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British Industrial History

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Expatriate British Engineers in the Industrial Revolution

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Many countries were keen to adopt technology developed in Great Britain during the Industrial Revolution. Buying machinery, or gaining knowledge of designs and techniques, was often not sufficient to make progress, and there was a demand for the direct involvement of experienced engineers and other workers.

For a time, British government policy was firmly against such transfer of technology, discouraging emigration of skilled workers and banning the export of machinery and information. Many British industrialists disagreed with this policy, partly because it limited the market for their products, and partly because other countries would be encouraged to make strenuous efforts to develop their own machinery, and become competitors.

For the present purposes, the period of interest is up to the 1850s.

The list generally excludes people working for British firms on overseas construction contracts. There were very many such workers, particularly during the construction of the early railways. It also generally excludes British engineers and entrepreneurs working within the British Empire.

Engineers and Entrepreneurs

Individuals or companies are categorised below according to their main overseas domicile(s). In some cases the town is included.


John Baillie - Railway engineering

John Hardy - Railway engineering

John Haswell - Railway engineering

Matthew Rosthorn - Metalworking

Joseph John Ruston - Shipbuilding and engineering

John Thornton - Textile and machinery production


John Cockerill

William Cockerill

James Hodson


Thomas Bracegirdle

Edward Thomas


Andrew Mitchell Steam engine maker

Nelthropp and Harris Paper-makers

Thomas Potter (1745-1811) Ironfounder


James Finlayson


Benjamin Adkins of Rouen - Engineer and millwright

Aitken et Steele - steam engines, etc.

John Barnes - marine engines

Allcard, Buddicom and Co - Railway equipment

Michael Alcock (1714-1785)

John Hardy (Railway engineering)

John Collier (France)

Job Dixon of France, Belgium and Holland

Henry Hinde Edwards of Chaillot

Humphrey Edwards of Chaillot

Hall, Powell and Scott of Rouen

John Holker of Rouen

James Jackson Steel, St Etienne

John Kay (1704-1780)

Thomas Waddington (France) of Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre

William Wilkinson (1744-1808) - iron production

Daniel Wilson

John Hardy of Rouen and Vienna

Thomas Lester (of Tipton)

John Levers of Rouen

Manby, Wilson and Co

Aaron Manby

Charles Manby

James Martin (France) of Rouen

Thomas Scott (Rouen)

John Steele of Rouen

Sudds, Adkins et Barker of Rouen

Henry Sykes (France) of Saint-Rémy-sur-Avre

Philip Taylor of Marseilles


Samuel Aston - Machine production, ironfounding

Samuel Dobbs - iron production, steam engines, machinery

James Edward Earnshaw - Steam engines

Joseph Hall (2) - Locomotives

Nicholas Oliver Harvey - Marine engineering

William Lindley (Hamburg - water supply and drainage)

William Richards (Hettstedt) - Steam engines

Wharton Rye

Edward Thomas - Steam engines, machinery


William Blakey


John Baildon (iron and engineering)


David Hargreaves - Ironfounder

John Eccles Martin - Ironfounder


Charles Baird - Engineer and ironfounder

Francis Baird - Engineer and ironfounder

Samuel Bentham

Charles Gascoigne

William Handyside - Engineer and ironfounder

William Hastie (1755-1832)

Matthew Murray, Junior


William Richards (1816-1893) - gas industry


Samuel Owen

Thomas Stawford


Charles Brown (1827-1896)


Note: Vast numbers of workers emigrated from the British Isles to America. Just a few are listed below.

James Brindley (USA) - Canal builder

George Chatterton (1816-1908) - Files

James Croft - Brass

William Crompton - Textile machinery

John Crowther - Ironmaking

William Firmstone - Ironmaking

James B. Francis - Hydraulic engineering

Garrard Brothers - steel production

Benjamin Haywood - Steam engines, ironworks, machine making

John Hewitt (1777-1857) - Steam engines

Paul Rapsey Hodge - Self-propelled fire engine

Robert Hoe (1784-1833) - Printing machines

Josiah Hornblower - Steam engines, mining

William S. Hudson - Locomotive design and production

Thomas Kensett- Food canning

Thomas Kingsford - Starch production

James Pugh Kirkwood - Civil engineering

Daniel Large - Steam engines

James Laurie - Civil engineering

Thomas Cotton Lewis - Iron

George Peacock (USA) - Ironfounding

Benjamin Perry - Ironmaking

James Renwick - Railway and canal engineer

Samuel Slater - Textile production

James Smallman - Steam engines

John Steptoe - Machine tools

David Thomas (1794-1882) - Ironmaking

Hopkin Thomas - Ironmaking

Henry Warrington - Engineer and ironfounder

Other Workers

It was often the case that merely acquiring a machine or process was of no use to the purchaser, making it necessary to hire skilled operators from Britain or Ireland. Rarely do we know their names, but a notable exception applies to workers employed by a number of textile producers in Norway[1]

Some operatives in the cotton industry who had been temporarily employed overseas gave evidence before the House of Commons Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery in the 1820s. For example, James Lever, a carder, had been encouraged in 1822 to go to the cotton spinning mill of Victor Jolly at St. Quintin (Quentin?) in France, where John Fell from Manchester had been recruited as a manager. There he was paid £2 a week instead of 34s. One of his reasons for returning to England was that he preferred English food to that on offer in France! He mentioned that the contractor for the machinery at Jolly's mill was John Marsden, who had left Manchester about 1819.[2]

William Shoults and John Greenwood were bobbin-net lace makers from Nottingham, and represented themselves and fellow lace-makers in giving evidence to the Committee about the smuggling of lace-making machinery and technology to France. They were concerned about the loss of their business to overseas makers, and gave a great deal of information about the smuggling of information, patent infringement, etc. They referred to a family named Levers who had emigrated to France and set up business at Grancion, near Rouen, and to a man named Derbyshire, who intended to go to France to start making bobbin-net machinery. Other names given were a Mr Barrett, from New Radford, who took machinery to Dunkirk. George Shore went to Lisle (Lille?). Mr Bates from Leicester established a business in Antwerp.[3]


A figure of about 16,000 artisans arriving in France from Britain, and registered in Paris, was given for the two years 1823 and 1823. They were employed in practically all industries, including iron mills and foundries, woollen, cotton, calico-printing, engraving, steam engine and machine factories. Only about 5 or 6 Englishmen were then employed at Chaillot, 'Mr. Edwards does not wish to have Englishmen now, as he can manage the French better.[4]

'The French iron-workers at Forchambault, in the department of the Nievre, are exceedingly jealous of the English artisans, who get higher wages than they, but who, after all, have taught the trade in that department. Several English workmen, Lewis, Morgan, and Humphries, were attacked on the 15th of August. Their houses were beset, their windows broken, and Morgan saved by a French baker, in whose house he took refuge. Seven of the refractory were brought up the other day for trial, and condemned to terms of imprisonment —some for six months, some for two.'[5]

Various reasons impelled people to seek work overseas, and the push, or pull, continued in the 1840s. Here's one example: 'On Friday, seven mechanics sailed from Sunderland for the continent, in search of employment. Several English artisans, masons, sawyers, &c, have of late, from time to time, emigrated from the Wear for France, with a view to better their condition. What a glorious thing to have a Corn Law to secure marriage portions for the aristocracy, and to drive our best artisans from the country!'.[6] Later, the push would go the other way.....

Some idea of the extent to which British artisans continued to be employed in French textile mills comes from reports of unrest in the 1840s, during the crisis in France. One newspaper[7] reported in 1848 that 'There are 2500 English workmen employed in Normandy', and hundreds were being driven out of the flax mills by angry mobs. 'The managers of a large factory at Boulogne have been compelled to dismiss their English workmen, who, with their families, number nearly 700 persons.' Large numbers of people, in fear for their lives, were returning to Britain and arriving destitute. 'The number of English artisans and mechanics who have been obliged to leave France since the revolution of February is upwards of 7000.'[8]

Other Aspects of Technology Transfer

Although beyond the scope of this entry, much has been written about the acquisition of technical know-how, particularly by France, by means of overt and covert intelligence gathering. The sources provide fascinating information, and often include the names of expatriate workers.[9] [10] [11] [12] [13] [14].

An excellent account of early technology transfer, with particular reference to John Holker, was written by J. R. Harris[15]. Aspects that come across clearly include the relatively primitive nature of many aspects of French industry in the mid-18th century, and the extent to which Holker, through his web of contacts in Britain, was able to introduce improvements in many diverse aspects of the production of textiles, machinery, and even chemicals. Another insight from Holker, in the context of importing British expertise, is 'that it is no small matter to find [a dyer] who would suit; men of talent and good behaviour do not readily agree to leave their country .... it is not possible to find a dyer who can make himself understood when he gets to France, and sometimes [the employers] to whom one entrusts this kind of worker [abandon them] when they have got hold of their secret and can manage without them.'

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. 'British Technology and European Industrialization' by Kristine Bruland, Cambridge University Press, 1989
  2. [1] Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery, pp335-340
  3. [2] Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery, p.374ff.
  4. Bell's Weekly Messenger - Monday 26 April 1824, reporting from the 3rd Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery
  5. Globe - Tuesday 19 September 1837
  6. Carlisle Journal - Saturday 20 May 1843
  7. Worcestershire Chronicle - Wednesday 22 March 1848
  8. Stamford Mercury - Friday 16 June 1848
  9. [3] 'Examples of industrial and military technology transfer in the eighteenth century / Des exemples de transferts techniques industriels et militaires au dix-huitième siècle, by Margaret Bradley, 2e semestre 2010 : Les techniques et la technologie entre la France et la Grande-Bretagne XVIIe-XIXe siècles
  10. [4] Selection of Reports and Papers of the House of Commons: Vol 17, 1836: 5th Report of the Select Committee on Artizans and Machinery
  11. [5] 'Quelques remarques sur le rôle des Anglais dans la Révolution industrielle en France, particulièrement en Normandie, de 1750 à 1850' J. Vidalenc, Annales de Normandie, 1958, Volume 8 No. 2 pp. 273-290
  12. [6] 'Des Aventuriers' by Jean-Pierre Hervieux, 2013
  13. [7]Google translation of the Jean-Pierre Hervieux article
  14. [8] 'L'innovation technique dans l'industrie textile pendant la Révolution' by Serge Chassagne: Histoire, économie et société, 1993, Volume 12 No. 1 pp. 51-61
  15. 'John Holker: a Lancashire Jacobite in French Industry' by J. R. HARRIS, Transactions of the Newcomen Society Vol. 64 , Iss. 1,1992