Letter – Thomas Sopwith to John Atkinson – 18 Apr 1846

Document Type: Letter
Date: 18 Apr 1846
Correspondent: Thomas Sopwith
Recipient: John Atkinson
Archive Source: NRO 2762
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      Allenheads April 18th 1846

Observations on the Claim of Dr. Richardson in respect of Improvements introduced by him in the Smelting Establishment of T.W.Beaumont Esq.

To J.G.Atkinson Esq

Dear Sir

      At the time of my entering on Mr Beaumonts Service I learnt from Mr. Donkin & yourself that a Claim was made by Dr Richardson in respect of certain improvements the introduction of which he stated was owing to him and for which he had not received any special remuneration arguably to what he considered to be the meaning of the Agreement under which he acted.

      Dr. Richardson was engaged Feb. 5th 1840 at a yearly salary of £100 for which he was to ‘attend as often as requested at such of the Smelting Mills as Mr Beaumont or his agents should think fit.’  His services are set forth in a memorandum which although not signed was acted upon as appears by the regular payment of his salary and by six months notice being given.  I therefore in these observations treat that memorandum as a valid agreement it not being in my province to consider how far the parties then acting for Mr Beaumont approved or disapproved of its terms.  Those services are distinctly specified to be 

      1st To give his attendance at the Mills when required (and I mention this because the mere duty of making assays is one which might be performed in a laboratory or Assay office at Blaydon or Newcastle.)  

      2nd To make Assays and

      3rd  To examine the various substances produced or employed at the said Mills.

      I have very carefully considered the import of these words for on their meaning the claim of Dr. Richardson greatly depends and I think that unless the memorandum were rejected altogether it would only be fair to Dr. Richardson to take a liberal view and err on the side of generosity rather than of too hard & strait an interpretation.    I was desirous to obtain correct information as to the actual amount of services rendered by Dr. Richardson and on instituting enquiries I was unable ascertain that any distinct and positive advantage to Mr Beaumonts Service had resulted from his labours except the case for which a specific claim is made.  On the contrary a strong feeling was expressed that he had not supplied Assays when required etc. Finding however that some degree of personal feeling existed on one if not both sides I have endeavoured to avoid any dependence on the Statements and Opinions expressed on either side and confine myself to such evidence as is entirely free from uncertainty.

      The more I have reflected on the subject the more am I satisfied that the terms of the Agreement afford ample means of judging whether any absolute right or claim exists and I will endeavour for the information of yourself and any other party you may desire to consult, to express my own views as clearly as I can.  

      The Agreement of Feb 5th 1840 after specifying the duties and salary of Dr. Richardson proceeds to make a reservation in his favor and the points at issue are

      First:  Is the Improvement in question included in the sphere of Dr. Richardsons duties as specified in the agreement. Or

      Second:  Is it such an improvement as comes within the spirit and meaning of the reservation And

      Third:  If so what Sum is to be deemed an adequate remuneration for such improvement.

      I have in the first place to observe that I consider that the terms of the Agreement should be viewed in a liberal & generous spirit, that the meaning should be taken as Men of Business would commonly construe it & not confined to a hard and literal interpretation.   This I understand Dr Richardson entirely approves and it is in my opinion just to all parties in such a case.  If the precise and literal acceptation of the words of the reservation are taken they appear to me to be such as no prudent Agent would make binding on his Principal.  They have the effect of making the £100 salary incapable of producing any beneficial result arising out of Dr Richardsons services.   It is stated that if he (Dr. R) shall discover or suggest any means or process whereby any matter process or thing ‘connected with Smelting & Refining ‘may be improved, altered or in any way changed’ so as to render the Manufacture of lead & Silver better or cheaper etc etc.

      These words include every range of possibility of improvement and their exact import is the 100£ should be paid yearly to Dr. Richardson for his Attendance at the Mills - for his assays - for his examining the substances produced or employed - But that if when at the Mills - or when Assaying - or when examining any Lead or Coal etc etc he should suggest any thing that should be really useful then in [underlined: ‘every such case’] he was to claim special payment. I consider this interpretation strict though it be, to be utterly at variance with the plain common sense meaning of all such agreements whether with Chemists or any other professional persons employed in a Mining or Manufacturing concern.  If benefit was not to result from the attendance and examination of substances - why attend or why examine - why receive a salary of 100£ unless some benefit was to be derived?  If any dependence is placed on the literal bearing of the words as implying (as the words certainly do ) that every improvement- every beneficial change was to be paid for then it will be necessary to look at the other words with equal strictness and to consider - Did Dr. Richardson in the case before us ‘Discover or Suggest’ the improvement in question and it appears to me doubtful whether either of these words in strictness apply to the share which Dr. Richardson had in introducing the calcining process.  That process as I am informed had been patented and had been used at Messrs Burnets works.  It was therefore not such a Discovery as could afford to Mr Beaumont or Dr. Richardson the special advantages which are named in the agreement – viz. of Mr Beaumont having ‘Liberty’ to use it and that Dr. Richardson might take out a patent.  These terms seem to me very clearly to point out the kind of Discovery which was to be the subject of special remuneration. That it was not for any change or improvement but for any Discovery which might give to Mr Beaumont the ‘Liberty’ of using a process which other parties had not liberty to use except by paying Patent rights etc.  Now this process it appears was an Expired Patent - was in use at Messrs Burnets - Dr. Richardson could grant no ‘liberty’ to Mr Beaumont nor could he have obtained a Patent.  

      The ‘Suggesting’ of this process claimed by Dr. Richardson if considered with inference to what I consider the precise and literal tendency of the words employed, is materially qualified by the circumstances stated by Dr. Richardson himself so much so as to admit of a reasonable doubt whether even on that ground a just title could be founded.  The word itself implies originating a plan.  The examination of the Lead was directed by Mr Johnson.  Dr. R conceived that a particular mode of treatment would perhaps answer - he received conflicting opinions from <Lubig> & others and states (Oct 17th 1845) that in Consequence of the Conflicting opinions he was (to use his own words) ‘afraid to recommend the Plan being carried out.’  This does not appear to me to be the kind of recommendation & ‘suggestion’ which demands special recompense.  Mr Johnson has asked him ‘to turn his attention to the Slag lead with the view of devising some plan for effecting its sale’ - he corresponds with eminent Chemists and after receiving their opinions  is ‘afraid to recommend the Plan being carried out’ -  What then takes place - I use Dr. Richardson's own statement as one which he at all events cannot object to ‘Mr Johnson finding the Red Lead Ovens would answer, at once determined to try the plan as in case of failure the furnaces could be applied to another purpose.’

      The experiment was tried and answered and Dr.Richardson in the manner above stated was undoubtedly the means by which the experiment was instituted.  It is therefore for consideration whether if the terms of the Agreement are taken strictly the Improvement in question can be considered as having been Discovered or Suggested by Dr. Richardson.

      As the general spirit and tendency of the Agreement however is that in which Dr. Richardson himself seems willing to acquiesce I take that meaning to be that Dr. Richardson was to be employed as an Operative Chemist at the Works when required (as he was in this instance) that not only was he to make Assays but also to examine and analyse any substances produced or employed at the Mills.  Surely the object of such attendance & Examination must have been to produce some beneficial result - some Economy in working - some selection of more suitable coal - some improvement in quality - some removal of Defect - something as specially directed by Mr Johnson in this case that would render the Lead more saleable.   For examining the substances produced or employed with a view as I conceive to such results Dr. R was to receive 100£ a year.  If he pointed out some cheaper mode of working or suggested a better selection of coal or effected any improvement in the quality of the Lead etc it is certain that any improvement or Economy introduced in so large a concern would soon amount to 3, 4 or even 5 hundred pounds a year and the largest of these sums is an inconsiderable percentage on so large a produce as Mr Beaumonts and neither the means of improvement not the amount of saving appear to me to come within the spirit of the Agreement.   By Dr. Richardson's own showing the introduction of the process seems to have depended more on the experimental trial undertaken by Mr Johnson than on any confident recommendation of Dr. Richardson and I am informed that a workman was procured from Walker who attended to the details of the experiment & received special recompence  for the same.  Admitting therefore that Dr Richardson when requested to examine the Slag Lead performed his duty with zeal and ability - that he took an Enlightened view of the requirements of the case - that he obtained valuable opinions thereon - that he was the channel by which the knowledge of such a process was conveyed to Mr Beaumonts Agent it does not appear to me that in any of these services he attained the position indicated in the Reservation clause.  He did not as I conceive originate or bring about any process to which the terms ‘Liberty to employ such means etc’ could apply to Mr Beaumont.  Candidly viewing the manner in which this process was introduced - Mr Johnson's hap-hazard experiment notwithstanding Dr. R's being afraid to recommend the plan being carried out - taking all this into consideration it would be the height of absurdity to suppose that any clause in an agreement was necessary under the circumstances to give Mr Beaumont liberty to use the process in question.  If however Dr. R had discovered some New process of such importance (and herein the whole matter hangs) as to induce him to take out a patent, he was by this agreement authorized to do so.  In this case Mr Beaumont would not have had ‘Liberty’ to use such patented process unless a special reservation were made.   A special reservation gives Mr Beaumont Liberty to use such process and as a compensation for such liberty is to make a special payment over and above the Salary.

      I do not however wish to confine the matter to the actual taking out of a Patent although it seems evident that to such case alone the term ‘liberty’ could apply.  I do not in the case before me discover any of those marks which indicate the amount of importance of such discoveries and suggestions as I think were really meant by the parties under that agreement. The process in question as I am informed by a Competent authority had been in use many years. It was not claimed as a discovery by Dr. R. in any publication or any public announcement.  It was not available as a Patent and the sum of 200£ claimed as a recompense for its suggestion to the London Lead Compy has not been yet paid though the amount is not objected to if it should be adopted in their works.  These are the considerations that weigh with me even while admitting the utmost extent of improvement stated by Dr. Richardson.  I have looked at it solely as a matter of claim and Dr. R. considers its being withheld as an act of Injustice.  

 	It is extremely unpleasant to have go back into a Transaction of from 4 to 6 years ago and it would have given me a heartfelt pleasure if I could have seen my way as a matter of business to recommend the payment of his claim of £500 or the lesser sum of £200 with which he would I understand be satisfied.  I have a very high opinion of his Character and Attainments & deeply sympathetic with him in the Troubles & Adventures which have befallen him. I am strongly inclined to think that if under the consideration of his having been the means of effecting an improvement which was perhaps more valuable in its indirect effects on the sale of Mr Beaumonts Lead than important in the actual money obtained for the Slag Lead - If under this consideration you would take into account that Dr. Richardson is a man who is greatly esteemed as a worthy & well meaning person and as an able and industrious man of science - that the sum he requires would be of great importance to him and that he may possibly at some future time be able to promote Mr Beaumonts Interests and I can assure you I have always looked forward to desiring advantage from his professional skill which, in the estimation of the late Mr Buddle promised to become a valuable addition to the scientific character of the North of England.  On Considerations such as these I would not hesitate to recommend Mr Beaumont to make him a present of £200 as an acknowledgment of the advantage gained by his process and which though not, for the reasons I have stated due as a strict obligation, would I hope eventually prove a not misplaced generosity.  A wealthier man with such an agreement signed would probably have tried his case at Law. This is out of Dr. R's power and affords I humbly suggest another reason for dealing with liberality in this case. I am well aware that some other considerations have been mixed up with this claim not immediately connected with its intrinsic merits such as the delay in its being made until notice was given that Dr. R's services were not longer required and I am inclined to believe that if he had not felt the pressure of adverse circumstances he would not have urged this claim of the justice of which he is doubtless in his own mind thoroughly persuaded and I may observe that it is the opinion of two of the ablest scientific friends I have consulted in the matter that his claim as depending on the agreement is stronger than it appears to me, viewed as a matter of right.

      It is my opinion that much future benefit may accrue to this property by the application of sound Chemical knowledge and I may mention that before I entered on this Agency I had heard for the first time of the existence of Minerals which had hitherto been unworked in these districts from Dr. Richardson.  I am now in treaty for the working of some of these minerals under arrangements which promise to be beneficial and convinced as I am of Dr. R's general ability & many estimable qualities I would be very glad if you approve of leaving the decision of his claim in the hands of any third party who may be able & willing to take all these points into Consideration.  I have not come to any hasty decision.  I have reflected most maturely on all the details & I have endeavoured to express my generous sentiments and careful conclusions thereon.

      T. Sopwith
NRO 2762 Box C122. Dr Richardson was industrial chemist and historian Thomas Richardson of Newcastle (1816-67). ‘Lubig’ was the German scientist Justus von Liebig, considered one of the founders of organic chemistry, and who taught Richardson in Hesse in the 1830s, where the latter obtained his Ph.D. In 1844, before his employment by Beaumont, Sopwith had written of Richardson that an ‘extensive laboratory, with all means and appliances for study, is conducted with great ability by Mr. Thomas Richardson, in Newcastle on Tyne. Mr R was a pupil of Liebig’s, and is well skilled in analytical chemistry. The extensive arrangements which he has made, are admirably adapted as a School of Chemistry in which all persons connected with mines and manufactories and agriculture may obtain instructions on exceedingly modest terms.’ T.Sopwith, The National Importance of Preserving Mining Records, 1844, p.52.

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The Dukesfield Smelters and Carriers Project aimed to celebrate and discover the heritage of the Dukesfield Arches & lead carriers' routes between Blaydon and the lead mines of Allendale and Weardale. A two year community project, it was led by the Friends of the North Pennines in partnership with Hexhamshire and Slaley Parish Councils and the active support of Allendale Estates. It was funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and the generous support of other sponsors. Friends of the North Pennines: Charity No:1137467