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I was put a pupil—or, what is the fact in another way of expressing it, I was, at the age of sixteen, articled to Messrs. Boulton and Co., of Soho, to learn their trades, until I attained the age of twenty-one years. The extent of the manufactory, and the variety of machinery used for the furtherance of the manufacturing of the numerous articles made there, as buttons, bronzes, steel toys, silver and plated wares, and steam-engines, excelled all others of the like description in Europe. I was initiated in this scientific school of Soho, which induced in me a versatility of taste for mechanism, and to cultivate the arts and sciences. It, nevertheless, gave me an ambitious feeling far beyond the means I possessed, on coming of age, to indulge in.
My father was in business, as a buckle-manufacturer, above forty years, during which period buckles were worn by all classes, from the monarch to the peasant; and it is supposed nearly six thousand persons, including men, women, and children, were employed in the town of Birmingham in making them. My father erected his dwelling-house, in early life, in St, Philip's Square, on that side called Colmore Row; and the houses from his own residence to the corner, and down part of Church Street, were his property, behind which were his warehouses and manufactory which he occupied during the time he was in business. He was extremely industrious
1795. in his habits, truly honourable in all the transactions of
life, and quite a domesticated character. He was what was termed, in his days, a truly loyal Church and King man. He had used to say that all nations ought to envy our glorious constitution, for the legislature (or people) check the lords, the lords check the legislature, the sovereign checks them both ; and which, he said, constitutes the true line of liberty and happiness of the people. My father was what, in those days, was called a pillar of the Church. In health, he never omitted going twice, but upon no account would he be induced to go thrice in one Sunday. He was the best of husbands and fathers, blest with a most amiable wife, and, with their family, they lived in the utmost harmony and affection ; and he was so generally respected, that his townsmen elected him to the honourable appointment of High Bailiff of Birmingham.
I have heard my father say that his manufactory completed one thousand pairs of buckles per diem, or six thousand pairs per week, when in full work. In those days, buckles were worn by both sexes, and also by chil. dren, and were principally made of white metal, which looked like silver ; some few were plated with silver. I heard
that he invented one pattern, which he called the “ silver penny,” by which pattern he cleared above £1000 sterling. He obtained an independence, and retired from business about the age of sixty-two; he, however, kept the buildings of warehouses and workshops unoccupied, ready for me on my leaving Soho.
I began my manufactories in the year 1793, first establishing the trade of gilt and plated buttons, of the finest class; I then annexed the trade of gilt and gold
jewellery ; to this I added a department for the making 1796. of medals, tokens, and coins, of gold, silver, bronzed, &c.; to which I added works in bronze, including fine cut glass ; and, lastly, I subjoined a manufactory for silver and gold plate, and silver-mounted plated wares of the highest class of workmanship in modelling, embossing, sculptuary, and chasing, all of which trades occupied, including about twelve showrooms, to the number of sixty to seventy
Having been accustomed, during the last five years at Soho, to witness continual new inventions in mechanism and metallurgy, the mind became restless to produce some novelty or invention worthy of being patented, thereby handing my name a little to notice.
The war with France had commenced, and been already carried on since 1793. Every effort was made to deprive the French of their naval power. The French Government, however, kept their fleets in the inner harbours of Brest, Dunkirk, and other harbours on the French coasts; and as it was the law of all maritime nations, that all persons taken in a fire-ship, with intent to set fire to a fleet in harbour, should suffer death, it was stated to be little less than the commission of murder to permit any of our gallant sailors to attempt so hazardous an enterprise
It appeared to me practicable to arrange machinery, worked by a small steam engine, and all fixed in a fire-ship, to steer herself into the enemy's harbours, particularly as the French Government at that period made a show of their vessels daily in the cuter harbour; and General Bentinck remarked to me, that Government were in possession of a chemical combustion that would set fire to the enemy's fleet, provided means
1796. could be invented by machinery to force on the fire-ship,
and to turn the rudder at a few given points, and on coming in contact with the fleet in the harbours would release an arrangement by spring triggers, and set fire to the combustibles. I turned my thoughts to such an invention, and in August, 1796, having made a handworking model, with paddle wheels, and a small steam engine to propel the same, as occasion required, moving a train of wheels for the direction of the rudder at given times, I communicated my invention to the Earl of Aylesford, of Packington Hall, Warwickshire, to solicit him to inspect the same, and afterwards to obtain for me an interview with the first Lord of the Admiralty, then Earl Spencer and the following letter I received from his lordship, in reply :
Packington Hall, September 28th, 1796.
is very sorry he cannot appoint a time with Mr. Thomason for seeing the very curious model he mentions of a fire-ship in his letter. As he refers him to the Rev. Mr. Jacques, he will have an opportunity of seeing him to-morrow, which he should wish to do before he can with propriety write to Lord Spencer. He should have been very glad to have seen the model, but he goes early in the next week to town, and his engagements make it impossible to fix a time; but he begs to acquaint Mr. Thomason that he will be but an imperfect judge, having very little acquaintance with the mathematics.
Soon after Lord Aylesford reached town, he sent me the following communication :