Photo Details

A photo of a painting of Anthony Tissington holding a Piece of Chalcopyrite in his hand, standing in a Mine Shaft.
The family originated from Tissington in Derbyshire where they had an estate in the 12th Century. His grandfather was Anthony Tissington of Darley Dale 1638-1700 The family moved to Oaker Hill, Derbyshire, the family had interests in mining since then. Anthony and his younger brother George, were the sons of Anthony Tissington. George was also an agent to several mining companies and he settled in Winster. He was highly regarded for his knowledge in minerals , he died in 1760.

Anthony Tissington attended DerbySchool where he was tutored by the Rev Garmstow, teaching him Natural Philosophy and Science over and above mathematics and Grammer. He left school early to take on family responsibilities with the family mining and mineralogy. He claimed in a 1775 lead mining dispute that he was a working miner fro the age of 8 to 20. Anthony excelled at sports including boxing, wrestling and football. At the age of 20-30 he was appointed Barmaster of Matlock Liberty where he displayed sound judgment and respect . In 1728 he married Sarah Wall, daughter of John Wall. Anthony and Sarah had 4 children 2 dying in infancy and the surviving children were called Mary and Anthony. Sarah Tissington died in 1744 aged 36. He later married Margaret Bunting (1720-1774)

According to Roger Flindall's soon to be published book on Matlock Mines , " The most influential of Derbyshire mine agents were of the Tissington family from the important mining area of Winster. In 1767, Erasmus Darwin, a prominent member of the Lunar Society, described Anthony and his brother, George Tissington, as ‘subterranean Genii’. Born at Darley Dale in 1705, Anthony Tissington was a neglected but important figure. He was born in Darley Dale in 1705 to a lead mining entrepreneur and was the fourth successive member of his family to bear his name. He was originally a land agent from Swanwick and his father was an ex Barnmaster from Matlock. The family was comfortably off and Tissington was refered to as "a Gentleman” Anthony Tissington was an erudite mine agent and owner who was barmaster of Matlock Liberty c.1730-35. He seems to have been a brother-in-law of a later Matlock barmaster, Anthony Wragg. Anthony Tissington left Matlock in about 1735, becoming wealthy from coal mining at Swanwick rather than any Derbyshire lead mining investments. He acted as an agent for the Ashburnham family in administering many of the lands they owned through out the country and organising the recruitment of lead mining teams to carry out work in the mines belonging to the Ear of Ashburnham in Sussex. He was also a Minerals agent for the Duke of Devonshire. In 1730 he married Sarah Wall of Cowley, daughter of another successful lead trader. By the 1750s he controlled mines in Scotland, Wales and various parts of England, not only extracting coal, but also ironstone and lead.

In 1739 he was coalmaster resident at Swanwick near Alfreton. Anthony Tissington had a number of mineral agencies. Anthony’s circle of friends included : Marquis of Granby, Mr Robert Fitzherbert of Tissington and his brother Alleyne fitzherbert 1st Baron St Helens, David Garrick, Percival Pott, Erasmus Darwin, Matthew Boulton and more importantly he spent much time with Benjamin Franklin and John Whitehurst of Derby. Tissington condutd many tours of the Peak District where he accompanied and acted as a tour guide of mines and caverns. There are accounts of him accompanying John Whitehurst and Erasmus Darwin and Benjamin Franklin. He controlled a firm called Anthony Tissington and Company which ran mining operations for coppr, lead and coal in Scotland, Couty Durham, Swaledale in Yorkshire as we as Derbyshire. A deed of 14th July 1774 itemizes the income from these operations between 15 may 1756 and March 1773 as £29,400. It is likely that Whitehurst (Like his son in law John Tatlow) owned a percentage of this firm, as did Tissigton’s Derby Lawyer Richard Whitby and the Woods of Swanwick Hall.

When elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1767, his candidature was supported by Benjamin Franklin along with his brother George a mineral agent at Winster. he was described as ‘a gentleman of great merit and well acquainted with philosophy’. Anthony Tissington leased metal mining rights in the Lake District in 1757,and at Leadhills, Scotland. He also acquired interests from Thomas Chambers of Derby who had made a vast fortune out of the copper trade. It has been claimed that Anthony Tissington ‘was Britain’s richest mining entrepreneur in 1760’. Anthony Tissington’s activities at Matlock are unclear. His wrote several publications , pamphlets arguing the cause against duty on smitham, were wrongly attributed to his friend, Benjamin Franklin, the American statesman, who visited Matlock in 1771. He wrote several essays on geology, and one in particular titled, “ A Letter to a friend on the Mineral Customs of Derbyshire”, published in 1766. This work goes into great detail in to how mining and mineral affairs are conducted in Derbyshire. He learnt several languages including French and German so that e could read works on mineralogy in these languages. Six letters to Franklin appear in the volume 13-19 of the Papers of Benjamin Frankin (yale university press, new haven 1969-75).

The brothers, and Anthony’s son-in-law, John Tatlow of Codnor, controlled a firm called Anthony Tissington and Company which ran mining operations for a wide variety of both metals and minerals in Scotland, County Durham, Swaledale in Yorkshire and Cornwall as well as in Derbyshire. A deed of 14 July 1774 itemizes the income of one shareholder from these operations between 15 May 1756 and March 1773 as £29,400 which amounts to over £1,750 per annum, which was a very good return indeed in the mid-eighteenth century. The ‘cost book’ system, on which this sort of mining was financed, consisted of groups of twelve (or multiples thereof) putting money into an enterprise as required and sharing the profits if and when they arose. Whitehurst and Tatlow owned 1/48th of this firm, as did Tissington’s Derby lawyer, Richard Whitby, and his neighbours the Woods of Swanwick, for whom Pickford later built the present hall. The geographical range of the company’s operations may explain why, in 1784, the French geologist de Saint-Fond consulted Whitehurston the places he should visit on a tour into Scotland. We may legitimately see Tissington as the leader of a foray into the mines of Derbyshire when Erasmus Darwin wrote to Wedgwood on 2 July 1767: I have lately travel’d two days journey into the bowels of the earth, with three most able philosophers, and have seen the Goddess of Minerals naked, as she lay in her inmost bowers.18 The ‘three philosophers’ were likely to have been Whitehurst, Boulton and perhaps, James Watt. Even Burdett may have been involved for he was by this time extremely familiar with the topography of the Peak through his recently-completed map-making activities. The consequence of these journeyings must be that this bevy of philosophers entered the Miller Mine, which much later became incorporated into the well-known Treak Cliff Mine, the name of which is a Derbyshire dialect version of its earlier name of ‘Tree Cliff ’. Here Blue John was then mined, and they observed the simple ornaments made at Castleton by the unsophisticated craftsmen there, no doubt comparing their efforts to the refined products of Brown at Derby. This enthusiasm undoubtedly made its way, via Darwin and Whitehurst, to Boulton, probably reinforced by specimens of work, by which Boulton was considerably enthused. Why Tissington never became a full member of the Lunar Society, on these credentials, can only be guessed at; yet, in many respects he was treated as one, and was an important member of the group so closely associated with it. He had received a catalogue of ores found in New England by Franklin in 1763 and, as we have seen, although he lived in old Swanwick Hall, he had a residence in Derby’s Iron Gate (opposite Whitehurst until1764), into which he seems to have moved permanently in 1767 or certainly by 1770. He only had his house at Swanwick on a life tenancy, but by the latter year he had sub-let it to John Balguy of Alfreton. Trubshaw’s alterations may well have been to make the house suitable for permanent rather than occasional occupation.

On 18 March 1763 John Whitehurst wrote a letter from Derby to Benjamin Franklin, mainly concerning the former’s commendation of John Tunnicliffe of Kirk Langley (and thus a close neighbour of William Emes) a farmer friend emigrating to America. He also discussed John Harrison’s pioneering chronometer, sent the best wishes of Erasmus Darwin and Anthony Tissington as well as joining with his wife in sending their ‘most affectionate respects’. All of which serves to reinforce the previous assertion that Franklin’s relationships with all of these people were close and cordial, and that the ‘affectionate respects’ of Mrs Whitehurst could only have stemmed from having had the American with them at Derby for more than one relaxed visit. To all this, however, Whitehurst adds a postscript: With this I [send] you a short sketch of a General Theory of the Earth for your approbation.1 The document that follows is written on a four-page sheet, two-thirds in Whitehurst’s hand, the rest in another, but with corrections by Whitehurst. On the strength of Charles Hutton’s remark that Elizabeth Whitehurst’s

‘. . . talents and education . . . enabled her to be useful in correcting some parts
of his writings’ one might venture to suggest that the continuator was the
philosopher’s wife herself.

The ‘short sketch’ is, in essence, a synopsis of the argument which underlies his greatest published work An Inquiry into the Original State and Formation of the Earth which was first published in 1778 and ran to three editions.3 The first point to note is that some at least of the thinking behind his work had therefore been crystallized by early 1763, fifteen years before first publication, and confirms that throughout the years after leaving home Whitehurst had never given up his study of geology. Nor can there be any question but that he himself considered it his primary interest and achievement. It is worth remembering Joseph Wright’s well-known letter to his brother Richard from Italy in November 1774:
(Ch VI/1]. . . Remember me with respect to all my friends; when you see Whitehurst, tell him I wished for his company when on Mount Vesuvius, his thoughts would have center’d in the bowels of the Mountain, mine skimmed over the surface only; there was a very considerable eruption at the time, of which I am going to make a picture. ’Tis the most wonderful sight in Nature. This remark is given extraordinary force when considered in the light of the portrait Wright painted of Whitehurst sometime around 1783. In 1786 an engraving after it by J. Hall was published as the frontispiece to the second edition of the Inquiry and in a simpler format for Glover’s History and Gazetteer of Derbyshire in 1827 by Sears.5 Here we see the philosopher, aged about 70 at his desk working on the ‘Section of the Strata at Matlock High Tor’ which he did in fact draw and publish as figure 2 in the Appendix to the Inquiry; behind him is an open window giving on to a view of a landscape dominated by a smoking volcano (much resembling the entirely un-volcanic Matlock High Tor) in front of a sombre sky, slashed with the red of the setting sun. The twilight and gathering dusk behind the volcano may be taken as symbolic of the sitter’s accumulating years; the accoutrements among which he sits are however unequivocal: here is a man who expects to be remembered for his theory of the earth, not for making clocks.


Franklin’s full response to Whitehurst’s digest of his theory, back in 1763 is, unfortunately lost; only an acknowledgement of its receipt survives: Your new theory of the Earth is very sensible and in most particulars quite satisfactory. I cannot now give you my sentiments fully upon it, this ship is just sailing; but shall write to you at large from Boston, where I expect to be some time. Despite the qualification implicit in this, Franklin’s full response was presumably encouraging. The 15-year delay before publication was almost certainly due to Whitehurst’s work-load which was only alleviated after his appointment in 1775 as Stamper of the Money Weights, which ultimately allowed him to move permanently to London. He shared his theory of the earth with others, too, although his intentions when he began his research were: Not altogether with a view to investigate the formation of the earth, but in part to obtain such a competent knowledge of subterraneous geography, as might become subservient to the purposes of human life, by leading mankind to the discovery of many valuable substances which lie concealed in the lower regions of the earth.

This expectation was triumphantly met and led, inevitably, given the intellectual climate in Lunar Society circles, to publication. Anthony Tissington must also have been closely involved in its gestation, no doubt appreciating the revelation that what to him was toadstone was in fact fossilized lava and that the minerals that were to make his fortune were to be discovered in predicable layers, or strata; indeed, his long-standing friendship with Whitehurst could have had much influence on the latter’s attempt to reconcile his first-hand observations with his Mosaic belief in the Creator.

Further, there can be no doubt that he shared his theory with his fellow Lunaticks (certainly with Wedgwood) at one or more of their convivial monthly meetings; this, after all, was the very stuff upon which the group thrived. The subscribers’ list, indeed, is replete with the author’s friends
in Derbyshire County, England United Kingdom

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