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James Murdoch Napier

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James Murdoch Napier (1823-1895) of D. Napier and Son

See Napier Genealogy

1823 Born the son of David Napier

1871 Living at 85 York Road, Lambeth (age 47 born London), Engineer Master. With his wife Fanny I. (age 44 born London) and children Walter P. (age 7), Claude M. (age 6), Lennox V. (age 5) and Montague S. (age 11 Months). Also his father David Napier (age 82). Plus three servants. [1]


1895 Notice regarding claims against his estate [2]


1895 Obituary [3]

JAMES MURDOCH NAPIER, born on the 26th of July, 1823, was a son of the late Mr. David Napier, of Lambeth, well known as an inventor and constructor of printing-machines.

In 1837, when but fourteen years of age, young Napier entered his father’s works in Lambeth, where he became a skilled workman and draughtsman and soon displayed considerable capacity for original design.

He assisted in the construction, in 1841, of the first steam-power gun-finishing machinery used at Woolwich, and in 1844, of an hydraulic traversing-frame designed by Mr. I. K. Brunel for the Bristol terminus of the Great Western Railway. He then erected for Mr. Brunel an hydraulic travelling-crane in the locomotive works at Swindon and assisted in erecting an hydraulic lift for trucks at Bristol.

In the year 1847, being then twenty-four year of age and having already gained considerable experience, Mr. Napier was taken into partnership by his father, the firm from that time being known under the style of Messrs. David Napier and Son.

After spending some months in Spain, directing the erection of gun-finishing machinery, he assisted in 1848 in the design and construction of registering weighing-machines and tipping-trucks for use at Portland breakwater.

In 1855 he supplied an elaborate machine for weighing stone at the Tyne works, which not only indicated the weight of the load on the weighbridge, but also registered the gross weight passed over in a given time.

In 1851 the authorities of the Royal Mint began to regard the process of weighing the coin in detail by hand as laborious, expensive and inaccurate, and the firm of Napier and Son was instructed by Sir John Herschel, then Master of the Mint, to design five automatic coin-weighing machines. The requirements of the Mint involved a complete change in the mechanical arrangement of the machine in use at the Bank of England since 1841, which was due to the invention of Mr. William Cotton, then Governor of the Bank. A description of that automaton balance was furnished to the Institution by Mr. Thomas Oldham. In the course of the discussion upon that Paper Mr. Cotton stated that Mr. David Napier had been 'employed to make the machine, and to him was due the suggestion of the two alternating advancing tongues, as well as several other arrangements of the machinery, which he had so successfully constructed.'

For the Mint Mr. James Murdoch Napier designed and constructed an automatic balance, an illustrated description of which is given in the 'Encyclopedia Britannica.' That balance divided the coins into three classes, 'too light,' 'too heavy' nd 'medium,' varying between certain given limits, the latter alone being permitted to pass into circulation.

From that time he gave much thought to the various processes of coining and their improvement, for which he took out several patents at intervals.

In 1853 he designed machinery for the Spanish Mint; in 1861 he spent some months at St. Petersburg making plans for the re-arrangement of the Russian Mint; and in the following year he designed and constructed the 'Chancellor' balance for the Royal Mint.

In 1870 Mr. Napier was appointed by the Lords Commissioners of the Treasury to visit and report upon European mints, with a view to advise what new machinery would be required if the Mint were removed from its present site. His companions and colleagues in that expedition, which occupied nearly three months, were the Deputy Master, Sir Charles Fremantle, K.C.B., and the Chemist of the Mint, Professor Roberts-Austen, C.B., and the establishments inspected were those of Madrid, Milan, Rome, Constantinople, Vienna, St. Petersburg, Stockholm, Copenhagen, Berlin, Utrecht, Brussels and Paris. A copy of Mr. Napier’s Report may be consulted in the Library of the Institution.

In 1877 he designed and constructed the 'Lord Chief Justice' bullion balance for the Bank of England and a mercurial gauge for indicating speed up to 400 revolutions per minute, used with it.

He also devised, for use in the Indian mints, a beautiful machine which first ascertains how much it is necessary to cut from each blank piece in order to reduce it to the standard weight, and then removes the necessary amount of metal and no more.

Another matter to which Mr. Napier devoted considerable attention was the printing of bank-notes. In July, 1853, he took out a patent for improvements in letter-press and other raised-surface printing-machines, and in the following year he designed and constructed a machine for printing the Bank of England notes. The feature of that press was a platen with contrivances for both the tables and the inking-rollers to traverse, by which means an effect was produced equivalent to rolling with a single hand-roller twenty different times. The form of every note was made to one gauge, and every denomination had its separate tympan and overlaying. By those means, when a note plate was once made ready for press with its overlaying, it was always ready at a moment’s notice for taking impressions. At each end of the press were counting-machines, so that no impression could be taken without being registered, the rate of printing being 3,000 notes per hour.

This was at the time of the substitution for the copper-plate printing-until then employed at the Bank-of surface-printing from electrotypes, a much more rapid process and one which does not require damping.

In 1857 Mr. Napier took out two patents for further improvements in printing machines, and he continued throughout his life to give much thought to that branch of mechanics, taking part no less than thirty years later in a discussion on the subject at the Institution.

Mr. Napier’s brain, however, was far too active to confine itself to automatic balances and printing machinery. The list of inventions for which he was responsible is too long to be given in detail; but the variety and wide range of the subjects which occupied his mind may be gathered from the fact that the patents he took out included registering tide-gauges, mariners’ compasses, barometers, machinery for producing cold the lead bullets for the Government rifles instead of cast bullets, an apparatus for paying out submarine telegraph cables, machinery for the manufacture of soda, speed indicators and governors, and numerous smaller matters.

Mr. Napier died at his residence adjoining the works in Lambeth on the 23rd of March, 1895, at the age of seventy-one, death being due to an affection of the throat. Springing from a family of engineers, he did much to maintain and increase the reputation of the name he bore. He was elected a Member on the 2nd of December, 1884.


1895 Obituary [4]

JAMES MURDOCH NAPIER was born on 26th July 1823; and was a son of Mr. David Napier, well known as an inventor and constructor of printing machines.

In 1837 ho entered his father's works in Lambeth, where he became a skilled workman and draughtsman, and soon displayed considerable capacity for original design.

In 1841 he assisted in the construction of the first steam- power gun-finishing machinery used at Woolwich, and in 1844 of a hydraulic traversing-frame desiged by Mr. Brunel for the Bristol terminus of the Great Western Railway. He also erected a hydraulic travelling-crane in the locomotive works at Swindon, and assisted in erecting a hydraulic lift for trucks at Bristol.

In 1847 he was taken into partnership by his father, the firm thenceforth being known as David Napier and Son.

In 1848 he assisted in the design and construction of registering weighing-machines and tipping-trucks for use at Portland breakwater.

In 1855 he supplied an elaborate machine for weighing stone at the Tyne works, which not only indicated the weight of the load on the weighbridge, but also registered the gross weight passing over in a given time.

In 1851 his firm designed and constructed five automatic coin-weighing machines for the Royal Mint. He also designed an automatic balance, which divided the coins into three classes, "too light," "too heavy," and "medium," the last alone being put into circulation.

In 1853 he designed machinery for the Spanish mint; and in 1861 spent some months in St. Petersburg, making plans for the rearrangement of the Russian mint.

In 1862 he designed and constructed the "Chancellor" balance for the Royal Mint.

In 1870 he was appointed by the Treasury to visit and report upon European mints, with a view to advise what new machinery would be required, if the mint were removed from its present site. His colleagues on the commission were the deputy master, Sir Charles Fremantle, K.C.B., and Professor Roberts-Austen, C.B., chemist to the mint.

In 1877 he designed and constructed the "Lord Chief Justice" bullion balance for the Bank of England, and a mercurial gauge used with it for indicating speed up to 400 revolutions a minute.

He also devised for the Indian mints a machine which ascertains the quantity to be cut off from each blank in order to reduce it to the standard weight, and then removes the necessary amount of metal.

In 1853 he devised improvements in letterpress printing machines; and in the following year he designed and constructed a machine; for printing the Bank of England notes. Amongst his other numerous inventions were registering tide-gauges, mariners' compasses, barometers, machinery for producing cold the lead bullets for government rifles instead of cast bullets, an apparatus for paying out submarine telegraph cables, machinery for the manufacture of soda, speed indicators, and governors, etc.

His death took place at his residence adjoining the works in Lambeth on 23rd March 1895, in his seventy-second year, from an affection of the throat.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1870.


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