It was not without some hesitation
that I undertook, at the request of the family of the late Sir
William Fairbairn, a task which, under ordinary circumstances, would
have been better performed by a more practised writer. It was,
however, considered that, from the peculiar nature of his
occupations and pursuits, justice could hardly be done to his
biography, except by some one familiar with the technical and
scientific subjects it must so Largely treat of; and it was on this
ground alone that I felt justified in accepting the proposal.
The autobiography which forms the
earlier part of the history bears on its first page the following
This memoir was written at the request
of some highly respected friends, who were desirous that I should
leave on record the events of what they were pleased to call an
eventful and useful life. To this I consented, on condition that it
should not be published till after my death; and then only in case
my executors and friends should think it would he for the. benefit
of those who have to encounter similar difficulties in life.
As most of the account of ray early life
was written from memory during a voyage, the narrative will require
careful revision and condensation, including such omissions as in
the judgment of my friends may be deemed necessary.
March 17, 18-51.
My work in regard to this has been
simply to carry out the revision directed by the author.
For the remainder of the biography,
which records the important labours of the last thirty or forty
years of his life, my data have been derived from his published
works and memoirs ; from an immense mass of his correspondence and
papers put into my handsfrom information furnished to me by
relatives and friends;and from facts within my own knowledge. I
take this opportunity of expressing my thanks to all those who have
so kindly given me their aid.
I have thought it would add to the
interest of the work to give a notice, more complete than had
hitherto appeared, of the profession to which Sir William
Fairbairn belonged;one which, although so recent in its origin, has
acquired in the present day a magnitude and importance most
In regard to the general selection of
the matter that appears in the following pages, I have been guided
by the judgment and wishes of the family; for the literary and
technical treatment I alone am responsible.
Athenaeum Club, London:
Chapter I - On the Profession of
Interest attaching to the Profession of EngineeringOrigin of the
Term. EngineerExamples of its early UseAncient Engineering Works
Persons by whom they were constructedThe ArchitectThe Ancient
Priests' Title 'Pontifex'Works in the Middle Ages Bridges; the 'Freres
Pontiers'Hydraulic Works in the North of ItalyAppreciation of
ScienceBelidorWant of Men to execute such WorksRise of a new
Class of Practitioners called Civil EngineersEngineering in
EnglandEarly WorksThe New River British BridgesInigo Jones,
Labelye, EdwardsTrue Rise of English Engineering with Brindley and
Smeaton First Use in England of the present Name of the Profession
Smeaton's Successors: Watt, Milne, Rennie, Telford The Modern
Era of RailwaysDefinition of the Profession of Engineering, and the
Occupations comprised therein Importance of the Profession as
estimated by the Magnitude and Value of the Works executed.
Chapter II - Mechanical
Mechanical Engineering a Branch of Civil Engineering, and not
distinct from itEarly History of Practical MechanicsArchimedes
HeroVitruviusWorks on MechanicsMechanical Engineering in
EnglandPeter Morice's Water MachineryMillwrightsBrindley SmeatonThe
Iron Manufacture Works in SussexDud Dudley; Darby, and Colebrook
DaleThe Iron Bridge over the SevernPuddlingCort's
ImprovementsWelsh Iron Works Scotch Iron WorksThe Carron CompanySmeatonWatt
and the Steam EngineConnection with Roebuck and BoultonSoho Works
The Rotating Engine Albion Mills Rennie Great Stimulus to
Manufacturing ProgressLater Improvements in the Manufacture of
IronThe Hot BlastCleveland and Lancashire
Iron DistrictsStatisticsImprovements in Workshop Processes, Tools,
and Appliances Early Difficulties, and how they were surmounted
Founding, Forging, Riveting, Shaping Turning, and Improvement in
Lathes Maudsley Boring; Wilkinson Planing; ClementShaping and
Slotting MachinesScrewing and Screw ThreadsWhitworth's
ImprovementsDevelopment of Au-' tomatic Tools largely due to
Strikes among WorkmenDecay of the Millwright ClassLarge Structures
in IronIron Bridges, Cast and WroughtIron ShipsIron Armour Plates
and FortsHeavy GunsFairbairn as a Mechanical Engineer.
Chapter III - From Birth to the
end of Residence at Kelso
Age, to 14. 1789-1803.
Date and Place of BirthPedigreeFather and MotherFirst
SchoolingAthletic ExercisesFamily CircumstancesConnection with
Sir Walter Scott and his FamilyCharacter and Ability of William's
MotherSpinning CompetitionsFarm at MoyDifficult and trying
Journey to the HighlandsIngenious Method of clearing the LandFarm
ImprovementsEffect of Residence at Moy Early Indications of Taste
for Mechanical PursuitsRelinquishment of the Conduct of the FarmMullochy
School; its DisciplineFurther Education with his Uncle at
GalashielsThe Psalms of DavidReturn to KelsoEmployment on an
Engineering WorkSerious Accident.
Chapter IV - First Employment and
AGE 14-21. 1803-1810.
Appointment of Andrew at Percy Main Colliery, Northumberland
William joins himProsperity among the Pitman and Sailors; its
Consequences Boxing Matches; William's First Victory Bound
Apprentice to a MillwrightEndeavours to improve his MindProgramme
of StudyFirst Love Attachment; Its influence on his Literary
AbilitiesFrederick and FeliciaMathematics, History and
PoetryMechanical PursuitsDesign for a Clock-Orrery; its
FailureMusic and Musical Instruments The Story of a
FiddleHome-Brewed MusicTakes charge of the Steam-Engine and Pumps
of the CollierySevere and trying Nature of the DutiesSubscription
to the Keg; its Consequences Completion of his Term of
Chapter V - Removal to London -
AGE 21-24. 1810-1813.
Search for EmploymentWork at NewcastleDavid HoggThe future Mrs.
Fairbairn Discussion Society The TheatreThe Poet of PlessyCastles
in the AirEmbarks for LondonPerils of the VoyageArrival in the
ThamesThe Captain's Walk on ShoreMidnight MurdersDifficulties
Application to Mr. RennieThe Millwrights' SocietyCold and
HungerNew Use of a BedsteadRefusal of Permission to work with Mr.
Rennie Walk to HertfordDiscouragementSunshineChestnut
WindmillSupperReturn to LondonTrades' UnionsThe Independent
SocietyEmployment and Residence in LondonMr. Hall.
Chapter VI - Further Employment -
Marriage and Settlement in Manchester
Age 24-28. 1813-1817.
Studies in AgricultureSteam PloughingThe Society of Arts and the
Board of AgricultureSausage-Making MachineVisit to
BathReminiscences of the NovelistsBristolSouth Wales '
DublinBreakfast with Duke HumphreyFestivities in the Phoenix
ParkEmployment with Mr. RobinsonNail-Making MachineryPassage to
LiverpoolFirst Arrival at ManchesterEmployment with Mr. Parkinson
Attack of Scarlet Fever Mr. Iloutson His Brother, the African
Traveller Belzoni Prospects for the FutureSaving MoneyThe
Fiddle again Habits of the Lancashire OperativesMarriage in 1816
Domestic ArrangementsMrs. Fairbairn's IllnessAccident by Fire The
New Blackfriars Bridge at ManchesterMr. HewesResolution to start
Business on his own Account ... 95
Chapter VII - Commencement of
Business in Manchester - Successful Establishment of Manufacturing
Age 28-34. 1817-1823.
Determination to set up for himself in BusinessFirst Order
undertaken-Partnership with LilliePatent ClaimDifficulties and
DiscouragementsSmall OrdersThe Irishman as a Motive Power Mr.
MurrayOrder to rearrange his Mill MachineryThe Poverty of the
LandNature of the AlterationsDefects observed and Improvements
introducedTheir Importance and SuccessRepairs on Sundays
abolishedNew Mill for M'Connel and KennedyReminiscences of
Murdoch, of SohoRising Fame, of the new Firm of Fairbaim and
LillieIncrease of the Manufacturing EstablishmentConstant
Chapter VIII - Water-Wheels at
Catrine Bank - Connection with Escher - Journey to the Continent and
Age 34-41. 1824-1830.
Order from Mr. Buchanan, of Catrine Bank, for New Waterwheels Mr.
Fairbaim visits the SiteNature of the old MachineryImprovements
proposedCompletion and Success of the New Wheels Character of Mr.
BuchananApplication from Mr. Escher, of ZurichAdventures of a
Cotton Mill during the WarLavater Effect of the Peace in
stimulating Industry on the Continent Account of Mr. Fairbairn's
JourneyPosting through France-LilleParisThe Old Parts of the
TownM. Fourneyron and his TurbineStay at ZurichThe Mills and the
Alterations to them Pleasure ExcursionsThe
RightSunriseIncreasing Success in the BusinessMr. Fairbaim joins
the Institution of Civil Engineers.
Chapter IX - Steam Locomotion on
Canals - Iron Boats - Voyage of The 'Lord Douglas' - Troubles in
Business - Dissolution of Partnership
Age 41-43. 1830-1832.
Experiments on the Ardrossan CanalMr. Fairbairn's Trials on the
Forth and Clyde NavigationResults-Competition of Railways with
CanalsFears of the ProprietorsEndeavours to introduce quick
Passenger BoatsCommission to Mr. Fairbaim to build a new Iron
Vessel, to be propelled by Steam-PowerPublication of the
ExperimentsMr. Fairbairn's first Literary EssayContents of the
BookDr. Henry's Opinion on the StyleThe 'Lord DundasDescriptionFirst
Trial on the River IrweUMr. Fairbairn's AnxietyResults of the
TrialMr. George RennieOther TrialsDeparture of the 'Lord Dundas'
for the Isle of Man Deviation from the proper CourseErrors of the
CompassMr, Fairbairn followsHis Search for the BoatCorrection of
the CompassArrival in the ClydeFurther TrialsFinal Result Letter
to the Baron DupinInfluence of this Event on Mr. Fairbairn's
CareerNew Speculation in the Egerton Dye-Works
FailureMisunderstandings between Mr. Fairbaim and Mr. Lillie
Resulting Dissolution of Partnership.
Chapter X - Iron Ship-Building -
River Bann - Experiments on Iron - The Riveting Machine
Age 43-50. 1832-1839.
Iron Ship-BuildingThe e Manchester' Canal SteamerOther Iron
VesselsEstablishment of a Ship-Building Yard at Millwall
CompetitionDifficulties and AnxietyPerseverance and Energy
Evening Meetings for DiscussionProposed Establishment of ' The
Workshop' PeriodicalHodgkinsonWoodcraftNasmyth Literary and
Scientific AmbitionSoham Mere Drainage-Report on the River BannMr.
John Frederick BatemanRecommendations adoptedConstruction of
ReservoirsRiver Don Experiments and Investigation on hot and cold
Blast Cast-iron in conjunction with Mr. Eaton Hodgkinson, for the
British AssociationPaper for the Manchester Literary and
Philosophical SocietyThe Riveting MachineMr. Robert SmithPatent
Chapter XI - Journey to
Constantinople and work for the Turkish Government
Age 50-54. 1839-1843.
Commission sent by the Sultan to EnglandTheir ReportApplication to
Mr. FairbaimHe visits ConstantinopleDeath of the SultanOhanes
DadianExploration of the CountryAnimated Boulder StonesSurvey of
the Government Manufacturing Works Their ImperfectionsAstrological
Considerations about casting a GunThe Seraskier's Dinner
PartyEnglish RailwaysTrades in the open AirMr. Fairbairn's
Attempt to imitate the Turkish Workmen, and ignominious
FailureLarge OrdersSecond Mission to EnglandInvestigation
regarding Iron OresPaper for the Institution of Civil
EngineersTelford MedalAccount of a large Woollen
FactoryComplimentary Letter, and Decoration from the Sultan.
Chapter XII - Miscellaneous
Age 51-60. 1840-1849.
Conclusion of the AutobiographyData for subsequent
Chapters-Professional MattersHaarlem LakeThe Manchester Geological
SocietyFurther Experiments on Oast-IronLetters from a Fellow-LabourerAccidents
in FactoriesPatent for Improvements in joining Metal PlatesThe
Smoke NuisanceThe use of Iron for large BuildingsFires in
LiverpoolFire-Proof ConstructionsFall of a Mill at OldhamBridge
at BasleIron Structure Commission of 1847Mr. Fairbairn's
EvidenceWater-Wheels with ventilated BucketsPersonal
MattersPupilsDr. BirkbeekMiss Fairbairn's MarriageDeath of Mr.
Fairbairn's FatherHaydon, the ArtistProposed Wrestling Match with
Chapter XIII - The Conway and
Britannia Tabular Bridges
Mr. Fairbairn's Book on the SubjectOrigin and early History The
Chester and Holyhead RailwayMr. Stephenson's original Idea Mr.
Fairbaim consulted by him Doubt as to the best form of Tube,
cylindrical, elliptical, or rectangularNature of the
StrainsWeakness of the upper PartMr. Eaton HodgkinsonCorrugated
TopReports to the DirectorsProposed use of Suspension ChainsMr.
Fairbairn's ConfidenceThe large ModelDrawings for the
BridgesDefinition of Mr, Fairbairn's PositionResolutions of the
DirectorsCommencement of the Construction of the Conway
BridgeContracts for Ironwork Erection and
fixingCompletionRetirement of Mr. Fairbaim Publication of the
BookAssistance of Eminent MenPatent for Tubular BridgesExtensive
Manufacture of them.
Chapter XIV - Bridge over the
Rhine at Cologne
Application to Mr. FairbaimProposed Chain BridgeThe Chevalier
BunsenMr. Fairbaim visits BerlinReception by the Baron Yon
HumboldtPresentation to the KingCorrespondence with Humboldt and
BunsenMr. Fairbairn's Impressions of the Berlin JourneyVisit of
Commissioners to EnglandLetter to Mrs. EdgeworthInvitation by the
Prussian Authorities for competitive Designs on the Chain
PrincipleThis Principle abandoned Second Mission to
EnglandComplete Design sent in by Mr. FairbaimAdoption of the
general PrincipleRejection of the Tubular Form of Girder and
Preference for the Open Lattice-Final Correspondence.
Chapter XV - Scientific Honours
AGE 61-64. 1850-1853.
Culminating Point in Mr. Fairbairn's LifeEffect of Controversies
The Royal Society of LondonMr. George Rennie-Certificate-Election
as F.R.S.The National Institute of FranceIts Foundation and
ConstitutionThe French Academy and Johnson VacancyMr. Fairbaim
proposed aa a CandidateCommission of the Academy of
SciencesCorrespondence with Arago, Dupin, Morin, PonceletWater-WheelsElectionThe
Athenaeum Club Its Objects and Mode of ElectionRule II.Mr.
Fairbaim elected without BallotMinor Honours.
Chapter XVI - Steam Boilers and
Matters connected therewith
Steam-BoilersMr. Fairbaim engaged largely in their Construction
Improvement in their DesignThe Two-Flued, or Lancashire
BoilerBoiler ExplosionsTheir Frequency in the Manufacturing
DistrictsMr. Fairbairn's frequent Evidence at Coroners' Inquests
Lectures at Leeds and other TownsPaper at the British
AssociationFoundation of the Association for the Prevention of
Boiler ExplosionsFirst IdeasFirst Steps for the Formation of the
SocietyFairbaim and WhitworthNotices by the PressPreliminary
MeetingsFormal EstablishmentMr. Fairbaim becomes PresidentPresent
State of the AssociationTheoretical Investigations undertaken by
Mr. FairbaimPaper to the Royal Society The Resistance of Tubes to
CollapseThe Strength of Glass The Properties of SteamLetter from
RegnaultLegislative Interference in regard to Steam BoilersMr.
Fairbairn's Opinions thereonCommittees of the British Association
and of the House of CommonsSir William's late Improvements in
BoilersCommunication with the Association near the Close of his
LifeTribute by them to his Memory.
Chapter XVII - Mr Hopkins's Earth
Mr. William Hopkins of CambridgeHis Investigations in the
Application of Mechanics to GeologyIgneous Origin of the Earth
Condition of its CrustInternal HeatScientific
DiscussionsExperiments wanted of a practical NatureApplication to
Mr. FairbaimExperiments begun in 1851 Grant of the Royal Society
Mr, JouleProfessor "William Thomson Ingenious Magnetic
Indicator Scientific Correspondence between Mr. Hopkins and Mr.
JouleProgress of the ExperimentsLiverpool Meeting of the British
Association in 1854Mr. Hopkins's Illness and DeathConclusions
drawn from the Experiments.
Chapter XVIII - The Manchester
Mr. Fairbairn as a Manufacturing EngineerThe Manchester Works
Their OriginImprovements in Driving
MachineryWater-WheelsTestimony to their EfficiencyDissolution of
PartnershipNew Branches of BusinessShip-buildingThe Manufacture
of Steam-Engines and BoilersLocomotivesThe Tank EngineWork for
ConstantinopleEntrance of Mr. Fairbairn's Son into the
BusinessLiverpool Landing StageThe Tubular Bridge
PatentImprovements in the Steam-EngineCaisson for Keyham Dockyard
Express Locomotives Tubular Cranes Strike of the Engineering
WorkmenLetters of ' Amicus' to the 4 Times 'Lord ShaftesburyThe
Small Arms Factory at EnfieldSaltaire Woollen FactoryGreat
Prosperity of the Manchester BusinessRetirement of Mr. FairbaimFlour-Mill
and Bakery for the Crimean WarRebuilding of Viaducts on the
Manchester and Sheffield RailwayLimited Liability CompanyWinding
Chapter XIX - The Millwall
Contrast with the Manchester BusinessEarly History of Iron
Ship-buildingThe 'Aaron Manby' and Sir Charles Napier Mr.
Fairbairn's early ExperimentsChoice of a Locality for the
Ship-building Manufacture MillwallOutlay Management
OrdersWork for the Admiralty, the East India Company, and the
Mercantile MarineRoyal Pleasure
YachtsPatentsDifficultiesCompetitionWant of ExperienceUnfavourable
Reports as to Mr. Fairbairn's CreditDepression and
AnxietyResolution to get rid of the Works Their Sale Mr.
Fairbairn's Sons Large amount of Loss by these Works.
Chapter XX - Iron Armour
Age 73-79. 1861-1867.
Application of Iron to Defensive PurposesChange in the Construction
of the NavyIron ShipsRefusal of the Admiralty to adopt the new
Material Ignorance and Prejudice in regard to it Rifled Guns and
ShellCasing of Timber Ships with IronThe Emperor of the FrenchThe
Russian War1 La Gloire The ' Warrior' Iron Armour Plan of
first doing a Thing and then enquiring how it should he done
Appointment of the Iron Committee Their Labours Evidence
Experiments Nature of the MaterialMode of ManufactureHammering
and RollingForm and Material of the ShotLaw of Resistance of
PlatesMode of applying the Armour to the VesselsWood BackingMinor
ParticularsExperimental TargetsMr. Fairbairn's Contributions to
the CommitteeThe Gibraltar Shield.
Chapter XXI - Miscellaneous
Age 61-80. 1850-1869.
Visit to Northern EuropeInterview with the Emperor of Russia Medal
from the King of Sweden Inventors, Letter from Mr. Cobden
Exhibition of 1851 British Association at Hull Cooling Air in
Hot Climates The Institution of Mechanical EngineersBusiness in
FranceMr. BabbageFrench Exhibition of 1855Backwardness of English
DesignLord AshburtonThe Legion of HonourJames WattHenry CortManchester
Art Treasures ExhibitionJourney to ItalyAtlantic CableManchester
Literary and Philosophical SocietyGold Medal from the Royal
SocietyPresident of the British Association at Manchester in
1861Offer of KnighthoodRichard RobertsHonorary DegreesBritish
Association at CambridgeInternational Exhibition of 1862Baronetcy.
Chapter XXII - Literary Work
Mr. Fairbairn a voluminous WriterTubular Girder BridgesPaper for
the Royal SocietyEffect of repeated Meltings on
Cast-ironApplication of Iron to Building PurposesArticle 'Iron' in
the 'Encyclopaedia Britannica''Useful Information for Engineers'
Self-Acting BrakesThe Strength of Iron ShipsSecond Series of
'Useful Information'Effect of vibratory Action on Girders Mills
and Mill workIron Ship-BuildingThird Series of 'Useful
Information'Contribution to Baines's 'Lancashire and Cheshire' On
the Durability of Iron ShipsMr. Fairbaim as a Lecturer His Last
AddressMr. W. 0. Unwin.
Chapter XXIII - Illness and Death
The Fairbairns a long-lived FamilyWilliam's robust Constitution
First serious IllnessReaches his Seventy-eighth YearLoss of his
Eldest SonLetters from Sir David Brewster and Dr.
RobinsonComplaintsObliged to give up Romping and other juvenile
PropensitiesOwens CollegeBronchial AttackVisits to Brighton and
to Holland ParkMarriage of his Grand-daughter1 Give her a Round
'Visits to Mr. BatemanLast Days at Moor Park DeathBishop
SumnerFuneralObituary NoticesMemorial by the City of Manchester.
Chapter XXIV - Personal Details -
Illustrations of Character
The Golden Wedding DaySons and DaughtersThe present BaronetThe
Royal Family, the Prince Consort and the Prince of WalesOffers of
RankHouse at the Polygon, Society there Mr. Fairbairn's
CharacterBusiness IntegrityDomestic Letters New Stock and
BarrelTwo MoonsOpinions on worthless SchemesReligious Feelings,
Cross Street Chapel, the Rev. W. Gaakell, Rival Hymn-BooksPeculiar
Notions of Religious TolerationNovel ReadingCorrespondence with
Mrs. GaskellProfessional and Scientific CharacterPersonal and
Private Traits Indefatigable ActivityRegular and punctual
HabitsLiberality Popularity'There's Fairbairn!'Fondness for
Appendix - List of Sir William
Fairbairn's Published Works and Papers.
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