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Latimer Clark, Muirhead & Company


The Electrical Review
Oct. 3rd, 1885


On Tuesday, September 22nd, the remains of Mr. John Muirhead were interred in the Cemetery of Lower Norwood.

The deceased was in many respects a remarkable man; but such was the quietude and modesty of his character that few, except the members of his own family, had any real knowledge of the good and sterling qualities he possessed.

Mr. Muirhead was one of the last survivors of the early days of the electric telegraph. He was the colleague and fellow-worker of nearly all the men whose names are indissolubly associated with the introduction of that great invention, and very interesting were his reminiscences of the old times. But he was a man not much given to talking, and most of his recollections have ended with him. Born at Gifford, in Scotland , in the year 1807, his life has extended over what will probably be considered as one of the most progressive ages in the world's history. The more material part of this progression has been the development of the railway and the telegraph; and in the latter of these great works the late Mr. Muirhead has played an honourable part. The electric telegraph, under Cooke and Wheatstone, had begun to take a practical form in this country in the year 1837, but it was struggling with many difficulties when in 1846 the original Electric Telegraph Company was founded. Mr. Muirhead, who even as a young man showed a decided talent for construction, afterwards joined the company, and remained in its service until the system was transferred to the Post Office in 1870. From his first connection with the telegraph until within a few years of his death Mr. Muirhead devoted himself continuously to the work of extending the system, building the lines and perfecting the appliances. At this time the cost of a message, including addresses, between London and Edinburgh was twelve shillings and sixpence; and had Mr. Muirhead lived a few weeks longer he would have seen the same service performed for sixpence. The tubular bracket of annealed iron which he introduced in place of the solid cast iron one hitherto employed was rapidly adopted and is now in general use. The hollow iron pole which under various improvements is now so common was also, we believe, one of his ideas. The early Metropolitan lines were laid by him, and the pneumatic system for collecting messages from the local telegraph stations to the central transmitting station in London and other provincial towns was first installed under his supervision. Mr. Latimer Clark and the late Mr. Cromwell Fleetwood Varley did much to introduce and perfect this novel system of communication, which is now employed in all the important telegraphic centres. The plan of using compressed air and sending the telegrams both ways in the tubes was probably due to Varley; but the many details which form important elements in the successful working of the system were due to Muirhead. In the absence of manufacturing facilities such as exist now for the supply of telegraphs to the world at large, Mr. Muirhead in conjunction with Mr. Latimer Clark and Mr. W. M. Warden, of Birmingham, founded the house now known as Latimer Clark, Muirhead and Company, a firm which in the course of its career has planted the telegraph in every corner of the world and doubled the carrying power of nearly all the great submarine cables by the duplex system, which is the invention of Mr. Muirhead's sons. It was from this manufactory that Mr. Muirhead introduced the form of battery which bears his name. Other improvements and innovations of Mr. Muirhead might be mentioned, but the greater part of his time was devoted to the practical execution of telegraphic works. His ordinary duties took him to every part of the country, and left him very little leisure time. Nevertheless, he was a well-read man, and on retiring from business a few years ago his favourite amusement was reading works of history, a branch of study in which he was extremely well versed. His knowledge of events and their dates was accurate and comprehensive. Endowed with a very strong and robust frame he hardly knew a day's illness, except at rare intervals, when overwork or exposure had told upon his constitution. His natural vigour was sustained by sober habits, both of mind and living. A few months before his death the health which he had hitherto enjoyed began to break down, and the tranquil leisure he had earned so well was interrupted by a serious illness. He rallied to some extent from this, but on Thursday, the 17th September, while conversing quietly with his doctor in the library of his residence at Oakwood, he suddenly fell back and expired.

Mr. Muirhead was unquestionably a successful man; and his success was due rather to the influence of his character than to exercise of genius. His workmen liked and respected him because of his practical knowledge of the business and his kindly interest in them and their affairs. Under a somewhat rugged exterior he concealed a warm and kindly heart. But such was his dislike of anything approaching to ostentation, that most of his benevolence was strictly private, and perhaps only known to the recipient. He had a sympathy with struggling men, especially artizans, and enjoyed giving them a helping hand in his own works. Some of these turned out badly, others well, and a few have even become notable. He believed firmly in education for the masses. "A good education," he was wont to say, "is much better than money; a man cannot pawn it."

Living an upright and faithful life, he has left few or no enemies behind him. He was one of those who never sought to shine at all, and most of his work was of that silent order which is its own praise."

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