Young & others v. Fernie & others (3), 1864

type: Companies - litigation

The Journal of Gas Lighting, Water Supply and Sanitary Improvement, 22nd March 1864
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Selected extracts from the famous court case that provide descriptions of oil production from adapted coke ovens at various sites in South Wales.

Monday, March 7 1864

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL said he was arguing that shale and coal were analogous substances, and not the same. He would now call attention to a patent taken out in 1860, some months before Mr. Young's, by a person of the name of Stones, for improvements in treating peat and other carbonaceous and ligneous substances, so as to obtain products therefrom, by means of superheated steam, which prevented the temperature rising above a low red heat. Then Michel took a patent a few months before Mr. Young, for improvements in treating coal and in the manufacture of gas; and in describing the heat which he used for the first 50 hour, he said it should "not exceed nascent red heat, or 964' Fahr.," being a little below what Daniel and Poullet gave as the point of incipient red heat. Then, speaking of what they now called shale, Michel described them as "coal of the tertiary formation." Then, with reference to the earlier use and production of the article now claimed, it would be found from the evidence that, in a great many places in the east and, south-east parts of the South Wales coal-field, the manufacture of this species of oil had been going on from the beginning of the present century upon a large and commercial scale.

From the year 1808 to 1815, a witness of the name of Rogers, since dead, whose evidence had been taken de bane case, was engaged at the Pontypool works, in Monmouthshire; that, although gas was then burnt in the works, there was a very large production, in retorts and ovens properly constructed for the purpose of coal oil distilled from the coal, and distilled always at a heat not exceeding a low red heat; and that there was a large sale of that for lubricating purposes. It would also be proved that there were in the region he had referred to two distinct veins—one of what was called the Horn coal, which produced the oil in a limpid and pure state, floating on water, and having all the characteristics attributed by Young to his oil; and another, called the Rock vein—a sort of house coal—which by the same process and the same temperature would never produce any oil but one that would sink in water. That manufacture at Pontypool was still carried on by the Ebbw Vale Company.

The same process was introduced with the same results at Risca in 1815, and at Golynos, Nantyglo, and Blaina in 1831.The fact that Mr. Young knew that his own product was produced at his own temperature at Pontypool was clear from his not treating it as an infringement of his patent, although it had been going on since the beginning of the century. There were other works at Brynmaur in 1833 and 1834, and at Clydach, in Breconshire, from 1849 to 1862. At Abersychan there were similar working before 1850. A gentleman named Leigh obtained paraffin from coal at a low red heat in 1840 and 1847. and Messrs. Parkes and Fisher would prove that they did so from 1810 to 1849. Then what the defendants did was this: they tried one or two vertical retorts, but the greater number were horizontal, and they were most carefully prepared, so as never to raise the temperature so high as a low red heat; and that produced a much better result than if a low red host were used, as would be proved most conclusively. It was said that a man of the name of Vary was sent by the defendants to Mr. Young, in order to obtain information as to Mr. Young's mode of carrying on his works; and that Mr. Young gave him some information upon the faith of a representation made by him, that the defendants were going to take out a licence. It was quite true that, at. one time, it was under consideration whether the defendants would not, instead of engaging in litigation, take out a licence, if they could do so on reasonable terms. That was a consideration never favourably entertained by Mr. Fernie, but Mr. Jones recommended it, and the partners of Mr. Fernie wished, if possible, to avoid litigation. But there was not the least pretence for saying that Vary was sent us a ruse to get information of Mr. Young's mode of proceeding. Indeed, it would be proved that the information which Vary got was never communicated, much, less used. That, no doubt, was introduced in order, if possible, to prejudice the defendants. But he submitted that, whether his honour looked to the point of novelty or to the point of infringement, the case of the defendants would be clearly established. He had forgotten to state that, in addition to the working on coal in Wales, there was an extensive and profitable working at Wareham, both from shale and coal, established in 1849, and in operation for manufacturing puposes before the date of Mr. Young's patent.

Mr. GROVE: Did you say coal was ever worked?

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: So I am informed.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR: That is, for the production of crude oil?

The ATTOURNEY GENERAL: Yes, and paraffin. The plaintiff said that in 1861 he received information of the proceedings of the Wareham Oil Company, and threatened them will a bill of injunction; but immediately afterwards the company became bankrupt, and it was not therefore worthwhile to proceed.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR: Was it a Bituminous Shale Company?

The ATTOURNEY GENERAL: It was originally.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR: That company was wound up in this court.

The ATTOURNEY GENERAL: But they have successors. The announcement in the original prospectus covers the whole ground of the commercial results aimed at Mr. Young, and a considerable business has been continually done at Wareham.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR: Am I right in supposing that, by your process, the melting-point of zinc, which is about 770 degrees, is the best that you use?

The ATTOURNEY GENERAL: I think that the results of our evidence will be that

Mr. George Parry, examined by Mr. CHANCE

I am operating chemist to the Ebbw Vale Iron Company, and have been engaged for the last 3 years in attending to distillation from bituminous coal. I have been living all my life amongst distillation from coal. I do not agree with Mr. Young that the term " bituminous mineral substances" covers coal. I do not consider there is a novelty in Mr. Young's process, as described by him. The breaking of coals into small pieces it not necessary, is not new, and is very unimportant. The mode of condensation pointed out is the worst that could be pointed out. A common gas-retort for the purpose of distilling oil is very best. It is a common iron pipe closed at one end, with a door at the other, so arranged that the fire goes all round it. Supposing a common gas-retort to be heated to a low red heat, it would be much too high for distillation from bituminous coal. I consider the description states that the whole retort should be heated to a low red heat, and that would be wholly ineffectual for oil distillation. The operations are generally performed by day, and there would be a difference of 50° or 70° according to whether the retort was looked at in day time or at night. There is no benefit to be attained by gradual heating until you have arrived at the point at which volatile products are given off. Supposing it is practicable to take off the oil at 800°, it would be prejudicial to go to 1000'.

The Vice-Chancellor: What are the Ebbw Vale works?

Mr. CHANCE : We say they have been making our oil.

Examination continued : The processes of purification and rectification described by Mr. Young are not new, and have been much better described before. I have had knowledge of coal-oil-works since 1826, at Brynmawr, in South Wales. The oil was reduced by the coal put into an oven. The bottom of the oven was heated, and the oil was condensed in zigzag pipes and received into a receiver; and the oil was used for lubricating the wheels of the trams. The temperature was the same that I have noticed since. I know what gas tar is; and the oil produced was very different from that. The coal distilled was a common house coal, not highly bituminous. In 1833 I recollect oil being produced for sale.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR; At Brynmawr the oil produced was not for sale but was continuously produced.

By Mr. CHANCE : I recollect oil being produced at Colebroke Vale 30 years ago. It was similar to Mr. Young's, and different from gas tar. At the Beaufort Iron-Works oil has been produced for 30 years; and at Pontypool. The heat was applied to the bottom of the oven only, and the result would be a low temperature. I have heard that extensive sales have been made at Pontypool for many years. I have seen their books, and seen entries of sales. The oil was not the same, because the material was different; but if you put Boghead coal into any of those ovens, you would get Young's oil.

At Pontypool they have been making oil from coal for two years from my own personal knowledge, but I have heard of it from my youth. I made some experiments at Pontypool in December, 1862. They were made in the old ovens, which were similar to those I have described, and heated by coke ovens underneath, though originally they were heated by fire. I charged the oven hot with 22 cwt. of the Rock vein coal, and the time of distillation was 48 hours. The temperature at which It distilled was a low red heat, on the evening of the day; and after the vapours had been driven off, it was a little hotter. Rock vein coal is an ordinary bituminous coal; it is poor in bitumen. The specific gravity of the oil produced was 1060. I put that into a 2-gallon can. I charged oven No.2, with Pontypool horn coal, which is much richer in oil. I put in 24 cwt. That proved a failure; and on the 9th of January, 1863, I repeated the experiment. I charged the oven with 18 cwt. of the same coal, and the mode and time of distillation were practically the same. The temperature of the bottom of the oven was a low red heat; the sides were black. The specific gravity of the oil produced was '940 on the first day, but the bulk was '977. When I took that which had a gravity of '940, the process had been going on 24 hours only. Oven No.3, I charged with 19 cwt. of Leeswood curly cannel. The specific gravity of the oil produced was '980. Oven No. 4, I charged with 19 cwt. of Torbane Boghead, and the oil reduced was '940 specific gravity. I did not take the quantity, because the condenser was not calculated to do so with a highly bituminous coal. There is a reservoir at Pontypool which contained the oil produced by 22 ovens; that is from the Rock vein coal.

By the VICE-CHANCELLOR: The 4 ovens of which I last spoke were part of the .

What was left I subjected to the heat of melted lead—a bath of melted lead. I think that is about 620'. According to my experiment the oil began to pass over at 600°; a very light oil. It was more like naphtha than oil. had no means or measuring the temperature higher than that.

That looks like the pipe I made used of for the purpose of testing the temperature at Mr. Fernie's Works [referring to an iron pipe which Mr. Chance produced]. That would be called an inch gas-pipe. On the 29th of February, I went down to the Pontypool Iron-Works, in south Wales. I noted the kilns there which was used for the purpose of distilling coal. They are made of brick. At Pontypool there were ovens made of brick 14 feet long and 6 feet wide.

By the Court: "Were they ovens or retorts. They call them ovens down there. They were charged with 2 tons of coal, and the charge was worked off in 48 hours.

By Mr. Cilascc; The coals are heated by a fire placed in the neighbourhood. [The Witness handed two piece of paper to his honour.] The grates extending not quite the length of the ovens themselves, and the products of combustion from the fire escape at the end of the fire place by a side flue. At Pontypool, they are coking-ovens. These coking ovens are for the purpose of heating coals. It is economical to do the two operations at once—to make coke and oil at the same time. There is no heat carried along the sides of the ovens, nor along the upper part. The heat simply runs the length of the bottom oven. The heat is prevented from coming in contact with the bottom of the kiln by brick arches. Only the bottom of the retort is exposed to the host. The temperature must be comparatively a low one for these ovens. The heat would first be applied to the coal lying at the bottom of the retort, and would gradually spread through the mass. I do not think it could rise to a red heat until the bituminous matter had passed over, or it must be a very low red heat. I saw the say they were being worked. I did not see them charged at Pontypool. I examined the oil. The coal that was being distilled seemed to be like ordinary gas coal. The oil was very fluid. It was a little heavier than water. The specific gravity was about 1020. I attribute the fact of the specific gravity being heavier than water to the nature of the coal; it was heavier than water. If Leeswood were distilled in the same way, it would produce an oil lighter than water.

On the 1st of March of this year, I went down to Blaine, in South Wales. I found some brick retorts there in which they were distilling; brick retorts with brick ovens—very much the same as those at Pontypool. I had a plate made of the brick ovens. [The plate was handed to his honour.] When its structure is continuous they are called retorts, and when they are built up with bricks they are called ovens. The fireplace is marked beneath the oven. The fireplace is not a coking oven at Blaina; it is simply fire used for the distillation of oil. The oven is separated from the fireplace by a considerable layer of brickwork, and also by some brick arches. Then the fire runs the length of the bottom of the retort, or, fine, or chimney. The oil which is distilled from the coal passes along a wooden tube or condenser—in fact, crosses the yard where the operation is conducted—and then is connected with a series of vertical condensers. The condensers appear to me to be very good ones. At the bottom of the condenser, there is a sort of trough which is in communication with them, and into this trough the condensed oil runs, and flows into the receiving-vessel. Gas is always produced by the decomposition of coal, no matter what the. temperature may be. Whenever you have coal decomposed, there is always gas given off. In this case, the gas escapes by a pipe in connexion with the condenser, and passes off as it does in Mr. Fernie's works. This is very much Mr. Fernie's plan of distilling the coal. The principle is the same. It is a brick oven, and they have an opening in the top to introduce the charge. The oven is only heated at the bottom. The temperature I should say was not exceeding a low red heat at an ' time, unless it was at the last hour of distillation, when they wanted to give off any sulphur from the coke. Of course, it is very desirable when coke is used for smelting purposes to expel as much sulphur from it as possible. Before that is done, all the volatile' products would have been driven off. About 15 cwt. of coal is put into the oven. The operation lasts about 24 hours at Blaine. It was from" 10 to 1'2 cwt. at Blaina ; 15 cwt. was at another lace. I made an experiment upon the temperature of the ovens. the process was what was called three-quarters coal, and it seemed the ordinary gas cool. I am informed it is used for making gas; not a very rich gas coal. The result of my operation was that 1 got, at a temperature , less than a low red heat, an oil the specific gravit of which was greater than that of water. I attribute that to the nature of t e coal. This is some oil. which I brought from Blaina [referring to some oil in a bottle produced]. It is very different to gas tar; it is much thinner. This is some paper stained, with that. It contains a little tar, as is evident from this paper, but the gas tar leaves no stain at all. It is made from the Welsh coal.

The ATTORNEY-GENERAL: Mr. Parry will be called. Witness continued : I also went to the works at Nantyglo. I there found eight brisk ovens in which coal was being distilled. They were constructed similar to those at Pontypool, which I have described. They made coke there also. The general construction was the same in all the works. I was informed by the manager that they kept down the temperature as much as possible because they got a better article. I saw the manager. His name is Mr. Habakkuk. As I had not got time to complete the observations on the temperature, I left instructions with a Mr. Cox to carry out the experiment at the end of the distillation, and observe at-what time the fusion of the zinc took place, and then to introduce antimony and make a similar observation.

Cross-examined - The oil, however, is extremely fine; quite equal to the Boghead. I produce a specimen of the Blaina shale, taken from the mine.

The Vice-Chancellor: I think any man would say that was a piece of cannel coal.

By Mr. CHANCE: There are about 8.5 lbs. in a gallon of crude oil. The poorest shale I have met with yielded 1 gallon to the ton.

Cross-examined by Mr. Hmnsrancn: The Ebbw Vale Company is an extensive iron company. I have been in their service as chemist for 50 years, advising them as to the manufacture of iron. The oil they made was not for sale, but was used for greasing the tramways on which heavy weights are carried. This has been done since 1808 in Wales. We did not commence to do it till 1861, but I proposed to do so in 1848. I understand that Mr. Robinson, a defendant, is one of the proprietors of the Ebbw Vale works. I went to Leeswood and had a few lessons before I commenced work.

I was at Leeswood two days about the end of 1860, and I paid a second visit in 1861. I bought some retorts, which hold 6 or 7 cwt. they are placed horizontally, and are of cast iron; they are protected by brickwork, as Reichenbach recommends. The tar-ovens are virtually retorts. Pontypool is about 10 miles from Ebbw Vale. I first saw the retorts made of brick in 1826, when I was a schoolboy. The product was called coal tar, and is so called a still. It is commonly used in Wales for lubricating machinery, and has been so for along time. If you do not see it, you can smell it.

About 1833 I became acquainted with Mr. Rogers, and saw his ovens at Nantyglo. The ovens held from 15 cwt. to 2 tons of coal. The fire was beneath the ovens, and there were no flues at the sides. I saw some of the coke produced, and was sold. It was a very good sort of coke. It was not at all hard. We use the coke daily. It is too soft for blast-furnaces, but we have used it. The price of the coke depends upon the coal. The coke from the rock vein is better than that from the Boghead. I did not know of Young's specification when I began to work. I must have heard of paraffin oil. I have a distinct recollection of reading a medical work in 1836, and I was told that if I used a bright heat I should get gas, and with a low heat I should get tar or oil. In my opinion, that tells the whole world how to make Young's oil.

Ure's books I rely upon, and I am corroborated by the extracts. Dr. Ure is quite enough for me. At page 38 he states that which convinces me Young's invention is not new. A worm is the worst possible condenser for an oil containing paraffin; I should use a pipe. If you use a worm, you must keep the temperature up to 55". I say that a common gas-retort would fail commercially at a low red heat, because the vapours would decompose against the sides of the retort. Gas-retorts are partiality protected, but not like ovens. I cannot fix the temperature of low red heat. My impression, years ago, was that it was 900" or 1000 per day. I say that low red heat would be fatal, and would spoil our oil. After the charge is drawn from the retort, you see a glimmer or light. In my experiments at Leeswood the low red heat was clearly visible in the day time. The retort was under a roof. I looked through the sight-tube. This was in the beginning of September last. I distinctly saw the point of the tube red hot. Each retort is heated by its own fire. I saw redness in the flues. There was redness in the side tube, and the redness in the fires was on all sides of the retorts

The Brynmaur tar works have been abandoned, because the coal has been worked out.

Friday Evidence of John Cox, Gas engineer Ebbw Vale works.

I was present with Mr. Parry when some experiments were carried on at the Pontypool Iron-Works. We experimented on 5 retorts. Directly the charge was put in, we put in a tube reaching into the middle of the retort and resting on the bottom, blocked up at the one end through a hole which we made in the door. We worked it for 48 hours. We looked at the tube 21 hours afterwards. At that time the tube which was put into the charge of Leeswood coal and Torbanehill mineral showed a dark, dull red. That was at the bottom of the tube only. I looked through the tube two or three times after that; the temperature did not appear to have risen, but it had increased in altitude, showing that it had got higher up in the coal. I saw the ovens discharged; and from their appearance I was the same opinion as to the temperature at which the distillation had been going on. We tried another experiment with the Pontypool Rock coal; that Worked off in 24 hours, because there is so small a quantity of oil in it. Those experiments were carried on with great care, and the oil was put into cans and delivered to Mr. Parry. A man named Richards, who formerly managed the tar-ovens at Argoed, and all the labourers, were present, besides Mr. Parry, when these experiments were conducted. I have been to Blania two or three times lately, and have made experiments on distillation in brick ovens, similar to those at Pontypool in 1845. I measured the depth of the coke which came out of the retort, and found it to be about 10 inches. …......

Tuesday 19th April 1864

Daniel Lewis, examined by Mr. MACKESON.

I am a coker at Colebrook Vale, at Blaina. I recollect those works about 35 or 40 years. We have worked in the same way all along. I am not in charge of the works: my brother was. He is in America. We used the soap-vein coal, and the product was tar, at a low heat. It was nothing but gas tar; it was high coloured brown. It was used for the trams underground. (A bottle was handed to witness). It was like that, only not quite so thin. I got from 10 to 12 gallons a ton.

Cross-examined by Mr. Bovill: I have been a coker for about 15 years. We were paid for our work by the quantity of coke, and the better the coke, the better we got paid. The coke was used for blast furnaces.

Cross examined by Mr. MACKESON: The retorts were protected at the top. The fire was underneath, and the fires in the bottom. which go up to the top. The were bricked in at the sides. The fire went all round the retort, and tone ed the top.

William Bowen, examined by Mr. MACKESON.

I am a worker in coal tar—nothing but coal tar, and coke of course—at Nantyglo, in Monmouthshire, South Vales. I have known those works rather more than 16 years, but I have not been working there for more than about 14 years. We used brick ovens, at a low best. We used many kinds of coal; yard coal for coking the lower oven, and black pin coal for the tar ovens. We got about 250 gallons of tar a week about 12 months ago.

John Richards, examined by Mr. MACKESON.

I am a master coker from Tredegar. I used brick ovens with the grates underneath. We applied a very slow beat. The product was tar, but sometimes I called it mineral oil. I made about 400 gallons weekly. The works were at Argoed. Mr. Moses was proprietor. We got about 10 gallons of oil from a ton of coal, and we sold it for l.25d. per pound; there were about 10 pounds to the gallon. The gas tar was sold for about 2d. per gallon. In 1834 I knew of tar-works at Pontypool and Blaernarvon. The oil I made was used for lubricating purposes.

John James, examined by Mr. MACKESON.

I have been at Blaine about l5 years. When I first went there the products which they got from the iron-works were pig iron and malleable iron. We made the pig iron in blast furnaces heated with coke and ironstone. We made our own coke on open fires; we had ordinary coke-ovens. Then we had two different methods of coking, in one the object being to obtain tar and coke, and in the other the object being to make a sort of oily tar, the object being tar; we then used that coke with the others for smelting iron.

The old original oven, and the one best adapted for making tar, has a small grate underneath the bottom of the oven only. The other oven is a double oven, the coke underneath and above; and in coking underneath you drive off the volatile products, and leave inferior tar. There is a small fire kept underneath the ovens I first mentioned, burning on a grate, and we charge the oven in the ordinary way. We break up the lumps of coal small, and keep the fire underneath the ovens on the grate, and drive off the volatile products, taking care that it shall not rise to a high heat, or it spoils the oily substances of the tar. There is a zigzag pipe placed in the upper oven, and the tar escapes through this pipe; it is condensed, and runs off into a receiver. As a rule, there is an exit to ever bend of this zigzag pipe. At the far end of the pipe there is an opening where the gas escapes. The heat was applied to the double oven by charging a certain quantity of coal in the lower oven, and then We did not burn the coal away, but coked it; consequently we had a higher heat in those ovens.

By obtaining the coke and the tar, you sacrifice the quality of the tar. The tar made in those ovens with the grates underneath, where coal tar was the object, was of a dark brown oily colour. The other ovens produced a dark coloured tar—a rather glutinous substance—and we were obliged to use other oils to mix with it. We did not care about selling the tar, because we could not make a sufficient supply for our own use. We used the Soak vein coal, and we also used three-quarter coal. We got about 12 gallons per ton from the Soak vein coal. When we commenced charging the ovens in the ordinary process, they were quite dark. By the time the coke was taken out, the ovens were cooled down. The heat was applied gradually under the ovens, so as to keep the temperature as low as possible; otherwise the oily substances would be destroyed.

From evidence presented for the defence

Saturday 23rd April 1864

W. Williams, Esq, examined by Mr. GROVE.

About 26 years ago, I was the managing partner of the Pentwyn and Golynos Iron- Works. I am a magistrate for the county of Monmouthshire. The late Mr. Samuel Rogers was employed by me and my partner to erect coke and tar ovens; and during the time they were erecting I was constantly there, every other day at all events. There were twelve ovens altogether. We got the heat as high as we could, because we wanted the coke good. It was always red. Our object was to make coal tar and coke; and the instruction to the workmen were that the coke was to be made as good as we could make it. High heat produces the best cake. The tar was similar to that which has generally been used in Wales for trams. The Pentwyn works, the Vartey works, the Nantyglo works, and the Brynmawr works, all made tar similar to ours. When the coke was not so good as I wished it to be, I instructed them to heat it higher. It was important to get good coke for the blast furnaces. The ovens at Abersychau were on the same principle as those at Golynos, and the product was the same. At the Blama works and the Clydock works the ovens and the product were the same when I knew them from '24 years ago up to 18 years ago. I know Mr. Rogers for about 35 years up to7 years ago. I am not aware that he ever produced anything else than coal tar.

Cross-examined by Mr. MACKESON: The lower part of the oven was always red. There has only been one kind of tar-oven used in our works during the 26 years I was manager. It is about 6 or 8 feet long and 5 feet wide; it was heated by a grate at first, but it was afterwards altered to an oven. Tar was a second consideration with us—coke was our main object. We were so ignorant in Wales that we always thought a high heat was best for the tar; but since I have heard from scientific men that it is not, I must take it for granted that I was wrong. Gas tar could also be used for lubricating wheels. We had 120 ovens for making coke in which no tar was made at all. The double ovens were made expressly for making tar as well as coke. The receiver was as close to the oven as that gentleman is to me. Mr. Frederick Charles Sage, examined by Mr. HINDMARCH. I am at present an analytical chemist, residing at Wolverhampton. I was formerly at the Abersychan works in Monmouthshire; they were the property of the Ebbw Vale Company. I was there from May, 1853, to ay, 1860. For the first two years I was employed as an analytical chemist, and after that furnace manager also. Their ovens were used for the production of coal tar and coke. We always used a very high heat. The tar sank in water. It was used for grossing trams and for greasing some of the cog— wheels of the rolling-mills, and also can varnish to cover the roofs of build ings. They used the Rock vein and other coal. I never saw any cannel there. I am now acquainted with Young's paraflin oil, and what we produced was altogether a different substance and sank in water.

Cross-examined by Sir F. KELLY : The operations carried on were for the purpose of making coal tar, which was used as a substitute for grease.

From The Journal of Gas Lighting, Water Supply and Sanitary Improvement, 22nd March 1864