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Robert Stirling Newall

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Mr. Robert Stirling Newall,(1812–1889), D.C. L.,F.R.S., F.R.A.S., J .P., of Ferndene, Gateshead, and of R. S. Newall and Co, whose name is well-known in connection with the invention and manufacture of wire rope.

1812 May 27th. Born at Dundee the son of Walter Newall, merchant, and his wife, Janet Hair.

He started work in an office at Dundee but soon moved to London where he worked for Robert McCalmont testing the generation of steam. For two years promoted McCalmont's business in America.

By 1838 Newall owned an engineering works in Dundee.

On receipt of a letter from his friend Lewis Dunbar Brodie Gordon urging him to "invent a machine for making (wire ropes)", he designed such a machine. On Gordon’s return from Germany in 1839, they formed a partnership to manufacture wire rope and colliery equipment in a factory at Gateshead which became R. S. Newall and Co. Charles Liddell became a partner at some point, but just when is not clear.

1840 Patent for "improvement in wire ropes and in machinery for making such ropes" was filed by Robert Newall of Dundee[1].

1841 Patent for "improvement in the manufacture flat bands" was filed by Robert Newall, wire rope manufacturer, of Gateshead[2].

1843 Patent for "improvement in the manufacture of wire ropes and in the apparatus and arrangement of same" was filed by Robert Newall, wire rope manufacturer, of Gateshead[3].

Started to take an interest in astronomy

1848 Patent for "improvement in locks, springs and in the means of setting up and fastening the rigging of ships" was filed by Robert Newall of Gateshead[4].

1849 Married Mary Pattinson, daughter of Hugh Lee Pattinson

1850 Moved into the new field of submarine cable manufacture; his patent covered the protection of cables on the sea-bed encased within wire rope.

His company secured the contract to armour the first Dover–Calais cable in 1851, after which he received so many orders that by 1854 he had a complete monopoly and was obliged to employ subcontractors.

For many years carried on the business of a manufacturer of wire rope in the Strand and other parts of the UK under his patent, which eventually expired in August, 1854[5].

Newall's experience with colliery winding gear was the basis for designing and building paying-out machinery for the cable-laying vessels.

When several of Newall's cables failed because they were too lightly armoured, the firm withdrew from the submarine cable business for several years, returned briefly in 1869–70, then abandoned the field.

1860s Commissioned Thomas Cooke of York to convert 2 large blanks of glass into object glasses for a large astronomical telescope. Eventually the telescope was erected in his garden in Gateshead but the atmospheric conditions inhibited its usefulness.

1866 Patent to Charles Liddell and Robert Stirling Newall of Gateshead for improvements in constructing and moooring floating structures[6]

At some point Newall sold out to his partners and moved to Washington, then to Liverpool where, in 1889, he established R. S. Newall and Son with his son who subsequently passed the business to Newall's grandson[7].

1860 Newall sought to purchase a large telescope from Thomas Cooke of York, who had previously supplied him with telegraph apparatus.

1862 On the stand of Messrs Chance at the Great Exhibition, he saw two discs of top-quality glass, suitable for making into 25 inch achromatic lens. He bought them and sought quotations from Cooke and Thomas Grubb but Cooke seriously underestimated the time needed to prepare the lenses, to construct the massive telescope and its clockwork drive. The lens was exhibited at the Newcastle meeting of the British Association in 1863 but the telescope was not handed over until 1871. In March 1889, shortly before his death, Newall presented the telescope and its dome to the University of Cambridge, where his son Hugh Frank Newall became observer. Many years later, it was transferred to Greece.

1864 Elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society

1867 HER Majesty ... granted Robert Sterling Newall, Charles Liddell, and Lewis Dunbar Brodie Gordon, all of 24, Abingdon-street, Westminster, a prolongation for the term of five years of certain Letters Patent for "improvements in constructing and mooring Light Vessels, Buoys, and other similar Flashing Bodies," such Letters Patent having been originally granted to the late George Herbert, of Sumner-hill, Dartford, now deceased, and bearing date the 8th day of April, 1853, for the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the Isle of Man.[8]

1870 Agreed to manage the National Telegraph Manufacturing Co after it acquired the telegraph equipment works of R. S. Newall and Co.

1875 Elected Fellow of the Royal Society

1879 Elected a member of the Inst of Mech. Eng.

1886 Newall sold his share in the business to his partners and moved to Washington, then to Liverpool

1889 Established R. S. Newall and Son in Liverpool with his son and subsequently with his grandson[9].

1889 Died; his wife, 4 sons and a daughter survived him.



1889 Obituary [10]

ROBERT STIRLING NEWALL, F.R.S., was born at Dundee on 27th May 1812.

He first entered a mercantile office, but afterwards went to London, where under Mr. Robert M'Calmont he found more genial employment in connection with experiments on the rapid production of steam.

In 1840 he invented a method of making wire rope by machinery, and established works for the purpose at Gateshead; and wire ropes of his construction are now used all over the world. From time to time be improved on the original design, and so lately as 1885 he devised a new machine by which the rope is made at one operation, thus avoiding the double process of first making the strands and then combining them into the rope. His interest in wire-rope making however was not confined to the gradual development of his earlier inventions. He was quick to see that wire rope might help in solving the difficulties which had to be overcome before submarine telegraphy could become an accomplished fact. The cumbrous devices at first suggested for protecting the outer covering of the cables were forgotten when he proposed in 1850 that the gutta-percha lines containing insulated wire should be surrounded with a strong wire-rope.

The first successful cable between England and the Continent, from Dover to Cape Grisnez, was manufactured by him on this plan of wire protection, and was laid by Mr. Crampton on 25th September 1851 (Proceedings 1888, page 438); a previous cable not so protected had failed after one day's trial.

In 1852 his firm manufactured the Holyhead and Howth and Port Patrick cables; and in 1853 the Dover and Ostend, the Firth of Forth, and the Holland cables.

In 1853 he introduced a drum-brake for laying cables in deep seas, which, though for a time abandoned, has since been again employed.

During the Crimean war, in November 1854 his firm laid a wire insulated in gutta-percha without sheathing of any kind from Varna to Balaclava; the cable was run out over the stern of the vessel through hand leathers held by the cablemen in turn.

In 1855 he laid the Black Sea cable between Eupatoria and Constantinople; and in 1859 and 1860 the Red Sea cable from Suez to Kurrachee. After laying the latter be was wrecked in the P. and 0. steamer "Alma," and formed one of the boat's crew that left to seek help for the passengers.

He devoted much of his time to scientific work, and had an observatory fitted up, for which he had a 25-inch refracting telescope constructed, the largest previously having had a 15-inch aperture; just before his death he offered this instrument as a gift to the University of Cambridge.

He was twice mayor of Gateshead, and gave much time to local matters. He died at his residence, Ferndene, Gateshead, on 21st April 1889, in the seventy-seventh year of his age.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1879.


1889 Obituary [11]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Titles of Patents of Invention, Chronologically Arranged, Volume 2 By Bennet Woodcroft
  2. Titles of Patents of Invention, Chronologically Arranged, Volume 2 By Bennet Woodcroft
  3. Titles of Patents of Invention, Chronologically Arranged, Volume 2 By Bennet Woodcroft
  4. Titles of Patents of Invention, Chronologically Arranged, Volume 2 By Bennet Woodcroft
  5. The Engineer 1857/07/17
  6. English Patents of Inventions, Specifications: 1865, 3186 - 3265
  7. The Times, 12 September 1924
  8. London Gazette 8 Feb 1867
  9. The Times, 12 September 1924
  10. 1889 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  11. The Engineer 1889/04/26
  • Biography of Robert Stirling Newall, ODNB [1]
  • Biography, DNB