John Lucas, 1807-1874
Portrait of Sir Charles Mark Palmer 1822-1907, 1st Baronet
Portrait of Sir Charles Mark Palmer, 1st Baronet
17th July 1866
oil on canvas
24 x 20 in. (61 x 51 cm.)


Public Institution Newcastle Upon Tyne


Sir Charles Mark Palmer , first baronet (1822–1907), coal-owner, ironmaster and shipbuilder, was born on 3 November 1822 at King Street, South Shields, the fourth child of seven sons and one daughter of George Palmer (1789–1866), a Tyneside merchant and shipowner, and his wife, Maria, daughter of Thomas Taylor of Hill House, Monkwearmouth. Palmer was educated first in South Shields, then at the renowned Bruce's academy in Percy Street, where Robert Stephenson, railway engineer, was formerly a pupil, and at Dr Lockart's, both in Newcastle upon Tyne. A commercial training with Newcastle shipbrokers, followed by a period in a merchant house in Marseilles, prepared Palmer to join his father's business, but instead, aged twenty-two, and regarded as ‘an exceedingly active and pushing young man’ (Hardy, 76), he became a partner with John Bowes and others in the newly formed Marley Hill Coking Company.

Bowes, and his partners in the 1839 Marley Hill Coal Company, had secured excellent coking coals at Marley Hill, but the concern languished as none of the partners was willing to dedicate himself to it; taking Palmer into the concerns in 1844–5 proved an astute move. Palmer was managing partner of the two businesses by 1846, rapidly increasing outputs and finding sales in Britain and France, where his earlier contacts helped greatly. In the same year he married Jane Robson (d. 1865), daughter of a Newcastle draper, and the couple had four sons. Re-named John Bowes & Partners in 1847, the concern owned fourteen collieries by the 1850s, producing about 1 million tons of coal each year, a twenty-fold increase on the outputs of the early 1840s.

This astonishing performance was achieved by the purchase of neighbouring collieries, and the rationalization of their railways to provide a direct link to staiths at Jarrow-on-Tyne. But Palmer did not stop there, and seeking to control the company's coal, and coke, shipments, he and his brother, George, leased a shipyard near the staiths in 1851. In 1852 they launched the John Bowes, the first successful iron-built, steam-powered, screw-propelled, water-ballasted collier. A revolutionary vessel, it could carry 650 tons of coal to London, and return, inside five days. On the stocks at its launch was the James Dixon, capable of carrying 1200 tons and crewed by twenty-one men; it could perform the work of sixteen collier brigs with a combined crew of 144 men. Palmer's yard soon produced ‘colliers by the mile’, and the coastal coal trade could now compete with the rail-hauled coal suppliers to London, who had threatened it.

In 1856, Palmer branched into warship-building with the Terror, and soon the Jarrow yard was supplying vessels to navies across the world, while another yard, acquired in 1860 at Howden-on-Tyne, built cargo vessels, oil tankers (probably the first yard to do so), and passenger ships. Palmer further diversified into shipping lines, to secure orders for his yards, and became first chairman of the Tyne Shipping Company, established in 1864 by an amalgamation of Tyneside lines.

Leases on ironstone mines in north Yorkshire, purchases of limestone quarries, and the establishment of iron, boiler, and engine works at Jarrow, gave Palmer total industrial integration, manufacturing ships from their basic raw materials; later, haematite ores were shipped from Spain for steel manufacture. In 1865, perhaps to gain additional capital for further expansion, the Jarrow works was re-formed as Palmer's Iron and Shipbuilding Company Ltd, and although now largely owned by Manchester interests, Palmer remained as its head. By the 1880s it was the largest such concern in the country. When Palmer finally relinquished his position with the company in 1893, the works occupied some three-quarters of a mile of river frontage, had fifteen building slips, and employed 7600 hands; Jarrow's population had increased from 3835 in 1851 to 35,000 in 1891.

Palmer's industrial success story was somewhat marred by an unfortunate speculation in plate glass manufacture, a venture which caused considerable difficulties for John Bowes & Partners, but his standing as a great Victorian industrialist, a pillar of Tyneside commerce, a benefactor to his adopted town of Jarrow, and a thoughtful and responsible employer, remained assured. He became chairman or president of a number of local, and national, institutions and trade associations; he supported the mechanics' institute, schools, churches, chapels, and hospitals in Jarrow. Through his works' building society nearly half the town's houses came to be owner-occupied; he was the first mayor of Jarrow, and an alderman of the town until his death.

Palmer's first wife died in 1865 and in 1867 he married Augusta Mary (1844–1875), daughter of Albert Lambert of Paris; they had two sons. Two years after Augusta died he married Gertrude (1845–1918), daughter of James Montgomery of Cranford, Middlesex, and they had a son and daughter.

After losing as a Liberal at the 1868 election, Palmer became Liberal MP for North Durham in 1874, and then for Jarrow in 1885, holding that seat until his death. He spoke in the House of Commons with authority on matters of shipping and labour, and was a member of the 1884–6 royal commission on the depression of trade and industry. He purchased the Grinkle estate, North Riding of Yorkshire, in 1876, was created baronet in 1886, and finally withdrew from involvement in the Bowes Company in 1895. Ten years earlier, Noble had described him as an ‘earnest, clear-headed, practical, and decided’ man (Noble, 51); and his achievements were truly formidable. He died on 4 June 1907 at his London home, 37 Curzon Street, Mayfair. He was buried at Easington church, Loftus, North Riding of Yorkshire.

Stafford M. Linsley DNB

Artist biography

John Lucas,   (1807–1874), portrait painter, was born in London on 4 July 1807, the son of William Lucas (bap. 1775, d. 1819), whose family came from King's Lynn in Norfolk, and a Miss Calcott. His father began his career in the Royal Navy, but later styled himself a literary man, publishing poems such as The Fate of Bertha (1800) and acting as editor of The Sun newspaper. Lucas was apprenticed to Samuel William Reynolds, the mezzotint engraver, at the same time as Samuel Cousins. During this time he also studied and practised oil painting. When his tenure with Reynolds ended in the late 1820s, Lucas established his practice as a painter while continuing as a member of the Clipstone Street Academy, working with William Etty and other artists.

Lucas exhibited his first portrait at the Royal Academy in 1828 and thereafter gained fame as a fashionable society portraitist. He painted the likeness of Queen Adelaide, the prince consort (four times), the princess royal, the duke of Wellington (eight times), Lord and Lady Palmerston, and William Ewart Gladstone, among others. His portrait of Mary Russell Mitford was purchased by the National Portrait Gallery after his death. The National Portrait Gallery also has Lucas's Conference of Engineers, Britannia Bridge, which features portraits of Robert Stevenson and Isambard Kingdom Brunel. This work was later engraved by J. Scott, as were other portraits by Lucas. Lucas himself employed his training as an engraver, producing engravings after Sir Thomas Lawrence.

In 1836 Lucas married Milborough Morgan, a woman of Welsh descent, with whom he had three sons and two daughters. He often exhibited his works publicly, showing ninety-six portraits at the Royal Academy from 1828 to the time of his death on 30 April 1874 at his home, 22 St John's Wood Road, London. He was buried on 5 May 1874 at Kensal Green cemetery, London. Christies auctioned the contents of his studio on 25 February 1875. Lucas's artistic legacy lived on in the work of his sons: William Lucas became a watercolour painter and Arthur Lucas became an art publisher. His nephew John Seymour Lucas RA was his pupil. His eldest son, John Templeton Lucas (1836–1880), perhaps achieved the most renown. Born in London, he concentrated on landscape painting, exhibiting seven landscapes at the Royal Academy between 1859 and 1876. Like his grandfather, he turned to literature, publishing a farce entitled Browne the Martyr and a book of fairy tales, Prince Ubbely Bubble's New Story Book, in 1871. He died at Bagdale, Whitby, in Yorkshire, on 13 September 1880.

Morna O'Neill  DNB