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Home > Collections & Resources > Transcripts > Mitchell. v. Young's Paraffin Light and Mineral Oil Co. Ltd. 1897


The Great Paraffine Case

The important case of Young v Fernie, which has so long occupied, Vice-Chancellor Stuart, is at length drawing to a close.  Yesterday, the defendants concluded their evidence, and today several witnesses were called to give rebutting testimony for the appellants.  The Court of course, adjourned over the Easter holidays, but this is the twenty-eighth day of the trial.

The following is a summary of the evidence taken since the recess:-
Mr B K Paul spoke to the manufacture of paraffine from peat in the Isle of Lewis.  The article was not, however, produced in the pure state. In the rough state it sold for about 3d per ib., having cost about 1½d to 2d.  In 1850, the manufacture of oil and paraffine from peat was started in Ireland, and went on in a lingering way for some years- perhaps five, or thereabouts.  It was then given up.  The publications on the subject of paraffine before Reichenbach, in his opinion, showed an intimate knowledge of the main fact of Mr Young's patent- the low gradual heating up to a certain point.  Reichenbach, being a practical manufacturer as well as a chemist, approached neare the system laid down by Mr Young.  The material which would yield paraffine products in a commercial quantity was not known in Reichenbach's time.  There was then no coal, no shale, no wood known which would give these things in commercial quanitites.

Professor David J Ansted, consulting mining engineer FRS, FGS, &c, defined coal as an altered vegetable substance, with accidental mineral impurities, and shale as a mineral substance consisting chiefly of clay, with various mineral and organic constituents.  The process adopted for procuring oil and paraffine from the one would be suitable to the other.  He had known it done on the Continent.  The Boghead mineral was, in his opinion, a shale and not a coal.  The Scotch cannels of parrots approached so nearly to shales that he did not see how they were to be distinguished.  Boghead mineral was being imported into France and worked there for paraffine on Dr Buisson's patent. 

Cross-examined – This has been done since Mr Young's patent.

Mr George Parry, operating chemist of the Ebbw Vale Iron Company in South Wales, expressed his opinion that there was no novelty in Mr Young's mode of getting oil from bituminous minerals, which inclued coals, by distilling them at a low red heat.  The Ebbw Vale Works made an oil which they held to be the same as Mr Young's crude oil.  Was acquainted with coal oil works in Breconshire as far back as 1826.  The oil was used for the wheels of waggons.  In 1833, oil was also made at Nantyglo.  It was distilled in ovens, with Boghead mineral as the material, the Welsh process would give Mr Young's Crude oil.  He had found oil in all the shales of South Wales, and he had tried a great number.  He held the Boghead mineral to be shale.

Cross-examined-The Ebbw Vale Company were iron manufacturers.  They did not begin making any oil till 1861.  It did not suit their convenience. In 1826, when a schoolboy, he first saw the retorts for producing the tar oil he had mentioned, at Pontypool.  It was called coal tar, and was very common in Wales.  It was often seen lying about in a congealed state by the side of tramways.
Dr Alfred Swaine Taylor, Fellow of the Royal College of Physicians, and of the Royal Society, and Professor of Chemistry at Guy's Hospital, said that before Mr Young's patent it was known that an oil containing paraffine could be obtained from bituminous coal that would yield it in a satisfactory quantity.  The great secret of the success of the modern manufacture was the discovery of the suitability of such minerals as Boghead and Leeswood for the purpose.  Thought Boghead was a shale.
In the course of this witness's examination, which was conducted at considerable length in minute technical detail.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR suggested that the special examiner might take the deposition of witnesses-out of Court, while he was hearing the case in Court.  That would expedite matters.  He must say that his head was getting in a very bewildered state.
Sir F KELLY promised to consider the suggestion.
The witness was then cross-examined by Mr Grove.  He owned that although he knew that paraffine was extracted from coal, still the result of Mr Young's process came upon him as a novelty, as far as the mercantile quantity of the product was concerned.  Phosphorus was now produced as a commercial article to an extent formerly unknown and unthought of; It could not be said to be a new manufacture.  When witness was being cross-examined as to his opinion that Boghead mineral was a shale.
The VICE-CHANCELLOR observed that that question was pretty nearly exhausted.  There could be no end to it, he was afraid; because, *, for every man who will say that cannel coal is a shale, they will get a man who will day that it is a coal, and it may go on for ever.  Of course it is very curious to hear that men should entertain such extraordinary differences of opinion, but we have not time to spend upon it.

Mr T N Kirkham, manager of the Imperial Gas Works, Fulham, said he had experimented with Newcastle coals, and had distilled an oil from them containing paraffine, but not in commercial quantities.  There was nothing new in Mr Young's process- his success was due to the material on which he practised.  Under cross-examination he owned that he had not visited the works of the defendant.  In 1852, he got paraffine from Boghead mineral in largish quantities.  Did not hear of Mr Young's patent till two or three years afterwards.  Never heard of Mr Young's paraffine being shown at the Great Exhibition of 1851, or described in the Times.  Took in the Gas Journal, but did not read the notices in it of the process in question.

Mr John Cox, gas engineer of the Ebbw Vale Works, described the gasometers used in Wales.  A gas retort, such as was described in Mr Young's specifications, was the worst possible mode of distilling oil from coal.  Being cross-examined he stated that paraffine had been made at the Ebbw Vale Works, but did not know that any of it, either solid or liquid, was sold.

Mr Nicholas Wood, mining engineer, Newcastle-on-Tyne, spoke to Boghead mineral being in his opinion not a coal.  Cannel coal was something between shale and coal.  It partook of the nature of both; and sometimes they found a bed that began with gone shale, then ran into a sort of shaley coal, gradually become more and more coal, till it was at last absolute caol.

Mr W E Heathfield, consulting chemist, said he was employed by the Bituminous Shale Company in 1850.  The works of the that company were at Wareham, Dorsetshire, the process there carried on was that of distilling Kimmeridge coal in iron retorts, similar to gas retort, and obtaining a crude oil.  He knew that the company sold the oil.  Witness then gave evidence as to Kimmeridge coal, illustrating its similarity to Boghead by reference to what he said was a specimen of the former article.  Under cross-examination, when Mr GROVE was about to question him on this point.

Sir FITZROY KELLY said there had been a mistake, and a specimen of Boghead had been given as a piece of Kimmeridge.  Such accidents would happen.

The VICE-CHANCELLOR observed that these mistakes were due to the circumstance that evidence had been manufactured for the trial since he began sitting, instead of being all got up carefully beforehand.  Such a course deprived their evidence of much of the weight and importance which was due to it.  It would strike any man that it was a monstrous strange thing that such a long trial should be going on.  Here he was, through the wisdom of the Legislature, performing the duty of a Judge in Equity, a Judge at Nisi Prius, a shorthand writer, an Examiner in Chancery, and worst of all a British jury.  Now, in all that state of things, there was likely to be a great failure of justice.  He did not know when the case would end, and pitied all concerned.
The next witness, Mr Southby, manager of the Wareham works, owned that the mistake in regard to the specimen of Boghead was discovered while Mr Heathfield was in the box.  He mentioned it at once to the Solicitor, and Sir F Kelly published it almost immediately.

Mr GROVE – No; Sir F Kelly never mentioned it until after I began the cross-examination.

Sir F KELLY- As soon as I heard it, I mentioned it.
Further evidence was given as to this bituminous shale company (Which it appeared, after a year or two's existence, and a vain attempt to prolong life as a manure company, came to an untimely end), by Mr W P Pickering, an ex-director, and Mr E Pettitt, civil engineer and chemist.  The latter owned that the crude oil obtained was very nasty; you might smell it five miles off.  Could not mention the name of more than one customer who bought oil of the company.

During the examination of Mr Southby, with reference to the analogy between Boghead and Kimmeridge, the VICE-CHANCELLOR remarked that, as far as the case had gone, he was quite satisfied that at the time of Mr Young's patent there was in existence Dr Buisson's patent for producing oil by distillation of bituminous shales at a low hear.  Consequently, what the defendants had to do was to prove the identity of Boghead coal and Kimmeridge shale, and that had not been done yet.

Mr A G Yool, chemist, said he had lately been engaged by Mr Fernie, at Broxburn, near Edinburgh, to fit up works and manufacture oil from shale,  Broxburn was nine miles from Torbanehill.  They work Broxburn shale only at the place so called, but a similar shale existed at Calder Hill.

Mr George Woolfries, managing foreman of the Wareham Oil and Candle Company's works at Drumgray, between Edinburgh and Glasgow, said the company worked shale there. They had also worked Boghead – he thought since June 1858.  Under cross-examination, he said there had been seven different companies, each with a different name, which took up the Bituminous Shale Company's Business.

Evidence was then given by John Vine, a labourer; John Barnett, formerly station-master at Wareham; Mr J C Mansell, proprietor of the kimmeridge coal pits; and Henry Hibbs, an innkeeper, as to the Wareham works and the use of Kimmeridge shale.

John Richards, master coker; Daniel Lewis, coker and distiller; and William Bown, the same, spoke to the process by which and oil called gas-tar is produced at various places in South Wales.
James Wilson, engineer and fitter, West-Calder, said that at first Mr Young used horizontal retorts at Bathgate, but had since substituted vertical ones.

John Gibson, resident at Bathgate, in 1852-3, gave similar testimony.

Mr Jesse Fisher, manufacturing chemist, Iron Bridge Shropshire, described operations he had conducted in 1849, 1850 and in previous years, by which he obtained from Boghead mineral and other coals and shales, paraffine oil in commercial quantities.  He mentioned it to the parties, who desired him to keep it quiet.  Was present at the Scotch trial, with the record of experiments he had produced here, but was not called as a witness.  Never said he was then afraid of being prosecuted for perjury if he gave evidence.  Had not preserved the memoranda of results made at the time when he conducted the operations.  They had been accidentally destroyed.  A correspondence between the witness and a Mr Clift was her put in to show that the former had always stated the proportions of the different substances obtained by his experiments at exactly the same rated, in each case, which suggested a doubt as to the reality of the experiments. Witness could not state exactly how much oil he ever sold in any one year.  In 1857, he was engaged with Mr Clift in trying to rival Young's oil. His own oil had then not a very good smell, and he wanted to get an oil superior to Young's.     

Mr Alex Parker, formerly in the employment of Messrs Elkington & Co., Birmingham, said he received various quantities of oil from Mr Jessie Fisher, during the years 1847-9. Declined to give evidence in the Clydesdale case, because he considered Mr Young ought to succeed, as he was the first important introducer of the manufacture.
Further testimony was adduced as to the tar-works in South Wales, and the operations carried on at Saltney and Leeswood,   Mr Ebenezer Waugh Fernie, one of the defendants, was also examined.  He denied that had anything to do with Mr Jones in getting a license from Mr Young, and the process of extracting oil carried on at his works was in no way aided by information obtained by Mr Vary at Bathgate,  Never found any coal that they tried yield a profitable result in oil except Leeswood and Boghead.
Cross-examined by Mr BOVILL- The witness admitted that he bought Mr Jones's plant, but maintained that the latter got the plant before he had the licence, and when he intended to do without one.  He thought Mr Young's patent bad, and offered him only a nominal royalty.  The arrangements with Jones were going on and were nearly settled when a licence was applied for from Young. 

The Scotsman, 25th April 1864


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