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Henry Wollaston Blake

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Henry Wollaston Blake (1815-1899)

1862 Henry Wollaston Blake, James Watt and Co, Soho Foundry, Birmingham.[1]


1899 Obituary [2]

HENRY WOLLASTON BLAKE, born at 25 Portland Place, London, on the 3rd March, 1815, was the youngest son of Mr. William Blake, of Danesbury, Herts, and was named after one of his godfathers, the well-known Dr. Wollaston.

He was educated at a preparatory school near Hatfield, and subsequently at Eton, where already he showed a taste for mechanics.

On leaving Eton he joined his parents at Prague, and travelled with them in Italy, Germany and France, until October, 1833, when he entered Trinity College, Cambridge.

In 1837 he graduated M.A., coming out fifteenth in a list of 52 Wranglers, although, as seven names above his were bracketed, he practically ranked much higher. In order to learn business habits he was placed in the office of Mr. Thompson Hankey, then Governor of the Bank of England, and in the following year he accompanied an agent of the Bank to America, to aid in collecting a large number of protested bills, and held slaves as security. For eighteen months he was constantly employed in travelling through America to collect the various securities, and on his return, had it not been for a fortunate incident which caused him to change steamers, he would have sailed for England on the ill-fated 'President,'which foundered with all on board.

Soon after Mr. Blake’s return to England he became a member of the firm of Boulton and Watt (now James Watt and Co.), of the Soho Foundry, Birmingham. His commercial knowledge, ability, and energy were of great value to the firm, of which he became the head. In that capacity he carried out work in connection with many important undertakings, among which may be mentioned waterworks in Italy, Turkey, Siam, Japan, Straits Settlements, Hong-Kong, and other places; furnished pumping-engines to some of the London Water Companies, to the Metropolitan Board of Works for the drainage of the Metropolis, to the Royal Dockyards, and the London Docks; and supplied machinery for the principal London breweries, for the drainage of the Fens, and engines for many of the ships of the Royal Navy and Mercantile marine, for the Dublin mailboats, for the South Devon Atmospheric Railway, and for the Great Eastern steamship, which he accompanied on her trial trips.

The firm also supplied machinery to the Royal Mint, as well as to the Mints at Bombay, Calcutta, Constantinople, St. Petersburg, and in Japan, Mexico and Chili. Bronze money for Japan and Siam was coined at Soho.

Mr. Blake patented inventions for coining machinery, and in 1859 a large mint was erected at Soho from which 2,000 tons of the new bronze coinage for the United Eingdom were issued. Subsequently he was selected to give evidence against the proposed scheme for moving the Royal Mint from its present site to the Thames Embankment.

Mr. Blake was an original Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

In 1843 he was elected to the Smeatonian Society, of which he was the 'father' at the time of his death.

He was also for fifty-five years a Fellow of the Royal Society and a member of the Athenaeum Club, and, since 1872, of the Royal Societies’ Club. Taking a great interest in thsec ience of astronomy he accompanied, as recently as 1896, the Expedition to view the total eclipse at Vadso, and was requested to publish his observations of the variations of temperature during the eclipse. He was it Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society and of the Royal Geographical Society, and a Member of the Royal Institution and of the British Association, of the Mechanical Engineering Section, of which he occasionally acted as President. For forty-six years he was one of Her Majesty’s Lieutenants of the City of London and a Director of the Bank of England.

In 1861 he went to Russia in connection with the Varna-Rustchuk Railway between the Danube and the Black Sea, of which line he was Chairman for many years, and in 1888 be was instrumental in carrying through the negotiations for its purchase by the Bulgarian Government.

He was for some time a Director of the Grand Trunk Railway of Canada, and from 1842 of the London and North Western Railway. As an engineer he was placed on the Locomotive Committee of the latter line and was able to render valuable service in connection with the company’s works at Wolverhampton and at Crewe. He was also a Director of the Great Indian Peninsula and the Indian Midland Railways, and of several other companies.

Mr. Blake died at his town house, 8 Devonshire Place, on the 27th June, 1899, after a few days’ illness from pneumonia, in his eighty-fifth year.

He was twice married; first to Charlotte, daughter of Mr. John Walbanke Childers, of Cantley, Yorks, by whom he leaves two sons, and, secondly, to Edith, daughter of the Rev. Prebendary Hawkshaw, of Weston-under-Penyard, Herefordshire.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 24th June, 1845, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 14th January, 1879.


1899 Obituary [3]

HENRY WOLLASTON BLAKE was born at 25 Portland Place, London, on 3rd March 1815, being the youngest son of Mr. William Blake, of Portland Place and of Danesbury in Hertfordshire, whose wife Mary was daughter and heiress of Mr. William Nash. He was named after his godfathers, Mr. Henry Warburton, and the celebrated chemist, Dr. Wollaston; his godmother was Mrs. Marcet, the authoress of many elementary scientific works.

When eight years old he was sent to Rev. F. Faithful's preparatory school at Hatfield; and thence to Eton, where he remained for four years in the house of Rev. John Wilder. Whilst there he showed his early taste for mechanics by making a toy steam engine.

On leaving Eton he travelled with his parents in France and Italy till October 1833, when he graduated at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was elected a scholar, being first in mathematics, and first class in each of the yearly examinations. On taking the degree of master of arts in 1837 he came out fifteenth of the unprecedented number of fifty-two wranglers; but, as several names above his were bracketed equal, he practically ranked ninth.

Methods and habits of business he learnt during a year spent in the house of Mr. Thomson Hankey, then Governor of the Bank of England, by whom he was deputed to accompany Mr. Cowell, the agent of the Bristol branch of the bank, to America, as his assistant secretary, to aid him in collecting £5,000,000 worth of protested bills held by the bank, in consequence of the failure of three large American houses of business during the monetary crisis then prevailing.

For eighteen months he was constantly employed in travelling through America — no easy matter in those days — to collect the various securities, then generally given on slaves. During this time he became acquainted with President Webster, Clay, Van Buren, Colquhoun, and other noted Americans.

When on the point of returning to England a curious incident saved his life. The two steamships, "Great Western" and "President," were both at New York; and having endeavoured unsuccessfully to secure a berth in the former, which was the first to sail, he took one in the latter. But on the same evening, happening to meet Mr. Power, the actor, who had taken a berth in the "Great Western" and wanted to stay on for a fortnight to act in New York, he offered to change with him, and consequently sailed that night, while Mr. Power sailed a fortnight later in the "President," which was never heard of afterwards.

Soon after his return to England he became in 1841 a partner in the firm of James Watt and Co., of Soho Foundry, Birmingham, and by his commercial ability, energy, and influence, aided in restoring the fortunes of the place.

After the death in 1846 of Mr. James Watt, the son of the great James Watt, he remained the head of the firm for nearly fifty years, during which period they were responsible for such engineering works as the following:— pumping engines for waterworks in Italy, Turkey, Siam, Japan, Straits Settlements, Hong Kong, Brazil, Vancouver's Island, Moscow, Warsaw, Hamburg, York, Birmingham, Bristol, London; also pumping engines for the Metropolitan drainage, London docks, the royal dockyards, principal London breweries, and for the drainage of the fens; many large marine and stationary engines, including the oscillating engines of the Dublin mailboats which ran for thirty years; also in conjunction with Brunel and Scott Russell the screw-engines of the "Great Eastern" steamship, whose trial trips he accompanied with Brunel. For the latter engineer they were concerned too with the mechanical details of the atmospheric railway.

Mint machinery in large quantities was supplied from Soho to the Royal Mint, as well as to those in Bombay, Madras, Calcutta, Japan, Mexico, Chili, Constantinople, and St. Petersburg. A large mint was erected at Soho by his firm, where the bronze money for Japan and Siam was coined, as well as 2,000 tons of the new bronze coinage of the United Kingdom.

In 1845 he became an Associate Member, and in 1879 a Member, of the Institution of Civil Engineers; and was elected a Member of this Institution in 1862.

In 1843 he was elected a Member of the Smeatonian Society of Civil Engineers, and also a Fellow of the Royal Society; of the former he was the President in 1858, and of both he was the " father " at the time of his death. Of science in all its branches he had an increasing love, especially of astronomy; oven as lately as in 1896 he accompanied with his wife the expedition to Vadsti in Norway for observing the total eclipse of the sun, and was requested by the Royal Astronomer of Dublin to publish his notes on the variations of temperature during the eclipse. He was a Member of the British Astronomical Association, and for many years a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, a Member of the Royal Institution, and of the British Association.

For forty-nine years he was one of H.M. lieutenants of the city of London, and for forty-six years a director of the Bank of England. When the question of bimetallism arose about 1881, on which each director was requested by the governor to write his opinion, so clear and comprehensive was his letter that he was selected by the bank to go before the commission of the House of Commons appointed to consider the matter. It was also on his evidence that the scheme for removing the Royal Mint from its present position to the Thames Embankment was abandoned; and Mr. Gladstone wrote acknowledging the assistance rendered by him on this proposal.

In 1861 he travelled in Russia with Mr. Hugh Childers, in connection with the establishment in Bulgaria of the Varna and Rustchuk Railway between the Danube and the Black Sea; of this line he vas chairman for twenty-five years, and in 1888 was instrumental in carrying through the negotiations for its purchase from Turkey by the Bulgarian government. Of the Grand Trunk Railway in Canada he was long a director; and from 1842 of the London & North Western and Stour Valley Railways.

By a curious coincidence he was at the same time offered a seat on the Great Western Railway board; but as the London and North Western Railway passed Birmingham, and the Great Western at that time did not, he chose the former, and was placed upon the locomotive committee. In this capacity, having on Mr. Bessemer's invitation witnessed nearly the first castings from his early crucible, he supported the erection of the steel works and rolling mill at Crewe, and the adoption of the Bessemer process there.

At various times he held numerous other directorships, notably those of the Atlantic Leased Lines, the British Plate Glass Consolidated Trust, the Incandescent Gas Light, the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, the Indian Midland Railway, and the Continental Union of Gas.

He died on 27th June 1899 in his eighty-fifth year at his residence, 8 Devonshire Place, London, after a few days' illness of pneumonia. His decease removes another link with a great past in the engineering world, and a familiar figure in social and business circles.

He was twice married: first to Charlotte, daughter of John Walbanke Childers, of Cantley, near Doncaster, who left him two surviving sons; and secondly to Edith F., daughter of Rev. Prebendary Hawkshaw, of Weston-under-Penyard, near Ross.


1899 Obituary [4]



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