Inventor of the 'Steam Man' (automaton) May 1868 • Sheffield, Yorkshire

This subject of this article was brought to my attention by a reader of the site  who referred me to reports that appeared in the following editions of Sheffield Telegraph 30 May 1868 and the Shefffield and Rotherham Independent 18 May 1869

Although it is not made clear in the report the inventor of the "Steam-man" was a Mr. John Shaw. The 1861 Census finds John and his family living at Tom Cross Lane, Sheffield, Yorkshire He was  31 years old and had lived in Sheffield all his life. ; His occupation is given as Brass Turner  - Optician  

1861 Census

However John apart from being an optician and a brass turner was also an inventor. The reporter who covered the Sheffield Fair was unstinting in his disapproval of this event and previous events. "Fairs are degenerating, there can be no mistake about that" is the opening sentence and the reporter then goes to deliver a scathing criticism of the whole fair. However two of the exhibitors stand out is Wombwell's Menagerie ("well and truely excellent") and the mechanical inventions of a Sheffield artisan Mr. Shaw. The cleverness and ingenuity of Mr. Shaw receive fulsome praise and special note is made in the reoprt of a "steam man who actually walks by steam"

Sheffield Telegraph 30 May 1868

1871 Census

Three years later the 1871 census has John and his family living at Cross Bedford Street which is just off Infirmary Road in Sheffield. His first wife Maria died in 1862 and John a widower with a family married a Jane Cartledge in 1864.

1881 Census

By 1881 the family are now living in Scotland Street which is in the Shalesmoor district of Sheffield and not far from their previous address. As in 1871, no mention is made of John being an optician, he is just a brass turner and it looks as though he has taken his son Walter as an apprentice.

Scotland Street Sheffield

That would be John's last appearance in a UK Census. On 12th October 1882 John died of an enlarged spleen and the build up of body fluid at his home at 30 Scotland Street. He was buried 5 days later at Sheffield's General Cemetery. He was 53 years of age.


Birth abt 1830 • Malin Bridge, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

Marriage 7 Aug 1851 • Sheffield Parish Church, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England Maria Hawson (1830–1862) Occupation 1851 • Sheffield Optician
Birth of Daughter Cornelia Ann Shaw(1852–1915) 1852 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Daughter Sarah Ann Shaw(1853–1854) Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Death of Daughter Sarah Ann Shaw(1853–1854) 1854 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England
Birth of Daughter Rebecca Shaw(1855–) • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

1861 • Tom Cross Lane, Sheffield, Yorkshire Age: 31; Brass Turner to Optician

Death of Wife Maria Hawson(1830–1862) 15 June 1862 • Langsett Road, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

Marriage 1864 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England Jane Cartledge (1843–1915)

Birth of Son Walter Shaw(1865–) 1865 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

Birth of Son Herbert Shaw(1868–) 1868 • Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

Residence 1871 • 57 Cross Bedford St, Sheffield, Yorkshire Age: 41; Relation to Head of House: Head

Residence 1881 • 30 Scotland Street, Sheffield, Yorkshire Splenic Hypertrophy and DropsyAge: 51; Brass Turner

Death 12 Oct 1882 • 30 Scotland Street, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England ‘Optician’: Died of Splenic Hypertrophy and Dropsy

Burial 17 Oct 1882 • General Cemetery, Sheffield, Yorkshire, England

GRAVE H2 174

Florence FROST Daughter of Thomas Frost, Ivory Cutter, 33 Sarah? Street age: 1y 9m, buried: 6 Sep 1869

Sarah Ann SHAW Daughter of John & Maria Shaw, 43 Andrew Street age: 16m, buried: 13 Sep 1854

Sarah SHAW Still Born, Andover Street age: -, buried: 13 Jun 1856 

Maria SHAW Wife of John Shaw, Optician, Raglan Terrace age: 32, buried: 17 Jun 1862

John SHAW Optician, 30 Scotland Street age: 53, buried: 17 Oct 1882

Lilian WALKER Daughter of George Walker, 22 Charlotte Street age: 18m, buried: 6 Sep 1869


Sheffield Indexers

Sheffield Records Online 

UK Census

Sheffield Telegraph 30 May 1868

Shefffield and Rotherham Independent 18 May 1869

From The Sheffield History Forum)

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This page was last updated on 03/05/22 10:42