Wedgwood, Josiah

, an ingenious improver of the English pottery manufacture, was born in July 1730, and was the younger son of a potter, whose property consisting chiefly of a small entailed estate, that descended to the eldest son, Josiah was left, at an early period of life, to lay the foundation of his own fortune. This he did most substantially by applying his attention to the pottery business, which, it is not too much to say, he brought to the highest perfection, and established a manufacture that has opened a new scene of extensive commerce, before unknown to this or any other country. His many discoveries of new species of earthen wares and porcelains, his studied forms and chaste style of decorations, and the correctness | and judgment with which all his works were executed under his own eye, and by artists for the most part of his own forming, have turned the current in this branch of commerce; for, before his time, England imported the finer earthen wares; but for more than twenty years past, she has exported them to a very great annual amount, the whole of which is drawn from the earth, and from the industry of the inhabitants; while the national taste has been improved, and its reputation raised in foreign countries.

It was about 1760 that he began his improvements in the Staffordshire potteries, and not only improved the composition, forms, and colours of the old wares, but likewise invented, in 1763, a new species of ware, for which he obtained a patent, and which being honoured by her majesty’s approbation and patronage, received the name of queen’s ware. Continuing his experimental researches, Mr. Wedgwood afterwards invented several other species of earthen-ware and porcelain, of which the principal are: 1. A terra cotta; resembling porphyry, granite, Egyptian pebble, and other beautiful stones of the siliceous or crystalline order. 2. Basaltes, or black ware; a black porcelain biscuit of nearly the same properties with the natural stone, receiving a high polish, resisting all the acids, and bearing without injury a very strong fire. 3. White porcelain biscuit; of a smooth wax-like appearance, of similar properties with the preceding. 4. Jasper; a white porcelain of exquisite beauty, possessing the general properties of basaltes; together with the singular one of receiving through its whole substance, from the admixture of metallic calces, the same colours which those calces give to glass or enamels in fusion; a property possessed by no porcelain of ancient or 1 modern composition. 5. Bamboo, or cane-coloured biscuit porcelain, of the same nature as the white porcelain biscuit. And 6. A porcelain biscuit remarkable for great hardness, little inferior to that of agate; a property which, together with its resistance to the strongest acids, and its impenetrability to every known liquid, renders it well adapted for the formation of mortars, and many different kinds of chemical vessels. The above six distinct species of ware, together with the queen’s ware first noticed, have increased by the industry and ingenuity of different manufacturers, and particularly by Mr. Wedgwood and his son, into an almost endless variety of forms for ornament and use. These, variously painted and | embellished, constitute nearly the whole of the present fine earthen-wares and porcelains of English manufacture.

Such inventions have prodigiously increased the number of persons employed in the potteries, and in the traffic and transport of their materials from distant parts of the kingdom: and this class of manufacturers is also indebted to him for much mechanical contrivance and arrangement in their operations; his private manufactory having had, for thirty years and upward, all the efficacy of a public work of experiment. Neither was he unknown in the walks of philosophy. His communications to the royal society shew a mind enlightened by science, and contributed to procure him the esteem of scientific men at home and throughout Europe. His invention of a thermometer for measuring the higher degrees of heat employed in the various arts, is of the greatest importance to their promotion, and will add celebrity to his name.

At an early period of his life, seeing the impossibility of extending considerably the manufactory he was engaged in on the spot which gave him birth, without the advantages of inland navigation, he was the proposer of the Grand Trunk canal, and the chief agent in obtaining the act of parliament for making it, against the prejudices of the landed interest, which at that time were very strong. The Grand Trunk canal is ninety miles in length, uniting the rivers Trent and Mersey; and branches have been since made from it to the Severn, to Oxford, and to many other parts; with also a communication with the grand junction canal from Braunston to Brentford. In the execution of this vast scheme, he was assisted by the late ingenious Mr. Brindley, whom he never mentioned but with respect. By it he enabled the manufacturers of the inland part of Staffordshire and its neighbourhood, to obtain from the distant shores of Devonshire, Dorsetshire, and Kent, those materials of which the Staffordshire ware is composed affording, at the same time, a ready conveyance of the manufacture to distant countries, and thus not only to rival, but undersell, at foreign markets, a commodity which has proved, and must continue to prove of infinite advantage to these kingdoms; as the ware, when formed, owes its value almost wholly to the labour of the honest and industrious poor. Still farther to promote the interest and benefit of his neighbourhood, Mr. Wedgwood planned and carried into execution, a turnpike-road, ten miles in length, | through that part of Staffordshire, called the pottery, thus opening another source t of traffic, if, by frost or other impediment, the carriage by water should be interrupted. His pottery was near Newcastle-under-Lyne, in Staffordshire, where he built a village called Etruria, from the resemblance which the clay there dug up bears to the ancient Etruscan earth.

On one occasion he stept forward in favour of general trade, when, in his opinion, Mr. Pitt’s propositions for adjusting the commercial intercourse between Great Britain and Ireland, threatened to be of very pernicious consequence to the British manufacturers. He was, therefore, in 1786, the founder and chief promoter of an association in London, called “The General Chamber of the Manufacturers of Great Britain.” Mr. Wedgwood was very assiduous in writing and printing upon this great national subject, and in consequence of so firm an opposition dje propositions were abandoned.

Mr. Wedgwood closed a life of useful labour, on January 3, 1795, in his sixty-fourth year. Having acquired a large fortune, his purse was always open to the calls of charity, and to the support of every institution for the public good. To the poor he was a benefactor in the most enlarged sense of the word, and by the learned he was highly respected for his original genius and persevering industry in plans of the greatest national importance. He had been for many years a fellow of the Royal and Antiquarian Societies. 1

1 Gent. Mag. vol. LXV.