Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Muntz, George Frederick

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MUNTZ, GEORGE FREDERICK (1794–1857), political reformer, eldest son of Philip Frederick Muntz, was born in Birmingham on 26 November 1794 in a house in Great Charles Street, then a country residence. His ancestors were Poles, whom persecution drove to France. Muntz's grandfather, born in a country château near Soulz sur la Forêt, was a landowner of very aristocratic position. During the French revolution the family was broken up, and Philip Frederick Muntz, the father, travelled extensively, and after spending some time as a merchant at Amsterdam removed to England, and finally to Birmingham, where, partly owing to the advice of Matthew Boulton, he bought a share for 500l. in the firm of Mynors & Robert Purden, merchants. The firm was afterwards widely known as Muntz & Purden. He married Catherine, Purden's daughter, on 6 March 1793, and resided at Selly Hall, Worcestershire.

George Frederick was educated at home till his twelfth year, when he was sent to Dr. Currie's school at Small Heath, and after a twelvemonth went into business. He spoke French and German well. On the death of his father in 1811 he managed the metal works which the elder Muntz had established in Water Street (now pulled down). To their development Muntz devoted much of his energies, aud realised a large fortune by the manufacture and extended application of what is known as ‘Muntz metal.’ The invention closely resembled that of James Keir [q. v.], who patented in 1779 ‘a compound metal, capable of being forged when red hot or when cold, more fit for the making of bolts, nails, and sheathing for ships than any metals heretofore used or applied for those purposes.’ The similarity of the Keir to the Muntz metal was first noticed in 1866 in the ‘Birmingham and Midland Hardware District’ volume of Reports, and in the discussions which followed it was shown that in the autumn of 1779 Matthew Boulton brought the invention to the notice of the Admiralty. Whether Muntz knew of Keir's efforts is uncertain, but he first introduced the metal into universal use. In 1837 he became a partner with the copper smelters, Pascoe, Grenfell, & Sons of London and Swansea, but his principal metal works were at French Walls, near Birmingham. In 1832 he took out two patents (Nos. 6325 and 6347), one for ‘Muntz's metal,’ and one for ‘ships' bolts of Muntz's metal,’ and in 1846 a patent for an ‘alloy for sheathing ships’ (cf. R. B. Prosser, Birmingham Inventors and Inventions, privately printed, 1881).

From his youth upwards Muntz interested himself in public affairs, adopting liberal opinions. He studied specially the ‘currency question,’ and was an ardent disciple of the ‘Birmingham school.’ In 1829 he wrote letters on currency to the Duke of Wellington, which aroused attention, and was associated with Thomas Attwood and others in helping to repeal the Test and Corporation Acts, and in advocating catholic emancipation and reform of parliament. In 1829, in conjunction with Attwood and Joshua Scholefield, he founded the ‘Political Union for the Protection of Public Rights’ and sought to alleviate the distress of the poorer population. On 5 Jan. 1830 he signed a memorial to the high bailiff of Birmingham (William Chance) asking him to call a meeting to consider the ‘general distress,’ and ‘to form a general political union between the lower and the middle classes of the people,’ for the ‘further redress of public wrongs and grievances’ by ‘an effectual reform in the Commons House of Parliament.’ The high bailiff refused, but a meeting of fifteen thousand persons was held, and approved Muntz's principles. Muntz was chairman. Numerous meetings followed on ‘Newhall Hill’ till the Reform Bill was passed. Muntz's ‘burly form, rough and ready oratory, his thorough contempt for all conventionalities, the heartiness of his objurgations, all made him a favourite with the population, and an acceptable speaker at all their gatherings.’ When the Duke of Wellington was especially unpopular, Muntz ‘thundered to the ears of thousands’ ‘To stop the duke, go for gold,’ and dangerous ‘runs’ on the banks followed just before the duke resigned (November 1830). Warrants for the arrest of Attwood, Scholefield, and Muntz were found in the home office, filled up, but unsigned.

On 24 May 1840 Muntz was elected M.P. for Birmingham in succession to Attwood, and he retained the seat, despite serious opposition, till his death. Although a radical, and almost a republican, he gloried in being ‘independent,’ and often offended his best friends and colleagues. ‘As a speaker he was not notable. He often spoke obscurely and enigmatically, and was frequently charged with speaking one way and voting another. He uttered strong, rugged sentences in a deep diapason.’ His legislative achievements included only an Act for the Prevention of Explosions on Steamers, but he induced a reluctant minister to adopt the system of perforated postage stamps, and to give a substantial sum to the inventor. In local politics he was a determined enemy to church rates. At one of the Easter vestry meetings in St. Martin's Church, Birmingham, he demanded to see the books, and was refused access to them. He proposed that the rector should be removed from the chair, and a riot ensued. An application was made to the court of queen's bench against him and three others, and the case was tried at Warwick on 30 March 1838 before Mr. Justice Parke for ‘unlawful and riotous assembly.’ After three days' trial they were virtually acquitted, but Muntz was found guilty of ‘an affray,’ and acquitted on twelve other counts. The proceedings were appealed against, and the court decided that ‘the proceedings were illegal, and that the prosecution should never have been instituted.’ ‘The costs were 2,500l., but Muntz refused any aid in paying them.’

Early in May 1857 signs of internal disease appeared. The death of a daughter greatly distressed him in his last years. Muntz's mother, who survived him, had a presentiment that he would die on the same day as his father, 31 July, and he himself held the same opinion. He ‘died within a few hours of the dreaded day,’ 30 July 1857, in his sixty-third year. He resided latterly at Umberslade Hall, Warwickshire. He married Eliza, daughter of John Pryce, and had six sons and two daughters. His manly figure and handsome face, with its huge black beard, his swinging walk, powerful and sonorous voice, and frankness of speech rendered his personality impressive.

[Birmingham and Midland Hardware Dist. 1866; Birmingham Inventors and Inventions, by R. B. Prosser, 1881; Aris's Birmingham Gazette, 1857; (quoted in Gent. Mag. 1867, ii. 339; Birmingham Journal, 1857; Old and New Birmingham, by R. K. Dent, 1880; family papers and personal knowledge; Percy's Metallurgy, p. 619.]

S. T.