THE LATE MR. JAMES EASTON

Nov. 3, 1871


IN our last impression we briefly noticed the death of this distinguished engineer, we now propse to give a short sketch of his professional career.

Mr. James Easton was the son of Josiah Easton, of Bradford, near Taunton, a well known and much respected land agent and surveyor; he was born in 1796, and at a very early age began to assist his father in surveys of the land inclosures, and other local public works. In 1822 his attention was drawn to the hydraulic ram, or as it was then called, the "pulsation engine." He bought the English patent of the celebrated Mongolfier, and visited him in France to obtain all the information the inventor was capable of imparting. This, however, was not sufficient to enable him to construct an efficient machine, and for several years the erection of hydraulic rams entailed a serious loss; but confident in the inherent value of this invention, Mr. Easton persevered, and by dint of numerous experiments, and consequent small improvements perfected the machine, and finally made it the foundation of a large prosperous business. while thus engaged he was also executing various civil engineering works, among which was, in 1825,a survey of part of the then projected London Northern Railway, to which George Stephenson was consulting engineer, and Messrs. Chapman and Jessop, with the late Mr. George Rennie were engineers in charge of various sections. Acting especially with the late gentleman, Mr. Easton made the surveys and parliamentary plans of the section from London, through Cambridge to Peterborough, and visited numerous colliery railways, in order to obtain information as to their construction, mode and cost of working, as to why the locomotive had been abandoned by some of them, and on the merits and cost of Birkenshaw's patent wrought iron rail. The railway in question was very influentially supported, the Marquis of Lansdowne being president, and Sir Robert Peel vice-president; Francis Baring, Lewis Loyd, and other first-rate London and provincial men being directors. The bill carried up to Parliament in 1826, but the money panic of that year put a stop to this and many other similar enterprises for some time. In anticipation of a parliamentary contest, Mr. Easton was engaged in making numerous experiments on the relative tractate force required on canals and railroads, and published a table, dated January 1825, showing the resistance of levels and gradients, and the cost of working locomotives under various circumstances. The disastrous effects of the money panic of this year induced Mr. Easton to turn his attention more particularly to mechanical engineering, and in 1827 he went partnership with Mr. Leahy of the Grove, Southwark, and in the same year he married the only child of the late Mr. Benjamin Shaw, a gentlemen well known in the City circles, and twice in succession prime warden of the Fishmonger's Company. A certain command of capital obtained by this alliance enabled Mr. Easton to extend his operations, and after a dissolution of partnership with Mr. Leahy, in 1829, he carried on the business on his own account until the year 1837, when he took Mr. C.E Amos into partnership. During this period, besides numerous waterworks, hoists, cranes, etc he constructed the, at the time, famous ascending room at the colosseum, in the Regent's Park. He also originated and carried out the idea of letting steam power with small premises, thus extending the enormous advantages of the use of steam to trades whose requirements at that day would not justify the outlay and annual cost of the independent motive power. In 1843 when Trafalgar-square was designed by the late Sir Charles Barry, Mr. Easton was consulted by her Majesty's commissioners of Woods and Forests as to the mode of supplying the projected fountains for water, and suggested the sinking of an artesian well through the London clay into the chalk. the Lords of the Treasury naturally hesitated to grant the money for what was then considered by many an experiment, but having already successfully obtained water at the Reform Club and elsewhere, by the same means, Mr. Easton was so confident of the soundness of his views, that, in straightforward and determined way characterising all his dealings, he guaranteed the Government the results. The flow of water proved to be much beyond the stipulated quantity, and was sufficient not only to keep up the fountains, but to supply many of the public establishments in the neighbourhood. The quality of water was so excellent, that James Clark recommended it should be supplied for use of her Majesty at Buckingham Palace. In 1849 another well was sunk, and a third larger pumping engine erected in Orange-street, and the water supply was eventually extended to the Houses of Parliament, St Georges Barracks, the new Foreign and Indian Offices, and other public buildings.

In 1848 Mr. Easton, in conjunction with Mr. Amos, became consulting engineer to the Royal Agricultural Society of England, on the resignation of the late Mr. Josiah Parkes. In the same year Mr. Easton was consulted by her majesty's Commissioners of Woods and Forests with reference to the cleansing of the Serpentine; he recommended the levelling of the bottom, and covering it with a layer of concrete, supported where the mud was not sufficiently solid, on brushwood or long straw. This plan was successfully carried out in 1857 in St. James Park, where he at the same time designed and executed the arrangements now in use for the supply pf pure water by means of a pumping engine on Duck Island, drawing its water from a well sunk into the Thames ballast underlying the peat and clay of Westminster, the water being collected by means of 15inch jointed earthenware pipes laid for a long distance in the bed of gravel. These works are a portion of the extensive system now in operation for the supply of ornamental waters in the parks and Palace Gardens, the control of which, as well as of the waterworks in Trafalgar-square, Mr. Easton retained to the day of his death. Besides a vast number of waterworks for different noblemen and gentlemen, he supplied the mansion and fountains at Osborne for her Majesty, and was consulted by he late Prince Consort with reference to the water supply of the Horticultural Gardens, where the works were ultimately carried out under his direction. Here again he sank an artisan well, and guaranteed the supply of water, the result as at Trafalgar-Square, far exceeding the expectations.

In the course of his professional career Mr. Easton designed and executed the waterworks for more than thirty owns, among which may be mentioned Brighton, were the water is bought from the borders of Dartmoor through a pipe subjected for six or seven miles to a working pressure of about 750ft, or 325lb per square inch.

Drainage also formed a large part of Mr. Easton's practice. He was professionally engaged in the drainage of some of the Bridgwater marshes as early as 1830. He was engineer to the Dartford and Crayford Navigation from the year 1834; as such he counselled and carried out the underdrainage of the whole of the marshes of Woolwich to Dartford on the right bank of the Thames, so that farmers were enabled to convert the land from pasture into the finest corn-growing land in England. He also carried out a considerable reclamation and drainage at Altcar for the Earl of Sefton.


We have so far only mentioned some of the works in which Mr. Easton was personally concerned, but, besides these, the firm he had founded were actively engaged in numerous important works, such as machinery for raising the Britannia and Saltash bridges and Conway bridges for Mr. Robert Stephenson, and for Mr. Brunel, the construction of paper, corn, and saw mills, and machinery of all kinds in England and abroad.

He remained the head of the firm until 1866, when he and Mr. Amos both retired.

Mr. Easton's character was, in many ways, remarkable. He was endowed with singular simplicity of purpose, and great power of judgement in discriminating truth. when once convinced of the justice and expediency of a line of action, he carried out his convictions with straightforwardness and energy that usually bore down all before it, and nothing stimulated him to decisive action so much as any attempt at extravagance of jobbing. He disdained to use the acts and manoeuvres by which men often seek to attain their ends, believing that the simple and honest course would be sure to triumph in the end. He did not belong to any scientific societies connected with his profession, though always ready to give information to those that sought it of him.

Among men he was distinguished for the sympathy he always evinced towards them, and for the timely aid he was ever ready to give. His last illness was a case of blood poisoning caused by his breathing foul air of an ill-drained cottage whilst endeavouring to persuade the inmates to adopt more healthy and cleanly habits.