Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mechi, John Joseph
MECHI, JOHN JOSEPH (1802–1880), agriculturist, born in London 22 May 1802, was third son of Giacomo Mechi, a citizen of Bologna, who early in life settled in England, was naturalised, and obtained a post at Kensington Palace in the household of George III. His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of J. Beyer of Poland Street, London. John at the age of sixteen was placed as a clerk in a house in Walbrook in the Newfoundland trade, where he remained ten years, By great care and industry he was enabled in 1828 to set up on his own account as a cutler in a small shop at 130 Leadenhall Street, whence he removed to No. 4 in the same street in 1830. Between 1830 and 1840 he realised a handsome fortune by the 'magic razor strop' which bears his name After the Crimean war and the extension of the beard movement the sale fell off to the extent of 1,500l. a year. On 10 Nov. 1840 he took out a patent for 'improvements in apparatus to be applied to lamps in order to carry off heat and the products of consumption.' This was for the outside shop-window lamps since become so well known. From 1859 to 1869 he was in partnership with Charles Bazan, and then gave up his city business and removed to 112 Regent Street.
In 1841, after attentively studying English farming, he resolved to attempt some improvements in agriculture, and accordingly purchased for 3,400l. a farm of about 130 acres at Tiptree Heath, one of the least productive districts in Essex. Here he tried deep drainage and the application of steam power, and persevered until he brought his farm into such a state of productiveness that it realised annually on an average a handsome profit. The press acknowledged the services he had rendered to agricultural science by the introduction of modern processes into his model farm. He was appointed to the shrievalty of London in 1856, and in 1858 elected an alderman of the city. He was a member of the council of the Society of Arts, and was a juror in the department of art and science at the Great Exhibition of 1851 and at the Industrial Exhibition at Paris in 1855. His well-known publication, 'How to Farm Profitably,' 1857, had in various forms a circulation of ten thousand copies.
The failure of the Unity Joint Stock Bank in 1866, of which he was a governor, and an unfortunate connection with the Unity Fire and General Life Assurance Office, caused him such heavy losses that, instead of becoming lord mayor, he was in August 1866 obliged to resign his aldermanic gown. Many bad seasons followed at Tiptree farm, particularly that of 1879, and at last, worn out with diabetes and broken-hearted, his affairs were put in liquidation on 14 Dec. 1880. He died at Tiptree Hall on 26 Dec. 1880, and was buried in Tiptree Church on 1 Jan. 1881. He married first, in 1823, Fanny Frost, and secondly, in 1846, Charlotte, daughter of Francis Ward of Chillesford, Suffolk. A subscription was made for his widow and daughters.
Mechi was the author of:
- ‘Letters on Agriculture,’ 1844.
- ‘A Series of Letters on Agricultural Improvement,’ 1845.
- ‘On the Principles which ensure Success in Trade,’ 1850; another edition 1856.
- ‘How to Farm Profitably, particularly on Stiff Heavy Clays,’ 1857; several editions.
- ‘On the Sewerage of Towns as it affects British Agriculture,’ 1860.
- ‘Mr. Mechi's Farm Balance Sheets, also his Lectures and Papers on Farming,’ 1867.
- ‘Profitable Farming: Mr. Mechi's Latest Agricultural Sayings and Doings, with Balance Sheets,’ 1869.
- ‘Profitable Farming: Being the Second Series of the Sayings and Doings of J.J. Mechi,’ 1872.
- ‘How to Farm Profitably: Third Series,’ 1876.
- ‘Mr. Mechi's Statement to his Visitors on Agricultural Improvements,’ 1878. Some of Mechi's statements were replied to in publications by W. W. Good in 1851 and 1852, and by R. Rolton in 1853.
The ‘Tiptree Hall Farm Visitors’ Book from 1846 to 1878' is preserved at the British Museum (Add. MS. 30015). It contains the names of persons, including numerous foreigners, who came to visit the farm, and in many cases their notes and observations.
[Times, 28 Dec. 1880, p. 9; City Press, 29 Dec. 1880, p. 5; Men of the Time, 1879, pp. 700-1; Insurance Guardian, 24 Jan. 1881, p. 6; Illustrated London News, 1857 xxx. 337, with portrait, 1857 xxxi. 317, 1881 lxxviii. 37, with portrait; Pictorial World, 29 Jan. 1881, pp. 355, 361, with portrait.]