, therefore, that Manchester should be
proud of her foster-son, and fitting that honourable mention should be made
of him by all who are capable of appreciating sterling worth and indomitable
zeal. In an age replete with able men he held a prominent place, and his
career serves to show that honesty of purpose, patient toil, unwavering
integrity, while they tend to ensure material prosperity, are justly to be
enumerated among those virtues which alone can give to nations a solid
greatness, or to individuals an imperishable fame.
But it was not only in England that these
manifestations of respect to Ins memory took place. One of the most
important mechanical and industrial organs of Germany, the Berlin Allgemeine
Deutsche Pulytechninche Zeitung, published, on September 12, 1874, a
biographical notice with a portrait, and a statement of his chief services
to practical science, concluding with the words: ' Let all aspiring workers
take Sir William Fairbairn as a model. He is no more; but his name will ever
live in what he has done.'
The Manchester Steam Users' Association took
proceedings which are described in the following extracts from their annual
The Committee of Management have now to refer
with sincere and deep regret to the loss the Association has sustained by
the death of its president and founder, the late Sir Wm. Fairbairn, Bart.,
which took place on the 18th of August last. At the institution of the
Association, in 1854, Sir Wm. Fairbairn was elected a vice-president, and
continued one for four years, when he was elected to the presidency, which
office he continued to hold till the time of his decease, a period of
sixteen years. The services rendered by him to the Association, and to steam
users generally, the committee believe to be invaluable. His attendance at
the committee and annual meetings of the Association was most regular, while
his advice and sendee were at all other times freely placed at the disposal
of the committee. The committee think it well to introduce the following
copy of an address presented by them to Lady Fairbairn, together with a copy
of Sir Thos. Fairbairn's acknowledgment of the same.
Copy of address to Lady Fairbairn, presented, by
the Vice-presidents and Executive Committee of the Manchester Steam Users'
Association, on the death of Sir William Fairbairn, Bart., F.R.8., LL.D.,
To Lady Fairbairn,
'Dear Madam,—We, the colleagues of the late Sir
William Fairbairn, on the board of the Steam Users' Association, desire very
respectfully to express to your Ladyship our profound sympathy on the
irreparable loss you have sustained by his deeply lamented death.
'We beg to assure you that so far as it may be
possible to offer words of comfort and condolence to your afflicted mind and
heart, we share in a very high degree those feelings of unfeigned regard and
respect for the memory of Sir William Fairbairn, which we know are
experienced by every one whose good fortune it has been to have enjoyed his
friendship and acquaintance.
'It has been our happiness to have been
associated with him for many years in the management of an Association of
which he was the originator and founder, the object of which is one of
practical regard for human suffering, and the safety of life to a large
class of working men, no less than for the promotion of scientific enquiry
on questions of vast public utility.
'Under Sir William's sagacious and able
chairmanship, our Association has acquired a hold on the public mind which
to him, its distinguished founder, must have been unspeakably gratifying.
'With your Ladyship's kind permission, we hope
to have the honour and pleasure of placing in our board room a marble bust,
by au eminent sculptor, of our late admirable president, and trust we may be
allowed the favour of duplicating the bust which you possess.
'We will not multiply words in this brief record
of our opinions and views. His important works are his enduring monument,
and will ever live in the regard of his thoughtful fellow-countrymen.
'It is not enough for us to say that we
respected and honoured him, for we loved him for his many fine qualities of
heart, and shall never cease to revere his memory.
'We have the honour to be, dear Madam,
'Your Ladyship's very humble servants, '
(Signed) Vice-Presidents :
Joseph Whitworth, Hugh Mason, Thomas Lazily,
Copy of reply from Sir Thomas Fairbairn.
Brambridge House, Bishopstuke, December 26.
'My dear Mr. Mason,
'I received on Thursday evening the case
containing the beautiful volume, "In Memoriam," from the Vice-Presidents and
Council of the Manchester Steam Users' Association, and yesterday I
fulfilled your wishes by presenting it to the Dowager Lady Fairbairn. My
dear mother desires me to assure you that no Christmas Day greeting could
have been more consolatory to a widow's sorrowing heart than this must
touching address. The distinguished men whose names are appended to it
record not only their admiration of Sir William Fairbairn's career and
public services, but they state that they "loved him for his many fine
qualities of heart."
'The exquisite form in which this valuable
testimony is enshrined will be retained and guarded by my family as one of
its most precious heirlooms. I have always looked upon the foundation of the
Steam Users' Association as one of my father's most useful and most
honourable achievements. It was at all times a source of great joy to him
that the persistent and unwearied support of yourself and colleagues had
made the Association which he founded instrumental in saving hundreds of
'He advocated the system of inspection as
against that of insurance with unswerving constancy ; and I cannot help
thinking that there are some other branches of the world's enterprise to
which such a system could be applied with great profit to human life and
happiness. In connection, for instance, with the safe working of ships, how
much fraud and wickedness might be avoided, how much property be preserved,
and how many lives be saved, if the mercantile marine of this country were
subjected to careful searching and periodical inspection.
"Duty to others, and not gain to ourselves," has
been the main-spring of your admirable Society, and a strict performance of
this solemn obligation during a period of now many years has given your
Association the reputation, authority, and power of usefulness which it now
deservedly enjoys. I can wish no more honourable association of merit with
my father's memory than that the sphere of your labours may be greatly
extended, and that you may reap the reward of public gratitude for promoting
an object of paramount utility upon the basis of scientific truth.
' am, my dear Mr. Mason,
' Yours very truly, ' (Signed) Thomas Fairbairn.
The marble bust, to which allusion is made in
the address, has been executed by Mr. T. Woolner, R.A., and is now to be
seen at the offices of the Association.
Almost all the other institutions with which he
had been connected followed the example.
The city of Manchester, in their corporate
capacity, were not backward in manifesting their sentiments of the honour
their departed townsman had been to them.
At the first meeting of the Council, the
following proceedings were reported :—
The Chairman:—Before proceeding with the
remaining business of the council this morning, it is my painful duty to
call attention to the fact that since we last met Manchester has lost one of
her most valued citizens. I allude to Sir William Fairbairn, who was
connected with the interests of our city for a very long period. I will ask
the town clerk to read a resolution of condolence with the family of the
late baronet, and I have no doubt it will be adopted by the council; I
trust, also, that the esteem in which Sir William was held in Manchester
will find still further expression. It would be a fitting thing in this city
to erect a monument on the area in front of the Royal Infirmary, that may
hand down to posterity the name of a man who has done so much for the city
in the particular branch of business with which he was associated, namely,
the engineering trade. (Hear, hear.) Already Dalton and Watt are
commemorated by statues before the Infirmary, and for them a statue to Sir
William Fairbairn would be fit companion, (Hear, Hear. ) Had his Worship the
Mayor been here, he would have been one of the first to express his
willingness to assist in any steps that may be thought desirable by his
fellow-citizens to carry out so desirable an object. (Hear, hear.)
The town clerk read the following resolution,
which was moved by the chairman, namely:—
'That this council has heard with deep sorrow of
the removal by death of their distinguished fellow-citizen, Sir William
Fairbairn, Bart., who has for so many years been one of the most useful and
valuable members of this community, and who has during the last half-century
been actively and honourably associated with all movements having for their
object the improvement of the intellectual, moral, or social condition of
all classes of his fellow-citizens. That the Mayor be respectfully requested
to communicate, through Sir Thomas Fairbairn, to Lady Fairbairn and the
other members of the family the assurance of the veneration and affectionate
regard which is entertained by this Council for the memory and character of
the late Sir William Fairbairn, and of sincere sympathy and condolence in
the irreparable loss which they have sustained.
Mr. Alderman Nicholls seconded the resolution.
The resolution was supported by Mr. Alderman
Heywood, and unanimously passed.
On October 19, a public meeting, convened by the
Mayor, Mr. Alderman Watkin, was held in the Town Hall, ' for the purpose of
considering what steps should be taken to secure, as generally desired, some
suitable permanent memorial of their distinguished fellow-citizen.' The
Mayor presided; and there were also present the Bishop and the Dean of
Manchester, Sir Joseph Heron, the Town Clerk; Sir Edward Watkin, M.P., and
many distinguished inhabitants of the town.
The Mayor said, being fully convinced that a
general desire existed in the city and the neighbourhood to commemorate in
some fitting way the greatness, goodness, and usefulness of their departed
friend, he had not waited for the usual and somewhat tiresome method of
organising in order to call this meeting, but had done it forthwith, so that
what was to be done might be done without delay. He had called the meeting
to receive suggestions as to the form which the memorial should take, and to
organise means for carrying it out.
Sir Joseph Heron mentioned that he had received
a great number of letters from gentlemen unable to attend, stating how fully
they agreed in the object of the meeting, and that they would be prepared in
any way to co-operate to carry out the object of the meeting.
The Bishop of Manchester said that he had much
pleasure in moving the first resolution, which declared the desirability of
obtaining a suitable permanent memorial of Sir William Fairbairn. He had not
had the gratification of making the acquaintance of Sir William till he had
passed the ordinary-limit of life—he had passed the fourscore years. But
since he had known him Sir William had been kind enough to admit him to a
certain measure of personal intimacy and almost friendship, and he had
certainly learned to feel his great qualities, his generosity, his largeness
of heart, and those other qualities which seemed to have so much endeared
him to the citizens of .Manchester. His, certainly, was one of those names
which Manchester people of this generation would desire should be held in
respect and regard by generations yet to come. It was not the sum of money
that was required, because he supposed that any sum could be raised that was
reasonably required, but that an opportunity should be given to Manchester
people to express their sense of the high qualities by which Sir William
Fairbairn became the architect, he would not say of a very large fortune
(but for his own part he did not care for that), but the architect of a
reputation which ought to be dear to Manchester people, and which he
believed would lie an example to men of ability, who were conscious of
intellectual gifts, of how those gifts might be best used to the advantage
of the common wealth. Fairbairn's was a name which Manchester should delight
to honour, and he had much pleasure therefore in proposing the resolution.
Mr. W. R. Callender, M.P., seconded the
resolution. He said there were three causes why a testimonial should be
adopted; first of all, to commemorate the virtues of a departed
fellow-citizen; secondly, to serve as an encouragement to those who might
come after him; and, thirdly, to be of some practical use to the present and
future generations. They ought, therefore, in erecting this memorial to Sir
William, with the primary object of perpetuating his memory, to give also to
those whom they wished to stimulate some means of following in his footsteps
by providing for them some educational advantage, either in connection with
the Owens College or some other scientific society.
The Rev. Mr. Craskell completely coincided with
the remarks made by Mr. Callender, and read part of a letter which he had
received from an old friend of Sir William Fairbairn, Mr. Ainsworth, of
Oleator, who said, 'I cannot take the initiative— I am too old. But I shall
be a liberal contributor for a statue and scholarship in the Owens College,
or, better still, an . endowment in his name as an adjunct to the
professorship of practical mechanics.' He (the speaker) thought it would be
very desirable indeed to have, as a memorial of Sir WilIiam, something which
he himself would have wished; and they all knew the great interest he took
in mechanics' institutes and kindred societies. He thought they could not do
better than carry out such a suggestion as had been made by Mr. Ainsworth.
Dr. Pankhurst said he had not had the honour to
know Sir Wm. Fairbairn in his private capacity, and it was not his province
to speak of him with reference to his professional eminence, but he asked to
say a few words of him as a public man. He had had the pleasure and honour
of meeting him in many parts of the kingdom on great public occasions, and
he had always found in him one of those men who were capable not only of
exerting public influence themselves, but of inspiring the disposition to
exert it in others. Never was an appeal to follow his example in that
respect more needed than it now was in our own city of Manchester. The
public life of Manchester was very onerous and very exacting, and unless we
could have a succession of men willing to devote time and thought to the
public service, we should certainly not be able to keep up the great
traditions of the city and district. Sir William Fairbairn being engaged in
an industry which was' very exacting in its claims upon him, and which could
have given him enormous pecuniary returns, yet sacrificed much of his time
and thought to the public service. He honoured him for so doing, and there
could be no stronger reason given for cherishing his memory and for putting
his effigy and figure in some public place.
Mr. Oliver Heywood asked to be allowed also to
support the resolution. Sir William Fairbairn had been throughout, his life
a most kindly friend of his. He had had the pleasure of attending the same
school with five of his sons. He had personally obtained from him the
greatest assistance in the management of the Mechanics' Institution, of
which Sir William had been the first secretary, and in which he had taken
through life a very active interest.
The Rev. W. Graskell also supported the
resolution as one who had enjoyed the intimate friendship of Sir William
Fairbairn for more than forty years.
The resolution was then unanimously agreed to.
A discussion then took place as to the form
which the memorial should assume, it being felt, as pointed out by the
Bishop of Manchester, that the amount of subscriptions must be regulated by
the nature of the scheme submitted for adoption to the public.
Various opinions were expressed, some in favour
of a statue, others in favour of the establishment of a scholar ship; and
after much discussion, the following resolution was adopted:—
That the permanent monument of Sir William
Fairbairn be in the form of a statue of such character, and to be placed in
such position as may be hereafter determined, and also of a scholarship or
some other suitable endowment in connection with the Owen's College.
A committee was then appointed to raise
subscriptions and carry out the resolution.
The Manchester papers all took interest in the
discussion of the measure. One said:—
The prompt action taken by the Mayor of
Manchester in organising a scheme to commemorate the name of the late Sir
Wm. Fairbairn,-will commend itself to general approval. That this public
duty will be well done, the enthusiasm which characterised the meeting held
yesterday, and the influential and representative character of the committee
then appointed, abundantly assure us. It remains for the thousands who in
Lancashire owe direct advantage to the scientific labour of Sir Wm.
Fairbairn, to assist the committee in seeing that the work is done with
readiness. A public testimonial derives its value and its grace above all
things from its spontaneity, and perhaps there never was a Manchester
citizen who established a more substantial claim upon the respect of his
neighbours far and wide.
The Committee, having collected about 2,700/.,
decided that the statue should be of marble, and placed in the new Town
Hall; and after a good deal of discussion the commission was given for it,
in December 1875, to Mr. G. E. Geflowski, of London.
No action has yet been taken with reference to
the scholarship at Owen's College.
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