Bill, Robert (DNB00)

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BILL, ROBERT (1754–1827), an ingenious mechanician and inventor, was descended from an old Staffordshire family, the Bills of Farley Hall, and was born in 1754. His father and uncle had married coheiresses, Dorothy and Mary, the daughters of Hall Walton, a near relative of Izaak Walton, from whom they inherited the freehold estate of Stanhope in Staffordshire. Bill was designed for the army, and therefore did not enter the university; but instead of following the military' profession he occupied himself with literary pursuits and experiments in natural science. His ingenuity was first manifested in the invention of minor improvements in the details of domestic con- struction: he built his garden-walls on a plan fitted to increase the capability of the walls for retaining heat; he devised a new method of warming hothouses by means of iron cylinders; and introduced an ingenious contrivance for the heating of dwelling-houses. In a pamphlet 'On the Danger of a Paper Currency,' printed for private circulation in 1796, he incidentally and somewhat irrelevantly recommended the use of iron tanks for preserving water on shipboard, a plan which was afterwards followed with great benefit in the navy. On the introduction of gas for lighting houses and streets he joined one of the London companies, to whom he gave the advantage of his chemical and mechanical knowledge in erecting the apparatus and regulating its use; but he afterwards retired from the concern on account of some disagreement among the proprietors. He expended much time and money in promoting the introduction of Massey's logs for measuring a ship's way at sea, printing and circulating on this subject in 1806 'A short Account of Massey's Patent Log and Sounding Machine, with the opinions of certain captains in the navy, merchant service, and pilots who have made practical use or experimental trials with them.' He also exerted himself to promote the adoption of elastic springs in pianofortes, so as to keep them in tune for an indefinite time. In 1820 he took out a patent for making ship's masts of iron, but on trial they were not considered sufficiently strong, a defect he attributed to the fact that his instructions were not properly carried out. In his later years he was engaged in experiments for rendering inferior timber — such as elm, ash, beech, and poplar — harder and more durable than any other species of wood. He obtained permission from government to carry his experiment into practical effect in the construction of a ship at Deptford dockyard, but did not live to witness the result. He died on 23 Sept. 1827. By his marriage to Sarah Perks, the daughter of a solicitor, he left three daughters.

[Gent. Mag. xcvii. pt. ii. 466-8; Burke's History of the Landed Gentry, i. 128.]

T. F. H.