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William Martin - One Natural Genius?

black and white sketch of William Martin
William Martin

The Martin brothers:
'One Historical Landscape Painter, One Natural Poet, One Natural Genius'

William Martin (1772–1851) was a well-known Newcastle eccentric, brother of John, the artist, and Jonathan, the York Minster incendiary. Max Adams has written about him in the wider context of the times in “The Firebringers” (2009).

He attended the Monthly Meeting of the Lit & Phil on 4 February 1817, where he demonstrated a “model of a carriage”. Unusually, maybe uniquely, there is no report of this in the Annual Report, although it is recorded in the minute-book.


He was a prolific publisher, and the Lit & Phil possesses many of his pamphlets, in particular it has Richard Welford’s extensive collection. There are also two letters from him in the archives, both seeking the Society’s support in the commercial development of his inventions. He was particularly vocal about the inadequacies of Davy’s safety lamp, and would harangue John Buddle, who advocated its widespread adoption, whenever he saw him. This letter about his own lamp is typical of Martin’s literary style, and his strength of feeling is apparent:

As I consider Sir Humphrey's safety lamps not in perfection I presume to say I am able to let you or any of the Gentlemen Coal owners see them in full perfection and will add much to their safety much to their durability and will maintain their Light in great perfection and much to the satisfaction of the Poor Workmen which murmurs much at their insipid Bad Light. I am very much surprised at Sir Humphrey's leaving his Lamp to Give any man liberty of doing it for him and more surprised to think a man that has for this many years been taken for an ingenious man in the Coal Trade and he has not Improved the Lamp if that he had there would be some symptoms of a natural ingenious Gentlemen where you find one Historical Landscape Painter One Natural Poet One Natural Genius you will find 50000  is not worthy of the name it is not Great Learning will make any of these. Gentlemen if any one will send an order stating that it must bring forward Sir Humphrey's Lamp in its improved state I will bring it forward. But one thing Gentlemen it does not suit me at present to lay out my money upon inventions as I have been 13 Months out of Bread. But if the Gentlemen will pay for the manufacturing of the Lamp I shall Give my labour for making and point out my design to him I will keep him eight then Gentlemen you may have it at your next meeting.

Gentlemen no man can take such a patent for another man's invention. But for an improvement he can.

Halfway Bank, Shields Road. 
Your most obt. and humble servant
Wm Martin

The other letter about a method of preserving timber is more temperate, but still displays some elements of grandiosity. Some of the text is indecipherable:

Mr Turner  
Jan 16 1817  

I humbly beg your pardon as I have taken upon me to trouble you to acquaint the Honourable Gentlemen of the Society concerning the 2 and 3 Inventions of preserving the Timber from the dry rot as I troubled you with the first and I am informed that it is taken notice of in the 

The 2nd Invention I contrive a furnace with a strong Blazing flame not extremely hot to be made in any part in the dock and where they may … with it most convenient and rollers made of [iron] and the furnace to have an opening on each side so that the largest piece of Timber may have sufficient room to pass through without Obstruction and to be drawn through with a simple Machine in a slow motion so that it may have sufficient time to receive a Charcoal Shell Gradually all over it and one piece of Timber Chained to each other then when the first is through the 2nd is making its appearance and run upon rollers and [?] of Water under so that the fire may readily be extinguished so by that method all the Timbers of the Largest Ship of the Navy may be Charcoaled in a few days providing they are al ready for the furnace then Gentlemen when those timbers are properly fired ? proper places and planked and [?] sealing or then all her Timbers is instantly closed in another … Baked a small .. oven so that … Boiling Linseed Oil then that Trenal will neither [?] or rot than Br.. over their Plank when she is clean and her pores(?) open with hot Boiling Linseed Oil 2 oz. Of sugar of Lead and quarter of pound of red Lead to each Gallon and By Charcoaling the Timber will save a … Quantity of Oil and make the process become … Law then Gentlemen I will my Life Bliged a Gainst that Ship may sail round and round the Globe and not take the rot and she will not bed. But no counting for Misfortunes

By Invention Preserving the Old Shipping.

Let her sealing be entirely stripped off and not employed with scraping all the dirt and … entirely from her and a Inspector to see she is perfectly done and properly dried with cloth or anything that will answer. The purpose then apply hot coal Tar and around her properly not leaving an inch undone, then on with her sealing again then she is entirely closed in again then that ship will go no further except too far gone before it was applied they may apply the same to the outside of the Timbers for stripping her Planks of them that ship will last longer than any New Ship made in the common manner.

Those simple inventions when properly applied will save the Kingdom several Millions of Money I am Sir your Obt. And Humble servant, Wm Martin

About the author

Paul Gailiunas

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