Snelus, George James (DNB12)
SNELUS, GEORGE JAMES (1837–1906), metallurgist, born on 25 June 1837 in Camden Town, London, N., was son of James and Susannah Snelus; his father, a master builder, died when George was about seven. He was trained at the St. John's College, Battersea, for the profession of a school teacher, but subsequently, whilst teaching in a school at Macclesfield, he attended lectures on science at the Owens College, Manchester (now the Victoria University, Manchester), where he came under the influence of Sir Henry Roscoe. In 1864, on winning a Royal Albert scholarship, he entered on a three years' course at the Royal School of Mines, gaining at its conclusion the associateship in metallurgy and mining together with the De la Beche medal for mining. On the recommendation of Dr. John Percy [q. v.] he was appointed chemist to the Dowlais Ironworks, and he held the post for four years. In 1871 he was commissioned by the Iron and Steel Institute to proceed to the United States to investigate the chemistry of the Danks's rotary puddling process, and the report which he subsequently presented on the subject proved of the utmost value (Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, vol. i. 1872).
It was during this investigation that Snelus conceived the possibility of completely eliminating phosphorus from molten pig iron by oxidation in a basic lined enclosure. In 1872 he took out a British patent for such a process, afterwards proving by actual trial the soundness of the underlying idea. In a Bessemer converter, lined with overburnt lime, he succeeded in almost entirely eliminating phosphorus from 3 to 4 ton charges of molten phosphoric pig iron; in these trials he made the first specimens of 'basic' steel by the pneumatic process. But certain practical difficulties attendant upon the prescribed use of lime he never fully overcame, and it was not until the 'basic' process was finally developed in 1879 by Messrs. Thomas and Gilchrist (see Thomas, Sidney Gilchrist) that it became commercially practicable. For the conspicuous part which he had played in regard to this invention he was awarded a gold medal at the Paris Exhibition of 1878, and the Iron and Steel Institute awarded him, jointly with Thomas, the Bessemer gold medal. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1887. Another conspicuous contribution to metallurgical chemistry was his proof of the true practical value of the molybdate method for the determination of phosphorus in steel, a process which is now universally employed in steel-works laboratories.
In 1872 he was appointed works manager (and subsequently general manager) of the West Cumberland Iron and Steel Company, Workington, where he remained until 1900. He also became director of several mining concerns in Cumberland. In 1902 he took out a patent for the manufacture of iron and steel in a basic lined rotary furnace, experiments upon which were being carried out at the time of his death by the Distington Iron Company, but were afterwards discontinued. Snelus was an original member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1869, and from 1889 onwards until his death he was a vice-president. His most important contributions to the ’Journal' of the Institute were those on 'The Removal of Phosphorus and Sulphur in Steel Manufacture' (1879) and on 'The Chemical Composition of Steel Rails' (1882).
He was an enthusiastic member of the volunteer force from 1859 till 1891, when he retired with the rank of hon. major and with the officer's long service medal. He was one of the best rifle shots in the country, being for twelve successive years, from 1866, a member of the English Twenty, and during that period gained a greater aggregate than any other member of the team. He carried off the first all-comers' small-bore prize at Wimbledon in 1868. He was also a keen horticulturist.
Snelus died at his residence, Ennerdale Hall, Frizington, Cumberland, on 18 June 1906, and was buried at the parish church, Arlecdon, Cumberland.
In 1867 he married Lavinia Whitfield, daughter of David Woodward, a silk manufacturer of Macclesfield, and had three sons and three daughters. Two of his sons (George James and John Ernest) became mining engineers, whilst the third (Percy Woodward) is an electrical engineer.
[Proceedings of the Royal Society, 1907, 78 A., and Journal of the Iron and Steel Institute, 1906, i. 273.]