Boulton, Watt and the Pirates

Who knew that Matthew Boulton and James Watt suffered from the privations of Privateers off the Cornwall Coast having supplied Birmingham built steam engines to the Cornish tin mine owners like the fictional Captain Ross Poldark of Winston Graham’s ‘Poldark’ novels……I think that the story of ‘The Lunarticks’ the Lunar Society of Birmingham and The Midlands Enlightenment would make a great TV drama series set in Georgian times like ‘Poldark’……it would involve larger than life characters like Doctor Erasmus Darwin, Grandfather of Charles Darwin, ‘Gunpowder Joe’ Joseph Priestley whose powerful sermons from his Unitarian preacher’s pulpit in favour of the American and French Revolutions caused the ‘Priestley Riots’ in Birmingham in 1793 when Priestley’s home in Sparkbrook was burnt down, and Scottish engineering genius James Watt, whose improved steam engines powered the Industrial Revolution with his collaborator and founder of the Lunar Society Matthew Boulton…….what characters and what a story of the ‘Friends that made the Future’

The Iron Room

The British suffered most by the predations of American privateers. This image is from ‘A view of His Majesty’s Brigg, Observer, commanded by Lieutenant John Crymes (to whom this print is inscribed) engaging the American privateer ship Jack, John Ropes (commander), by night on the 29th of May 1782, off the harbour of Halifax, Nova Scotia”, Aquatint by Robert Dodd, 1784

Boulton and Watt appear to have had several forms of piracy to contend with.

Cornish copper and tin mines relied on coastal vessels to bring coal supplies from the coalfields of South Wales to fuel their steam powered pumping engines. The consequent high coal prices made Watt’s fuel efficient engines a welcome alternative to the old fuel hungry Newcomen engines. Boulton & Watt also used coastal vessels to deliver engine parts via Bristol.

Wheal Virgin mine, one of the nine copper mines amalgamated in 1780 to form the Great…

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