George Baker Forster

George Baker Forster was born on the 13th of October 1832, son of Thomas Emerson Forster (mining engineer and former President of the Institute). He was educated at Shincliffe (under Reverend Isaac Todd), Repton School, and St Peter’s School at York. Between 1850 and 1854 he studing mathematics at St John’s College, Cambridge University. Whilst at Cambridge, he rowed for the university.

Forster worked as a mining engineer apprentice. In 1858 he was the viewer for Cowpen Colliery in Northumberland – a positition he held for 42 years. Cowpen eventually amalgamated with North Seaton and Cambois. These new pits sunk. Forster worked as a consulting mining engineer in partnership with his father and then later his son (both named Thomas Emerson Forster).

Forster was associated with the development of Blyth Harbour as the Commissioner. He was responsible for the sinking and laying out of Bearpark Colliery (near Durham) and of Longhirst Colliery (near Morpeth). He acted as a consulting engineer for the Wallsend and Hebburn Coal Company. Forster superintended the reopening of Wallsend colliery after 40 years of closure, a development that required extensive pumping operations. He was a mineral agent to numerous royalty owners in North of England and in 1890 became aq member of the Royal Commission on mining royalties.

Forster took leading part in the work of rescue and restorations after the explosions at Seaham, Elemore and Usworth Collieries. His skill and judgement as an advisor was responsible for saving the lives of many.

On the 16th of January 1862 an iron beam of a pumping-engine snapped and plunged into pit at Hartley Colliery. the shaft filled with wreckage and 199 men and boys were trapped underground. Forster took a leading part in directing the rescue. Clearing of the shaft took many days and was very dangerous. After several days poisonous gas leaked out of the shaft. It was only until a week later that the resuce team reached the men. Sadly, they were too late.

Forster became Vice Chairman of Northumberland Coal-Owners Association. During his life he was a member of the Northumberland Joint Committee (a body settling matters of colliery working); a member of Concilliation Board for regulation of wages in Northumberland; a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers; a fellow of the Geological Society; Chairman of Magistrates for the Blyth Petty Sessional Division; and Chairman of the School Board of Cowpen until 1892 (after the passing of the Education Act of 1870).

In 1857 became a member of the North of England Mining Institute and Mechanical Engineers. Forester was President on the Institute from 1881 to 1884.

Forster was interested in education, gave working men opportunity for practical scientific education. He established schools at all collieries under his charge as well as Mechanic Institutes. He was also interested in self help, encouraging a colliery village to set up co-operative dairy farm after an outbreak of scarlet fever was found to be caused by bad milk. Forster greatly considered the welfare and feelings of his workers. He possessed a high degree of tact and sympathy, fairness and sense of justice. These characteristics won him the esteem and confidence not only of own men, but also men of surrounding district.

In 1854 Forester married Hannah Elizabeth Todd, daughter of Reverend Isaac Todd of Shincliffe. Together they had four sons and three daughters. George Baker Forster died on the 18th January 1901.

Further reading:
Rynes, Richard (1873) The miners of Northumberland and Durham: a history of their social and political progress. John Robinson: Blyth.

Information taken from:
Transactions: Institute of Mining Engineers, Vol XXIII, p3 (portrait p8)

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