Bragge, William (DNB00)

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BRAGGE, WILLIAM (1823–1884), engineer and antiquary, was born at Birmingham 31 May 1823, his father being Thomas Perry Bragge, a jeweller. After some years of general tuition, Bragge studied practical engineering with two Birmingham firms, and in his leisure applied himself closely to the study of mechanics and mathematics. In 1845 he entered the office of a civil engineer, and engaged in railway surveying. He acted first as assistant engineer and then as engineer-in-chief of part of the line from Chester to Holyhead.

Through the recommendation of Sir Charles Fox, Bragge was sent out to Brazil as the representative of Messrs. Belhouse & Co., of Manchester, and he carried out the lighting of the city of Rio de Janeiro with gas. This was followed by the survey of the first railway constructed in Brazil—the line from Rio de Janeiro to Petropolis—for which he received several distinctions from the emperor Don Pedro. The emperor in later years visited Bragge at Sheffield.

In 1858 Bragge left South America. He became one of the managing directors of the firm of Sir John Brown & Co., and was elected mayor of Sheffield. The rolling of armour plates, the manufacture of steel plates, the adoption of the helical railway buffer-spring, and other developments of mechanical enterprise, were matters in which he rendered effective aid to his firm. Bragge filled the office of master cutler of Sheffield, and took great interest in the town's free libraries, school of art, and museums. In 1872 he resigned his position of managing director to his firm, which had been converted into a limited company, and went over to Paris as engineer to the Société des Engrais, which had for its object the utilisation of the sewage of a large part of Paris. The scheme proved unsuccessful, and resulted in heavy pecuniary loss to the promoters. In 1876 Bragge returned to his native town of Birmingham, settling there, and developing a large organisation for the manufacture of watches by machinery on the American system.

The antiquarian tastes of Bragge, which he found time to cultivate in spite of his labours in business, were manifested in his numerous collections. Amongst these was a unique Cervantes collection, which included nearly every work written by or relating to the great Spanish writer. This collection, which consisted of 1,500 volumes, valued at 2,000l., Bragge presented to his native town, but unfortunately it was destroyed in the fire at the Birmingham Free Libraries in 1879. A cabinet of gems and precious stones which Bragge collected from all parts of Europe was purchased for the Birmingham Art Gallery. The most remarkable collection formed by Bragge was one of pipes and smoking apparatus, in which every quarter of the world was represented. A catalogue prepared and published by the collector showed that he had brought together 13,000 examples of pipes. China, Japan, Thibet, Van Diemen's Land, North and South America, Greenland, the Gold Coast, and the Falkland Islands, all furnished specimens. ‘There were also samples of some hundreds of kinds of tobacco, of every conceivable form of snuff-box, including the rare Chinese snuff-bottles, and also of all known means of procuring fire, from the rude Indian fire-drill down to the latest invention of Paris or Vienna.’ This collection was broken up and dispersed. Bragge also made a notable collection of manuscripts, which realised 12,500l. He was always ready to place his treasures at the disposal of public bodies for exhibition.

Bragge was a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, of the Anthropological Society, of the Royal Geographical Society, and of many foreign societies.

Bragge, who married a sister of the Rev. George Beddow, died at Handsworth, Birmingham, on 6 June 1884. For some time before his death he was almost totally blind.

[Bragge's Bibliotheca Nicotiana, a catalogue of books about tobacco, together with a catalogue of objects connected with the use of tobacco in all its forms, Birmingham, 1880; Brief Hand List of the Cervantes Collection, presented to the Birmingham Free Library, Reference Department, by William Bragge, Birmingham, 1874; Times, 10 June 1884; Birmingham Daily Post, 9 June 1884.]

G. B. S.