Content can be downloaded for non-commercial purposes, such as for personal use or in educational resources.
For commercial purposes please contact the copyright holder directly.
Read more about the The Creative Archive Licence.


There is a man now entering through the big doors of the Dowlais Works whom you, a stranger, intuitively know is somebody. The Irish labourer shambles out of his way; old Welsh workers touch their hats and bow their heads at the same time. He is the master, evidently. Tall, with strongly marked features, his hair long and alack, a huge scarf around his neck, but with clothing in cut or character of dress to indicate consideration for the fashions and usages of society still there is something about him which constrains attention, commands respect, deference. Who is he? What is he?

The answer is soon given William Menelaus manager of the Dowlais Ironworks, and its dependent collieries and industries, employer of ten thousand people, who has grasped the details iron of one of the largest works in the world, and holds them like multitudinous reins in his land as the huge industry rolls around; and who; whether it be the steel made close at hand or the Spanish ore branch at Bilbao, the working profit and loss of the deepest collieries, or the specifications of rails, the texture of steel, has got all, so to state, at his fingers' ends. Follow him through the works.

Every man, boy, and girl are on their best behaviour as he nears them; hands ply vigorously; even the horses and locomotives seem to catch the contagion, and there is no loitering hand or foot or wheel to be seen. They all know that ie is no superficial looker on, that he knows how to do it all and which is the best way, and that he has in eye which can seize in a moment the weak point of men or manufacture.

Follow him to his home. You are told that he is of the people, and that in early life he laboured with hand as well as with brain. You are surprised, for he is surrounded by the indications of intellectual refinement. His pictures, his books indicate the art critic as well as the thinker. Mostly treasures from gifted easels cover the walls, and your host, unlike the wealthy parvenu, who is a collector for the love of collecting or possessing, can discourse with ability of the special points hidden from all but, a few. In the works you will jet from him a thorough practical insight into iron and steel making. You feel that he could take you into the laboratory and explain minutely chemical properties, and the processes by which phosphor, the arch-enemy, is fought, and how good make it ensured at the lowest possible minimum of cost; and take up the role of any of his men, and teach them practically in every branch; as if he had delved, or puddled, or rolled.

But at home this is forgotten, you are in conversation with a philosophic mind, who takes broad views of God’s providence of nature’s laws, and human aims and efforts. Let me remined a few of a few of his opinions. I hazard the remark, that it a pity our best coal is being given away; that there is a limit to our coal wealth; that a time will come when our coal great mineral; fields will be exhausted; and then, what then? “First,” said he, if such coals as No. 3 Rhondda mould run out in a comparatively short period, others as useful will remain, and even at the lowest estimate our stores will last for I couple of thousand years. Quite long enough for us. Nations have a life, the same as individuals, and, judging from the past, and the past is always a guide for the future, for no nation has ever retained its greatness for two thousand years, the duration of our coal will be ample for that of our needs." "Would it not, however," I suggest, “be a politic course to improve prices for coal-owners to band in unison?"

"I don't want to use harsh expressions," he said, "but it would be simply damnable by any artificial course you name to force prices beyond that rate which is brought about by the law of supply and demand. It is a law of God's providence, as shown by wiser men than you or that the price of coal should be dependent upon that of demand, just as that of any or produce." "But should not coal be exceptional to that of corn?" I rejoin. T e held manured and treated with alternate crops, dowered by the rain, the snow, and the sunshine, is literally inexhaustible; the gardens of Jerusalem, prolific in the days of Christ, are prolific now, but our coal is not renewed. "We have enough and to spare," he repeated; "the world is wide, and the mineral extent scarcely guessed at; besides, science advances yearly, and in my time, I have seen a wonderful limitation in the use of coal in iron manufacture."

I drift away from coal and iron and get into politics. "Have you seen Gladstone's last speech?" “No, I take little interest in politics; but your question reminds me of Roebuck's reply to the same query, ‘I wish to God I had!' I have no faith in the man," he continued, "or his class.” It is preposterous to think that, from beginning to end, the Conservatives have been always wrong. Their opponents do not deny them the possession of great mental power; and to think that such mental power is always systematically used not only foolishly, but against the best interests of our land, of England, is what no impartial reasoning mind will admit for a moment. The Liberals in their every-day social and commercial life, do not think so; but touch upon politics, and the men who, as friends, dealers, or manufacturers, are trustworthy, become other beings. Do not behave in it, Care little about politics. since the stream becomes so muddied and defiled." I agree with him, and lament that the Liberals should decry their countrymen as inhuman in their action against the Zulus. "Exactly," he said:

"Tis the mission of the white man to spread over the earth just as it is for the weak to give way to the strong. Read by the light of the past it is God's providence, and yet the preacher denounces it as sinful. What would America be if it had been left to the North American Indian, or New Zealand and Australia to the Aborigines? The black man and the red man must give way to the white. Certainly, individual instances of cruelty exist; you need not go farther than Merthyr tb find individual cases of cruelty also; but, generally speaking, they are exceptional, and are lost in the great survey of things."

I refer to the short-sighted notions of preachers of the Gospel, who support the ultra-Liberal and believe, or say they do, that the Conservatives have hounded on English soldiers to every species of imaginable wrong. “Have no faith in them,” he said, “Ministers as a rule are narrow men, and preachers more so. They look at the world as confined to a little circle bounded by the horizon;” and their God, I add, just such another as Jupiter in the clouds immediately over them, listening to the singing and pleased with the harps. He laughed, and the theme was changed.

At another time the conversation ran into another groove, and English literature became the subject. He admitted a hearty belief in Carlyle, “one of the few great men of the world." I submitted that he was over-estimated, that his ruggedness was an assumption in great part, as it was seen clearly in "Sartor Resartus" that lie could write pure and euphonious English if he liked. “Yes, by way of diversion," he said; but the rugged was his native speech. His words are concentrations of wisdom. The flowing language of some writers pass before the eye. but leave nothing to think about. It is not solid enough. Carlyle’s, on the contrary, makes you think. You cannot grapple it at first, but when you do, you find you have something worth holding." No one had read Carlyle more carefully than he, and yet the works of Carlyle, like those of Adam Smith, and of many a sober thinker, constitute only the amusements of those few hours of relaxation which the great duties of Dowlais Works entailed.

Wonderful is the alteration wrought in the world over which William Menelaus ruled since the days of the early ironmaster and the small furnace. At that time there was more iron left in the waste than was shown in the bar. Ironmaking was only a little advance upon the smithy; but now it is a scientific process, and an ironworks without a good analytical chemist is lop-eared and one-sided. Once ironmaking, like coal working, was easy; the iron mine was to be found in the riverbed, and to be had for the getting, and the coal cropped out at your backdoor. Now ironmaking involves brainwork, as well as muscle, and for coal you go down half a mile into the deep. Still over all operations, as over the ten thousand labourers in a vast field of action, requiring constant attention, keenest knowledge and profoundest thought, laboured William Menelaus, iron in will as if his nature had become oxidised by the material amongst which he moved; and so regulating the great field of industry that it seemed to move like a vast machine.

Thus, it continued, on and on, through good and bad times, evil report and good report; and even as it continued it expanded, until tho question was to what height would not Dowlais attain. One may be thankful for all this: that during a long, terrible stagnation of five years the works were retained in operation; and no measure of praise is too high for the man whose wonderful prescience and skill enabled this to be done until the dark night came to an end. This is the greatest of reputations. Mr. Menelaus never acted as justice of the peace, chairman of the board of guardians, chairman of local or school boards. He kept aloof from the social arrangements; and, while other men made local laws, or aided in carrying them out he was content to keep the wheels going, and twenty thousand men, women, and children were thereby saved from the semi-starvation which has befallen many industrial centres.

This is high meed, honourable repute, lasting reputation, and, as such, will be associated unquestionably with his name. It is true, in his bluff way he, would unhesitatingly deny any claim to the distinction of a philanthropist, or question heartily whether he would make a ton of iron in order that the profits went simply to the ironworker, but he has done so notwithstanding, and thus, as a practical philanthropist, he had excelled immeasurably the good old spectacled men who pry about in prisons or in quiet-lanes, just as they would for butterflies or beetles, and feel their delightful old hearts rejoice in the giving away of a blanket or a Bible.

The mortal remains of Mr. William Menelaus, who was for one-half of his life general manager of the Dowlais Ironworks, took place in the quiet churchyard at Penderyn on Tuesday, his remains being interred in the same brick grave as those in which his wife's were consigned in 1852.

The funeral, to all intents and purposes, was a private one, but the gentlemen of high position who attended it fully testified to the great esteem in which the deceased was held in the district. A special train containing the corpse and those of Mr Menelaus's friends who had been with him in his last moments, started from Tenby at half-past nine in the morning, and after one single stoppage at Whitland, arrived at Hirwain Junction at about half past twelve. Here the corpse was transferred from the train to a hearse sent from the Castle Hotel, Merthyr, and was met by a small number of persons from Dowlais and other places.

The body was enclosed in a polished oak coffin, with brass mountings, a brass shield giving simply the name, dates of birth and death, and the age of the deceased.

Amongst those present to receive the body at Hirwain were Mr. W. T. Crawshay (Cyfarthfa Castle), Mr. W. T. Lewis (Mardy, Aberdare), Dr. Cresswell (Dowlais), Mr. E. Williams (Middlesborough). Mr. W. Jenkins (manager of the Consett Works, North of England), Mr. R. H. Rhys, J.P. (deceased's brother-in-law), Mr. Geo. Martin (mineral agent, Dowlais), and Mr. W. Kemp (manager of the tradesmen department, Dowlais).

There also arrived with the body several of Mr. Menelaus's nephews. The remains of the deceased were removed from the railway van to the hearse by six of the Dowlais Company's officials, viz. David Davies, foreman joiners; Joshua Davies, pattern makers; J. Jenkins, pattern makers; David Jones, sawmills John Watkins, tradesmen's department and Evan Davies, joiners' department. It was stated that in addition to the six who acted as bearers, only four gentlemen were invited to the funeral from Dowlais, whose names are given above.

The funeral cortege was headed by the six bearers, followed by the carriages of Mr. W. T. Crawshay, Mr. Menelaus (the deceased), Mr. W. T. Lewis (later Lord Merthyr), Dr. Cresswell, and several hired carriages, supplied by Mr. Thomas Davies, coach proprietor, of Merthyr. There were but few people congregated upon the Hirwain platform to watch the departure of the corpse, the funeral procession starting about one o'clock for Penderyn churchyard, an hour's journey from Hirwain.

Upon arriving at the burial ground attached to the ancient church, which is situated in a somewhat secluded spot on the top of a hill, the funeral cortege was joined by Lord Aberdare (H. A. Bruce), and Mr. G. T. Clark (the joint trustees of the Dowlais Works), as well as Lady Aberdare and Mrs. Clark.

Here also some exceedingly handsome floral wreaths, in addition to those which accompanied the corpse from Tenby, were placed upon the coffin by Lady Aberdare, Mrs. Clark, Mr. W. T. Lewis, and another was sent from the Misses Rhys, Plasnewydd. The funeral service was most impressively read by the Rev. Wm. Winstone, the venerable vicar of Penderyn, and the whole of the solemn rite, which was intended to be of a private nature, passed off in a most quiet manner.

The funeral arrangements were efficiently superintended by Mr. Chas. Beynon, of Tenby. The grave was opened and subsequently re-closed, and the inscription stones and iron railings replaced by Mr. John Morgan, builder, of Aberdare. It may truly be said that the burial of Mr. Menelaus, although attended by several of the most representative gentlemen of the district, was as quiet and unpretentious as his life had always been.

Do you have information to add to this item? Please leave a comment

Comments (0)

You must be logged in to leave a comment