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John Thomas North

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John Thomas North (1842-1896) of North, Humphrey and Dickenson, Engineering Works, Iquique, Chile; and Avery House, Avery Hill, Eltham.


1896 Obituary [1]

JOHN THOMAS NORTH was born in Leeds on 30th January 1842.

He was educated at a local school, and at an early age was apprenticed to a machine manufacturer.

After serving his time, he obtained a situation as journeyman at the steam-plough works of Messrs. John Fowler and Co., Leeds, by whom in 1869 he was sent out to Peru to superintend the erection and working of machinery.

Remaining in South America, he undertook the distilling of sea-water for domestic purposes at a place on the coast north of Valparaiso, where rain never falls; and patching up an old iron steamer that had been wrecked on a reef, he converted her into a floating water-tank. The venture was a financial success, enabling him to purchase a quantity of land in the province of Tarapaca, where he found vast deposits of nitrate of soda, and was quick to realise their great commercial valise; the transference of Tarapaca to Chili in 1879 gave a further impetus to the trade, which flourished increasingly as the value of the fertiliser became recognised in Europe.

Other enterprises also succeeded, notably the working of the large guano deposits.

Having been in South America for about thirteen years, he returned to England in 1882, and established numerous undertakings connected with the nitrate and other industries.

In 1889 he presented Kirkstall Abbey and grounds to his native town. He became honorary colonel of the Tower Hamlets Volunteer engineers.

His death took place suddenly at his office in London, from failure of the heart, on 5th May 1896, at the age of fifty-four.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1882.


1896 Obituary [2]

JOHN THOMAS NORTH died suddenly at his offices in Gracechurch Street, London, on May 5, 1896. Born in 1842, a solid, sturdy Yorkshireman, shrewd, honest, and quick, with no book-learning or accidental advantages of fortune, patronage, or friends, but with indomitable courage and energy, North was at an early age, whilst yet an apprentice in Fowler's workshops at Leeds, selected from his fellows to go out to Peru to superintend the erection and working of certain machinery. He at once set to work to make the most of his knowledge and the best of his time and wits in a strange land. One of his earliest enterprises was the condensing of sea-water for domestic purposes at a place on the coast north of Valparaiso, where rain never falls. Patching up an old iron steamer that had been wrecked on a reef, he converted her into a floating water-tank, and made a good profit by her.

Other enterprises succeeded quite as well, notably the working of large guano deposits, and eventually he went back to England the possessor of great wealth. It is said that just before the war between Chili and Peru he satisfied himself that the Peruvians would be defeated and that they would lose the province of Tarapaca. Some of the oficinas he acquired by purchase, and when the conquering Chilians came to seize upon the lands they found the British flag flying over many square miles of nitrate beds, of which the owner was J. T. North.

On his return to this country after an absence of nearly twenty years; Colonel North (he was honorary colonel of the Tower Hamlets Volunteer Engineers) soon became a familiar figure in the City, built himself a very fine house at Eltham, in Kent, started a racing-stable on a large scale, and became a prominent member of all the associations connected with sport.

In 1889 he paid a visit to Chili to strengthen his companies by agreements with the Chilian Government. As a business man Colonel North's most remarkable achievement was his introduction of the Nitrate Railways Company and various nitrate of soda producing companies on the London market.

On the turf Colonel North's colours have frequently been carried to victory during the last seven years. In 1891 the amount he secured in stakes reached a total of £20,000. Colonel North took a keen interest in coursing as well as racing, and has bred several famous dogs, of which the most noted was Fullerton, the winner of the Waterloo Cup for three years in succession. Encouraged by his success in various other fields, Colonel North at last determined to enter that of politics, and in 1895 contested West Leeds as a Conservative in opposition to Mr. Herbert Gladstone. After a remarkable contest, conducted by Colonel North upon novel electioneering principles, he was defeated by only 96 votes on a poll of over 12,000. The "Nitrate King" was nowhere more popular than in Leeds, which was his native place.

In 1889 he presented to Leeds Kirkstall Abbey and its grounds, which he had purchased for £10,000, and he was a warm supporter of the numerous institutions both of the town and of the county. In recognition of his generosity he was in 1889 made an honorary freeman of the borough.

Colonel North was a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and in 1890 was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute. He took part in the Brussels meeting in 1895, and was much interested in the welfare of the Institute.


1896 Obituary[3]

Colonel North died on Tuesday suddenly whilst he was presiding at his office in Gracechurch-street over a meeting of a company in which he was concerned, when he was taken ill and died almost immediately of failure of the action of the heart.

Born in the early forties, a solid, sturdy Yorkshireman, shrewd, honest, and quick, with no book-learning or accidental advantages of fortune, patronage, or friends, but with indomitable courage and energy, North was at an early age, whilst yet an apprentice in Messrs. Fowler's workshops at Leeds, selected from his fellows to go out to Peru to superintend the erection and working of certain machinery. He at once set to work to make the most of his knowledge and the best of his time and wits in a strange land, of which to the end of his days be never learned the language. The stories he was wont to tell of his early struggles showed of what stuff he was made. He spied out the nakedness, not of the land, but of the natives, and he set to work to clothe them to his profit.

One of his earliest enterprises was the condensing of sea-water for domestic purposes at a place on the coast north of Valparaiso, where rain never falls. Patching up an old iron steamer that had been wrecked on a reef, he converted her into a floating water-tank, and made a good profit by her. Other enterprises succeeded quite as well, notably the working of large guano deposits, and eventually the Leeds apprentice, who had landed in Peru with a salary of £1 a. week, went back to England the possessor of great wealth.

It is said that just before the war between Chile and Peru he satisfied himself that the Peruvians would be defeated and that they would lose the province of Tarapaca - that singular region on which the beds of nitrate of soda are all that are left to tell of the existence of the great salt fjords aud lakes which have been lifted up by volcanic action and desiccated by the sun, never to be melted by any rain, for the whole stretch of coast nearly 300 miles long. Some of these oficinas he acquired by purchase, and when the conquering Chilians came to seize upon the lands they found the British flag flying over many square miles of nitrate beds, of which the owner was J. T. North.

On his return to this country after an absence of about twenty years, Colonel North - he was honorary colonel of the Tower Hamlets Volunteer Engineers - soon became a familiar figure in the City, built himself a very fine house at Eltham, in Kent, started a racing stable on a large scale, and became a prominent member of all the associations connected with sport. In 1889, the Times says, he paid a visit to Chile to strengthen his companies by agreements with the Chilian Government.

Colonel North married a daughter of the late Mr. John Woodhead, a leading Conservative in Leeds and a representative of that party both in the Corporation and on the Board of Guardians. He leaves one daughter and two sons.


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