Chance, James Timmins (DNB12)

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CHANCE, Sir JAMES TIMMINS, first baronet (1814–1902), manufacturer and lighthouse engineer, born at Birmingham on 22 March 1814, was the eldest of the six sons of William Chance (1788–1856), merchant and glass manufacturer, of Spring Grove, Birmingham (high bailiff 1829-30), by his wife Phoebe (d. 1865), fourth daughter of James Timmins of Birmingham. From a private school at Totteridge James passed to University College, London, where he gained high honours in languages, mathematics, and science. At seventeen he entered his father's mercantile business, but finding the work distasteful began to study for holy orders. In 1833 he matriculated from Trinity College, Cambridge, where he made mathematics his chief study, won a foundation scholarship, and graduated B.A. as seventh wrangler in 1838, after losing a year through insomnia brought on by overwork; he proceeded M.A. in 1841, and M.A. ad eundem at Oxford in 1848. Changing his views as to a profession, he became a student at Lincoln's Inn, but he ultimately joined his uncle and father in their glass works at Spon Lane near Birmingham. Here he devoted himself to the manufacturing side of the business and to its scientific developments.

Whilst still at Cambridge he had invented a process for polishing sheet glass so as to produce 'patent plate,' the machinery for which still remains in use. But it was the manufacture and perfection of dioptric apparatus for lighthouses which came to absorb Chance's attention. This difficult manufacture, originally a French invention, was first carried on in England by Messrs. Cookson & Co. of South Shields from 1831 to 1845, when it became again the monopoly of two firms in Paris. About 1850 the manufacture was taken up by Chance's firm. M. Tabouret, a French expert, was engaged for its superintendence, but he left the Chances' service in 1853. Two years later the manufacture began in earnest under James Chance's direction. Royal commissioners had been appointed in 1858 to inquire into the state of the lights, buoys, and beacons of the United Kingdom, and had soon detected grave defects in the existing dioptric apparatus. On 23 Dec. 1859 the commissioners thoroughly examined the works at Spon Lane, under the guidance of James Chance, who placed his mathematical and technical knowledge at their disposal. At the request of the commissioners, Sir George Airy, the astronomer royal, consulted with Chance and examined at Spon Lane, on 2 and 3 April 1860, a large apparatus under construction for the government of Victoria. New principles formulated by Airy were first tried upon an apparatus which the firm was constructing for the Russian government. In the autumn of 1860 Chance joined Professor Faraday, acting for the Trinity House, in experimenting with the firm's apparatus at the Whitby southern lighthouse. Faraday acknowledged deep indebtedness to Chance 'for the earnest and intelligent manner in which he has wrought with me in the experiments, working and thinking every point out,' and he announced that the manufacturer could henceforth be relied upon to adjust the apparatus perfectly. One tiling that Chance discovered at Whitby was that for the adjustment by 'internal observation' it was not necessary to see the horizon itself, but that a graduated staff at a short distance from the lighthouse might represent its direction. This important discovery enabled the apparatus to be adjusted accurately before it left the manufactory.

Chance effected permanent alterations in the Whitby light on the newly formulated scientific principles. An elaborate paper on all the questions at issue which he sent to the commissioners in January 1861 is printed in their report. In May 1861, by request of the Trinity House, Chance took part in an examination of all the dioptric apparatus in their charge. Most of the lights were of French manufacture, and in several cases Chance could only remedy the defects by entire reconstruction, in which he made the final adjustments mostly with his own hands. The old system of requiring the firm to make the light in conformity with prescribed specifications was abandoned, and Chance with rare exceptions was left to design the light himself. He personally superintended every detail of the work, and from a sense of patriotism declined to patent improvements but made them public property. At the Paris Exhibition of 1867 the instruments of his design were proved by scientific tests to be superior in efficiency to similar apparatus of French manufacture. On 7 May in the same year he read before the Institution of Civil Engineers a paper on ' Optical Apparatus used in Lighthouses' (Proc. Inst. of Civ. Eng. xxvi. 477-506), which became a classic, and for which he was awarded a Telford medal and premium. He was also elected (21 May) an associate of the institution. On 22 April 1879 he read before the institution a second important paper on 'Dioptric Apparatus in Lighthouses for the Electric Light' (ib. lvii. 168-183.) Meanwhile in 1872, ho relinquished to Dr. John Hopkinson [q. v. Suppl. I], whose services the firm then secured, the direction of the lighthouse works, and gradually retired from the management of the firm.

Chance was actively engaged in local and county allairs, and was prominent in directing the chief religious, educational, and philanthropic institutions in Birmingham. At a cost, including the endowment, of 30,000l. he gave the town in 1895 West Smethwick Park. He was high sheriff of Staffordshire in 1868, and was mainly instrumental in forming the Handsworth Volunteer Rifle Corps, the first corps in the Midlands. He was a director of the London and North Western railway from 1863 to 1874. In 1900 he endowed, at a cost of 50,000l. , the Chance School of Engineering in the university of Birmingham. He was created a baronet on 19 June 1900, He lived at Brown's Green, Handsworth (1845-69), Four Oaks Park, Sutton Coldfield (1870-9), and afterwards at 51 Prince's Gate, London, and 1 Grand Avenue, Hove, where he died on 6 Jan. 1902. He was buried, after cremation at Woking, in the Church of England cemetery, Warstone Lane, Birmingham.

By his will, dated 16 Oct. 1897, with codicils (1898-1901), he left an estate of the gross value of 252,629l. 19s. 5d. He married, on 26 June 1845, Elizabeth, fourth daughter of George Ferguson of Houghton Hall, Carlisle; she died on 27 Aug. 18S7, leaving three sons and five daughters. William, the eldest son, a barrister of the Inner Temple, succeeded as second baronet.

A portrait by J. C. Horsley, R.A. (1854), is in the possession of Mr. George F. Chance, of Clent Grove near Stourbridge. Another by Roden of Birmingham (circ. 1874) is in the possession of Sir William Chance, Orchards, near Godalming. A posthumous portrait by Joseph Gibbs, of Smethwick, was presented on 16 Dec. 1902 to the borough of Smethwick, and hangs in the town hall. A successful bust in bronze by Hamo Thorny-croft, R.A. (1894), is the property of Sir William Chance ; there is a replica, in West Smethwick Park, and another (in marble) in the possession of Mr. George F. Chance.

[The Lighthouse Work of Sir James Chance, Baronet, by James Frederick Chance, M.A. (with preface by James Ken ward, C.E., F.S.A., manager of the lighthouse works), 1902; Proceedings of Inst. of Civil Engineers, cxlix. 361-6 ; Birmingham Daily Post, 8 Jan. 1902; Birmingham Weekly Post, 11 Jan. 1902; Dobrett; information kindly supplied by J. F. Chance, Esq.]

C. W.