Tthe Boilermaker, the Minister and the Gentleman

So here I am, still wading through patents – and covering two aspects of research at the same time. By focusing on the earliest patents, from 1880 to 1910, I am covering both the very early pelagic-related inventions and the vast number of ideas put to paper regarding all commercial fishing technology, thus exploring the background and lead up to what is now the commercial fishing industry. On the research side, I have now a small database with nearly 140 entries – and with only a 7 more decades to go…

And they are an interesting bunch, the earliest patent applicants; at first I was only looking at the actual inventions and their potential relevance. As I started the database (to track dates, names and nationality) I found myself adding a few new fields, some relevant, others just out of interest. Addresses – that is to say, place of residence of the applicants – revealed some obvious trends, like the high amount of applicants from Aberdeen, Hull, Grimsby and Gravesend. Osgodsby in Yorkshire had a lone representative, John Phillips, who made several patents regarding kites in the 1950’s and the The Boston Deep Sea Fishing and Ice Company Ltd of Boston, Lincolnshire made a patent in 1899 for circular (and thus rotating) trawl boards. It would be curious diversion, to find out more about them. Most applicants, however, are individuals, not companies.

In the earlier patents profession is a required field, which I also put into my database. This is less relevant but rather more interesting, such as James Pearson, resident of London, who made two patents in the late 1890’s – both for trawl nets. One of these patents, made with William Wood, is for “wing inflators”, a complex and rather odd-looking contraption than can be best described as a variation on trawl doors. the patent itself is interesting – and even more so when detailed reading tells us that James Pearson is a Minister of the Presbyterian Church of England and William Wood an Advertising Agent. These two are not alone in their seemingly irrelevant professions; Adam Scott in 1895 is stated as a Chemical Engineer, George Irvin in 1899 is simply listed as “Gentleman”, Harry Kyle in 1900 as a Doctor of Science, while the 1897 patent of Lewis Levi and George Cartwright are listed resepctively as Brass finisher and Hotel Keeper.

With these patents mentioned above I find myself trying to see whether these are real, serious applications to furthering technology, or some potentially rather odd people with too much free time on the hands and access to public transport. Given the detail, the overlap in basic ideas and principles, it unlikely that they are crackpot inventors. Nevertheless a lot more research is needed to make sure I don’t overlook a hidden historical gem just because the inventor has listed himself as simply “Manufacturer”, without elaboration as to exactly what it is he is inventing. And I do men he, of course. So far, only the men have made any patents. Not that I have any issue with that – it will just make the first female to do so a more intriguing character to investigate.

Profession on these patents isn’t just about the unusual or seemingly irrelevant; it also tells me a lot about the other applicants. Invention in the fishing industry was clearly one in which a lot of people were interested and involved in. Inventors range from Ships Captain, Smack Owner and Engineers to Naval Architect, Joiners, Blacksmiths and Fish Merchants. A good few Ships Husbands and Boat and Ship Builders crop up, along with a lone Master Mariner, Rope Maker and a Boilermaker. All of these patents are filed by so many trades in and surrounding the fishing industry of the time – but only one of these so far is content to describe himself as a Fisherman. Frederick Myroft of Grimsby patented in 1902 what I can best describe as a trawl board for the headline of a net. While many are also content to describe themselves as Owners or Captains,  towards the end of the 1910’s this becomes Steam Trawler Owner or Steam Trawler Captain – something of greater relevance to my study, as the mechanisation of ships and equipments made pelagic trawling a lot easier (to say the least).

I could waffle on for a lot more about what these patents say, not just in inventions but the people and society who made them. But I have a 7 more decades of reading to do – and the 40’s and 50’s are going to be very interesting indeed!


7 thoughts on “Tthe Boilermaker, the Minister and the Gentleman

  1. I can add a little about the Minister: James William Pearson, born in poverty in Green’s Yard, Middlesbrough in 1861, son of an ironworks fitter and probably resident for a while (along with his mother and brothers and sisters) of York Union Workhouse; became an engine-fitter himself in Hull, then somehow – the process is still a mystery to me – commenced studies in divinity at the English Presbyterian College in London. In 1891 married Hull girl Cora Hill, and the following year was elected pastor at the Earle Road mission church in Liverpool, no sinecure – muscular Christianity was the order of the day there. For some reason still unknown resigned his pastorate in 1896, moved to London, where the patents began, the one you mention with Wood included. No idea who Wood was, incidentally, possibly a patent agent? I’ve found a few others of Pearson’s including “a machine relating to the polishing and cleaning of table cutlery, knives etc” (1900) and “a game or puzzle, the object of which is to manipulate certain balls from an annular race…into a central pocket” (1906). By this time he’d moved back up north (to Hornsea); spent time in Bootham Park Hospital in York following a nervous breakdown (from overwork, said Cora – she said he was a permanent invalid). Was living with his sister in York in 1911 but after that we lose track of him, until his death – a sad one, in York in 1933 – coal gas poisoning, death by misadventure the coronor said. Buried by his sister in her family plot in York Cemetery.

    James and Cora had two boys (though how is something of a mystery, they seem rarely to have been together after the Liverpool years). James Basil Pearson, the younger, is my interest – his career is stranger far than his father’s and takes in Gallipoli with the ANZACs, the vaudeville stage in Australia and New Zealand, and a short but spectacular career as children’s author “John Mystery” in Sydney during the WW2 years.

    Would love to have details of Rev James’s patents.

  2. Pearson seems to have been a bit of a wanderer, or at least a little unsure of his path in life! A good number of his patents popped up on the patent database – I will have to spend a day just to have a good look through!

  3. Sylvia, do you know if Pearson’s invention was ever adopted by the industry – or indeed whether a prototype was ever built and tested? I’m wondering how he could have financed this, as I don’t believe the family was that flush. Another question, and I hope it doesn’t sound too ignorant: one of his earliest patents (the Släbevod/Seine-net??) was Danish – why so?

    1. I’m afraid to say I don’t know – but part of my research into the pelagic stuff is to look at why it didn’t happen sooner – there are a good handful of patents from pre-1914 that explore pelagic fishing. I think it comes down to a combination of things. The industry had just gotten around to otter boards/nets, steam and motor engines was coming into its own and then there are all the WWI and WWII disruptions. I reckon it probably never had a chance to take off.
      It would be interesting to see if it would actually work – maybe I should get my dad to knock up a model and give it a go! As for the Danish bit – that’s a mystery too. Something to get a friendly Dane to help me out with, no doubt!

  4. Looks like Pearson and Wood did build a prototype. They called it the Pearson-Wood Sphere Trawl, and they tested it on steam trawlers out of Granton and Aberdeen in June-July 1898. At Granton “the trial gave…the utmost satisfaction to the patentees, and the skipper declared himself satisfied that the invention would accomplish all that is claimed for it.” (Evening Telegraph, 23 June 1898 p2). Wrong. The Aberdeen Journal, 6 July 1898 p5, published a fanciful diagram of a design festooned with spheres. (Articles can be found at the British Newspaper Archive at ).

  5. Fantastic stuff! And thankyou for the link to the newspaper site – I missed a trick not thinking of looking up newspapers for the turn of the century. I shall no doubt be looking at newspapers for the rest of the day! Well, at least when I have stopped archaeology stuff for the day…

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