Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mill, Henry

1408358Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 37 — Mill, Henry1894Richard Bissell Prosser

MILL, HENRY (1683?–1771), engineer to the New River Company, eldest son of Andrew and Dorothy Mill, was born in 1683 or 1684. Betham (Baronetage, i. 175) says that he was of the family of Mill of Camois Court, Sussex, and according to his epitaph in Breamore Church, near Salisbury, he was a relative of Sir Hugh Myddelton [q. v.] It was probably owing to the latter circumstance that he obtained the appointment about 1720 of engineer to the New River Company. It is probable that he was identical with the Henry Mill who in 1706 obtained a patent (No. 376) for an improvement in carriage springs, and also in 1714 another patent (No. 395) for an apparatus ‘for impressing or transcribing of letters singly or progressively one after another, so neat and exact as not to be distinguished from print, very useful in settlements and public records.’ The patent contains no description of the apparatus, but it has always been regarded as the first proposal for a type-writer. The engineer's epitaph sets forth that ‘his capacity [was] excellent in … all the branches of the mathematicks, and other liberal sciences,’ and in his will, proved 6 April 1771 (P. C. C. Trevor, fol. 170), he mentions his ‘private fancied toys,’ a phrase which might well include models of his inventions.

The obituary notice in the ‘Gentleman's Magazine’ states that he erected waterworks at Northampton, and that he received the freedom of the borough in recognition of his services, but there was no regular water supply at Northampton until the present century, and the municipal records of the town show that in 1722 Henry Mill obtained his freedom by purchase. He was employed by Sir Robert Walpole to carry out the water supply for Houghton Hall, and a well sunk by him is still in use. It has the peculiarity of being provided with a flight of steps leading down to the pumps, which are said to show great ingenuity.

Mill died unmarried at his house in the Strand on 26 Dec. 1771, and he was buried in Breamore Church, near Salisbury, where there is a long epitaph to his memory. The epitaph states that he was ‘aged eighty-seven,’ but he is entered in the parish register as ‘aged 88 years.’

[Gent. Mag. 1771 p. 46, 1779 p. 537, 1780 p. 365; epitaph in Breamore Church, copy kindly supplied by the Rev. E. P. Dew; private communications from the town clerk of Northampton and from W. Freuer, esq., Houghton Hall. The records of the New River Company were destroyed in a fire.]

R. B. P.