Mushet, David (DNB00)

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MUSHET, DAVID (1772-1847), metallurgist, eldest son of William Mushet and Margaret Cochrane, was born at Dalkeith, near Edinburgh, on 2 Oct. 1772, and brought up as an ironfounder. In February 1792 he was engaged as accountant at the Clyde Iron Works, where he soon became so interested in the processes of the manufacture that when in 1793 a reduction was made in the staff, and he was left almost sole occupant of the office, he began a series of experimental researches on his own account. In this he was at first encouraged by his employers, and was allowed to teach assaying to the manager's son; but later on, without cause assigned, he was prohibited, and his studies had to be prosecuted after office hours. By dint of sheer hard work, frequently labouring into the early morning, he became in a few years one of the first authorities at home and abroad upon all points connected with the manufacture of iron and steel. His employers becoming jealous of him, he was dismissed from the Clyde Iron Works in 1800. The following year, when engaged with partners in erecting the Calder Iron Works, he discovered the 'Black-band Ironstone,' and showed that this so-called 'wild coal' was capable of being used economically. Though it brought nothing to Mushet, this discovery was of immense value to others, owing to the extent of the deposit.

A series of some thirty papers by Mushet in the 'Philosophical Magazine' shows that he was at the Calder Iron Works till 1805, when he came to England. In 1808 he dates from the Alfreton Iron Works, Derbyshire, while from 1812 to 1823 he is described as 'of Coleford, Forest of Dean,' and he is said to have possessed extensive property in that district. In 1843 he gave valuable evidence in the hot-blast patent case tried at Edinburgh (Report of Trial Neilson v. Baird & Co., Edinburgh, 1843, pp. 48, 312).

The chief of Mushet's inventions, all of which relate to improvements in the methods of manufacturing iron and steel, was perhaps the one patented in 1800 for the preparation of steel from bar-iron by a direct process. Although the method cannot be distinguished in principle from that followed by the Hindoos in the preparation of wootz, the patent was sold to a Sheffield firm for 3,000l. (Percy, Iron and Steel, pp. 670, 672). His other patents relate to the extraction of iron from cinder and to improvements in the process of puddling iron.

Mushet's communications to the ‘Philosophical Magazine’ were in 1840 collected by him into a volume entitled ‘Papers on Iron and Steel, &c.,’ 8vo, London. He also wrote ‘The Wrongs of the Animal World,’ 8vo, London, 1839, in which he denounced the use of dogs as draught-animals. He was the author of the articles ‘Blast Furnace,’ and ‘Blowing Machine’ in Rees's ‘Cyclopædia’ and ‘Iron’ in the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ Supplement.

Mushet died at Monmouth on 13 June 1847 (Gent. Mag. 1847, p. 220). By his wife Agnes Wilson he was father of Robert Forester Mushet, who is noticed separately. An older son, David (cf. Mushet, Papers on Iron and Steel, Pref.), was a metallurgist and took out several patents.

[Preface to Papers on Iron and Steel; Imp. Dict. of Univ. Biog.; Engl. Encyclopædia; Brit. Mus. Cat.; Roy. Soc. Cat.; Phillips's Elements of Metallurgy, 2nd edit. 1887, pp. 325 and 332.]

B. B. W.