Connecting Science and History Part One


Part One: Connecting Science and History


It is accepted that the conditions that allow for the successful development of a region’s industry are advantageous physical and geological factors and this scenario is very true of Swansea. The geology of the north of the county with its coalfield high plateau dissected by deep valleys encouraged mining. Swansea’s close proximity to these extensive coal and iron reserves assisted the development of iron smelting works, and the coastal position supplied the means to import copper and iron ore which developed copper smelting and tinplate manufacture. This in turn led to the development of a local steel industry and Swansea’s coastal proximity allowed local industry the means to distribute their products to a world market. A successful industrial society grew around urban Swansea and by the early part of the nineteenth century the immigration to Swansea of skilled and unskilled workers dramatically increased its population. The first national census which was taken in 1801 showed the population to have reached 6,099. These figures increased dramatically reaching 15,000 by 1831 and further increasing to 63,000 by 1871, in addition the census of 1851 clearly states that 42.7% of the population had not been born in Swansea. By the mid 19th century significant inter-related industries, a developing status as the leading centre of the worlds copper industry and a reputation as a principal port of the channel supported Swansea’s increasing standing as a major town.

The link between industry and science was fostered in the copper smelting industry by leading copper industrialists John Henry Vivian and Henry Hussey Vivian, who furthered their industrial education by studying mineralogy, geology and metallurgy at the University of Freiburg. Studying in Germany gave John Vivian the practical skills and scientific knowledge to successfully run his industry, yet it also allowed him to establish connections with and recruit key experts such as the German chemist, G. B. Hermann. The practice of studying in France and the German states was common amongst progressive young British men until around the 1860s. However, when John Vivian studied at Freiburg during 1804/5 he was only one of two British students studying there. By the mid nineteenth-century certain developments in educational institutions in Britain gave rise to a greater standard of technical education, so that the standard corresponded with their counterparts on the continent. The first in this development was in 1845 when the government established the Royal School of Chemistry, and later in 1851 the Royal School of Mines which evolved from the creation of the Geological Survey. The idea for the school was an initiative of Henry De la Beche and was at the centre of Government Science in Britain during this period. This progression in natural philosophical intellectualism gained pace from the beginning of the nineteenth century when science and technology becoming increasingly associated and inter-connected with industry and commerce. It was precisely new knowledge and technical changes used by visionary entrepreneurs like the Vivian family which advanced certain industries and the economic and social aspects of Swansea.

Contemporary patents illustrate how industrialists sought out scientific advancements to improve output and increase productivity in their works, and patents acquired by the Vivians show how diligent they were in obtaining new technology. Examples of patented technology acquired for the Swansea copper works include a patent for an air conductor by William Evetts Sheffield of St Pancreas acquired on 30 May 1816 by J, H, Vivian for £400, and a patent specification of John Hollway acquired on 6 February 1828 for improvements in the production of sulphur from pyrites. Sulphuric acid was used extensively in chemical manufactures and its manufacture in Swansea was carried out alongside copper smelting. The improvements noted in Hollway’s patent consisted of; ‘Heating iron pyrites or eupreous iron pyrites by means of steam or in a current of steam in closed vessels’ while reaching temperatures of 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. The new chemical and electrical industries that developed during this century were directly founded on scientific research thereby heralding in the ‘Age of Science.’

Next Page, Connecting Science and History, pg. 2