July 5, 2023 at 10:21 am #13505
Hi, would love to see some discussion on this paper which was mentioned in today’s Guardian https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/07341512.2023.2220991?fbclid=IwAR2WN6XTsmjlulk3BD6bFCsT7KFZ0uC9oDXiGRs12X5nklhN4AJfEI8kzG4
It claims the puddling process was, in fact, developed in Jamaica by ironworkers of African descent. Peter King?
July 5, 2023 at 3:58 pm #13510
- This topic was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by Paul Rondelez.
I have quickly read the article. It gives a history of skilled iron working in Africa and its relation to slave trading. It suggests that Black metallurgists , in Jamaica, had made use of the grooved rolls used in processing sugar to roll bundles of scrap iron to produce good quality bar iron in the 1770s. It suggests that Cort learned of this from his relative, John Cort. who had been to Jamaica. He then patented the method. The article suggests Cort knew the source of the money he was give by his partner, Jellicoe, When he was found responsible for paying off the debt the article says “Friends helped him pay debts and secure a small pension, and in their efforts launched the myth of the heroic inventor” The article does not suggest the the puddling technique was used in Jamaica.July 5, 2023 at 4:01 pm #13511
When I said article in my post I meant the paper. I have also looked at the article in the Guardian.July 5, 2023 at 4:28 pm #13512
Thank you! Not my time period, so not too familiar with the various techniques.
Does this mean that Cort obtained patents for both puddling (wrought from cast) and one for wrought from bundled scrap? If so, the paper would seem somewhat unfair as it documents Cort’s ‘borrowing’ of the Jamaican scrap to wrought process while not mentioning the puddling process for which Cort became most famous? ‘Puddling’ is mentioned once in the paper, as an alternative name for the ‘air furnace’, which is elsewhere used to describe the furnace for converting scrap to wrought. Also the title of the paper ‘Black metallurgists and the making of the Industrial Revolution’ would seem to be somewhat misleading as the scrap to wrought was unlikely that impactful in that Revolution. (again, please excuse my ignorance of the period, just really curious about the paper).
July 5, 2023 at 6:37 pm #13514
- This reply was modified 2 months, 3 weeks ago by Paul Rondelez.
My view of Henry Cort has been influenced by R. A. Mott’s book “Henry Cort : The Great Refiner”. Mott gives a favourable account of him which seems very different from the view of the paper’s author.. It is some years since I read the book but I have quickly gone through parts of it again. There does not seem to be any reference in the book to a connection to Jamaica. It would be very interesting if someone who has done original research could comment.July 8, 2023 at 12:36 pm #13522P.W. KINGParticipant
I have read the Jenny Bulstode’s History and Technology paper, perhaps not yet as closely as I should. The leading work on Cort is Mott’s book, which is perhaps too uncritical and has some mistakes, not necessarily major ones. However the paper is riddled with what I can only describe as leaps of faith:
- Iron was made in Africa, but only by a bloomery process. But there is no evidence provided that any African ironmakers were enslaved.
- Maroons and escapees may have recycled old iron into useful goods. But the evidence provided is only of blacksmiths, not ironmakers.
- There were also foundries in Jamaica, though it is not stated whether they were casting iron or brass. Ironfounding at the period would probably involve an air furnace (a reverberatory furnace).
- John Reeder established an ironworks, with two reverberatory furnaces, four small forges, 2 larger ones, a water wheel and a rolling mill. Unfortunately no detail is provided of the nature of these: the small forges may be for blacksmiths. The rolling mill would be illegal under the British Iron Act 1750, but they probably did not know that. One of the reverberatory furnaces may have been an air furnace for foundry work. Another might have been a balling furnace for recycling scrap iron. Therefore the larger forges may have been belly helve hammers (legal) or tilt hammers (illegal in colonies).
- There is no reference to a blast furnace (to produce pig iron), but such a substantial structure would undoubtedly have been mentioned. As the nature of the structures built of brick is not clear. The presence of fineries cannot be completely ruled out, but (if so) where was pig iron as its feedstock obtained? The shipment of pig iron from Virginia (or other continental colonies) could have occurred before the outbreak of the American War of Independence, but is improbable during it. The war provided a period of hardship due to the disruption of trade.
- Bloomery ironmaking was effectively extinct in England by this time and no evidence is given of its use by the maroon community, so that this is unlikely to be involved in Reeder’s works.
- Reeder brought in 60 white artisans from England to instruct his black workers. This implies that he was seeking to use English technology. The use of all the processes described were long established in England. The emphasis in England was on the production of new iron in blast furnaces and forges. This means that evidence for recycling iron is scattered in England, and that tends to be swamped by material on making new iron, but any process likely to have been in Jamaica was already established in England. All the technology of which there is evidence was already well-known in England.
- Reeder’s works were suppressed in 1782. In subsequent petitions say something of the works, but may reflect what he hoped to achieve if they were continued, rather than what he had achieved. His reference to obtaining pig iron is in terms implying that he had not made any. Similarly his hope to have coals from Newcastle or Wales cheaper than it was in London may sound improbable, but actually reflects the coastal customs duty charged (uniquely) on coal.
- Bulstrode makes a link between John Cort, a ship’s captain, who arrived in Portsmouth from Jamaica in c.1781, but that does not imply that he even knew of Reeder’s works, let alone how they worked. Ironmaking was a technical process which would not have been easily reported by a casual observer.
- Anything useful from Reeder’s works, together with naval stores were taken on board naval ships and brought to England. This would not include the brick of air furnaces, but might have included the machinery of the rolling mill and hammers. We are not told that any of Reeder’s workers were brought to England. Useful machinery may have arrived as scrap, but the knowledge of how to use it depends on the movement of those with the skills. This is why Reeder had started by bringing in English artisans.
- Cort was not ‘near bankrupt’; to say so is a caricature of his situation. He was the ironmonger to Portsmouth dockyard, making him the sole supplier of ready-made ironware required there. There were separate contracts for the supply of bar iron (mostly Swedish) for use by dockyard smiths and also for anchors, but supplies from Cort (and later Cort & Jellicoe) would have run to thousands of pounds. This was undertaken through a warehouse at Gosport, but it is not clear whence it was supplied. This (rather than the ironworks at Funtley) was Cort’s main business.
- It is likely he was under pressure to accept scrap in part payment for what the Navy Board owed him for supplies. British wars were conducted on credit. There was a well-established system by which delivery was acknowledged and payment authorised but not immediately made. Suppliers could obtain immediate payment by selling their bills at a discount, whose size would reflect the time the buyer of the bill expected to wait for payment. Several years into the war, he would have been owed substantial sums, which is why he took a partner (Samuel Jellicoe) with an apparently rich uncle Adam. This ultimately proved Cort’s undoing, but that concerns later events.
In summary, Jenny Bulstrode has told a tale based on a series of tenuous linkages, which do not stand up to scrutiny. It is noticeable that she cites no general work on the history of ferrous metallurgy, meaning that it is far from clear that she understands the processes involved or the nature of different varieties of iron. She certainly did not explore the English background to the processes established by Reeder’s English artisans at his works. If she had done so, she might have realised that little or nothing being done in his works was novel.
In this she suffers from a common failing, one that has caused me difficulties on occasions. A historian who tackles a subject beyond their particular area of expertise is liable to fall into error. That, I fear, is what has happened here.
Peter KingJuly 8, 2023 at 1:02 pm #13524
Thank you so might for this insightful reply! And can only but agree with your last paragraph, which sadly applies to archaeology as well.
Paul RondelezJuly 8, 2023 at 7:45 pm #13526
Rather than get involved with the detail of Jenny Bulstrode’s argument, I think that the refutation of her work should involve simply showing that all of the technology she talks about, recycling malleable iron, use of reverberatory furnaces, general rolling mills, etc. were all being used in Britain long before the period in question. So much is easy.
Jut for a minute, when I read her paper, I wondered whether she had something in the crossover of sugar cane rolls into the iron industry, so spent a little time looking up the designs of sugar cane rolls on the net. She might well have been misled in her thesis by reading that both sugar rolls and Cort’s rolls were described as grooved. In fact they were totally different in design, with the grooves in otherwise plain parallel sugar rolls being longtitudinal and quite shallow, designed to grip the cane more tightly. Cort’s grooves were of course circumferential and much deeper. There is absolutely no comparison.
The lady is very ignorant of the manufacture of iron, as Peter points out.
If Reeder’s equipment was shipped back to Portsmouth (why Portsmouth?), Henry Cort might well have thought of buying some of it, but even if that were true, it is not indicative of him stealing knowhow from slaves in Jamaica. He would probably have had to import the slaves to do that.
Richard WilliamsJuly 10, 2023 at 11:54 am #13527
Most of the paper is taken up with establishing the credibility of the skills of the enslaved workers and why the repurposing of the scrap iron was of symbolic importance to them.
John Reeder made it clear that that scrap iron was being processed at the foundry and not locally produced pig iron, “plantation iron”. Bundles of heated iron rods were passed through grooved rolls to produce bar iron. I, too, have looked for information on the net about sugar cane rolls as I had no previous knowledge of them. There are photos of modern rolls which have circumferential grooves. I feel that some kinds of sugar cane rolls cannot be dismissed as offering no advantage over flat rolls given the statements about their successful use.
Henry Cort could not make money out of his contract with the Admiralty unless he could make use of the scrap iron which the Admiralty had supplied in part payment for his work. Existing processes for doing this were costly and information about what was being done in Jamaica. would have been useful to him. However it is conjectural that this information flow actually happened. It would be interesting to see the full version of what Mott wrote rather than the abridged versio0n that was published.
It is stated in the paper that “these Black metallurgists developed one of the most important innovations of the industrial revolution for their
own purposes”. This is too strong a claim but their efforts should not be ignored whether or not Cort learned what had been done. Nothing done in Jamaica was relevant to the puddling of pig iron which Cort describes in his second patent.. This is the process which became extremely important although it took workers at Merthyr Tydfil considerable experimentation to turn Cort’s idea into a workable process.
Jenny Bulstrode’s paper was published Open Access. This makes it more accessible although the mention in the Guardian and New Scientist helped. When I looked it had been viewed 1750 times. I see that the article on Henry Cort in Wikipedia was almost immediately updated to include the claim that he knew about what had been done in Jamaica. The article has been updated again to say that the connection to Jamaica has only been hypothesised but it is being accepted by others. One example is an article on the 8th July in The News, a local paper for the Portsmouth area. it says “Councillor Sean Woodward, leader of Fareham Borough Council, described the findings as ‘the industrial espionage of its day’. ‘It looks like he stole the technology from 76 Jamaican slaves,’ he said”.
I am glad that the HMS has adopted Platinum Open Access so that the Journal’s contents make available an authoritative source of information to a wider audience.July 12, 2023 at 2:29 pm #13531
Ray, you imply that Reeder made it clear that bundles of heated iron rods were passed through grooved rolls to produce bar iron. Have you a source other than Jenny Bulstrode for this? In the paper it seems to me that she herself was the one who claimed that and rather speculatively I think.
I did my researches on sugar cane rolls in old encyclopaedias rather than in modern sources and they all showed relatively shallow grooves running longitudinally. I did find a patent which claimed for circumferential grooves as well, but these were to provide a path for the juice to course down. It is a pity that Cort used the term grooved, when the description ‘profiled’ would have been much more apt.
It is very disturbing that people should immediately accept this paper as gospel and change entries in publicly available sources. I really don’t personally believe that such Jamaican work could have been prior art to any of Cort’s inventions (and of course it is not directly related to his puddling patents anyway). I accept that the slaves(?) might well have been excellent smiths and very useful to Reeder’s venture, irrespective of any experience of West African metallurgy, but I think the idea that they came up with using profiled rolls to process scrap iron and that this transferred to Henry Cort incredibly speculative.
I have tried to attach four files containing 19th century depictions of sugar cane rolls, but the system will not let me upload all of them. Perhaps in total they are too big. In which case I will send them through one by one.
RichardJuly 12, 2023 at 2:31 pm #13533
Another file attachedJuly 12, 2023 at 2:32 pm #13535July 12, 2023 at 2:35 pm #13537
Sorry, technical hitchJuly 12, 2023 at 2:37 pm #13539
I am going to give up, it won’t send the file that I want it to, it keeps just sending the same file as before.
SorryJuly 12, 2023 at 2:49 pm #13541
We received three different images, not sure how the same ones were sent…
Can I please ask you, and others who have not done so yet, to change your User Name to your actual name? This can be done by going to Member Area, and under Account details to change Display Name to your name.
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