John Farey, Jr.

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John Farey, Jr. (17911851) was a mechanical engineer and consulting patent agent.[1][2]


Farey was the eldest son of John Farey, Sr., the geologist, and was born at Lambeth, London on March 20, 1791. Details of his education are obscure, but he undertook a systematic study of the manufacturing industry of London between 1804-5. At the age of 14, in 1805 he began making drawings for Rees's Cyclopædia. For Rees he also wrote articles including Machinery, Manufactures, Mechanics, Mill, Steam Engine, Water etc.[3]

Farey was polymathic in his interests and contributed text and drawings to a number of periodicals and encyclopaedias. He came into the possession of the MS and drawings of the engineer John Smeaton and made extensive use of them in his writing and drawing. He was involved in the production of the second volume of Smeaton's Reports (1812), the plates engraved by Wilson Lowry[4]

He worked as a consulting engineer for many well-known inventors of the later Industrial Revolution, and was a witness to a number of parliamentary enquiries, inquests and court cases, and on occasion acted as an arbitrator.

He is also remembered as the first English inventor of the ellipsograph, an instrument used by draughtsmen to inscribe ellipses.


Farey died in Sevenoaks, Kent, on July 17, 1851 and was buried in Highgate Cemetery.

A Treatise on the Steam Engine[edit]

Farey wrote the two-volume work A Treatise on the Steam Engine[5] which has been described as the finest work on technology published in the Industrial Revolution[6]

The first volume covered the early developments of steam pumps, atmospheric engines and low pressure steam engines through the eighteenth century. In particular, the work of Savery, Newcomen, Smeaton and Watt. It was published in 1827.

The second volume covered the development of high-pressure steam and the simple expansion steam engine from 1800, by Trevithick and Woolf. This volume was never published; at the time of Farey's death it had been typeset, but not sold.[7] The book was never sold as the sheets were pulped. It was reprinted in facsimile since from the author's proof, with hand-written corrections by the author, that is now in the National Reference Library of Science and Invention.[7]

Selected publications[edit]


  1. ^ Woolrich, A. P., "Farey, John, Jr.", in Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers, 2002, Vol 1, pp 223–224
  2. ^ Woolrich, A. P., "John Farey,jr (1791-1851), Engineer and Polymath", History of Technology, 1997, Vol 19, pp 112-142
  3. ^ Woolrich, A. P., "John Farey, Jr., technical author and draughtsman: his contribution to Rees's Cyclopadia". Industrial Archaeology Review, 20, (1998), 49-68 AIA Abstracts 1998,
  4. ^ Woolrich, A. P., "John Farey and the Smeaton Manuscripts", History of Technology vol 10, 1985, pp 181-216
  5. ^ Woolrich, A. P., "John Farey and his Treatise on the Steam Engine of 1827", History of Technology, vol 22, 2000, pp 63-106
  6. ^ von Tunzelmann, G. N., Steam and British Industrialisation to 1860, Oxford, 1978, p2
  7. ^ a b Foreword to Farey, John (1971) [1851 (unpublished)]. A Treatise on the Steam Engine. Vol 2. David & Charles. ISBN 0-7153-5004-8.