Savery, Thomas (DNB00)

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SAVERY, THOMAS (1650?–1715), engineer, son of Richard Savery and grandson of Christopher Savery of Totnes, Devonshire, was born about 1650 at Shilstone, near Modbury, in the same county. Thomas became a military engineer, and by 1696 had attained the rank of trench-master. He occupied his spare time in mechanical experiments, and in 1696 he invented a machine for polishing plate glass and a contrivance for rowing ships in a calm by means of two paddle-wheels, one at each side of the vessel, worked by a capstan placed between. The second invention was patented on 10 Jan. 1696 (No. 347). William III thought highly of it, but, although Savery demonstrated its practicability by fitting it to a small yacht, official jealousy prevented its adoption in the navy. He was obliged to content himself by publishing an account of his invention in a work entitled ‘Navigation Improved’ (London, 1698; reprinted by the commissioners of patents in 1858, and by Mr. R. B. Prosser in 1880). The treatise contained a vehement protest against the treatment accorded him in official circles.

Savery, whose youth was spent near a mining district, had often turned his attention to the difficulty experienced in keeping the mines free from water. To remedy this he at length invented a machine for raising water, which, though not a steam engine in the modern sense of the word, embodied the first practical application of the force of steam for mechanical purposes. On 25 July 1698 he obtained a patent (No. 356) for fourteen years, which was extended by an act of parliament passed on 25 April 1699 for a further period of twenty-one years, so that the patent did not expire until 1733. The letters patent contain no description of the machine, but this deficiency was supplied by the inventor in a book which he published in 1702, entitled ‘The Miner's Friend,’ which has been reprinted several times (see Galloway, Steam Engine and its Inventors, pp. 56 et seq.). Savery was not so successful as he had anticipated, but he afterwards became associated with Thomas Newcomen [q. v.], and Savery's patent appears to have been regarded as sufficiently wide to cover all Newcomen's improvements, great though they were.

Desaguliers has accused Savery of deriving his plans from the Marquis of Worcester's ‘Century’ [see Somerset, Edward]; but though he may have been indebted to that author for the idea of employing steam as the motive power, yet the ‘Century’ contains no plans or precise details of the methods to be employed. It has also been suggested that Savery may have been indebted to Papin's experiment showing how water might be raised by a vacuum produced by the condensation of steam. Papin issued an account of his experiment in the ‘Acta Eruditorum,’ published at Amsterdam in 1690. None appeared in England until many years afterwards, and it is unlikely that Savery saw the ‘Acta.’ Papin merely made a suggestion, whereas Savery produced a practicable machine.

In 1702 Savery became a captain in the engineers, and in 1705, through the patronage of Prince George of Denmark, he was appointed to the office of treasurer of the hospital for sick and hurt seamen. In the following year he patented (No. 379) a double hand bellows sufficient to melt any metal in an ordinary wood or coal fire, thus obviating the necessity of assay furnaces. There is an entry in the home office warrant-book, preserved in the Public Record Office, under date 5 March 1707, of an application by Savery for a patent for ‘A new sort of mill to perform all sorts of mill-work on vessells floating on the water … to render great advantage to the woollen manufacturers and many other useful works to be performed by mills,’ but no patent seems to have been granted for the invention. In 1714, through Prince George, he obtained the post of surveyor to the waterworks at Hampton Court. He died in May 1715, while resident in the parish of St. Margaret, Westminster. His will, dated 15 May, was proved by his widow in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury on 19 May, and is printed in the ‘Engineer,’ 30 May 1890, p. 442. He bequeathed all his property to his wife, but she seems never to have administered the will, and his affairs long remained unsettled. As late as 1796 letters of administration, with the will annexed, were granted to Thomas Ladds, the executor of Charles Cæsar, one of Savery's creditors. Savery translated Coehoorn's ‘New Method of Fortification,’ London, 1705, fol.

[Information kindly supplied by R. B. Prosser, esq.; Gent. Mag. 1839, ii. 261; Smiles's Lives of Boulton and Watt, 1865, pp. 45–56; Switzer's Hydrostatics, 1729, ii. 325–35; Robison's Mechanical Philosophy, 1822, ii. 57–8; Encycl. Britannica, art. Steam and Steam Engines, 1818; Farey's Steam Engine, 1827, pp. 99–126; Pole's Treatise on Cornish Pumping Engines, 1844, pp. 5–9; Boase and Courtney's Bibliotheca Cornubiensis, ii. 626; Desaguliers's Experimental Philosophy, iii. 465; Rigaud's Account of Early Proposals for Steam Navigation, 1838, pp. 4–9.]

E. I. C.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.241
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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354 ii 17f.e. Savery, Thomas: for 1698 read 1702