Fisken, William (DNB00)

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FISKEN, WILLIAM (d. 1883), presbyterian minister, the son of a farmer, was born on Gelleyburn farm, near Crieff, Perthshire. After attending school at the neighbouring village of Muthill, he was sent to St. Andrews College to study for the ministry under Professor Duncan. Subsequently he removed to the university of Glasgow, and thence to the Divinity Hall of the Secession church. While there he taught a school at Alyth, near his birthplace. Upon receiving license in the presbytery of Dundee, he commenced his career as a preacher in the Secession church. He visited various places throughout the country, including the Orkney Islands, where he would have received a call had he cared to accept it. He was next sent to the presbytery at Newcastle-upon-Tyne, and preached as a probationer at the adjoining village of Stamfordham, where in 1847 he received a call, and was duly ordained. He there laboured zealously until his death. In the double capacity of governor and secretary he did much towards promoting the success of the scheme of the endowed schools at Stamfordham. Fisken and his brothers Thomas (a school-master at Stockton-upon-Tees) and David studied mechanics. Thomas and he invented the steam plough. A suit took place between the Fiskens and the Messrs. Fowler, the well-known implement makers at Leeds, and the finding of the jury was that the former were the original discoverers. The appliance which perfected the plan of the brothers occurred to them both independently and almost simultaneously. William Chartres of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the solicitor employed by the Fiskens, used to tell how the two brothers wrote to him on the same day about the final discovery, but that he received William's letter first. Fisken also invented a potato-sowing machine, a safety steam boiler, a propeller, an apparatus for heating churches, which worked excellently, and the 'steam tackle' which, patented in July 1855, helped to render the steam plough of practical use. This system of haulage, which obtained second prize at the royal show at Wolverhampton, has undergone great modifications since its early appearance in Scotland in 1852, its exhibition at Carlisle in 1855, and at the show of the Royal Agricultural Society of England in 1863 (Journal of Royal Agricultural Society, xx. 193, xxiv. 368). Fisken worked on the fly-rope system. An endless rope set into motion direct by the fly-wheel of the engine drove windlasses of an extremely ingenious type, by which the plough or other implement was put in motion. A great deal of excellent work was done on this system, especially with tackle made by Messrs. Barford & Perkins of Peterborough, but for some reason the system never quite took with farmers, and very few sets of Fisken's tackle are now in use (Engineer, 11 Jan. 1884, p. 37). Fisken was the author of a pamphlet on 'The Cheapest System of Steam Cultivation and Steam Cartage,' and of another 'On the Comparative Methods of Steam Tackle,' which gained the prize of the Bath and West of England Society. A man of liberal views, great generosity of character, and wide reading, he made friends wherever he went. He died at his manse, Stamfordham, on 28 Dec. 1883, aged upwards of seventy.

[Times, 4 and 8 Jan. 1884; Newcastle Courant, 4 Jan. 1884.]

G. G.