July 12, 2023 at 10:17 pm #13545
I had thought that the mention of using grooved rolls was covered by the references.
However, when I read the paper again I found that the statement is not directly referenced. As I do not have access to the documents by John Reeder which are given in the references I tell if it is covered by them.
Until an explicit reference in a historic document is produced is made available, it must be considered to be unproved.
I have been looking at newspaper reports about John Cort and his ship, the Abby. He certainly visited Jamaica several times as indicated by advertisements in the Royal Gazette of Jamaica.
I have been following up reference 159 in Jenny Bulstrode’s paper. The report of the letter written by Sir Thomas Rich appeared in a number of newspapers including the Hampshire Chronicle 26 November 1781.
I have attached an image of the first part of the newspaper report of the letter
You will see that the Princess Royal lost contact with a number of ships including the Abby on the 6th November.
Jenny Bulstrode says ‘Later that same year he was returning from Jamaica in convoy,158 when the Abby was separated and taken off course. ‘[L]eaky, sickly and short of provisions’, they abandoned their intended destination of Lancaster. By dint of ‘incessant pumping’, with just ‘three days bread’ to spare, they weighed in at Portsmouth,159’
It was the Princess Royal which arrived at Portsmouth with “incessant pumping and three days bread”. Nothing is said about what happened to the Abby. This letter seems to have been misread by Jenny.
The second attachment is the remainder of the report of Sir Thomas’s letter.July 12, 2023 at 10:27 pm #13547
Here is the rest of the letterJuly 14, 2023 at 9:22 am #13553
That is a fantastic piece of research! It is very difficult to see how Bulstrode could have misread that report, the description she gives exactly fits the condition of the Princess Royal and it was she alone that sailed into Portsmouth, separating from the others, including the Abby, 500 leagues out (1,700 non nautical miles). Not sure why she did not put into Plymouth though, if things were that dire.
There are an awful lot of references given in the paper, I wonder how many others of them are similarly distorted.July 16, 2023 at 5:11 pm #13556
Had a chat with Peter King at Ironbridge yesterday and understand that there is a proposal to produce something from this string for publication in the newsletter. I think that’s a good idea and then we can send the article or a link to organisations that we think should be directly informed.
I was approached by Historic England last week asking should they be prepared to change their texts around the Derwentcote forge. Perhpoas people would be interested in my considered reply. Also my congratulations to Ray on his scholarship in chasing up the Abby/Portsmouth visit seems to have got lost somewhere. Great stuff, Ray
‘The summary is that I personally think that Jenny Bulstrode’s paper is a shoddy piece of work, written by somebody with a fixed agenda. Unhappily it seems that a lot of organisations, such as the Guardian, have taken it as gospel and it most certainly should not be. Her thesis is very much unproven and actually almost certainly fundamentally wrong.
She suggests that Henry Cort’s invention of profiled rolls, for fagoting strips of wrought iron together, was actually a black Jamaican invention, stemming from a crossover of sugar cane rolling practice into the iron industry and suggests that therefore the invention of puddling, which became a key feature of iron production in the 19th century, should be attributed to slaves, ‘black metallurgists’ who worked in an iron works in Jamaica, who in turn learnt their skills from the indigenous iron industry in West Africa, from whence they were transported, of course against their will.
It’s actually quite difficult to decide where to start to pull her thesis apart, simply because it is so faulty. Perhaps the first question is whether the rolls used in the sugar industry were in any way similar to the rolls that Henry Cort used, firstly for fagoting scrap iron together, subsequently, and more importantly for Cort’s puddling patent, for shingling, for working down loops from the puddling furnace into relatively slag-free wrought iron bar.
A simple study of 19th century reports on cane sugar rolls shows that sugar rolls were completely different from the fagoting/shingling rolls that Cort used, and there is no way that one design could have led to the other. Sugar rolls were described as grooved, as indeed were Cort’s fagoting/shingling rolls, but the grooves in the otherwise plain sugar rolls were shallow and longtitudinal, simply there to provide a serrated grip for the sugar canes. Cort’s rolls were better described as profiled. The ‘grooves’ were circumferential, wider, and much deeper, forming dies in which scrap or loop iron was compacted into a long and narrower shape with each pass. There were different sized profiles for rolling the bar from some 100mm plus down to about 25 mm.
One of the more disturbing things about the paper arises from the author’s claim that the technology from Jamaica was passed to Henry Cort by a ‘cousin’, John Cort, (no true relationship claimed or proved) who captained a boat sailing regularly between Jamaica and England. She claims that he was caught up in a storm which obliged him to put into Portsmouth instead of Lancaster, which was the opportunity for H Cort to learn about the Jamaican practice! She cites a report from which some detail she quotes verbatim, but it seems that when this reference is studied more closely, it refers to a totally different boat from the one that she claims John Cort to be the captain of. It is difficult to imagine that this misquote arose out of a mistake or misunderstanding and casts doubt on the scholarship of the whole work. This discovery is not mine, it is down to a colleague in the Historical Metallurgy Society, Ray Powell, who has also been moved to look more deeply into Bulstrode’s facts. There has been considerable discussion on the Hist Met webpages.
Furthermore, Jenny Bulstrode does not understand metallurgical processes at all, and certainly not the the true features of Henry Cort’s invention. She thinks that his development was entirely about turning scrap wrought iron back again into re-usable bar. It was not. Its importance was in the turning of high carbon pig iron from the blast furnace into low carbon wrought iron. He did use rolls for compacting scrap barrel hoops first though. Bulstrode seems to think that the recycling of scrap wrought iron was a black metallurgist invention, but recycling of scrap wrought iron was practised as soon as wrought iron was invented over 4,000 years ago and in the 1750s, English companies were importing scrap iron via Holland just to convert it and send it back again, the practice depending on the English use of coal in reverberatory furnaces for its economy. Henry Cort almost certainly developed the idea of compacting the scrap with rolls because his feed was entirely old barrel hoops, ie he had an exclusive supply of long scrap iron, for which compaction by rolling was a fairly obvious solution. He was not the first to use profiled rolls to shape iron, there is some considerable English and French prehistory, but he was the first to use it for shingling
The black metallurgists, supposedly 76 of them, were employed in an iron works (Bulstrode describes it as a foundry, but casting metal was only a minor part of its function) which was entirely set up by an English entrepreneur, equipped with the latest English furnaces, hammers and rolling mills, and initially staffed with English artificers. Over a period of ‘a few years’, these English workers handed over the physical operations to the black workers, whilst some English managers remained. These ‘black metallurgists’ would in fact have been a mixture of labourers and general assistants with a few genuinely skilled blacksmiths operating the hammers and the rolls. Bulstrode suggests that iron might have been smelted from the ore, but she clearly does not know what this would have involved. If there had genuinely been people amongst the workers who had learnt skills before they had been transported from West Africa, they might have been able to extract iron from the ore in a bloomery, which by the mid 18th century had become obsolete in England following the adoption of the blast furnace 200 hundred years before. There is no known record of a blast furnace ever being built in Jamaica, and it would surely have been remarked upon if one had. The operation of a blast furnace, never used in black Africa, was a very sophisticated process, the skills for which for many years were passed from fathers to their sons.
There is much more criticism which could be levelled against the paper, but in summary, Bukstrode’s thesis is a collection of facts which she has very speculatively and wildly drawn connections between, connections which almost certainly did not exist. The reason why so many people/organisations have taken it so seriously is because it has supported a modern agenda that has undoubted popular appeal, but surely we should support historical accuracy, the truth, rather than encourage the adoption of a romantic fable.
My own attitude would be to ignore it totally, but by 2024, unless we can stop this romance in its tracks, it might have spread to the point that you will feel obliged to mention it as an unlikely story in passing.’July 17, 2023 at 11:20 am #13557
English Heritage should be strongly discouraged from changing anything on their website. I have read it through and there is nothing on it (or the history page associated with it) that refers to puddling. It is a steel furnace, not any kind of iron production furnace. There was a finery forge there, but not revealed in the Time Team excavations. They will be well-advised to stay clear of controversy.
Paul Rondolez wanted to publish a summary of these discussions in The Crucible. I consider that this will be inadequate to prevent bad history finding its way into text books. Further discussions on Saturday after Richard left suggested a short article sent to History and Technology by way of reply and rebuttal. I will try to produce a draft of that next week and circulate it for comment. I think that if it is a joint article from several of us, it may carry more weight.
I Looked up Jenny Bulstrode on the UCL website. She is a lecturer in the History of Science there, not a mere doctoral student.
Peter KIngJuly 17, 2023 at 1:38 pm #13559
I quote from Andrew Roberts Email to me.
‘Derwentcote also once housed a forge used for various processes (as I am sure you probably know). It has not been the focus of our work due to it being almost obliterated in the 19th century and until recently not accessible to the public. However Derwentcote was an early adopter of the Cort process in 1784, albeit it seems to have been adapted and/or abandoned very quickly afterwards.’
RichardJuly 17, 2023 at 4:35 pm #13560
There were several people who signed licence agreements with Cort on his way to Scotland to take out a Scottish patent, but that does not mean that they used the process. At Lumley Forge, a lease was obtained for a site for a rolling mill, but there is nothing to indicate that a rolling mill was actually built. I am writing form memory and will need to check facts in due course.
Peter kingJuly 17, 2023 at 8:59 pm #13561
If you want to hear/see the lady talking about her paper, search for ‘Greg Denning lecture 2021’. (I cannot get the link to the U-tube video to paste to this post.)
RichardJuly 18, 2023 at 9:09 pm #13564
Details of the convoy, including the Abby, when leaving Jamaica, are given in Royal Gazette of Jamaica – 22 Sep 1781
I have found that the Abby did successfully reach Lancaster which was its intended destination.
Lloyds List No, 1312 23 Nov 1781
arrived from Jamaica
This removes any possibility that John Cort landed in Portsmouth even though not arriving with the Princess Royal .July 18, 2023 at 9:11 pm #13565
The exact relationship between Henry and John Cort seems to be unknown
but Henry Cort did come from Lancaster and there was some kind of family connection..
I cannot find any reference suggesting that Henry Cort himself was involved in either trading products produced by enslaved people or owning them although members of the Cort family certainly were, as noted in Jenny Bulstrode’s paper.
Amongst other references see van Batenburg, A. J. V. I. Kort historisch verhaal van den eersten aanleg, lotgevallen en voortgang der particuliere Colonie Berbice. Amsterdam: C. Sepp Jansz, 1807.
(The “kort” in the title is the Dutch word for “short”. The names of members of the Cort family can be found in the document)
However, this has no bearing on whether Henry Cort learnt about Jamaican iron working from John Cort.
The relevant documents at the Devon Heritage Centre are not available online so I have relied on :
Goucher, C. L. 1990. John Reeder’s foundry: a study of eighteenth-century African-Caribbean technology. Jamaica Journal 23,1:39–43.
This is available starting at
“The Reeder Foundry
The descriptions of technical machines and equipment were vague (except for the mention of the reverberatory furnace). It can be noted, however, that multiple furnaces were in use and the operations (given the range of products) were broadly multifunctional: casting, turning, forging, refining and possibly smelting.
According to the records, the eight acres of land purchased by Reeder contained ‘houses’ (more than one) and other buildings.6 Foundry workers included two hundred and seventy-six ‘Negroes’ and between thirty and sixty Europeans; the latter were employed on an occasional basis. The European presence was short-lived for several reasons. Skilled workers were difficult to lure to the Caribbean and expensive to employ, even on a temporary basis (as for setting up operations or training labour). Another reason is found in Church of England records which confirm a high mortality rate among the small population of English craftsmen.”
“The testimony brought to bear to support John Reeder’s attempts to obtain compensation for the foundry’s dismantling clearly indicates that the foundry was ‘of great use’ to Jamaican society in the eighteenth century. Various descriptions confirm the foundry’s working of both iron and non-ferrous metals, including brass, copper, and lead. A variety of articles was manufactured: large iron boilers, iron rollers for pressing canes, cast utensils, a brass train of artillery, brass howitzers, mortars, petards, cannon, shot, lead bullets, plus the general outfitting of British warships and other vessels. Admiral Sir Joshua Rowley testified that without the foundry no fewer than seven ships ‘otherwise would have remained in harbour until supplied from Europe’.
According to one of Reeder’s own descriptions, the foundry equipment had included ‘machinery for making bar-iron’.4 One solitary reference [letter from John Reeder to George Rose, 5 April 1787, Reeder Papers] makes mention of the foundry’s ‘reverberating furnaces’ having been demolished.
The article also says ”
At least one other died as a result of the trans Atlantic voyage, having been brought to Jamaica at considerable expense in about 1783 to restore the foundry. Thus, John Reeder was forced to rely on the skills of African and African-Jamaican metallurgists.
By Reeder’s own estimate, many Africans were ‘perfect in every branch of the iron manufacture so far as it relates to casting and turning… and in wrought iron…’
The Church of England records confirm that both slaves and free Maroons were employed in the foundry. Maroon smiths were highly valued.
A 1743 observer noted:
“The rebellious negroes in St. James forge their own ironwork, making knives, cutlasses, heads of lances, bracelets, rings, and a variety of other kind of necessaries, they have bellows which are made of wood… having for that purpose two negroes who… are always working them up and down.7”
4. Jamaica House of Assembly Journal, vol 8, 7 December 1785, p. 132;
Reeder complained that the machinery had been rendered totally useless and would remain so until people with the proper skills to put it in order were brought from England. One craftsman who had been so engaged at an expense of £140 died too soon after his arrival to have accomplished anything, according to Reeder.
The Black metallurgists were highly skilled.
It is a pity that the material about Henry Cort was introduced into the paper as the conclusion states that this was not intended to be the central concern of the paper.
“Euro American accounts have often described the combination of processes for which Cort took credit as one of the most important innovations in the making of the modern world. But the theft of this combination from Black metallurgists in Jamaica who
developed it was not the central concern of this paper.”.
I would prefer Jenny Bulstrode to revise the paper by removing the sections which reference members of the Cort Family. The paper would also need a new title.
This revised paper would still satisfy what is stated to be its main purpose.July 19, 2023 at 11:45 am #13566
I have just searched for ‘John Reeder Jamaica’ on my Safari search engine and it brought up a considerable string of these above postings under the Historical Metallurgy website banner.
Does this mean what we put in them is freely available to the general public, or did it just pick up that I had access to them and the view is properly restricted?
RichardJuly 19, 2023 at 12:11 pm #13567Paul RondelezParticipant
I did the same search on Safari while logged into the SIG and not. No results were to any discussions here…
Can you please share a screenshot to the results page?
PaulJuly 19, 2023 at 12:12 pm #13568
They did not come up on my similar google search (to Richard’s).
Jenny Bulstrode’s paper is published. We are unlikely to get her to retract it.
The equipment from Reeder’s foundry came to England later than John Cort’s Abby. Is there any chance of working out what ships were in the convoy when it was shipped? Unless there were goods to be shipped by the Navy, it is likely that hired transport ships returned with a cargo of sugar if they could. Unfortunately port books for west coast ports in the late 18th century either do not survive or are in unlisted boxes of TNA, E 190.
Peter KingJuly 19, 2023 at 12:22 pm #13569
As per Paul’s request, attachedJuly 19, 2023 at 12:29 pm #13571Paul RondelezParticipant
Would you mind sending me an email (email@example.com)? I’d like to get to the bottom of this but not in this thread.
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