Thomas Emerson Forster was born in Garrigill Gate, Northumberland, in 1802.
His father became the steward to the owners of Hebburn Colliery and Thomas Emerson Forster was apprenticed to one of the owners, Mr. Wade, in 1817. In 1823, on completion of this apprenticeship, Forster was appointed resident viewer at Walker Colliery situated near Newcastle. His salary was £80 per annum. At the age of 22 Forster was appointed resident viewer at Hetton Colliery, aged 22.
In 1828 Forster left Hetton and moved to Houghton-le-Spring. Here he married a Miss Dodd, daughter of Reverend John Dodd of Chester-le-Street.
Later in his life, Forster was appointed check viewer at Elemore Hall and other “mineral estates”. He was also the consulting viewer at Felling and other collieries. In 1831 he was “charged with the establishment” of Haswell colliery. Between 1835 and 1846 Forster was a resident at Haswell, after which he moved to Newcastle. After 1834 he became an engineer of Durham and Sunderland Railway and the chief viewer of Haswell and Felling collieries. He was “entrusted with the establishment ” of Belmont, Shincliffe, Cornforth, Shotton, Byers Green and Scremerston collieries. Forster was the consulting viewer to Lord Lonsdale, Lord Boyne, and other proprietors and was involved in the management of Black Boy, Percy Main, Seaton Delaval, South Hetton, Murton, Whitehaven, Coanwood, Blenkinsop, Netherton and Nunnery collieries, plus colliery property in Ireland.
In 1836 Forster was elected as a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers and went on to become an elected member of the North of England Institute of Mining Engineers (5 November, 1852): a Vice-President (1861-1865); and finally President (1866-1868). In the same year as he was appointed President, Forster was appointed as a member of the Royal Commission on Coal Industry.
Thomas Emerson Forster died at Ellison Place, Newcastle on the 7 March 1875 after long illness. Mrs Forster died in 1873. They were survived by their only son, George Baker Forster. Sadly, their two daughters “died at an early age”.
Throughout his life Forster was a pioneer of increased ventilation of mines, favouring the steam jet method. He was “one of the first to adopt the cage system of drawing coals, the use of wire ropes for winding, and the lighting of mines with gas from the surface.” His expertise was invaluable in the aftermath of the explosion at Burradon in 186) and the Hartley disaster in 1862.
From Transactions, Vol XXV, pp5-10: Memoir by G.C.Greenwell.
“The most successful viewer since the days of Mr.Buddle.” – Colliery Guardian (12 March 1875)
See also the article in Wikipedia.