Frederick Settle Barff

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Frederick Settle Barff (6 October 1822[notes 1] – 11 August 1886)[1] was an English chemist, ecclesiastical decorator, and stained glass manufacturer,[2] much interested in theology.[1]

He is best known as a chemist, having invented several important preservation methods for a range of materials, including iron, stone, wood and foodstuffs. Several of his stained glass windows still survive throughout Ireland and the north of England.[1]

A portrait photograph of Barff appears in The History of St Stanislaus College, Beaumont, published in 1911.[2]

Early life[edit]

Born in Hackney, London, the son of a doctor, Barff was educated at Christ's College, Cambridge,[3] where he earned a BA in 1844, followed by an MA in 1847.[1][4] After graduating, he was ordained at Peterborough[1] and started work as an Anglican curate in Hull. He also served as curate of St Nicholas' Church, Leicester,[5] before, in 1852, converting to Catholicism.[2]

Ecclesiastical decorator[edit]

St Michael's Church, Ballinasloe, Stained Glass Window
Stained Glass Window, St Michael's Church, Ballinasloe
Detail St Michael's Church, Ballinasloe, Stained Glass Window
Detail (St Brendan) Stained Glass Window, St Michael's Church

By the mid-1850s, Barff established Mssrs. F.S. Barff & Co., an ecclesiastical decorating company, in Liverpool.

North England[edit]

He supervised the interior decoration of St Patrick's Church, Liverpool[2] and painted the frescoes at Stonyhurst College.[1] The firm also decorated the churches of St Wilfrid's, Preston and St Mary's, Chelsea.[notes 2][2]


By 1858 Barff's company had moved to Dublin, possibly influenced by his contemporary and fellow convert John Hungerford Pollen, where most of the work was undertaken for Catholic churches.

Works executed in Ireland:[2]

Location Building Date Works
St Johnstown St Baithen's Church 1860 Stained glass, high altar and side altar
Gargary St Patrick's Church 1860ca Altar and tabernacle.
Newtowncunningham Church 1860ca Stained glass in chancel and W gable
Letterkenny Loreto Convent 1861 Stained-glass window in chapel.
Glenvar Church of St Mary Star of the Sea 1862 Altar and reredos panels filled with enamel work
Galway Congretational Church 1862 Stained glass window
Monaghan St Patrick's Church 1862 Lord Rossmore testimonial window.[notes 3]
Dublin St Catherine's Church 1862 High altar window, stereochromic painting
Dublin St Paul's Church 1862–1863 Decoration
Dublin St Patrick's Cathedral 1862 & 1863 Ascension window in S. transept, 1862.[notes 4] Window in N transept. Celtic Revival clerestory windows, 1863.
Mullagh Church 1862ca Caen stone altar.
Dublin Shop(?) No. 93–94, Ryan Bros 1863 Decoration.
Ballinasloe St Michael's Church[notes 5] ? Stained glass window in apse.
Carlow St Patrick's College ? Chapel decoration
Dublin St Mary's Pro-Cathedral ? Decoration
Ardcath St Mary's Church ? High altar.

During this period, Barff gave a lecture on Decorative Art to the Dublin Mechanics Institute[notes 6] and successfully patented several processes associated with his work, one of which won honourable mention during the 1862 International Exhibition.[2]


Date Application
Oct. 1860 Improvements in the production of artificial stone, which improvements are also applicable to the preservation of stone, bricks, tiles, and other analogous substances and materials.[6][7]
Oct. 1860 An improved self-acting apparatus for extinguishing candles in lamps or otherwise.[6][8]
July 1861 A new or improved process for the induration and preservation of stone and other analogous absorbent substances or materials, which process is also applicable for the production of artificial stone.[9][10]
June 1863 An improved means of protecting, preserving, and hardening surfaces of brick, cement, stone, stucco, and other analogous substances, which invention is also applicable to the preservation of timber.[11]

The company continued to operate until 1864, when it went bankrupt, at which time Barff returned to England.[2]



On his return, Barff became a teacher at Beaumont College, a Jesuit school in Windsor, before moving to University College, London[2] as assistant professor of chemistry.[12] He later became professor of chemistry at the Royal Academy of Arts[2] for eight years[1] and also at the Catholic University College, Kensington,[2][12] a position for which he was nominated by Cardinal Manning,[1] as well as at the Beaumont College.[12]

He was made a Fellow of the Chemical Society in 1867.[1]

Barff acted as Examiner in Chemistry for the Natural science tripos at Cambridge University,[12] a role he was first awarded in 1873.[1]

Society of Arts lectures[edit]

Barff delivered three series of Cantor Lectures to the Society of Arts:[12] in 1870, on artistic colours and pigments; in 1872, on the treatment of carbon compounds for heating and lighting purposes;[1][12] and a further series on Silicates, Silicides, Glass, and Glass Painting.[12]

He also delivered the juvenile lectures, for 1878, on the subject of Coal and its Compounds.[12]

Barff was awarded two Art Society's medals: one for a paper on Zinc White as Paint, and the Treatment of Iron for the Prevention of Corrosion and the other for his paper on A New Antiseptic Compound,[12] the latter of which he presented to the society in March 1882.[1]

Published works[edit]

  • An Introduction to scientific chemistry, 1869.
  • An introduction to scientific chemistry: designed for the use of schools, 1869
  • Elementary chemistry, 1875.

Society of Arts publications[edit]

  • On silicates, silicides, glass and glass painting, 1872
  • Carbon & certain compounds of carbon, treated principally in reference to heating and illuminating purposes 1874
  • The treatment of iron for the prevention of corrosion, 1877

Design and inventions[edit]

Caricature of Barff published in Punch, 1882
Caricature of Barff published in Punch, 1882. Caption: Member for Boro-Glyceride. Our Preserver!

Barff is most widely remembered for his invention of a method of rust proofing cast iron, named after him.[1][12] The method used superheated steam[2][13] to form a layer of tri-iron tetroxide(Fe3O4),[14] which proved much cheaper than traditional galvanisation.[15] The method was subsequently improved by George Bower, after which the process became known as the Bower–Barff process. The Bower-Barff Rustless Iron Co. had works in Southwark and New York, the latter supplying cast-iron for many of the city's landmark buildings.[2][14]

He also created an antiseptic compound, Boro glycerine,[12][16] primarily for the preservation of meats but which subsequently found many medical uses. It is still used in some parts of the world as an oral antiseptic in the treatment of mouth ulcers.[17][18][19] A caricature of Barff, contemplating a barrel of boro glycerine, appeared in an 1882 edition of Punch as No.84 of the Fancy Portraits series.[2]

Barff was an early exponent of the use of hydrocarbons as fuel, starting Sim & Barff's Patent Mineral Oil Steam Fuel Company, for the purpose of developing heating, power and lighting systems which could operate on liquid hydrocarbons. At a time when experiments in the field appeared to show little promise of success, Barff believed that

...these oils are doubtless destined to form the marine steam fuel of the future.[20]

Barff's design experiments to remove noxious elements from the exhaust products of combustion in locomotives and similar furnaces, a precursor to the catalytic converter, were met with some ridicule as the weight of reagents needed were almost equal to the weight of fuel burned.[21]


Date Application
October 1869 A method by which the products of combustion evolved from locomotive engines and other furnaces (are) passed through vessels containing chemical reagents, the object being to fix the sulphurous acid and carbonic acid forming part of the gaseous products by causing them to form non-volatile compounds.[21][22]
1876 A process by which iron is preserved from rusting (forerunner to the Bower–Barff process)[23]


Barff died of complications associated with diabetes at Buckingham,[1][24] and was buried with his wife Margaretta in Kensal Green Cemetery.[2]


  1. ^ 1823 in his obituary.
  2. ^ The Tablet, 13 October 1854(or 1855), 647 quoted in Irish Architectural Archive
  3. ^ To a design chosen in competition.
  4. ^ Not executed
  5. ^ As illustrated.
  6. ^ Presented in 1860.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Peile, J. (1913) Biographical Register of Christ's College, 1505–1905 and of the earlier foundation, God's House, 1448–1505 Vol II 1666–1905. p.475. Cambridge University Press. Retrieved June 2011
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Irish Architectural Archive. Dictionary of Irish Architects, 1720–1940. Barff, Frederick Settle
  3. ^ The Chemical Society (1887) Journal of the Chemical Society Volume 51. p.471.
  4. ^ "Barff, Frederick Settle (BRF840FS)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  5. ^ English mechanic and world of science: with which are incorporated "the Mechanic", "Scientific opinion," and the "British and foreign mechanic.", Volume 44. (1887) p.9. E.J. Kibblewhite. Retrieved June 2011
  6. ^ a b Great Britain Patent Office (1861) Chronological and descriptive index of patents applied for and patents granted, containing the abridgements of provisional and complete specifications. p.172 Retrieved June 2011
  7. ^ Richardson, T. & Watts, H. (1867) Chemical Technology; Or, Chemistry in Its Applications to the Arts and Manufactures: Fuel and its applications. pt. 3–5. Acids, alkalies and salts Volume 1, Issue 5, Edition 2, p.586. H. Baillière. Retrieved June 2011
  8. ^ The Repertory of patent inventions: and other discoveries and improvements in arts, manufactures, and agriculture; being a continuation, on an enlarged plan, of the Repertory of arts & manufactures. p.37. T. and G. Underwood (1861) Retrieved June 2011
  9. ^ Woodcroft, B. (1862) Chronological index of patents applied for and patents granted [afterw.] of patentees and applicants for patents of invention p.114. Patent office. Retrieved June 2011
  10. ^ Timbs, J. (1863) The Year-book of facts in science and art p.94. Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. Retrieved June 2011
  11. ^ The Chemical news and journal of industrial science, Volume 8, p.122. (1863) Retrieved June 2011
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Popular Science. Jan 1887. Vol. 30, No. 19. p.432. ISSN 0161-7370 Bonnier Corporation. Retrieved June 2011
  13. ^ Popular Science Jul 1886 Vol. 29, No. 19, p.393. Bonnier Corporation. ISSN 0161-7370. Retrieved June 2011
  14. ^ a b Daintith, John (2004) The Facts on File dictionary of inorganic chemistry p.21. Infobase Publishing. ISBN 0-8160-4926-2. Retrieved June 2011
  15. ^ Popular Science Mar 1879, Vol. 14, No. 36, p.687. Bonnier Corporation. ISSN 0161-7370. Retrieved June 2011
  16. ^ Fallows, Samuel (1835) The progressive dictionary of the English language: a supplementary wordbook to all leading dictionaries of the United States and Great Britain p.85. Progressive Pub. Co. Retrieved June 2011
  17. ^ Jones, Eli G. (2000) Definite Medication p.93. B. Jain Publishers ISBN 81-7021-244-8 Retrieved June 2011
  18. ^ Prasad, B. (1997) Principles and Practice of Medicine a Textbook for Students and Practitioners p.343. Jaypee Brothers Publishers ISBN 81-7179-516-1 Retrieved June 2011
  19. ^ Jaypee Brothers (2005) Essentials of Pharmacology for Dentistry p.464. Jaypee Brothers Publishers ISBN 81-8061-583-9 Retrieved June 2011
  20. ^ Artizan Club (1868) The Artizan, Volume 26, p.4. Simpkin, Marshall, and Co. Retrieved June 2011
  21. ^ a b Design Council (1870) Engineering Vol 10, p.160. Office for Advertisements and Publication
  22. ^ Great Britain Patent Office (1870) Alphabetical index of patentees and applicants for patents of invention p.28. Retrieved June 2011
  23. ^ La Niece, Susan & Craddock, Paul T. (1993) Metal plating and patination: cultural, technical and historical developments p.156. Butterworth-Heinemann. Retrieved June 2011
  24. ^ The Academy and literature Volume 30 (1886)