Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Manby, Aaron

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MANBY, AARON (1776–1850), engineer, second son of Aaron Manby of Kingston, Jamaica, was born at Albrighton, Shropshire, 15 Nov. 1776. His mother was Jane Lane, of the Lanes of Bentley, who assisted Charles II to escape from Boscobel after the battle of Worcester [see under Lane, Jane]. Manby's early years were, it is believed, spent in a bank in the Isle of Wight, but in 1813 he was in business at Wolverhampton as an ironmaster, and under that description took out a patent in that year (No. 3705) for utilising the refuse 'slag' from blast furnaces by casting it into bricks and building blocks. About this time he founded the Horseley ironworks, Tipton, where he carried on the manufacture of steam engines, castings, &c. The concern is still in existence.

In 1821 he took out a patent (No. 4558) for a form of steam engine specially applicable for marine purposes, which he called an oscillating engine, by which name it has been known ever since. He was not the original inventor of this form of engine, which had been proposed by William Murdoch [q. v.] in 1785, and patented by R. Witty in 1811, but he was the first to introduce it practically. He also patented the oscillating engine in France in the same year, and included in the specification a claim for making ships of iron, and an improved feathering paddlewheel. He now commenced the building of iron steamships, and the first, the Aaron Manby, 120 feet long and 18 feet beam, was made at Horseley and conveyed in pieces to the Surrey Canal Dock, where it was put together. It was tried on the Thames on 9 May 1822 (Morning Chronicle, 14 May 1822). Manby was endeavouring to form a company to establish a line of steamers to France, and among the persons interested in the scheme was Captain (afterwards Admiral) Charles Napier [q. v.] The Aaron Manby, with Napier in command and Charles Manby [q. v.] as engineer, left the Thames in the early part of June 1822, and arrived in Paris to the surprise of the inhabitants on the llth of that month, as recorded in the 'Constitutional' of the 13th and the 'Debats' of the 16th. This was the first iron ship which ever went to sea, and it was also the first vessel of any kind which had made the voyage from London to Paris. The boat continued to ply upon the Seine for many years, and it was still running in 1842. Another iron vessel was afterwards made.

In 1819 Manby founded an engineering works at Charenton, near Paris, the management of which he entrusted to Daniel Wilson of Dublin, a chemist who was the first to patent the use of ammonia for removing sulphuretted hydrogen from gas. The Charenton establishment was of great importance, and gave rise to the formation of many similar works in France. In 1825 a gold medal was awarded to the founders by the Societe d'Encouragement A very full account of the foundry is given in the 'Bulletin' of the society for that year, p. 123. Upwards of five hundred workmen were then employed (see also Bulletin, 1826 p. 295, and 1828 p. 204) . The effect of Manby's efforts was to render France largely independent of English engine-builders, who for a time displayed some resentment against him. This feeling comes out strongly in the evidence given before the parliamentary committee on artisans and machinery in 1824 (see Report, pp. 109-32). On 12 May 1821 Manby, in conjunction with Wilson and one Henry, took out a patent in France for the manufacture and purification of gas, and also by what was then called 'portable gas' ;hat is, compressed gas to be supplied to consumers in strong reservoirs. In May 1822 Manby and Wilson obtained a concession for lighting Paris with gas, and, notwithstanding the strong opposition of a rival French company, the Manby-Wilson Company, or Compagnie Anglaise, existed until 1847. A copy of the report of the legal proceedings between the two companies is preserved in the library of the Institution of Civil Engineers. It was presented by Daniel Wilson to Thomas Telford, and bequeathed by the latter to the institution. It is said that the English company was actually the first to supply gas to the French capital. In 1826 Manby and his friends purchased the Creusot Ironworks, which were reorganised and provided with new and improved machinery made at Charenton, and about two years afterwards the two concerns were amalgamated under the title of Society Anonyme des Mines, Forges et Fonderies du Creusot et de Charenton. A report dated 1828, giving a history of the enterprise, is preserved among the Telford tracts in the library of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Manby returned to England about 1840, when he went to reside at Fulham, removing afterwards to Ryde, Isle of Wight, and subsequently to Shanklin, where he died 1 Dec. 1850.

Manby was twice married : first, to Julia Fewster, by whom he had one son, Charles [q. v.] ; and, secondly, to Sarah Haskins, by whom he had one daughter, Sarah, and three sons, John Richard (1813-1869) (see Proc. Inst. Civ. Eng. xxx. 446), Joseph Lane (1814-1862) (ib. xxii. 629), and Edward Oliver (1816-1864) (ib. xxiv. 533). They were all civil engineers, practising mostly abroad.

A portrait was exhibited at the Loan Collection of Portraits at South Kensington in 1868.

[Manby's early engineering work is described in Proc. Inst. Civ. Eng. 1842 p. 168, 1843 p. 180, 1846 pp. 89, 96; Grantham's Shipbuilding in Iron and Steel, 1842, pp. 6-9; Gill's Technical [Repository, 1822, i. 398, 411, ii. 66. The Gas Engineer for December 1882 contains a notice of his work in connection with the lighting of Paris with x gas. See also Maxime du Camp's article L'Eclairage a Paris ' in Eevue des deux Mondes, June 1873, p. 780. Private information from a member of the family.]

R. B. P.