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Autobiography of William Joseph Dibdin F.I.C., F.C.S.
Analytical Chemist
1850 - 1925

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Section 1 Chapter 1

Personal Family Matters [ Family History ]

Section 1 Chapter 2

Early business experience. Eyesight troubles. Etc.

Early experiences in social and religious life. Shorthand etc. Start for Queensland

Section 2 Chapter 1

Voyage. Life at Rockhampton. I proceed to Copperfield. Auctineer. Co-operative Society. Sons of Temperance. I became an Alderman. Newspaper experiences. I became an Editor. Photography - leads to Chemistry. Return Home.

Section 3 Chapter 1

Early experiences in trying to get work in England. I become a chemist in a Co. I study under Mr Wanklyn and attend the Birkbeck Classes and under Mr. Senior M.R.C.S. I start a private laboratory. I study Gas analysis under Keates, Chemist to the Metropolitan Board of Works , and become an Official Gas Examiner and temporary Chemical assistant to the M.B.W. under Mr. Keates on the Thames controversy. My purchase of "my own" microscope. I become Mr Keates private assistant. Marriage. More work on the Thames in consequence of the "Princess Alice" disaster. I get £5 for drinking a glass of water. Mud banks in the Thames. The Great Arbitration. I work with some of the most eminent scientific men. The Royal Commission on the discharge of London Sewage into the Thames. Further work on the pollution question. Death of Keates in 1882. I report to the Board and am instructed to continue the work in conjunction with the chemists already retained viz: Abel, Odling, Dupre, Voelcker and the eminent Microscopist, Sorby and the Engineer.

[Henry Clifton Sorby 1826 – 1908] www.sorby.org.uk

I lead the chemical evidence before the Commission. I am appointed on the staff of the Board.

The first Electric lighting on Thames Embankment. Other technical matters.

Section 3 Chapter 2

River work. Deodorisation of the London Sewage. Authorised to spend £6000 per week; Struggle to get chemicals in sufficient quantities. Fight with the trade. I manufacture Manganate of Soda at Crossness and reduce costs from £40 per ton to £8 per ton. Sir Henry Roscoe appointed to retry Chloride of Lime which I abandoned for Manganate. Fiasco, and Manganate ultimately adopted. Addition of Manganate to river from Outfalls to Woolwich by Bazalgette. SS

Section 3 Chapter 3

Treatment of London Sewage. Experiments at Grosvenor Pumping Station on aeration etc. Further larger experiments at Crossness. Fire brigade floats at Crossness and aerate sewage. Paper Read before the Inst. C.E. 1887. Weekly inspections of the River. Lime Contracts. Experience in connection with these on Gas question, resulting in saving a Gas Co. £2000 per annum. Change from the M.W.B. to the L.C.C. Full report to the new Main Drainage Committee. "Pot of Porter" experiment with sludge at Crossness. Baker and Binnie report. Decision of the Council to adopt my scheme. Mr Tidy on the Baker and Binnie report.

Annual Inspections of the Estuary

Experiments at Barkerend Creek works resulting in contact beds being introduced.

Further paper before the C.E. 1894 on treatment of London Sewage. Publication of work on "Purification of Sewage Water". Treatment of Sutton Sewage 1897. Course Contact Beds – Slate Beds

Section 3 Chapter 4

Photometry. Appointed Gas Examiner to the M.B.W. 1876. Measurement of the Electric Light on the Thames Embankment and Exhibition of Electric Lighting at the Albert Hall in 1881. Keates Lamp. Exhibition of Gas and Electricity at the Crystal Palace 1882-3 Appointed as Juror in conjunction with Prof. W. Foster to test Exhibits.

The Radial Photometer for testing "Spherical" illumination

Investigation on the proposed standards on light carried out for the Metropolitan Board of Works. The fourway Photometer. The British Association Committee. The portable photometer for testing gas at the place of consumption. Effect on the quality of gas on the quantity consumed. Fight over the flat flame results. The Pentane Argand standard of light. Board of Trade Committee recommendation of its adoption. Vote of thanks by the London County Council. The Harcout Modification. The "Hand" Photometer. Various papers before societies. Two Silver Medals from the Society of Arts. Abolition of the "Evans" closed photometer. The Gas Referees. Prof. Tyndall. The "Tower" or "Tooley St. " pattern Photometer. L.C.C. Bill before Parliament to legalise tests by the Portable Photometer. Tests by Prof. Farnley and self at Widnes & Co. Bellamy’s system of public lighting in Liverpool. Stellar Photometry, research for the Royal Society on stellar intensity. Standard set of stellar units. Mr. Chaney of the Standards Department of the Board of Trade. The Astronomer Royal. Building Observatory at Sutton. Results contributed to the Royal Society 1892. Work on "Practical Photometry" 1898. Churchill’s "Chemical Technology" 4th Volume on "Electric Lighting and Photometry". Work on "Public Lighting" 1902. Effect of strength of current on illuminating power of incandescent lamps.

Section 4 Chapter 1

London Water Supply. Water analysis Experience. Welsh, Croydon, Sutton, Isle of Man etc.

Section 5 Chapter 1

Private Practice. Resignation [ Technical & Final ] from staff

Start at Edinburgh Mansions, Westminster

Leeds Sewage experiments & others.

Ducat Proposals. Slate Beds. Partnership. Petroleum Gas experiments. Work on "Lime Mortar and Cements" published 1900.

[ Note: Ducat Proposal - see BMJ Sat Nov 26th 1904 - Percolating Filters of Ducat ]

Further work on Mortar – paper before the Royal Society of British Architects.

Research carried out for Science Committee of Royal Institute of British Architects

Partnership with R.A.D. [Reginald Aglio Dibdin] The war 1914 J.A.D. [Joe Aglio Dibdin] and R.A.D. join Forces and go to the front. 1916 L.A.D. [Lionel Aglio Dibdin] obtains commission in Royal Engineers & goes to the Front also.


Section 6 Chapter 1

[ This section was crossed out ]

Family Life – Marriage on appointment as assistant to Keates. Shepherd’s Bush. Removal to Tufnell Park - Removal to Sutton – Expiation of leave (21 years) – Removal to Purleybury – Death of Gus – Removal to St John’s Wood. Hence to Putney - & House at Belmont.

Education of Children – marriages.

Local work at Sutton. Member of Local Board and District Council Chairmanship. Work on Sutton Sewage and President Scientific Society of CC.

Vice Chairman School Committee, Alderman

President of Institute of Sanitary Engineers - Use of Managers of Sewage Disposal Works

Vice-President of Soc. of Public Analysts – Membership of Various Societies. Masonry. List of Papers read before various societies.

Lectures on Chemistry, Electricity at Sydenham College.

Section 7


Boating, Cricket, Volunteering Fire Brigade, Gardening, Golf, Photography, "My Microscope", Lathe, Astronomy.

Section 8

Some Notes on Corruption and Bribery – my experiences.

Section 9

Men of worth whom I have met.

Lord Magheramorne, (Sir James McGarel-Hogg), Sir Eyette Shaw, Sir Joseph Bazalgette, Prof. Tyndall, Prof. Rucker, Prof. Ramsey, Sir.M Crooks, Sir Frederick Bramwell, Lord Bramwell, Mr. Pope Q.C., Mr Bidder Q.C., Mr Balfour Brown Q.C. etc Mr. Baldwin Latham, Lord Avebury, Sir John Lubbock, Sir H Roscoe, Lord Rosebury, John Burns, cc. Members of the first L.C.C.

The end of the M.B.W. and entrance of L.C.C. Royal Commission Inquiry



My Life

By W.J.Dibdin


At the repeated request of my children, I put on record the chief events of my life, not in the spirit of boasting or seeking glory, but merely to tell the plain unvarnished tale of work and a duty done to the best of my ability. No one knows better than myself the many missed points, failures and things that might have been better otherwise but as that seems to be the common lot of humanity one need not dwell on them or else I should give up the present task in despair.

Owing to the wide range of my experiences, I may divide my life’s history into sections, thus:-

  1. Early days of business experience in England
  2. Voyage to Australia when 17 years of age in 1867. Experience in Queensland until my return to England in 1874
  3. Introduction to Chemistry and official experience with the Metropolitan Board or Works and London County Council until 1897.
  4. Private Practice as Analytical and Consulting Chemist from 1897 onwards.
  5. What to many would seem the natural corollary, the 5th Section is one that I have no ambition to see.
    The idea of pensioned ease with no cares, no work, no duties presents to my mind such a negation of all that is worth living for that I trust I may never see it, but like my father, I may work until I can work no longer and then quietly join the great majority. As one will see later he worked until he was eighty years of age and then only when his eyesight failed, resigned and in 4 years permanently "went to sleep".
    It was mainly for this that I resigned my official position with the London County Council in 1897 as I realised from the sad experience of seeing so many of my older colleagues, amongst whom I am proud to number Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the Engineer to the Metropolitan Board of Works whose work for London will outlive many lives; his two Chief Engineering Assistants, Mr John Grant, Engineer for the London South of the Thames and Mr Thomas Lovick, Engineer for London North of the Thames, Mr [ George ] Vulliamy Architect to the Metropolitan Board of Works, Mr Reginald Ward Solicitor to the Board, Captain Eyre M. Shaw Chief of the London Fire Brigade, Mr Arthur Gunn, accountant and many other minor officials who at the giving of the best of their life’s work to the public service quietly faded away some before they took even the first instalment of their pensions simply "worked out" in doing their duty – other outside the immediate official groups, like Prof. Alexander Williamson with whom I was brought into close association in his capacity as Chief Gas Examiner in connection with my duties as Superintending Gas Examiner to the Metropolitan Board of Works and the London County Council and also in connection with the Royal Commission on the discharge of the London Sewage into the Themes on which body he was one of the members. Sir Frederick, Chief Chemist to the War Office, Dr. Dupre, Dr Odling, and many others who all worked on until they could work no longer – With such an experience before me is it to be wondered at that I selected the later course of striking out and making an independent business for myself and my sons, from which no official pressure could dislodge me never mind how active it might be.

But I must not run on ahead of times record too fast, but proceed in due order and set out the following as concise as possible.