On Wednesday, November 7, 1894, two boxes of quartz containing 10 hundredweight of gold valued at £25,000 - $US4.1 million in today’s money - were exhibited at the depot of North’s Typewriter Manufacturing Company Limited at No 53 Queen Victoria Street, across the road from London’s Mansion House. “Errand boy and nobleman jostled one another to catch a glimpse of the golden stones,” said the Westminster Budget. “There has been something of a gold fever in London … The City has been profoundly stirred, and no little excitement has been manifested. Crowds have gazed through the windows at the specimens of quartz which Lord Fingall brought to this country from the Londonderry mine. The specimens are guarded by a couple of stalwart policemen.” The Budget didn’t consider it necessary to explain to its readers where the Londonderry mine was; there’d been so much news printed about the great West Australian gold discovery in the preceding two months that the Budget doubtless believed all of London already knew.The exhibition at North’s Typewriter Manufacturing Co Ltd headquarters was publicised in a full-page prospectus printed in leading British journals on November 17, seeking capital of £700,000 in 467,000 shares in The Londonderry Gold Mine Limited. The leading directors were the Rome-born Arthur James Francis Plunkett (1859-1929), the 11th Earl of Fingall, of Killeen Castle, Dunsany, Ireland, and 'Colonel' John Thomas North of the Avery Hill estate, Eltham, Greenwich, London. “Colonel” North, whose rank was honorary, not military, was of course owner of North’s Typewriter Manufacturing Co Ltd. Other directors in the Londonderry mine enterprise were London-based Australian gold miner Thomas Hewitt Myring (1860-1916), Lord Fingall’s cousin Sir Horace Curzon Plunkett (1854-1932), a Unionist MP for South Dublin (who considered ‘Colonel’ North “a bounder, but honest and rough”), Colonel Sir Gerald Richard Dease (1831-1903), a Governor of the Bank of Ireland, another Irishman in Sir George Irwin (1832-1899), and George Frederick Samuel Robinson, the Earl de Grey and Ripon (1827-1909), a former Viceroy of India, British Cabinet member and son of a former Prime Minister. It was, in short, a very high-powered and exceedingly rich group that Fingall and North had drawn together. Whatever their politics and their social standing, making money was their highest goal.
John Thomas North, an honorary colonel but never a lord.
The Londonderry mine was 10½ miles outside Coolgardie in the Goldfields-Esperance region of Western Australia. On Monday, May 7, 1894, six prospectors who had travelled across the vast continent - John Huxley, William Gardner, John Mills, Thomas Elliott, Peter Carter and Henry Dawson - were returning disconsolate and empty-handed from Widgiemooltha to Coolgardie when Mills, the youngest in the group, literally stumbled across the Londonderry gold reef. Mills named it after his home town in Northern Ireland. Before going West in search of his fortune, Mills had been a boundary rider in Jerilderie in the southern Riverina of New South Wales, a town most famous for being held up by Ned Kelly’s bushranger gang in 1879.
The six gold finders, with Lord Fingall and Coolgardie mayor James Shaw sitting front right.
John Mills was part of a disparate lot. Dawson was from Summer Hill, Sydney, Carter also from Sydney, Gardner from Balmain, Sydney, and Elliott and Huxley from Victoria. Within a few weeks of Mills’ find, and keeping their discovery a tight secret, the six had dollied out 8000 ounces of gold, valued at £33,000. But after the group applied for a 24-acre mining lease from Coolgardie mining agent Walter Henry Lindsay (1869-), word of their rich lode began to seep out. On Saturday, June 23, the group took their treasure into town, hidden under a load of firewood, and lodged 4280 ounces of gold with the Union Bank in Coolgardie. Three days later Elliott, an elderly quartz miner, described by his friends as “rather infirm”, went into the town, got wildly drunk, and revealed to all and sundry from whence the gold had come. By early July the story was being told in newspapers across Australia, along with the location of Mills’ find.
In May 1894 Lord Fingall left England to attend to mining business in Tasmania. On hearing of the Londonderry find in July, he travelled on to Melbourne and Adelaide and reached Albany in Western Australia by steamer and Perth by train. There the colony premier Sir John Forrest introduced him to the Coolgardie mining warden John Michael Finnerty (1853-1913), who gave Fingall a full run-down of the Londonderry find.
John Michael Finnerty
Fingall and Finnerty, along with West Australian Postmaster-General Captain Richard Adolphus Sholl (1847-1919), inspected the well-secured Londonderry site. On Thursday, September 13, Fingall persuaded the remaining members of Mills’ group to accept £296,000 for the mine (they had already banked the £33,000 from their findings). Dawson, one of the older members of the group, and the only experienced miner among them, had already sold his share to Huxley and Mills for £3000, and on August 4, 1894, a friend of Finnerty’s, Belfast-born James Shaw (1846-1910), the first Mayor of Coolgardie, had joined the syndicate, first getting a 1/24th share for £3000, then buying 40 shares to increase his investment to £7600. Shaw, who had served in the Maori Wars in New Zealand, had previously been the Mayor of Adelaide and had built the South Australian Houses of Parliament and Marble Hill, the South Australian Governor’s summer residence.
On his return to England, on November 6, Fingall entered into an agreement with North for a shared interest in the mine, which the two planned to sell to investors for £650,000, £417,000 in cash and £233,000 in fully-paid shares. The remaining £50,000 of the float would go toward working capital. Fingall and North – among many others - firmly believed Londonderry’s “Golden Hole” would yield well in excess of £1 million, almost £131 million ($US 162 million) today.
The best laid plans of bounders and noblemen sometimes go awry, and in the case of the Londonderry mine the collapse of the Fingall-North scheme was utterly spectacular. When Fingall set out from London to return to Coolgardie and oversee mine development in February 1895, Londonderry was still being regarded as potentially the richest gold mine in the world. Fingall’s initial reports back to England were so encouraging as to excite North into doubling his investment.
But by April 1895 the full, horrible truth had started to become apparent. In August North turned in fury on Fingall and his cousin Plunkett. Plunkett promptly resigned, but Fingall, North and Myring promised to settle with investors – which Fingall certainly did, at a cost of £30,000 in November 1895, though North and Myring were less forthcoming. North had, in fact, suffered an enormous financial loss. With his business empire starting to crumble, he died less than six months later, in May 1896, aged just 54.
As one historian would later out it, “The Londonderry was a freak rich patch in an otherwise barren reef. But that was no consolation to investors who had done their money cold in what was later labelled the Plunderderry mine.” Wide World Magazine would sum up the situation thus: “It was found, to the utter amazement and dismay of all concerned, that the kernel had been taken and only the worthless shell left. People looked at each other in blank astonishment when the news was made public. It was darkly hinted by those in authority at home [that is, Britain] that the ‘Golden Hole’ had been tapped and its treasures spirited away. Surely, they said, it could not be possible that the wonderfully rich mine, which had turned out so many thousand ounces of gold from a small hole which had caused the mining world to ring with its fame and to look forward with eager hope to the payment of enormous dividends, could have ‘petered out!’ Alas! It was only too true. The ‘Golden Wonder of the World’ was a wonder no longer; its matchless riches had been exhausted, and one of the biggest mining companies had been floated on what was little better than a burst bubble. When the exact position of affairs became known, and the full truth realised, such a storm of indignation, vilification and abuse was let loose upon the heads of the vendors, promoters, mining experts and everyone connected with the flotation as has rarely been equalled.”
The young 'Colonel' North
Collapse of the Londonderry “Golden Hole” enterprise didn’t immediately bring an end to North’s high-flying, big-spending life, nor did it cause the sudden closure of his typewriter venture. But North’s Typewriter Manufacturing Co Ltd was one of his last three major outlays, and the pain of gold mine debacle most certainly hastened his death and the typewriter company's slow demise thereafter.
Leeds-born North had started his illustrious business career in 1865 in Chile and later Peru, where he was a waterworks operator, importer and ship owner. The War of the Pacific (1879–1883) provided him with an opportunity to purchase large numbers of bonds in the Peruvian nitrate (saltpetre) industry, which in turn gave him a monopoly share of the lucrative Chilean nitrate industry. He also owned several iron and coal fields along the Biobío River and a gasworks at Iquique. North returned to Britain 1883 and set up North's Navigation Collieries in Glamorgan in Wales, and had investments in the Anglo-Belgian India Rubber Company, which from 1892 operated a concession in the Congo Free State.
North died suddenly at 3.50pm on Tuesday, May 5, 1896, while eating oysters, drinking stout and presiding over a meeting of the Buena Syndicate in his offices at 3 Gracechurch Street, London. Almost without exception, typewriter historians have declared his death as marking the end of North’s Typewriter Manufacturing Co Ltd. It was not, far from it. As G. Tilghman Richards pointed out in 1964, a new, improved model had emerged in 1897. Indeed, North’s typewriters continued to be made for another 5½ years after North died, until North’s executors decided to sell the stock, machinery, patents and goodwill on September 2, 1901. For want of a buyer, the company was finally voluntarily wound up on July 18, 1903, and North’s typewriters continued to be sold until then, more than seven years after North's death.
Lord North, a completely different man from 'Colonel' North.
Even the man who gave the typewriter its name has been seriously misidentified by historians. Only three typewriter history books have him correctly as ‘Colonel’ North: Friedrich Müller (1900), George Carl Mares (1909) and Paul Robert and Peter Weil (2016). Astonishingly, ‘Colonel’ North’s own biographer, the generally meticulous and thorough William Edmundson, trenchantly declared in 2011 that while “The Nitrate King”, may have had shares in the typewriter company, it was named for Brighton-born William Henry John Lord, the 11th Lord North, who died, aged 95, in 1932, 36 years after the ‘Colonel’. This mistake was first made by Typewriter Topics in 1923, although Topics managed to get “a wealthy member of England’s nobility” mixed up with someone who had “enormous South American holdings” (that is, ‘Colonel’ North). Ernst Martin (1949), G. Tilghman Richards of London’s Science Museum (who should have known a lot better) (1964), Darryl Rehr (1997), Michael Adler (1973 and 1997) and Thomas Russo (2002) all made the same error of naming the North’s typewriter owner “Lord North”, both Adler and Russo saying Lord North died in 1896, when in fact he was still very much alive and kicking.
Although ‘Colonel’ North bought the English Typewriter Limited’s plant at 57 Hatton Garden, Holborn, when that company folded in April 1892, and the North’s Typewriter Manufacturing Co Ltd was established later that same year, the North’s typewriter did not rise from the English’s warm ashes. Morgan Donne, who supervised production of the English, was also plant manager for North’s, and there any connection between the two machines ended. George Beverley Cooper (1857-1918), who assisted Donne in developing the North’s, was not involved in the English enterprise. The patents for the North’s were in Donne’s name alone, and were first obtained in England in 1891-92, just as the English was at its short-lived height.
Watchmaker and motor-racing driver Morgan Donne
Morgan Donne was born in Paris on September 9, 1860, when his father Lewis (1838-1918) was involved in the watchmaking business there. (Donne died at Streatham, London, on November 25, 1935, aged 75.)
The English Typewriter Limited had its offices at 6 Birchin Lane, Cornhill, London, which was primarily the headquarters of the watch and jewellery manufacturing business Donne & Son, then run by Morgan Donne and his father, Lewis Donne. Donne & Son had actually been established by Morgan Donne’s great-great-grandfather Robert Donne in 1764, so it had been around for 126 years by the time the English typewriter started its 23-month life. Indeed, in 1893, a year after the English disappeared, Donne & Son had a eight-day clock made by Robert in 1764 which was still working!
The North’s company began to rail material from steel city Sheffield and industrial centre Birmingham to London in 1893, and the North’s typewriter first reached the market in April 1894. At that time the company was at pains to point out it was not made in the US, and that its sale in the US was prevented by a 45 per cent duty tax. In October the North’s won a diploma and medal of honour at the Exposition Internationale d'Anvers, the Antwerp World’s Fair.
This is the original version of the illustration of the North's typewriter being demonstrated at the Antwerp World's Fair, the Exposition Internationale d'Anvers, between May 5-November 5, 1894. It appeared in the Illustrated London News on September 1,1894. In it, a display showing the growth of the nitrate industry to 1890 can clearly be seen in the background, linking the typewriter to the "Nitrate King", 'Colonel' North. The subject of this display is no so obvious in pale reproductions of the later colourised version of this work (see below).
The combination of Donne and Cooper brought together two men whose design and engineering backgrounds were ideally suited to typewriter production. Donne and his father Lewis patented watch winding mechanism in 1889-90, a devise which, like typewriters, employed a mainspring and star wheels (English typewriter inventor Michael Hearn was a witness.).
Cooper had been in involved in cycle racing and bicycle and motor cycle design and manufacture since 1880. Both Donne and Cooper later became deeply involved in the motor industry, with Donne importing French cars such as the Rochet-Schneider and Piccard Pictet and racing them in the early part of the 20th Century. After North’s executors sold the stock of North’s typewriters in 1901, Cooper took the remaining assembled machines to his home city of Coventry, and continued to sell them there until 1903.
Next – Part III: Magic, Maligners and Malfunctions – the Waverley, Fitch, Maskelyne and Salter, and Many More.