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James Taylor (1753-1825)

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James Taylor, marine engineer and potter

1753 born on 3 May at Leadhills, Lanarkshire, the son of John Taylor, overseer of the Earl of Hopetoun's mines.

Educated at Wallacehall School, Closeburn, Dumfriesshire, and then at Edinburgh University (1775 to 1781), studying medicine, mathematics, and natural philosophy.

After leaving Edinburgh it is thought he set up a foundry and engineering works in Ayr in partnership with his brother John.

1785 Appointed tutor to the children of Patrick Miller, who had recently acquired the Dalswinton estate. Miller was experimenting with the mechanical propulsion of ships on the Forth and almost certainly recruited Taylor to assist him. Taylor suggested replacing hand-turned windlasses with a James Watt steam engine modified to drive paddle wheels. Through his father he introduced Miller to the engineer William Symington, which led to the famous trials of a steamboat at Dalswinton in 1788 and on the Forth in 1789.

1790 The Countess of Dumfries commissioned Taylor to carry out a mineral survey of her estate.

1791 The Earl appointed him manager of the expected mineral works. The quality of the black lead was not sufficient for pencils so the countess turned her attention to making foundry crucibles and then to establishing a pottery.

1794 Taylor was appointed to supervise the establishment of the pottery at Cumnock.

The pottery struggled for 20 years, making a creamware from local clays together with crucibles.

1815 Resigned from management of the mines but continued to operate the pottery despite rising debts.

1822 Taylor sought compensation from the campaign that had been established to reward those who had been involved with the development of the steamboat. Came to agreement with William Symington about his role in this development.

1823 he took out a patent for the construction of ships' bottoms and the positioning of pumps to prevent damage to the cargo

1824 petitioned Parliament for a pension.

1825 died at Cumnock on 18 September before a decision was reached on his pension. Soon afterwards Symington and his supporters attacked the accuracy of Taylor's claim to have contributed to the development of the steamboat.

Taylor's widow was eventually granted a pension of £50 p.a. and his surviving daughters were awarded a bounty of £50 apiece

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Sources of Information

  • Biography ODNB