Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bushell, Thomas

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1317034Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 08 — Bushell, Thomas1886Warwick William Wroth ‎

BUSHELL, THOMAS (1594–1674), speculator and farmer of the royal mines, was born about 1594, and was a younger son of a family of that name living at Cleve Prior in Worcestershire. At the age of fifteen he entered the service of the great Sir Francis Bacon, and afterwards acted as his master's seal-bearer. When Bacon became lord chancellor, Bushell accompanied him to court, and attracted the notice of James I by the gorgeousness of his attire (Birch, Court of James I, ii. 242). Anthony à Wood supposes that he received some education at Oxford, especially at Balliol College; but in any case his principal instructor was Bacon himself, who, observing the natural bent of his ingenious servant, imparted to him 'many secrets in discovering and extracting minerals.' Bacon's instruction was always gratefully acknowledged by Bushell, who admitted that his own mining processes were the outcome of his master's theories, of which, later on in life, he gave an account in a treatise entitled 'Mr. Bushell's Abridgment of the Lord Chancellor Bacon's Philosophical Theory in Mineral Prosecutions' (London, 1650), and in the 'Extract by Mr. Bushell of the Abridgment [of Bacon's Theory], printed for the Satisfaction of his Noble Friends that importunately desired it' (London, 1660). Bacon further earned his protégé's gratitude 'by paying all my debts several times,' for Bushell's various speculations and experiments more than once in his career involved him in money difficulties. On the occasion of Bacon's disgrace Bushell thought it prudent to retire to the Isle of Wight, where he lived for some time disguised as a fisherman. He afterwards returned to London; but on his master's death in 1626 went again into retirement, and lived for three years in a hut constructed 470 feet above the sea in 'the desolated isle called the Calf of Man, where, in obedience to my dead lord's philosophical advice, I resolved to make a perfect experiment upon myself for the obtaining of a long and healthy life, most necessary for such a repentance as my former debauchedness required, by a parsimonious diet of herbs, oil, mustard, and honey, with water sufficient, most like to that [of] our long-lived fathers before the flood.' On leaving this retreat he came to live in Oxfordshire, where he had an estate at Road Enstone, near Woodstock. At this place he had the fortune to discover a spring and a rock of curious formation, with which, we are told, he at once proceeded to make 'all the curious fine waterworks and artificial conclusions that could be imagined,' constructing cisterns, laying 'divers pipes between the rocks,' and building 'a house over them, containing one fair room for banquetting, and several other small closets for divers uses.' Charles I, when in the neighbourhood, heard of the fame of the 'rock,' and paid Bushell an unexpected visit ; his ingenious host managed to improvise an entertainment of 'artificial thunders and lightnings, rain, hail-showers, drums beating, organs playing, birds singing, waters murmuring all sorts of tunes,' &c. On a subsequent royal visit in 1636 the rock was presented to Queen Henrietta in a kind of masque, for which Bushell himself provided some passable verse (see The Several Speeches and Songs at the Presentment of the Rock at Enston, Oxon. 1636).

In 1635 we find Bushell's name occurring in a list of persons to whom was granted the exclusive right of manufacturing soap in a particular manner ; but his acquaintance with the king soon led to his obtainmg (in January 1636-7) the more important grant of the royal mines in Wales. The mines of Cardiganshire, as containing silver mixed with their lead, formed crown property. They had formerly been farmed by Sir Hugh Middleton, who sent up the silver which he extracted to be coined at the mint in the Tower of London. After the death of Middleton the mines were reported to be inundated and 'like to decay.' Bushell in purchasing the lease proposed not only to recover the inundated mines, but also to employ new and more expeditious methods of mining ; he also proposed the more convenient plan of erecting a mint on the spot, in the castle at Aberystwith, taking care that the lead ore which in former times had been recklessly sent out of the country without the extraction of its silver should now be refined at home for the benefit of the king of England and his subjects. The mint was established in July 1637 with Bushell as warden and master-worker, and English silver coins of various denominations were issued from it. Bushell's mining schemes seem to have been fairly successful, at any rate so far as concerned the mines in Wales. He was certainly more than a mere adventurer, and always professed, probably not without sincerity, that he carried on his mining operations with a view to the enrichment of his king and country, and in order to give employment to the poorest classes as miners (see especially Mr. Bushell's Invitation by Letter to Condemned Men for Petty Felonies, to work in the Mines of their own Country rather than be banished to Slavery in Foreign Parts, and his curious composition, The Miner's Contemplative Prayer in his solitary Delves, which is conceived requisite to be published that the Reader may know his heart implores Providence for his Mineral Increase). In any case his labours were indefatigable. Shortly after his connection with the Welsh mines began, 'a great deluge of water' occurred, which necessitated a very considerable expenditure. He was laughed at by his enemies and pitied by his friends; but 'after nigh four years night and day' spent in recovering the decayed mines of the principality, and 'by the continued maintenance and industry of 600 families and the expense of about 7,000l., as a reward of my hazard . . . [God] brought me to reap the harvest of my hope.' He recovered 'several drowned mines,' and discovered other 'new branches of the old mines wrought by the Romans (viz.) at the mountains called Talibont, Broomfloid, Cambmervin, Geginan, Commustwith, Comsum Lock, and the Beacon Hill of the Daren.' 'I contrived,' he says, 'a way of adits, cutting through the lowest part of the mountain (and not beginning at the top and sinking downward), whereby the work was made . . . less subject to the casualties of damp and drowning . . . also avoiding the tedious and chargeable sinking of air-shafts, by conveying air through the mountain many hundred fathoms with pipe and bellows, a way before never used by any undertakers, but now approved by all.' He further prevented the waste of wood by refining his lead-ore with 'turf and sea-coal chark.'

During the progress of the civil war Bushell proved himself a devoted royalist, and a letter addressed to him by Charles himself in June 1645 enumerates the 'manie true services you have actually done us in these times of trying a subject's loyalty: as in raiseing us the Darbyshire minors for our life guard at our first entrance to this warr for our owne defence, when the lord-lieutenant of that countie refused to appear in the service: supplyinge us at Shrewsbury and Oxford with your mint for the payement of our armye, when all the officers in the mint of our Tower of London forsook their attendance, except St William Parkhurst: your changing the dollars with wch wee paid our soldiers at six shillings a piece, when the malignant partie cried them down at five: your stopping the mutinie in Shropshire . . . your providing us one hundred tonnes of leadshot for our army, when we paid without mony, when we paid before twentie pounds per tonne: and your helpinge us to twenty-six pieces of ordinance . . . your cloathing of our liefe guard and three regiments more, wth suites, stockings, shoes, and mounterees, when wee were readie to march in the ffeild ... [your invention of badges of silver for rewarding the forlorne hope]; your contractinge with merchants beyond the seas, for providing good quantities of powder, pistol, carabine, muskett, and bullen, in exchange your owne commodities, when wee were wantinge of such ammunicion: with diverse other severall services.' Besides all this Bushell held Lundy Island for the king; but, with the royal sanction, surrendered it on 24 Feb. 1647. He now found it necessary to go into hiding; but at last, in August 1652, gave securities to the council of state for his future good behaviour. He obtained from the Protector a renewal of his lease of the royal, and a confirmation of his granting the silver thence extracted. These privileges were confirmed in February 1658 by Richard Cromwell, who also protected and encouraged Bushell in his operations in connection with the lead mines in the forest of Mendip. Bushell's mining schemes in Somersetshire likewise received the sanction of Charles II; but little is known of the last few years of his life. It is probable that he was much embarrassed by pecuniary difficulties. The petition of 'Thomas Bushell, master workman of the royal mines,' dated March (?) 1668, prays the king 'for a royal protection from arrests for two years (on account of his) having contracted great debts in the service of the late king, which he hopes to repay in time from his mineral proceeds.' Bushell died in 1674, and was buried in the cloisters Westminster Abbey. His wife was Anne, widow of Sir William Waad, lieutenant of the Tower.

[The Case of Thomas Bushell of Easton, in the County of Oxford, Esquire, truly stated. Together with his progress in Minerals. London, 1649; A Just and True Remonstrance of His Majesty's Mines Royal . . . Presented by Thomas Bushell, Esq., London and Shrewsbury. 1642; Bushell's Tracts cited in the text and various printed documents relating to his mining schemes (see Brit. Mus. Catalogue); Calendar of State Papers, Domestic, especially 3 Sept. 1635. November 1635. 22 Oct. 1636, 3 Dec. 1636, 25 Jan. 1636–7, 9 July (?) 1637. 3 Oct. 1638, 16 April 1640, 16 Aug. 1652, 28 June 1653, August (?), November (?) 1660, 18 Nov. 1661, March (?) 1663; Ellis' Orig. Letters. 2nd ser. iii. 309; Memoirs of T. Bushell by Rev. A. de la Pryne (1878). printed in Manx Miscellanies. vol. ii. (1880); Wood's Ath. Oxon. iii. 1007–10, s.v. 'Thomas Bushell;' Spedding's Life of Bacon, vii. 189, 200, 268; Ruding's Annals of the Coinage, ii. 237–39; Hawkins's Silver Coins, ed. Kenyon; Hawkins's Medallic Illustrations, ed. Franks and Greuber (Charles II. Nos. 67–69; Bushell's 'Mining Share Ticket'); Walpole (Anecdotes of Painting) is in error as to there being a medallist named Bushell.]

W. W.