Mudge, Thomas

, an eminent mechanist, was born at Exeter, September 1715. He was the second son of the rev. Zachariah Mudge, prebendary of Exeter, and vicar of St. Andrew’s, Plymouth, who died April 3, 1769, and was honoured by Dr. Johnson with a very elegant testimony of respect, which was inserted in the London Chronicle at that time, and may be seen in Mr. Boswell’s Life of the doctor. Mr. Z. Mudge had three other sons besides the subject of this article. The eldest, Zachariah, was a surgeon and apothecary at Taunton, and afterwards surgeon on board an East Indiaman; he died in 1753 on ship-board, in the river Canton in China. The third, the rev. Richard Mudge, was officiating minister of a chapel | of ease at Birmingham, and had a small living presented to him by the earl of Aylesford. He was not only greatly distinguished by his learning, but by his genius for music. He excelled as a composer for the harpsichord; and as a performer on that instrument is said to have been highly complimented by Handel himself. The fourth son, John, was originally a surgeon and apothecary at Plymouth, but during the latter part of his life practised as a physician with great success. Like his brother Thomas, he had great mechanical talents; and, until prevented by the enlargement of his practice, he found time to prosecute improvements in rectifying telescopes. In 1777 the Royal Society adjudged to him Sir Godfrey Copley’s gold medal, for a paper which he presented to that learned body on the best methods of grinding the specula of reflecting telescopes. He also considerably improved the inhaler, an ingenious contrivance for the curing of coughs, by inhaling steam. In 1777 he published “A Dissertation on the inoculated Small-pox;” which was followed, some years after, by “A Treatise on the Catarrhous Cough and Vis Vitae.” He died in 1792. It was to this gentleman, Mr. Boswell informs us, that Dr. Johnson, during his last illness, addressed many letters on his case.

Soon after the birth of Thomas, his father was appointed master of the free grammar-school at Biddeford, in the north of Devonshire, whither he removed with his family; and here, under his own immediate care, his son Thomas received his education. At a very early period of life he gave strong indications of that mechanical genius by which he has since been so eminently distinguished; for, while he was yet a school-boy, he could with ease take to pieces a watch, and put it together again, without any previous instruction. At the age of fourteen he was bound apprentice to Mr. George Graham, watch-maker, a distinguished philosopher, and the most celebrated mechanic of his time. He soon attracted the particular attention of his master, who so highly estimated his mechanical powers, that, upon all occasions, he assigned to him the nicest and most difficult work; and once, in particular, having been applied to by one of his friends to construct a machine new in its mechanical operation, his friend, some time after it had been sent home, complained that it did not perform its office. Mr. Graham answered, that he was very certain the complaint could not be well founded, the work having | been executed “by his apprentice, Thomas;” and, indeed, it appeared, upon examination, that Mr. Graham was fully justified in this implicit confidence in his apprentice, the work having been executed in a very masterly manner, and the supposed defect arising entirely from the unskilful management of the owner.

On the expiration of his apprenticeship, Mr. Mudge took lodgings, and continued to work privately for some years. About 1757 he married Miss Hopkins, the daughter of a gentleman at Oxford. The circumstance which first rescued him, as it were, from obscurity, is very remarkable: Mr. Ellicot, who was one of the most distin ­guished watch-makers of his time, and who had been often employed by Ferdinand VI. king of Spain, was desired by that prince to make him an equation watch. Mr. Ellicot, not being able to accomplish the undertaking, applied to Mr. Shovel, an ingenious workman, to assist him; but he also being unequal to the task, mentioned it to Mr. Mudge, with whom he was very intimate, and who readily undertook to make such a watch. He not only succeeded to his own satisfaction, but to the admiration of all who had the opportunity of inspecting it. This watch having been made for Mr. Ellicot, his name was affixed to it (as is always customary in such cases), and he assumed the whole merit of its construction. An unfortunate accident, however, did justice to the real inventor: Mr. Ellicot being engaged, one day, in explaining his watch to some men of science, it happened to receive an injury, by which its action was entirely destroyed; and he had also the mortification to find, upon inspecting the watch, that he himself could not repair the mischief. This compelled him to acknowledge that Mr. Mudge was the real inventor of the watch, and that to him it must be sent to be repaired.

This transaction having by some means come to the knowledge of his Catholic majesty, who was passionately fond of all mechanical productions, and particularly of watches, that monarch immediately employed his agents in England to engage Mr. Mudge to work for him; and such was his approbation of his new artist’s performances, that he honoured him with an unlimited commission to make for him at his own price, whatever he might judge most worthy of attention. Accordingly, among the several productions of Mr. Madge’s genius which thus became the property of the king of Spain, was an equation watch, | which not only shewed the sun’s time, and mean time, but was also a striking watch and a repeater; and what was very singular, and had hitherto been unattempted, it struck and repeated by solar, or apparent time. As a repeater, moreover, it struck the hours, quarters, and minutes. From a whim of the king’s this watch was made in the crutch end of a cane, in the sides of which were glasses covered with sliders, on the removal of which the work might be seen at any time; and his majesty being very fond of observing the motion of the wheels at the time the watch struck, it was his practice as he walked, to stop for that purpose. Those who have seen him on these occasions, observed that he ever showed signs of the most lively satisfaction. The price of this watch was 480 guineas, which, from the expensive materials and nature of the work, afforded Mr. Mudge but a moderate profit for his ingenuity; and he was strongly urged by several of his friends to charge 500 guineas for it, which the king would have readily paid. To this Mr. Mudge answered, that, “as 480 guineas gave him the profit to which he was fairly entitled, as an honest man, he could riot think of increasing it, and he saw no reason why a king should be charged more than a private gentleman.” Indeed the king of Spain had such a high opinion of his integrity, that he not only used to speak of him as by far the most ingenious watchmaker he had ever employed, but excelling also in his sense of honour and justice. Mr. Townsend, then secretary to the embassy at Madrid, once told Mr. Mudge that his Catholic majesty had often expressed to him his great admiration of his character, and would frequently ask his assistance to enable him to express the name of Mudge.

In 1750, Mr. Mudge entered into partnership with Mr. William Dutton, who had also been an apprentice of Mr. Graham’s, and took a house in Fleet-street, opposite Water-lane. In 1760, an event happened which he ever considered as one of the most fortunate in his life. This was his introduction to the count de Bruhl, who first came to England that year, as envoy extraordinary from the court of Saxony. This nobleman, who to many other valuable qualities united great knowledge of mechanical operations, ever after treated Mr. Mudge with the most generous and condescending friendship; evincing on every occasion the most ardent zeal for his fame and fortune, by the most active services. | About this period Mr. Mudge appears to have first turned his thoughts to the improvement of time-keepers; for, in 1765 he published a small tract entitled “Thoughts on the Means of improving Watches, and particularly those for the use of the Sea.” In 1771 he quitted business, and retired to Plymouth, that he might devote his whole time and attention to the improvement and perfection of the important subject of this pamphlet. Having some years afterwards completed one time-keeper, he put it into the hands of Dr Hornsby, Savilian professor of astronomy at Oxford. After this gentleman had tried it for four months, during which time it went with great accuracy, it was committed to the care of Dr. Maskelyne, to be tried at Greenwich. After it had been, under his care a considerable time, the Board of longitude, by way of encouraging Mr. Mudge to make another, so as properly to become a candidate for the rewards promised in the act of parliament, thought proper to give him 500l. it being expressly required by the act, that two time-keepers should be made upon the same principles, and both tried at the same time, that if each should go with the required degree of exactness, it might with the more certainty appear to result from the perfection of the principles upon which they were constructed, and not from accident.

The first time-keeper, after it had been tried by Mr. Maskelyne, astronomer-royal, was in possession of M. de Zach (astronomer to the duke of Saxe Gotha) from May 1786 to July 1788, during which time he carried it from London to Gotha, thence to Hieres, thence by sea to Genoa, thence by land to Pisa, Milan, and back to Hieres. At the end of about a year’s absence from Gotha (to which he returned by Geneva) after having travelled over several thousand miles, he found that it had preserved the same regularity of going which it had when it first came into his possession; and by its very great accuracy, he was enabled to ascertain the longitude of several places with a greater degree of precision than had ever been done before.

In 1784 and 1785, this time-keeper was carried two royages to Newfoundland by the late admiral Campbell, and in each voyage went so well as to determine the longitude within one mile and a quarter on the first voyage, and to six miles and an eighth on the second. In consequent e of this, it was the admiral’s opinion that such time-keepers were capable of answering every nautical purpose tin; | could be required of them. After Mr. Mudge had received the 5001. instead of making only one more time-keeper, which would have been sufficient to answer the purposes of the act, he immediately set about making two, and when completed, they likewise^ pursuant to the act, underwent a trial by the astronomer-royal.

In July 1790, the year’s trial required by the act expired, about a fortnight previously to which a board of longitude was held, when Dr. Maskelyne’s report of the going of the time-keepers was so favourable, that it was declared that directions should be given at the next board to apply to the admiralty for a ship, in which they might be sent to sea, in further compliance with the act. At the meeting of the next board, however, Dr. Maskelyne produced certain calculations, in order to prove that neither of them had gone within any of the limits of the act; and therefore at another board held the same year, it was determined that no further trial of them should take place. This occasioned an unpleasant controversy, which will be found discussed in “A narrative of facts relative to the Time-­keepers constructed by Mr. Thomas Mudge, by Thomas Mudge, jun. of Lincoln’s-inn:” Dr. Maskelyne’s “Answer to a Narrative of Facts,” &c. and Mr. Mudge’s “Reply,” with which the dispute ended.

In July 1791, Mr. Thomas Mudge, jun. presented from his father a memorial to the Board of longitude, stating, that although his time-keepers, during the period of their public trial, had not been adjudged to go within the limits prescribed by act of parliament, yet as the honourable board were of opinion that they were superior to any that had hitherto been invented, and were constructed upon such principles as would render them permanently useful; as the memorialist, moreover, had employed near twenty years to bring them to the perfection they possessed; and as the first time-keeper made by him had been going upwards of sixteen years, with such an uniform degree of excellence as evidently to prov6 that the principles upon which his time-keepers were constructed were permanent in their nature; therefore the memorialist trusted that the honourable board would exercise the powers vested in them hy parliament, and give to him, upon his making a discovery of the principles upon which his time-keepers werd constructed, such a sum of money as his invention and great labours should appear to deserve. This memorial | being unsuccessful, Mr. Mudge in 1792 presented a petition to the same effect to the House of Commons, which, owing to the lateness of the session, could not then be considered; but in the next, Mr. Mudge 1 s merit appeared so clearly to the house, that they were pleased to vote him, in the most honourable manner, and by a great majority, the sum of 2500l. which, with 500l. given him before by the board of longitude, made in the whole 3000l.

He did not long survive this honourable testimony to the utility of his mechanical labours. He died on the 14th of November 1794, in the eightieth year of his age, at the house of his eldest son, Mr. Thomas Mudge, in Newington-place, Surrey. On the death of his wife, in 1789, he had given up house-keeping, residing afterward, sometimes with his eldest son in London, and sometimes in the country with his other son, the rev. John Mudge, M. A. rector of Lustleigh, and vicar of Bramford Speke, both in Devonshire. To speak of Mr. Mudge, in general terms only, as the first watchmaker of his age, would be unjust. Besides his superior merits in bringing time-keepers to a greater degree of perfection than had been hitherto attained, he has done the mechanical world no small service by the invention of a scapement for pocket- watches, which is one of the most considerable improvements that have been introduced for many years.

Two anecdotes deserve to be recorded, as striking proofs of Mr. Mudge’s great mental powers: count Bruhl, when he first came to England in his diplomatic capacity, brought an ingenious watch from Paris, made by the celebrated Bertoud, intending it as a present to his majesty. This watch, however, not performing its offices, was sent back to the inventor, in or$|er to be rectified. After its return, it still continued imperfect; and, on further applications to M. Bertoud, that artist acknowledged, with great candour, that, although he thought the principles on which his watch was constructed were good, he was himself unable to carry them into effect. The count then applied to Mr. Mudge, requesting him to undertake the task but, deeming it an indelicate circumstance to interfere with the inventions of another artist, Mr. Mudge expressed the greatest reluctance on the occasion. The importunity of the 'count, however, added to the gratitude which he feit for the distinguishing marks of esteem he had already received, induced Mr. Mudge, at last, to wave his objections; and he | had the satisfaction to be completely successful. The other anecdote relates to a large and complicated watch belonging to his majesty, which had long gone so ill that it had been repeatedly put into the hands of the most distinguished watchmakers, to be repaired; all of whom, though confident in their abilities to give it the requisite perfection, had been obliged to abandon the watch as incapable of amendment. It was then put into the hands of Mr. Mudge, who happily succeeded. This circumstance gave his majesty a very high opinion of his superiority over every other watch maker. In 1777, he appointed him his watchmaker, and often honoured him with conferences on mechanical subjects. Her majesty likewise expressed a great esteem, not only for his talents as an artist, but for his character as a man. At one time, she presented him with fifty guineas for only cleaning a watch; and it was through her recommendation to the lord chancellor, that his second son obtained the living of Bramford Speke, as he did afterward that of Lustleigh through count BruhPs interest with the hon. Percy Charles Wyndham, brother to the earl of Egremont.

We shall close these memoirs in the words of his excellency the count de Bruhl: Mr. Mudge “was a man whose superior genius as an artist, united with the liberality of a mind replete with candour, simplicity, modesty, and integrity, deserve the highest admiration and respect; whose name will he handed down to the remotest posterity, with the same veneration which attends the names of his predecessors in the same line, Tompion, Graham, and Harrison, who, while living, were admired by their contemporaries, and whose fame adds to the splendour and glory of this great nation.1


Universal Magazine for 1795, apparently from authentic information*