Pattinson, Hugh Lee (DNB00)

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PATTINSON, HUGH LEE (1796–1858), metallurgical chemist, born on 25 Dec. 1796, at Alston, Cumberland, was the son of Thomas Pattinson, a retail trader of that town, and his wife Margaret Lee. Both his parents were members of the Society of Friends. Hugh was educated at small private schools, but from an early age assisted his father, who died on 19 May 1812. He succeeded in acquiring a knowledge of electricity, and when only seventeen constructed some electrical apparatus; he also studied chemistry, especially in connection with metallurgy.

About 1821 he became clerk and assistant to Anthony Clapham, a soap-boiler in Newcastle. In 1825 he obtained the post of assay-master to the lords of the manor at Alston (the Greenwich Hospital Commissioners) and returned to his native place. In January 1829 Pattinson first discovered an easy and economic method of separating the silver from lead-ore, but owing to want of funds was not then able to complete his researches. In 1831 he was appointed manager to the lead works of Mr. Wentworth Beaumont; here, after further experiments, he perfected his process for desilverising lead, and finally patented it in 1833. The following year he resigned his post of manager, and, in partnership with John Lee and George Burnett, established chemical works at Felling and (afterwards) at Washington, near Gateshead.

Pattinson's process for the desilverisation of lead was a most valuable discovery, and permitted of the successful working of previously neglected lead-mines. Before this invention it had always been thought that cupellation, the method of directly extracting silver from lead, could not be profitably conducted in the case of lead containing less than eight ounces of silver in the ton; but by his process silver can profitably be extracted from lead when present only in the proportion of two or three ounces to the ton of lead. Pattinson's process has led to the invention of the German verb ‘pattinsoniren,’ and French substantive ‘pattinsonage’ (for a full description of the process, with diagrams, see Percy's ‘Metallurgy,’ Lead, pp. 121–44). Almost equally important were two others of his discoveries: (1) a simple method for obtaining white lead by a process (patented 1841) which gave rise to the formation of the then new compound, oxychloride of lead; and (2) a new process (patented 1841) for manufacturing ‘magnesia alba.’ Pattinson also first announced the discovery, from observations which had been made at a neighbouring colliery in 1840, that steam issuing from an orifice becomes electrical, a phenomenon subsequently turned to account by Mr. (afterwards Lord) Armstrong in his hydro-electrical machine.

Pattinson had joined in 1822 the Literary and Philosophical Society of Newcastle. He was vice-president of the chemical section of the British Association in 1838, a fellow of the Geological Society and of the Royal Astronomical Society, and was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in June 1852.

Pattinson visited America in 1839–40 to investigate a proffered mining speculation, which, however, turned out worthless, and he, with his party, had to decamp by night to escape the threatened violence of the disappointed proprietors. In 1858 he retired from business, and, in order to master astronomy, devoted himself to the study of mathematics and physics. The 7½-inch equatorial telescope which he erected at his residence, Scot's House, near Gateshead, was used by Piazzi Smyth. Pattinson died at Scot's House on 11 Nov. 1858.

He was the author of eight papers on lead-mining and electrical phenomena that appeared in the ‘Philosophical Magazine,’ the ‘Transactions of the Northumberland Natural History Society,’ and in the ‘Reports of the British Association.’

On 25 Dec. 1815 he married Phœbe, daughter of John Walton of ‘The Nest,’ Alston, having two days before been baptised into the church of England at the Angel Inn, when he took the additional christian name of Lee in honour of his mother.

[Percy's Metallurgy, ‘Lead,’ pp. 121–44; Lonsdale's Worthies of Cumberland, 1873, pp. 273–320, with portrait; information kindly supplied by his daughter, Mrs. Newall; English Cyclopædia; Roy. Soc. Cat.]

B. B. W.