John Richardson Wigham‟s sister married Joshua Edmundson. Edmundson & Company had a brass foundry in Capel Street, Dublin. They had supplied metal fittings for furniture. They worked in iron and brass. They finished pieces with tin-plate and japanning (a way of painting with metal).
In 1844, when he was 15 years old, John Richardson Wigham left Scotland to Dublin, where he became an apprentice at Edmundson & Company, Caple Street.
John specialised in brass fitting. There was a new invention - gas - for heating and lighting. This gas was generated by heating coal. Small fittings in brass were required. John designed, manufactured and supplied bass fittings for the new gas lights.
Under his direction, the company concentrated on gas lighting. They supplied gas facilities for large houses and business premises. Coal was loaded into ovens and heated producing gas which was kept in tanks which expanded and contracted with the volume of gas. This was prior to the provision of piped town gas.
In time, he was very involved with town gas and became a director of the Dublin Gas Company.
All the while, John Richardson Wigham was inventing.
John Richardson Wigham was a great inventor. We have many examples of his inventions in the museum. Consider his “automatic electric light”; a simple idea; suppose there is a light marking the end of a pier, what would happen if a bulb blew and had to be replaced? It is easy to check whether a bulb is working, the current either flows or it doesn‟t.
With his experience of gas lights used from the gas generators he was supplying to buildings he concluded that gas light was far brighter than the oil lamps then used in light houses. He came up with a design and presented it to the Dublin Ballast Board in 1862.
He also invented a “gas gun”. Actual cannons were fired to warn ships of a rock when the fog was dense. Wighams gas gun, again first used at the Baily used a controlled gas explosion.
He suffered a great deal of prejudice, because he lacked a university education and operated out of Ireland. There were several serious disputes with English engineers including the Stevenson brothers and Sir James Nicholas. Douglass was involved in bitter public disputes with John Richardson Wigham. Wigham demonstrated that gas lights were superior to oil lamps, Douglass, then chief engineer to Trinity House, disagreed.
In 1863 the Dublin Ballast Board funded Wigham's research and the new gas light was installed in the Baily Lighthouse, they then converted other lighthouses until Trinity House prohibited further conversion of lighthouses from oil to gas.
After pressure from Irish Members of Parliament, in 1871 trials were conducted at the two Happisburgh Lighthouses comparing oil with gas. The tests were falsified. Douglass claimed that "the large gas burner was ex-focal and therefore that it was totally useless and wasted”. Stevenson produced cost estimates of running the gas light, compared with oil, which were greatly exaggerated, and ignoring actual costs of running the Baily gas light. It was later established that the lighthouse keeper was instructed not to turn the gas light on by more than a quarter of its capacity.
Dr Tyndall wrote: “I have reason to know that before his lamentable death, Thomas Stevenson, this highly distinguished man, became fully convinced of the merit of Mr. Wigham, and of the demerit of the attempt made afterwards to deprive him of his righteous due”. Douglass claimed that the design of "superposed lenses" at the Eddystone Lighthouse of 1882 were his. The same design "bi-form lens" was used by Wigham in the Galley Head lighthouse in 1877. There was a public dispute. Wigham had patented his design (Patent number 1015) in 1872. Wigham successfully sued Douglass for infringement of patent, and Douglass was ordered to pay £2,500 to Wigham.
Douglass still received a knighthood for his work on the Eddystone Lighthouse.
The £2,500 was actually paid by the Board of Trade.
Wigham‟s patents were compulsorily acquired by the British government. Wigham was offered a knighthood, but declined "for religious reasons‟.
John Richardson Wigham is buried in the Quaker cemetery at Temple Hill, Blackrock.
A curious aside: the Ayrton Light which is above the clock on Big Ben, the English Parliament. (Ayrton was the Commissioner for Works).
In 1871, an electric arc light was installed. In 1874 this was replaced by a Wigham 68-jet gas burner.
In 1870, the light at Wicklow Head was fitted with Wigham's patent intermittent flashing mechanism, which timed the gas supply by means of clockwork. When this mechanism was combined with a revolving lens in Rockabill Lighthouse, the world's first lighthouse with a group-flashing characteristic was produced. Each lighthouse now has a unique flashing sequence, so that the lighthouse can be identified.
Wigham had many inventions, principally in the area of maritime safety. He invented new oil-lamps, gas-lights and electric-lights, fogsignals, buoys, buoy-lights and acetylene lighting equipment. As lighting moved from oil to gas to electricity, he was always ready to innovate.
Lights supplied by Edmundson & Co were used in lighthouses all over the globe.
Wigham was constantly inventing. After he died, this cabinet was in his work-room. It is full of inventions in progress.
Here it stands, with a newspaper article, on the finding of this cabinet, attached.
He supplied lighthouse all over the globe. This cabinet had a drawer for each lighthouse he supplied. The index cards recorded the work carried out and/or parts supplied by Edmundson‟s (later F. Barrett & Co) of Schoolhouse Lane, off Capel Street Dublin.