Taylor, James (1753-1825) (DNB00)

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TAYLOR, JAMES (1753–1825), engineer, born on 3 May 1753 at Leadhills in the parish of Crawfurd in Lanarkshire, was the son of an overseer employed in the slate-quarries in that place. James was educated at Closeburn in Dumfriesshire, and afterwards at Edinburgh University, where he studied medicine and theology. He also acquired some knowledge of engineering and an acquaintance with botany, geology, and kindred sciences. In 1785 he was engaged by Patrick Miller [q. v.] of Dalswinton, Dumfriesshire, as tutor to his two sons. Miller was at that time engaged in a series of experiments on the feasibility of propelling boats by means of paddle-wheels, and Taylor proved a valuable assistant. At first manual labour was employed to drive the wheels, but, the exertion proving excessive, Taylor suggested the employment of the steam-engine, and made some drawings showing how the engine might be connected with the paddles. Miller, to whom the idea may not have been entirely novel, at first raised objections, but ultimately adopted the plan. By Taylor's recommendation William Symington [q. v.], who had just patented an improved steam-engine, was selected to construct the engine, and Taylor superintended the castings at Edinburgh. Experiments with the boats fitted with the steam-engine were made in 1788 at Dalswinton, and in 1789 on the Forth and Clyde Canal.

Taylor's share in the invention has been much disputed. He appears, however, entitled to the credit of suggesting the employment of the steam-engine to Miller, and of successfully meeting his objections. Although Miller was undoubtedly the sole author of the experiments, he never appears to have had much belief in the application of the steam- engine to navigation. In fact, in the specification of a patent (No. 2106) which he took out on 3 May 1796 for propelling ships in light winds by paddle-wheels, there is no mention of steam power. It is not unlikely, however, that Taylor was previously acquainted with Symington, and he certainly knew of his steam-engine. Under these circumstances it is difficult to determine whether the idea of applying the steam-engine to navigation was entirely his own, or came originally from Symington.

Taylor was afterwards engaged in superintending the working of coal, lime, and other minerals on the estate of the Earl of Dumfries. Subsequently he established a pottery at Cumnock, which did not prove very remunerative. Being in straitened circumstances, he addressed a memorial, dated April 1824, to the committee of the House of Commons on steamboats, stating his share in the invention of the steamboat, but failed to obtain any recompense. He died at Cumnock on 18 Sept. 1825, leaving a widow and four daughters. The government granted his widow a pension of 50l. a year and presented his daughters with 50l. each.

[Chambers's Edinburgh Journal, 1833, pp. 43–4; New Monthly Mag. 1825, iii. 520; English Cyclopædia, 1873 (Biogr. Suppl.); Anderson's Scottish Nation, iii. 551–2; Woodcroft's Origin and Progress of Steam Navigation, pp. 31–53, 57; Major-General Miller's Letter to Bennet Woodcroft vindicating the right of Patrick Miller as first inventor of the steamboat, London, 1862; Edinburgh Philosophical Journal, 1825, xiii. 88–9.]

E. I. C.