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British Industrial History

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Simon O'Regan

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1855 'IMPORTANT INVENTION - APPLICATION OF STEAM TO LUMBER BOATS. A discovery, that promises to be of great importance, has recently been made by a Mr. O'Regan, a native of Cork, who for the last seven years has been manager of the Ringsend Iron Works, Dublin. It consists in the application of steam, as a motive power, to lighters on canals; the result of which will be, to expedite the transit of heavy merchandise, and decrease the cost of its carriage. Some experiments were tried on the canals at Dublin, at one of which Mr. Dargan, the celebrated contractor, was present; and he was so much pleased with what he saw that he resolved to afford Mr. O'Regan a better opportunity of testing the merits of his discovery. Accordingly, Mr. O'Regan came to Newry, and, having fitted up one of the lumber boats with his machinery, several experiments were made on Wednesday and Thursday last to see how it would work. The result was completely successful. On the first day the boat, being unladen, attained a speed of four miles an hour; and on Thursday, having on board a cargo of thirty tons, and running only a short distance, the rate of going was between three and four miles. This speed can be maintained both day and night, and as half a ton of coals will supply the engine for twelve hours, and as only an additional hand will be required on board each lighter, it is obvious that important advantages must arise from this invention.
'The chief objects that Mr. O'Regan had to keep in view were to make the machinery sufficiently compact, simple, and cheap to answer the end designed. After repeated experiments, and the expenditure of a considerable amount of capital, he has succeeded in accomplishing his purposes; and it reflects much credit on his perseverance and spirit - not to speak of his mechanical skill-that he has completed his invention out of his own resources, without aid from government or any other quarter. The machinery occupies a very small space at the stern of the boat; and it is so simple in its construction that any smart lighterman, after a few lessons, can regulate it. The expense of introducing it into lighters will be a mere trifle. A small steam-engine drives a wheel, which communicates the power to a screw attached to the stern of the boat, immediately before the helm. The motion made by the revolutions of the screw in the water is so gentle that the banks will not be injured, the waves subsiding before reaching them. The upper part of the funnel can be taken off, so that the boat can pass underneath bridges; and a whistle, similar to that on railways, is attached to the engine, for the purpose of giving warning to the lock keepers of the approach of the boat. We understand that Mr. Dargan intends to have eight lighters immediately fitted up with the necessary machinery, for the purpose of plying on the Newry Canal. The one in which the experimental trips were made, started yesterday morning with a load for Enniskillen.-Newry Telegraph.' [1]

Much more information about Mr O'Regan's activities may be found in the Irish Waterways History website [2]

Smoke Prevention

'THE CONSUMPTION OF SMOKE. A trial took place yesterday, on the Tyne, of an apparatus for the consumption of smoke, invented and patented by Mr. Simon O'Regan, C. E. No inhabitant of Newcastle whose lungs have inhaled for any length time the terrible atmosphere in which it is our misfortune to have to live, will be inclined for a moment to under-rate the importance of such invention ; for there is now no place in England that can equal us in respect to the quantity of smoke which daily rolls in volumes from the mouths of thousands of chimnies on either side of the Tyne, and from the funnels of innumerable steamboats on the bed of the river itself. Sheffield, Liverpool, and London were all once worse than Newcastle, but science has been applied in all of these vast towns ; and, bad as they were formerly, they now enjoy an atmosphere which is pure in comparison with that which we are compelled to breathe. This is not the place in which to enter into a discussion as the physically injurious effects of "noxious vapours ;" they have recently formed the subject of serious parliamentary enquiry, and will doubtless be legislated upon in the ensuing session, while any one who has had a run out into the country or down to the sea-side for a few hours, must, on his return to Newcastle, be able fully to appreciate the extent and effects of the smoky nuisance which now afflicts us.

Innumerable are the remedies which, for this gigantic evil, from time to time have been advocated and tested. With scarcely an exception, however, they have been found to be practically failures. The chief ingredient in each of them has been general very simple one — air — but either too much care has been required in the firing of the furnaces to which they have been applied, or the loss of power consequent upon their use has been too great. At any rate, it is a fact that, while for years it has been known that the admission of air into the furnace in which smoke was generated was the great remedy for it, one has been able to produce a plan at once cheap and thoroughly practical. Mr. O'Regan, however, the gentleman whose invention was yesterday tested, appears at last to have hit upon a system, by means of which he is able, at trifling expense, entirely to consume the smoke created a furnace, while he does not in the least lessen the power of the steam it generates. is some years since he made this most important discovery, and, so far as it has yet been tried, it has proved perfect success.

Six years ago he went to Liverpool, then remarkable for the immense quantity of smoke created by the steamers on its great river ; he stayed there for a considerable time, but before he left he had managed to lessen the nuisance to an extent that was perfectly remarkable. He introduced his patent plan there into many of the chief engineering establishments, and it attracted so much notice the time that Government sent an inspector to Liverpool to report upon it. In London, Manchester, and Glasgow, also, Mr. O'Regan has introduced his plan with unvarying success, and has found it accepted wherever it became known.

More than twelve months ago he came to Newcastle, the centre the Northumberland coal trade, to try and obtain the patronage of the coalowners of the district. He had previously applied to the Government; they, however, using such large quantities of Welsh coal, to the detriment of our trade, told him that the persons who ought first to move in the matter were those most deeply interested it, the coalowners of Northumberland. The latter can discover any mode by which the smoke which at present so seriously affects the success of their coal can be removed, there is little doubt that they will reap the benefit, by securing themselves, in a very great measure, the patronage, of the Admiralty. Since Mr. O'Regan came the north, his plans have been carefully inquired into by one or two gentlemen connected with the coal trade, amongst whom especial mention must made of Mr. Mugh (Hugh?) Taylor, of Backworth. That gentleman was so much satisfied with the result of his investigations that he had the patent provisionally supplied at Backworth Pumping Main, where its success has been very great. It also been fitted up at Haswell and Ryhope Collieries with the same result. At the latter place the saving effected by its means is not less than £7 per diem. This large saving arises chiefly from the fact that under Mr. O'Regan's patent the most inferior descriptions of coal, hitherto only "teemed by" upon the pit-heap, can be used with perfect ease and comfort.

The plan has also been adopted the Corporation of Newcastle, who have applied it the baths in Gallowgate and the New Road; nor must we omit to mention that Mr. O'Regan has been employed both at the House of Parliament and Osborne House, where he has given as much satisfaction as elsewhere.

For some time past, the matter of the consumption of smoke has been before the Northern Institute of Mining Engineers, and Mr. O'Regan's patent having been introduced to the members of the institute by that gentleman, it was resolved to give it a full trial.

Mr. Rogerson, of the Red Star Line of Steamers, having seen and appreciated it, gave Mr. O'Regan permission to fit his patent on board the Louise Crawshay. This boat, which is supplied with a multitubular boiler, has, rather had, the reputation of being the smokiest and the slowest boat upon the line, and it was upon those grounds that Mr. O'Regan selected it from the others placed at his service. He some time ago fitted the furnace with his apparatus, which, we may here explain, is of the most simple description, consisting chiefly of an air-box fastened to the back of the furnace door, into which air is admitted by an aperture in the door itself, which can be increased or decreased in size at pleasure. As elsewhere, the patent has proved successful, and the captain of the Louise Crawshay may now run his boat down the river free from the fear of the lynx-eyed policemen, and without poisoning the inhabitants of the banks of the Tyne as he passes them. Nor is this all the benefit that has resulted from the change. To almost all former inventions for the consumption of smoke there has been the great drawback that, while by careful firing they partially succeeded in remedying the evil, they at the same time decreased greatly the power of the steam. So far from this being the case, however, by Mr. O'Regan's patent, it appears in this instance at least to have had quite the opposite effect. Formerly the pressure of steam which could be borne by the engines of the Louise Crawshay was only 14 lbs. per inch, but since the introduction of the smoke-consuming apparatus, the engines have actually been able to bear not less than from 24 lbs. to 28 lbs. Should this result follow the application of the plan in other cases, there can be doubt that its superiority over all former inventions a similar description — and not less than 1,100 have at different times been registered - will be indisputably proved, and manufacturers, shipowners, and others will be left without excuse for not adopting so desirable and essential an improvement.

The success attendant upon the application on board the Louise Crawshay led to an arrangement being made with some of the chief members of the Mining Institute for an official trial of the system as introduced into that boat. Yesterday was the day fixed for it, and it had been hoped that a large number of gentlemen interested in the coal-trade and in the consumption of smoke would have been present upon the occasion. Unfortunately, however, owing to the absence of Mr. Rogerson in London, and one or two other untoward circumstances, the only gentlemen connected with the Mining Institute who appeared were Hugh Taylor, Esq., of Backworth, and S. C. Crone, Esq. Mr. Scott, of the Red Star Steamboat Company, Mr. O'Regan, Mr. O'Regan, jun., the representatives of the Newcastle press were the only other persons present.

The Louise Crawshay started from Newcastle Quay about three o'clock, and ran down the river and out to sea, as far as Sunderland, returning to its starting point without making any stoppages, save at North Shields, where Mr. Taylor left the boat. In order to make the trial as effectual as possible, two kinds of coal were supplied onboard the boat — one the ordinary "Hartley steam coal," and the other an inferior description of the Stella Main coal, noted for the great quantity of smoke which it produces. The latter was tried first, being used as the boat was going down the river. At first, until the steam was fairly got up, the smoke rose pretty thickly from the funnel, but in a very short time had cleared away, and its place nothing was visible save thin transparent vapour, which, when compared with the dense black pillars of noxious exhalation crossing the steamers which passed us every side, was perfection itself. Even this in time vanished, and then, with the keenest observation, nothing was visible but the steam blowing from the steam-pipe ; for although the boat was going at a speed often reaching fourteen miles an hour, there was a superfluity of steam, a thing never known before in the adoption of similar inventions. Severe tests were adopted by the gentlemen on board to try and produce smoke, but, though the firing was conducted in a manner which caused the chief engineer to remonstrate, nothing could break the spell which Mr. O'Regan's wonderful invention had laid upon the furnace. While the furnace-door was opened, the smoke escaped as in ordinary fires, but the moment it was shut and the remedy applied once more, everything overhead was as clear as before. When the boat reached North Shields Mr. Taylor left, but, before doing so, he expressed himself highly satisfied with the success of the trial, and he requested Mr. O'Regan to proceed at once to one of his large sea-going steamers at present in the Tyne, apply the apparatus to it. While out at sea, the Hartley coal was put upon the fire, but there could not be said to be any perceptible decrease in the generation of smoke, for even with the smoky Stella Main, there had been none worth mentioning. The vessel returned to the Tyne in good time, and the result of the trip may, without exaggeration, be said to have been a complete success. Both Mr. Crone, and the captain and engineer of the Louise Crawshay, expressed their entire satisfaction with the working the apparatus, which, by a fair test, had been proved to do its work thoroughly as to the consumption of the smoke, and, at the same time, to increase instead of lessen the power of the engines which was applied. All who compared the atmosphere surrounding the funnel of the trial boat with that which surrounded the funnels of all the other boats on the river, must desire to see Mr. O'Regan's patent speedily adopted, and, as the price at which he supplies it is exceedingly moderate, and the results it produces are of the most wonderful description, there can be no reason for deferring its general adoption in this important district, where something of the kind is so much desired. We may mention that Mr. O'Regan's apparatus does not merely consume smoke ; it has been supplied to some of the chief chemical manufactories in the south of England, and has entirely put a stop to the intolerable nuisance caused by the generation of gases at such places.' [3]


Simon O'Regan's canal boat and smoke prevention work were widely reported, but there was no certainty that the same Simon O'Regan was responsible for both. However, reference to the 1861 British census supports the probability that it was one and the same Simon O'Regan The census lists him as a 'Practical Engineer', age 52, born in Cork, living at 59 Blackwell Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with his wife Ellen (age 50).

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. Freeman's Journal, 4 November 1850
  2. [1] 'Simon O’Regan's screw steamer' on the Irish Waterways History website
  3. Newcastle Journal - Saturday 06 September 1862