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The late Daniel Adamson
1820 - 1890

A report extracted from " Manchester Faces and Places, 1890 Vol.1 no.1 "

( Transcribed by webmaster G.Royle 2013.  All rights of the above and its successors are acknowledged )
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The late Daniel Adamson, Esq., who died at The Towers, Didsbury on the 13th of last month was a notable character in Manchester life.  He was a man of strong individuality and of rugged genius.  Whether (in spite of the many columns written upon his death) full justice has even yet to be done to his memory for the share which he took in starting the Manchester Ship Canal, those who are best acquainted  with his tremendous exertions in that direction are best able to judge. Certain it is that though he voluntarily deposed himself from active association with the work during the later period of his life, partly from his adherence to his own line of policy, his name is always prominent in the mind when the early career of the Ship Canal is under notice among the people, and “Daniel Adamson” and the “Ship Canal” will never cease to be synonymous terms in the estimation of an impartial posterity.  

“It has been said (we quote from written and as yet unpublished history of the scheme now in the possession of the family), that he who causes two blades of grass to grow where only one grew before is a benefactor to his species.  It may also be said with equal truth that he who enables tons of merchandise to be carried at no greater charge for the carrying of one ton is also a benefactor to his race.  In this category stands eminently the name of Daniel Adamson, who was the host of 76 influential guests at the banquet which he gave on the now historic meeting held at his residence, The Towers, on the 27th of June1882.  The meeting was thoroughly representative in character, and included many of the wealthiest and shrewdest men in Manchester, beside a number of civic dignitaries, among whom were 11 mayors of municipalities and of the districts around.”

In that same year (1882) a provisional committee was formed with Mr Adamson as chairman, and after much opposition the Royal Assent was given to the Bill for the construction of the canal on the 6th of August, 1885.  The Manchester Ship Canal assuredly owes its inception to the public spirit of Mr Daniel Adamson, and the regret will be national that he has not been spared to see the results of his indomitable energy and perseverance.  His return with the Bill in his possession will be fresh in the memory of those who shared in the enthusiastic reception accorded to him that day.  The village of Didsbury was en fete, and it was with difficulty that the carriage containing the illustrious promoter of the canal, who was accompanied by Mr Leader Williams and others, threaded its way through the vast crowd which gathered between the railway station (at Edgeley, Stockport) and The Towers entrance gates.

Apart altogether from the Ship Canal, however, Mr. Adamson was a remarkable man, who achieved a brilliant career by an innate force of character which instanced in an extraordinary manner the force of Mind over Matter.  One who knew him as a friend and neighbour, writes of him : “If ever there was an instance of a strong will, backed by more than ordinary natural ability and shrewd common sense, overcoming the difficulties surrounding business men, and that, too, in spite of the strongest opposition; if ever there was a man who, having once fixed before him a goal to be reached, determined upon reaching that goal and to overcome all obstacles which stand in the way of its attainment, Daniel Adamson was a noble example of such.  His activity, his energy, his determination, his enthusiasm in whatever he undertook were boundless, and those who associated with him in any matter, public or private, were led to partake of his spirit. Thoroughness, conscientiousness, industry and honesty of purpose were amongst his characteristics, and these he carried with him in his everyday life.”   

Much has been written concerning Mr Adamson since his decease, most of it, so far as Manchester is concerned, with reference to his work and influence on the great undertaking which is now signalling Manchester enterprise.  One remark only with reference to this feature of his life’s work we deem it necessary to quote, and that is from a just and kindly notice in a Liverpool contemporary : - 

“As projector of the Manchester Ship Canal, his name was for some years in anything but high odour in interested Liverpool circles; but when on the 30th of July, 1885 a Select Committee of Parliament passed the preamble of the Ship Canal Bill, the opponents and advocates of the measure discarded all the acrimonious sentiments which had marked the contest in its more lively stages. It was one of Mr. Adamson’s dearest aspirations to live to see the finish of the Ship Canal, and the spectacle of stately vessels discharging their cargoes at Throstle Nest.  At the age of three score years and ten, however, a good deal of apprehension is mingled with the hopes of even the most optimistic, and Mr. Adamson’s death, following that of the contractor within a few weeks, only furnishes another illustration of the frailty of human life.  Others have entered into their labours, and the work goes on with the same ceaseless swing as if it had not owed its initiation to them.  It is confidently believed that Mr. Adamson’s quarrel with his co-directors of the Ship Canal, leading to his retirement from the chair in favour of Lord Edgerton of Tatton, was a severe blow to his pride.  He was not however a man to hang his heart upon his sleeve, and if he felt the wound he made no outward moan.”

We are privileged to found our notice of his business career on some facts which were originally compiled by Mr. Adamson himself.  He was born in 1820, at the Durham village of Shildon, and was present at the opening of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, which he could just remember, in 1825.  This was the first commercial railway in the world.  He became a pupil of Mr. Timothy Hackworth, the first railway engineer and locomotive superintendent at the Shildon works of the Stockton and Darlington Company.  He left school the day he was fifteen years old, and four days afterwards went into business.  He was engaged in business ever afterwards, and for nearly forty years was in business for himself. He was the first to introduce flange seam flues to enable boilers to bear the higher pressure, and when Sir William Fairbairn’s investigations of the strength of flues were published, Mr. Adamson had by then made 180 boilers with his flues, all of which were carrying the highest steam pressure known in the country.  The flange seam and sectional flue, together with drilled rivet holes, have since formed the standard manufacture, not only in England, but in all Europe and America.  Mr. Adamson was also the pioneer and introducer of steel for engineering purposes, and for many years used steel for boiler making.  By its use it is now more practicable to have 100 lbs pressure per square inch than in was in Mr. Adamson’s early manhood, to carry 10lbs per square inch.  Mr Adamson also served under Mr. William Bouch at the Shildon works, Stockton and Darlington Railway, as a draughtsman and superintendent of stationary engines, and during 1847, 1848, and 1849, acted as general manager of the same works.  He left the Stockton and Darlington Company to manage a private concern at Lancashire Hill, Stockport, then conducted by Messrs. Gordon, and subsequently by Messrs. Emerson, Murgatroyd and Co, engineers.  He remained at this place two years, prior to commencing business for himself, in 1851, as general manufacturing engineer, boiler maker and iron and brass founder.  During his stay in Stockport he designed a cotton mill in the town.  For 21 years he carried on a business at Newton Moor, near Hyde, until the works there became too small and then in 1871, he erected new and commodious works at Dukinfield, which works have been fitted with modern machinery and tools.  In addition to the “Adamson’s flange seam” which he patented in 1852, and the patent which he took out in 1862 for drilling rivet holes in the process of boiler manufacture, he brought out and patented other improvements, such as compressing machinery, hydraulic lifting jacks, improvements in the construction of Bessemer steel boilers, and in pistons and air valves. In 1864 and 1865 he erected flues, furnaces and plant for himself at Froddingham, North Lincolnshire, since made into a limited company, Mr. Adamson being chairman at the time of his death.  Just previously, in 1863 and 1864, he erected, as engineer and part owner of the Yorkshire Steel and Iron Works, at Penistone, the first works in this country to depend entirely on the manufacture of Bessemer steel on a large scale.  Mr. Adamson supplied the whole works with engine and boiler power, and complete Bessemer steel plant.  Shortly afterwards the Yorkshire Steel and Iron Works were sold by the owners at a considerable profit to Messrs. Charles Campbell and Co., Limited, of Sheffield.  Mr. Adamson had made and supplied flues furnaces, and Bessemer constructed engines, together with the requisite plant, for many of the largest iron and steel works in this country and abroad, and at the present time the works at Dukinfield are consuming about 80 tons of steel per week for engineering purposes, and a large quantity of refined engineering for a variety of purposes is in constant progress.  Amongst other specialities, was sole manufacturer of engines with a “Wheelock” automatic expansion cut-off gear, which has obtained the grand prize wherever it is exhibited.  He was also the sole manufacturer of the “Charter” gas engine.  

In about 1861 Mr. Adamson became interested in cotton spinning, and has been chairman of the Newton Moor and Dukinfield Cotton Spinning Company since 1862.  About this time he built and erected a triple cylinder and compound steam engine under his own patent, and later in 1873, he built and erected a quadruple action compound steam engine, under a further patent, for economising steel and saving fuel.  The engineering trade must ever feel indebted to Mr. Adamson for the introduction of triple and quadruple expansion engines, which are working such a revolution in the steamship trade of this country.

A member of the Iron and Steel Institute since its formation, he was elected its president and presided over the annual meeting in London in 1887.  At the May meeting in 1888, the Bessemer gold medal of the Institute was presented to him.  He was also a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and was a vice-president of the Council of that body at the time of his death.  He was a director of the Manchester Chamber of Commerce, and a magistrate for Lancashire and Cheshire.

The deceased leaves a widow and two daughters; the eldest daughter is married to Sir Joseph Leigh, of Tabley Hall (many times mayor of Stockport), and the youngest to Mr. W. J. Parkyn, who is in charge of the works at Hyde Junction.

It will be seen therefore that Mr. Adamson was a scientific inventor of considerable eminence, and that he did a vast amount of good in his day and generation.  He began on the lowest rung of the engineering ladder and gradually ascended to the position of an extensive employer of  labour, and that, without other aids than those furnished by his own foresight, determination, and skill.  The early years of Mr. Adamson’s married life were spent in a humble cottage, contrasting oddly with the palatial building which witnessed the domestic felicity of his later years.

The following characteristic anecdotes and incidents are told of him: He was a hard worker himself, and no workman was a favourite of his who shirked his toil.  In expressing his disgust at an indolent yet clever workman in his employ, who was continually wasting his time, Mr Adamson, after giving him a short lecture on the great obstacle which the man allowed to stand in the way of his success, that of idleness, said, “And if I could have my own way I would give thee a doon-right good coo (cow)-hiding”.  Adamson’s platform dialect, until you became accustomed to it---and especially in its exordium portions---was, writes a friendly critic in Manchester :  “---parlously hard to understand.  John Bright used to be fond of quoting the case of a south country orator of whom it had been written,  ‘And because he was very hard to be understood, he the more  prevailed with the men of Kent !’.  Certain it is , nevertheless, that Adamson, to Lancashire audiences at least, never failed to convey his meaning, although he was inclined to throw his meaning at them in lumps, and leave them to do the requisite clod-breaking in the recesses of their own minds; and although now and then the Queen’s English marched past us with the Adamson drill, which was not always regular in its facings or dressed in regulation form, still, the multitude, or the ‘common people’ heard him gladly, and some uncommon people would have gladly encountered the cheers, which even to the very last were always ready for the acceptance of ‘Owd Dan’.  For with all his impassivity, Adamson loved the sweet voices of the people --- delighted in the ringing cheers which greeted him in public, and liked to ride a chariot amidst a tornado of acclamation.  It seemed a pity that the excellent regimen which the House of Commons can and often does supply as an infallible tonic for what are called ‘successful men’ could not have been enjoyed by Adamson.  That advantage he was destined never to realise, and now he is gone from our eyes.”

To this we will add another interesting fact : 
Even when speaking of the “Canawl”---(that was how his rough but honest dialect he pronounced the word)---he seldom failed to glorify George Stephenson and laud to the skies the excellencies of good old Bessemer “steyl”.  Genius is generally erratic !

End of article

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