Brokedon, William


Miscellaneous Devonshire Gleanings. Trans. Devon. Assoc., 1881, Vol XIII., pp. 133-134.


W. Pengelly, F.R.S., F.G.S. Etc.

Prepared by Michael Steer

A Biographical Sketch of William Brokedon by Edward Windeatt appears in Trans. Devon Assoc. vol. 9, (1877), pp. 243-249. Brokedon was a pencil lead manufacturer, painter, writer and inventor, born 1787 in Totnes. He patented the tablet press in 1843, thus paving the way for the mass manufacture of medicines in the form that most patients know them today. His device was responsible for compressing medicinal ingredients commonly employed in pills and lozenges without the use of liquid adhesive agents. The resulting product was originally known as compressed pills. Brockedon's invention of a tablet-making device changed the face of medicine. The article, from a copy of a rare and much sought-after journal can be downloaded from the Internet Archive. Google has sponsored the digitisation of books from several libraries. These books, on which copyright has expired, are available for free educational and research use, both as individual books and as full collections to aid researchers.

Mr. Octavian Blewitt's Panorama of Torquay, 2nd edition, 1832, p. 271, contains a Biographical Sketch of the late Mr. W. Brockedon, who, as is well known, was a native of Totnes. From the character of the sketch, as well as from a foot-note, I concluded that it had been submitted to the artist - then in his 45th year, - that it had met his approval, and that its publication had been sanctioned by him.

To leave no room for doubt on the point I wrote Mr. Blewitt, who, in his reply, dated "Nov. 9, 1880," after remarking " Brockedon was one of my dearest friends," says "My Biography in the Panorama was drawn up, as you have correctly inferred, from information given to me by himself; but as you may like to have his own words, I enclose a copy of extracts from two letters which he wrote me in 1832 in reference to his work as a watchmaker.

"The second extract is interesting as showing how proud he was of the share he had in making the Church clock - a fact which I have often heard him mention, and in the presence of many friends, from whom he had no desire to conceal the fact that he had been a working watchmaker.

"He was a fine noble-minded fellow, above all the pride which would have made a mystery of his early life."

The following are the extracts mentioned by Mr. Blewitt: -

Extract, (1) from a Letter from Mr. Brockedon, dated "Aug. 29, 1832," addressed to "Octavian Blewitt Esq.":-

"My Father was a man of singularly fine and powerful understanding. His natural talents I have never seen surpassed, and whatever turn my own character may have taken,. if the world thinks highly of it, it grew under his instruction and advice, and the impressions they made upon me before I was 15, for prior to this age I had the severe misfortune to lose him (in Sept 1802).

"He had instructed me in his business, and the taste then acquired for mechanical pursuits has never left me. During his long illness, nearly 12 months, young as I was, I conducted his business. After his death, in accordance with an arrangement made by him whilst he was living, I spent 6 months in London in the house of a watch manufacturer to perfect myself in what I expected would have been my pursuit in life. On my return from London I continued to carry on my business for my mother for 5 years."

Extract (2) from a letter dated 'Nov. 17, 1832 from Mr. Brockedon to Mr. 0. Blewitt:

“In the mention of my early pursuits in life which still so much influence me, Mechanics, you will smile, perhaps, at my calling to mind and mentioning what I recollect with such pleasure, - the hand I had in making the present Parish Clock in the church at Totnes.

"An order was given to my Father to make a new Church Clock a short time before the Accident by lightning which, in Feb. 1799, struck the Tower, threw down the S. E. Pinnacle, and did so much damage to the Church as to require nearly 3 years to repair. This accident prevented the clock being put up until the Summer of 1802, during my father's last illness; ....

"I was set to do some of the work, though only about 13 years of age, particularly cutting the fly pinion out of the solid steel."

It will be found that the substance of the first of the foregoing extracts has been faithfully incorporated in Mr. Blewitt's biographical sketch in the Panorama of Torquay, mentioned above.

The following extract from a letter from the late Governor A. EL Holdsworth to Mr. Blewitt, dated "Brookhill" [Kingswear, Dartmouth]" Feb. 20, 1837, will not be considered out of place here -

"I am daily expecting Brockedon, he has come down to bury his mother, who has been carried off by the Influenza. He has been very ill himself & I hope he will benefit by the air of this place."