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Samuelson, Sir Bernhard, first baronetlocked

  • W. F. Spear
  • , revised by Ian St John

Samuelson, Sir Bernhard, first baronet (1820–1905), ironmaster and promoter of technical education, was the eldest of the six sons of Samuel Henry Samuelson (1789–1863), merchant, and his wife, Sarah Hertz (d. 1875). He was born at Hamburg on 22 November 1820 during a visit of his mother to the city. In his infancy his father settled at Hull. Educated at a private school at Skirlaugh, Yorkshire, Samuelson left at fourteen to enter his father's office. At home he developed a love of music and a command of modern languages. He was soon apprenticed to Rudolph Zwilchenhart & Co., a Swiss firm of merchants, at Liverpool, where he spent six years. In 1837 he was sent to Warrington by his masters to purchase locomotive engines for export to Prussia. The experience led him to seek expert knowledge of engineering, and it suggested to him the possibility of expanding greatly the business of exporting English machinery to the continent. In 1842 he was made manager of the export business of Sharp, Stewart & Co., engineers, of Manchester, for whom he travelled abroad, but owing to the domestic railway boom of 1845, the firm gave up the continental trade.

He married in 1844 Caroline (d. 1886), daughter of Henry Blundell of Hull, with whom he had four sons and four daughters. In 1846 Samuelson went to Tours, and established railway works of his own, which he carried on with success until the revolution of 1848 drove him back to England.

In 1848 Samuelson purchased a small factory producing agricultural implements at Banbury, which the death of the founder, James Gardner, brought into the market. Samuelson developed the industry energetically, and the works, which in 1872 produced no less than 8000 reaping-machines, rapidly became one of the largest of its kind. A branch was established at Orléans. The business, which was turned into a limited liability company in 1887, helped to convert Banbury from an agricultural town into an industrial centre.

Meanwhile in 1853 Samuelson had met, at the Cleveland agricultural show, John Vaughan, who had discovered in 1851 the seam of Cleveland ironstone, and now convinced Samuelson of the certain future of the Cleveland iron trade. Samuelson erected blast furnaces at South Bank, near Middlesbrough, within a mile of the works of Bolckow and Vaughan at Eston. These he worked until 1863, when they were sold, and more extensive premises were built in the neighbourhood of Newport. Samuelson, who was keenly interested in the practical applications of science, studied the construction of blast furnaces, and resolved to enlarge their cubic capacity at the expense of their height. By 1870 eight furnaces were at work, most of them of greater capacity than any others in the district. In 1872 between 2500 and 3000 tons of pig iron were produced weekly. In 1871 a description of the Newport ironworks, which he presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers, was awarded a Telford medal. His first wife having died in 1886, he married in 1889 Lelia Mathilda, daughter of Chevalier Leon Serena and widow of William Denny, shipbuilder of Dumbarton.

In 1887 the iron-working firm of Sir B. Samuelson & Co. Ltd was formed with a nominal capital of £275,000. Samuelson was chairman of the company until 1895, when he handed over the chairmanship to his second son, Francis. The blast furnaces were in 1905 producing about 300,000 tons of pig iron annually, and the by-products from the coke ovens started in 1896 averaged about 270,000 tons of coke, 12,000 tons of tar, 3500 of sulphate of ammonia, and 150,000 gallons of crude naphtha.

An important extension of Samuelson's commercial energies took place in July 1870. He then built the Britannia ironworks at Middlesbrough, his third manufacturing enterprise (which subsequently came under the ownership of Dorman Long & Co.). The Britannia works housed the largest plant then in operation with a vast output of iron, tar, and by-products. One of Samuelson's endeavours which bore tribute to his mechanical ambition came to nothing. He was anxious to make steel from Cleveland ore—an effort in which no success had yet been achieved. He learned on the continent of the Siemens-Martin process, and now spent £30,000 in experimenting with it. In 1869 he leased for the purpose the north Yorkshire ironworks at South Stockton; but the attempt proved unsuccessful, though the trial taught some useful lessons to ironmasters.

Samuelson took part in developing the Middlesbrough and Cleveland districts, identifying himself with such local institutions as the Cleveland Institution of Engineers and the Cleveland Literary and Philosophical Society. But his home was at Banbury, and he was prominent there in public affairs. In politics Samuelson was a committed Liberal, and supporter of Gladstone. He first stood as the parliamentary representative for Banbury in February 1859, winning the seat by a majority of one vote. However, he was defeated at the general election two months later. In 1865 he was again elected, and an allegation that he was not of English birth, and therefore ineligible, was examined and confuted by a committee of the House of Commons. He retained the seat in 1868, 1874, and 1880. In 1885, when the borough was merged in the North Oxfordshire division, he was returned for that constituency, and he sat for it until 1895, when he retired and was made a privy councillor. While supporting home rule for Ireland, he lost sympathy with the more radical sentiments which increased in the party during his last years. Although for most of his life a convinced believer in free trade, in his last years Samuelson reached the conclusion that 'a departure from free trade' was 'admissible with a view to widening the area of taxation'. In a paper read before the Political Economy Club in London on 5 July 1901, the chief conclusions of which he summarized in a letter to The Times (6 November), he urged a 'tariff for revenue', and sketched out the cardinal points of the tariff reform movement before they had been formulated by Joseph Chamberlain.

In the House of Commons, Samuelson, who gave expert advice on all industrial questions, was best known for his strenuous advocacy of technical instruction. His chief public services were identified with that subject. He believed in the importance for all Englishmen of a rigorous scientific training. In 1867 he investigated personally the conditions of technical education in the chief industrial centres of Europe and made a valuable report (Parl. papers, 1867–8, 54). He was in 1868 chairman of a committee of the House of Commons to inquire into the provisions for instruction in theoretical and applied science for those engaged in industry; and he was a member of the duke of Devonshire's royal commission on scientific instruction (1870), being responsible for that part of the report which dealt with the Department of Science and Art. In 1881 he was made chairman of the royal commission on technical instruction. He was also a member of Viscount Cross's royal commission on elementary education in 1887, and the following year of the parliamentary committee for inquiring into the working of the Education Acts.

Samuelson's activity in other industrial inquiries is evidenced by the series of reports which he prepared in 1867 for the Foreign Office, on the iron trade between England and France, when renewal of the commercial treaty between the two countries was under consideration. He was chairman of parliamentary committees on the patent laws (1871–2) and on railways (1873). He was a member of the royal commission for the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and received from France in that year the cross of the Légion d'honneur. In 1886 he was chairman of the Associated Chambers of Commerce of the United Kingdom.

Samuelson was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1881, becoming a member of the council in 1887–8. He joined the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1865, and the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1869. He was one of the founders of the Iron and Steel Institute in the latter year, and was president of that body in 1883–5. He was also first president of the Association of Agricultural Engineers.

In 1884 Samuelson established, at Banbury, a technical institute, which was opened by A. J. Mundella on 2 July 1884. Mundella then announced that a baronetcy had been conferred on Samuelson for his services to education.

Samuelson published at Gladstone's request a memoir on Irish land tenure (1869), and a report on the railway goods tariffs of Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands, presented to the Associated Chambers of Commerce (Birmingham, 1885). Besides his presidential address (1883), he contributed to the Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute papers on the Terni steelworks and on the construction and cost of blast furnaces in the Cleveland district (1887).

Samuelson, who was long an enthusiastic yachtsman, died of pneumonia at his residence, 56 Princes Gate, London, on 10 May 1905, and was buried at Torre cemetery, Torquay. He was succeeded in the baronetcy by his eldest son, Henry Bernhard, formerly MP for Frome.


  • Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 67 (1905), 504–8
  • The Times (11 May 1905)
  • Banbury Guardian (11 May 1905)
  • Yorkshire Post (11 May 1905)
  • The Engineer (12 May 1905)
  • Engineering (12 May 1905)


  • Oxon. RO, personal, business, and educational corresp. and papers


  • H. von Herkomer, oils, 1884
  • Fantachiotti of Florence, bronze bust, priv. coll.; replica, Queen Victoria Memorial Hospital Annex, Mont Boron, Nice
  • Gelli of Florence, oils, priv. coll.

Wealth at Death

£756,100 17s. 4d.: resworn probate, April 1906, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]