Hugh Lee Pattinson

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Hugh Lee Pattinson
Hugh Lee Pattinson (1796-1858).jpg
Born25 December 1796
Died11 November 1858(1858-11-11) (aged 61)
Resting place Washington, County Durham
Alma materSelf-taught
Known forSilver refining process, daguerreotypes
Spouse(s)Phoebe Walton
Scientific career
Fields Metallurgy, Industrial chemistry

Hugh Lee Pattinson FRS (25 December 1796 – 11 November 1858) was an English industrial chemist. He was also an entrepreneur, sharing the risk of major industrial developments with famous ironmaster Isaac Lowthian Bell and cable manufacturer Robert Stirling Newall.

Robert Stirling Newall Scottish engineer and astronomer

Robert Stirling Newall FRS FRAS was a Scottish engineer and astronomer.


Although known in his time for the patent process for refining silver that bears his name, he is best remembered for his daguerreotype photographs taken in 1840. Among these is the earliest known photograph of the Niagara Falls.

Daguerreotype First commercially successful photographic process

The daguerreotype process, or daguerreotypy, was the first publicly available photographic process, and for nearly twenty years it was the one most commonly used.

Niagara Falls Waterfalls between Ontario, Canada and New York, United States

Niagara Falls is three waterfalls that straddle the international border between the Canadian province of Ontario and the US state of New York. They form the southern end of the Niagara Gorge.


Felling Chemical Works, shown at top of Ordnance Survey map of 1862 Felling old OS1.gif
Felling Chemical Works, shown at top of Ordnance Survey map of 1862

Pattinson was the son of Thomas Pattinson, a shopkeeper in the country town of Alston, Cumberland, and his wife Margaret Lee; they were Quakers. [1] [2] He was educated at local private schools. He was interested in science from an early age, doing experiments with electricity when he was 17, and also studying the chemistry of metals. [3]

Alston, Cumbria town in Cumbria, England

Alston is a small town in Cumbria, England, within the civil parish of Alston Moor on the River South Tyne. It shares the title of the 'highest market town in England', at about 1,000 feet (300 m) above sea level, with Buxton, Derbyshire. Despite being at such an altitude and in a remote location, the town is easily accessible via the many roads which link the town to Weardale valley, Teesdale, Hartside Pass as well as the Tyne valley. Historically part of Cumberland, Alston lies within the North Pennines, a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and is surrounded by beautiful views of the surrounding fells and the South Tyne Valley. Much of the town centre is a designated Conservation Area which includes several listed buildings.

He began his working life by helping his father in his shop in Alston. In around 1825 he worked for Anthony Clapham, a soap maker in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. In 1825 he became assay master (a tester of the purity of gold or silver coins) to the Greenwich Hospital Commissioners, back at Alston. In continuing experiments in metallurgy, he discovered the basis of his method of separating silver from lead in 1829, but had too little money to go any further. In 1831 he became works manager at Thomas Wentworth Beaumont's lead works. The greater income allowed him to continue his experiments on silver refining until he had a workable process. [3]

An assay is an investigative (analytic) procedure in laboratory medicine, pharmacology, environmental biology and molecular biology for qualitatively assessing or quantitatively measuring the presence, amount, or functional activity of a target entity. The analyte can be a drug, a biochemical substance, or a cell in an organism or organic sample. The measured entity is generally called the analyte, the measurand or the target of the assay. The assay usually aims to measure an intensive property of the analyte and express it in the relevant measurement unit.

Metallurgy domain of materials science that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metals

Metallurgy is a domain of materials science and engineering that studies the physical and chemical behavior of metallic elements, their inter-metallic compounds, and their mixtures, which are called alloys. Metallurgy is used to separate metals from their ore. Metallurgy is also the technology of metals: the way in which science is applied to the production of metals, and the engineering of metal components for usage in products for consumers and manufacturers. The production of metals involves the processing of ores to extract the metal they contain, and the mixture of metals, sometimes with other elements, to produce alloys. Metallurgy is distinguished from the craft of metalworking, although metalworking relies on metallurgy, as medicine relies on medical science, for technical advancement. The science of metallurgy is subdivided into chemical metallurgy and physical metallurgy.

Thomas Wentworth Beaumont British politician

Thomas Wentworth Beaumont of Bretton Hall, Wakefield in Yorkshire, was a British politician and soldier. In 1831, at the time he inherited his mother's estate, he was the richest commoner in England.

In 1834 he resigned from Beaumont's works, and with John Lee and George Burnett, set up a new chemical works at Felling, near Gateshead. [3] It employed around 300 men. [4]

Felling, Tyne and Wear urban area in the metropolitan borough of Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England

Felling is an eastern suburb of Gateshead, Tyne and Wear, England. The town was formed when three villages coalesced in the 19th century. Historically part of County Durham, the town was subsumed into the metropolitan borough of Gateshead in 1974. It lies on the B1426 Sunderland Road and the A184 Felling bypass, less than 1 mile (1.6 km) east of Gateshead town centre, 1 mile (1.6 km) south east of Newcastle-upon-Tyne and 10 miles north west of the City of Sunderland. In 2011, Felling had a population of 8,908.

Gateshead town in Tyne and Wear, England

Gateshead is a large town in Tyne and Wear, England, on the southern bank of the River Tyne opposite Newcastle upon Tyne. Gateshead and Newcastle are joined by seven bridges across the Tyne, including the Gateshead Millennium Bridge. The town is known for its architecture, including the Sage Gateshead, the Angel of the North and the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art. Residents of Gateshead, like the rest of Tyneside, are referred to as Geordies. Gateshead's population in 2011 was 120,046.

Pattinson process

Pattinson patented his silver refining process in 1833. It exploited some familiar properties of metals, namely that lead and silver melt at different temperatures. Pattinson's equipment consisted basically of nothing more complex than a row of about 8–9 iron pots, which were heated from below. Some lead, naturally containing a small percentage of silver, was loaded into the central pot and melted. This was then allowed to cool. As the lead solidified, it was skimmed off and moved to the next pot in one direction, and the remaining metal was then transferred to the next pot in the opposite direction. The process was repeated from one pot to the next, the lead accumulating in the pot at one end and the silver in the pot at the other. [5] [6]

The patent process earned Pattinson £16,000 in royalties. The earlier process of "cupellation" had required at least 8 ounces (250 grams) of silver per ton of lead to be economic. Cupellation involved removing the lead from a silver-rich alloy by oxidising the lead to litharge, leaving the silver behind. [6] Pattinson's process was economic with as little as 2 to 3 ounces (about 75 grams) of silver per ton. [3]


Pattinson's daguerreotype of the Niagara Falls, 1840 Daguerrotype of Niagara Falls by Hugh Lee Pattinson 1840.jpg
Pattinson's daguerreotype of the Niagara Falls, 1840

In about 1840, Pattinson travelled to Canada in the hope of setting up a mining business, [3] stopping at the Niagara Falls long enough to make the earliest known photograph of the falls, a daguerreotype which survives (2009) in the collection of Newcastle University. It was once believed that the small figure standing silhouetted with a top hat was added by an engraver working from imagination as well as the daguerreotype as his source, but the figure is clearly present in the photograph. [7] Because of the very long exposure required, of ten minutes or more, the figure is assumed by Canada's Niagara Parks agency to be Pattinson himself. [7] The image is left-right inverted, and taken from the Canadian side. [8] Pattinson made other photographs of the Horseshoe Falls as well as of Rome and Paris. These were then transferred to engravings to illustrate Noël Marie Paymal Lerebours' Excursions Daguerriennes (Paris, 1841–1864). [1] Aside from being the first known photograph of the Falls, Pattinson's image is also the earliest known surviving photograph of any part of Canada, which wouldn't become a nation for another 27 years. [9]

Other inventions

In 1841 Pattinson patented two other chemical processes, one for making lead carbonate, [10] and the other for manufacturing "magnesia alba", a white magnesium oxide. [3] In 1849 he patented his process for making a new white lead pigment, lead oxychloride. [10]

His lead oxychloride process became a profitable industrial reality in 1850, when Pattinson and his partners (and sons-in-law) Isaac Lowthian Bell and Robert Benson Bowman established a chemical company at Washington, County Durham. [11] [12] Under an 1850 Indenture, [13] Charles William Vane, Marquis of Londonderry, Pattinson and Bell declared themselves "chemical manufacturers and co-partners in trade". [14]

Honours and achievements

In 1838 Pattinson became vice-president of the chemical section of the British Association. He was a fellow of the Geological Society and also of the Royal Astronomical Society. [3]

Pattinson was made a Fellow of the Royal Society (FRS) on 3 June 1852 for his metallurgical work. [15]

Family life

Pattinson married Phoebe Walton on 25 December 1815, having been baptised by the vicar of Alston, Benjamin Jackson, as a member of the Church of England on 23 December 1815 in a public house, the Angel Inn at Alston, as Phoebe's family would not accept marriage to a "Quaker". [2] He took his mother's surname Lee at the baptism. [3]

Pattinson's three daughters married, respectively, the ironmaster Isaac Lowthian Bell, the bookseller and publisher Robert Benson Bowman, and the cable manufacturer Robert Stirling Newall. The brothers-in-law, and Pattinson himself, shared several different business partnerships. In addition, all three brothers-in-law were members of Tyneside Naturalists' Field Club and the Natural History Society of Northumberland. [16]

He died on 11 November 1858. He was buried in Washington, County Durham churchyard. He was survived by his son, also named Hugh Lee, and three daughters. Two other sons, Walter and Thomas, died before him. [17]

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  1. 1 2 "Hugh Lee Pattinson". Newcastle University. 2010. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  2. 1 2 Lonsdale, 1873. pp273-287.
  3. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2012.
  4. "Ten interesting facts about Felling". Newcastle Evening Chronicle. 1 January 2012. Archived from the original on 2 February 2013. (retrieved 30 November 2012)
  5. Tylecote, R. F. (1992). A history of metallurgy. London: Institute of Materials. pp. 157–158.
  6. 1 2 Rowe, 1983. pp 189–190.
  7. 1 2 "Backgrounder: Pattinson Daguerreotype". Niagara Parks, an agency of the Government of Ontario since 1885. Archived from the original on 28 December 2010. Retrieved 30 November 2012. The assumption explained on the web page is that as Pattinson had ample time to walk into the picture, he opened the shutter and then positioned himself at the chosen spot, keeping still there for some minutes.
  8. "Photo: Niagara Falls, 1840". How academics found the first photograph to be taken in Canada. The Walrus. July – August 2009. Archived from the original on 29 January 2012. Retrieved 29 November 2012.
  9. "This is the First Ever Photo of Canada". Huffington Post. 6 December 2013. Retrieved 6 December 2013.
  10. 1 2 Rowe, 1983. p191.
  11. Howell, 2008. p421
  12. NEIMME: Sir Isaac Lowthian Bell, Bart Archived 17 August 2011 at the Wayback Machine . Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  13. Indenture 1759/13
  14. Archaeo-Environment: Washington Chemical Works [ permanent dead link ]. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  15. Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003). Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 107th edition. Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd. pp. Volume 1, page 331.
  16. Hendra, Leslie Anne (2005). "Robert Benson Bowman – an early Newcastle botanist" (PDF). 64. Natural History Society of Northumberland: 161–168. Archived from the original (PDF) on 6 September 2014. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  17. "The Carlisle Patriot". Death of Hugh Lee Pattinson, F.R.S. 20 November 1858. Retrieved 9 December 2012.