Richardson, Thomas (1816-1867) (DNB00)

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RICHARDSON, THOMAS (1816–1867), industrial chemist, born on 8 Oct. 1816 at Newcastle-on-Tyne, was educated in that town and at Glasgow, whither he went at an early age to study chemistry under Dr. Thomas Thomson (1773–1852) [q. v.]; he then proceeded to Giessen, where, under the guidance of Justus von Liebig, he carried out researches on the composition of coal and the use of lead chromate in organic analysis (Philosophical Magazine, xiii. 121, 1838, xv. 23, 1839), and graduated Ph.D. He afterwards went to Paris with Thomson, and completed his studies under J. Pelouze, with whom he published, in 1838, a research on the action of water on cyanogen and the consequent formation of azulmic acid (Comptes Rendus, vi. 187). On his return to Newcastle he devoted himself almost entirely to manufacturing chemistry, taking out a number of patents for various processes. In 1840 he began, at Blaydon, near Newcastle, to remove the impurities, consisting chiefly of antimony, from ‘hard’ lead, and thus to convert it into ‘soft’ lead, by means of a current of air driven over the molten metal; the impurities were oxidised, floated to the surface, and were then skimmed off. Practical improvements introduced into the process by George Burnett soon after led to the annual importation of several thousand tons of Spanish hard lead into the Tyne district, where it was purified. John Percy (1817–1889) [q. v.] (who appears to have had an animus against Richardson) quotes a letter from James Leathart declaring that Richardson was not the inventor of this process, and states that a patent for it was granted to Walter Hall in 1814.

In 1844 Richardson began at Blaydon the manufacture of superphosphates, as suggested by Liebig, and commenced, in 1842 in the south of England, by Mr. (now Sir) John Lawes. In 1847, together with Edmund Ronalds [q. v.], he began to translate Knapp's ‘Technological Chemistry,’ which was published between 1848 and 1851. A second edition, in five parts, published in 1855, was rewritten so as to form a new work. Henry Watts (1815–1884) [q. v.] replaced Ronalds as Richardson's collaborator for the last three of the five parts; and the book, which was recognised as a standard work, has been incorporated by Charles Edward Groves and William Thorp in their ‘Chemical Technology.’

In 1848 Richardson patented a method for condensing ‘lead-fume’ by means of steam, originally suggested by Bishop Richard Watson (1737–1816) [q. v.] (Percy, Metallurgy of Lead, p. 446). In the winter session of 1848 Richardson became lecturer on chemistry in the Newcastle school of medicine and surgery. After the temporary disruption of the school in 1851, he joined the school continued by the majority of the lecturers, which became connected in the same year with the university of Durham.

In June 1856 Richardson was made lecturer on chemistry in the university of Durham, and the degree of M.A. was conferred on him by that university. In 1855, together with Thomas J. Taylor, he began to collect information on the history of the chemical industries of the Tyne district. He was helped later by J. C. Stevenson, R. C. Clapham, and by Thomas Sopwith, F.R.S. [q. v.], and published in collaboration two interesting reports on the subject in the ‘Report of the British Association’ for 1863 (pp. 701, 715). These were incorporated in a book on ‘The Industrial Resources of … the Tyne, Wear, and Tees,’ edited by himself, William G. (now Lord) Armstrong, [Sir] Isaac Lowthian Bell, and John Taylor; two editions appeared in 1864.

He published, together with Armstrong and James Longridge, three important reports (dated 25 Aug. 1857 and 16 Jan. 1858) on the use of the ‘Steam Coals of the Hartley District of Northumberland in Steam-Boilers,’ addressed to the Steam Collieries Association of Newcastle-on-Tyne. The reports contain a record of a large and carefully conducted series of experiments; the conclusions were opposed to those of Sir Henry Thomas de la Beche [q. v.] and Dr. Lyon (now Lord) Playfair, on whose recommendation Welsh steam coal had been exclusively adopted by the navy. Richardson's reports were republished in 1859, together with T. W. Miller and R. Taplin's ‘Report … on Hartley Coal.’ About 1866 Richardson carried out, with Mr. Lavington E. Fletcher at Kirklees, near Wigan, a similar series of experiments, which were published in 1867 as ‘Experiments … [on] the Steam Coals of Lancashire and Cheshire.’ Richardson became an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 3 May 1864, was elected F.R.S. on 7 June 1866, and fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in the same year. He was also a member of the Royal Irish Academy. He died of apoplexy at Wigan on 10 July 1867.

Richardson published fifteen independent papers and six in collaboration with E. J. J. Browell (a fellow lecturer at the Newcastle school of medicine, and partner), John Lee, J. Pelouze, T. Sopwith, and Robert Dundas Thomson [q. v.], on various chemical questions.

[Richardson's own papers; Obituary in the Proc. of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, 1869, vi. 198; Embleton's History of the Medical School at Newcastle-upon Tyne, p. 91; English Cyclopædia, Suppl.; Royal Soc. Catalogue; List of Members of the Royal Society, 1867; Percy's Metallurgy of Lead, passim.]

P. J. H.