John Nixon - Encyclopedia

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JOHN NIXON (1815-1899), English mining engineer and colliery proprietor, was born at Barlow, Durham, on the Loth of May 1815, the son of a farmer. He was educated at the village school, and at an academy in Newcastle-on-Tyne, where he distinguished himself in mathematics. Leaving school at fourteen, he worked on his father's farm for two years, and then apprenticed himself to Mr Joseph Gray, one of the leading mining engineers in the north of England, and agent to the second marquis of Bute; subsequently he obtained employment as "overman" at one of the Bute collieries in Durham. In 1839 an advertisement drew him to the South Wales coalfield, where he was engaged in mine-surveying, and whence he proceeded to France as engineer to a coal and iron company. Returning to England, he noticed while travelling on one of the Thames steamers that the Welsh coal in use gave off no smoke and was preferred to north country coal both on this ground and because of its greater power-producing efficiency. His experience in France now suggested to him that a profitable market for this coal might be established among the French iron-founders and manufacturers generally who had hitherto imported English north country coal. For some time he was unable to procure any of this special Welsh coal. Eventually, however, by expending all his small savings he secured a cargo, freighted a small craft, and sent it across to Nantes, where with some difficulty he persuaded the local manufacturers to try it on the understanding that he bore the expense of the experiments. These tests, carried out under Nixon's personal directions, proved highly successful, and in due course the French government gave him a contract for Welsh coal for the French navy. Nixon's visit to Nantes laid the foundations of the Welsh steamcoal trade, English manufacturers and shipowners imitating the example of their French rivals. At first Nixon only sold the coal on commission, but eventually acquired what appeared to him a prospective field for steam-coal in the Aberdare valley, and after seven years' working at last struck a rich seam. This property is now known as Nixon's Navigation Collieries. Nixon subsequently acquired or developed other South Wales steam collieries, which yielded him a considerable fortune. He was also the inventor of many mechanical improvements in colliery working. He died in London on the 3rd of June 1899.

See J. E. Vincent, John Nixon, Pioneer of the Steam Coal Trade in South Wales (London, 1900).

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