Evans, Brooke (DNB00)

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EVANS, BROOKE (1797–1862), well known as a nickel refiner, was born in Bull Street, Birmingham, in 1797, his father being a woollendraper. On leaving school at the age of fifteen he was apprenticed to a gunmaker, and made his first acquaintance with metallurgy. His term of apprenticeship having expired, Evans started for the United States, and entered into partnership with a gunmaker in New York. He was only partially successful in this trade, and before long he abandoned it, and went off prospecting in Central America. Here he became an indigo planter, and his business capacity speedily advanced him to the position of an indigo merchant. Having made some money he returned to England. In the Gulf of Mexico the captain of the ship and several of the crew were seized with yellow fever. Evans took command of the ship, and navigated her successfully to the British Isles. He afterwards purchased a small business in the glass and lead trade at Stratford-on-Avon, where he lived six years with his sister. This adventure became a very successful one, so that he saved from 5,000l. to 6,000l. Charles Askin, a veterinary surgeon, was a friend of Evans. He had removed to Warsaw, where some of Evans's family had ironworks. Askin there bought some spoons of a white metal called ‘argentan’ by the maker. He accidentally discovered that the metal contained nickel. Askin's brother offered him the use of a laboratory in the gasworks at Leamington, of which he was the manager. There, in co-operation with Evans, he endeavoured to refine nickel from speiss (an impure mixture of cobalt, nickel, and other metals), left after the preparation of cobalt blue for painting pottery. They were successful, and Askin joined the firm of Merry & Son, manufacturers of German silver. Askin remained a partner until he gained 1,000l. by the venture, and with this he joined Evans. In 1835 they built works in Birmingham, where they successfully produced refined nickel from nickel-speiss, then a drug in the market. The demand for Evans & Askin's refined nickel and German silver increased so rapidly that the speiss produced by the cobalt blue manufacturers was quite insufficient for their requirements. Evans resolved to explore Europe for the ores of nickel. He heard of its existence at the mines of Dobschan in Hungary, visited the place, and bought all the ore for which he could afford to pay. The ore contained half as much cobalt as nickel. As cobalt was detrimental to the German silver, and as Askin could not by his mode of refining separate these metals, they had to contend with a new set of difficulties. Experiments were made by Askin and Mr. Benson, the father of the present archbishop of Canterbury. The demand for nickel was meanwhile steadily increasing. Evans & Askin at last, by steady perseverance, discovered a process by which they obtained refined nickel in large quantities. To meet the demand Askin visited some nickel mines near Geisdal in Norway in 1847, where he died suddenly on 25 Aug. He was brought home and buried at Edgbaston. Since that time the demand for nickel was steadily met by Evans, who died in 1862, and was buried near his partner in Edgbaston. The firm of Evans & Askin continues.

[Birmingham Daily Mail, 11 Dec. 1878; special information from friends.]

R. H-t.