Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from John Cuthbert, 30 July 1773

From John Cuthbert9

ALS: American Philosophical Society

Newcastle on Tyne, July 30, 1773.


The Time elapsed since I had the pleasure of seeing you at the Royal Society and receiving your Commission in regard to the Furniture of our Collieries makes me almost ashamed to sit down to answer it. As soon as I got to Newcastle I made what Enquiry I could for a proper Person to copy and design all their Utensils, and at last found one Mr. Beilby, an Ingenious Drawing-Master here who undertook it and I hope will have executed it to your satisfaction.1 I got him Leave from the Proprietors to attend Walker our first and greatest Colliery in these parts, about five miles from hence, with an order also for the chief Agents to give him all the Assistance in their power.2 I have laid his Drawings before several of them who say they are very exact and properly performed, and am only sorry it was not in my power to send ’em you sooner. A Call to some of my own Affairs in another County and a long Illness kept me absent from this Place near Six Months, and I did not immediately find a Conveyance for ’em on my Return. I ventur’d however to deliver ’em ’tother Day to Lady Bewicke,3 who promis’d me to send ’em to you with the greatest Care, and proposes being in London within a Fortnight. We thought it unnecessary to give an expensive Drawing of the Fire Engine with all its Apparatus and Accoutrements, as it is not only in the shops, but in Desigulier’s Experimental Philosophy.4 I shall be happy, Sir, if they please you, and am Your most Humble Servant,

J. Cuthbert.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

9Cuthbert (d. 1782), of Witton Castle, near Durham, an F.R.S. since 1765 and a member of the Royal Society Club and the Society of Arts, was also a governor of the Inner Temple and of Magdalen Hospital, a London institution for the relief of penitent prostitutes. At his death he was worth £2,000 a year: Gent. Mag., LII (1782), 599. Whether he was directly connected with the Newcastle collieries we do not know.

1Ralph Beilby (1744–1817) was beyond question ingenious, and much more than a drawing master. The Newcastle jeweler and silversmith made a name for himself as an engraver, and at this time was training an even more famous apprentice, Thomas Bewick. DNB. BF’s reply below, Aug. 28, makes clear that he had commissioned the drawings for a French acquaintance who was writing a work on mining techniques.

2The colliery at Walker was the deepest and most important in the north of England. Among its “Utensils” was a celebrated horse-powered machine for raising the coal from the floor six hundred feet below. See Robert L. Galloway, Annals of Coal Mining and the Coal Trade … (London, 1898), pp. 275–6.

3She was the widow, we assume, of the former sheriff of Northumberland, Sir Robert Bewicke; see John B. Burke, A Genealogical and Heraldic Dictionary of the Landed Gentry … (2 vols., London, 1851), I, 92.

4The Newcomen engine, a forerunner of Watt’s steam engine, is described at length with two full-page plates in John T. Desaguliers, A Course of Experimental Philosophy (3rd ed.; 2 vols., London, 1763), II, 467–90. The engine was the first effective means of pumping water from the mines, and in the past sixty years had come into wide use throughout the colliery districts.

Index Entries