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Sir Samuel Davidson (1846 - 1921):
Tea producer; inventor; businessman

Samuel Davidson was a highly talented engineer and businessman on either side of the turn of the century.

He was born in Ballymachan, County Down, youngest of eight children of James Davidson who had a flour-milling business in Belfast and also interests in tea: the family had an estate at Cachar in India. Samuel attended the Royal Belfast Academical Institution, where he showed a distinct practical bent, until he was 15, when he joined an engineering firm, William Hastings & Co, before in 1864 going to India to the family tea plantation. Samuel was a very talented engineer and over the following decades was to be awarded some 120 patents for various types of machinery; though at first they were directly related to tea production, particularly drying a lot of tea leaves in extra-quick time; they later diversified and some of his machines were later installed in ships including the Titanic and even some vessels of the German Hochseeflotte or High Seas Fleet. In fact, when the German fleet scuttled itself in 1919 it was found to have a lot of Davidson/ Sirocco equipment installed.

His father died in 1869, Samuel bought out his shares but in 1874 he sold the estate and returned home. The firm he establishedSamuel Cleland Davidson was one of the leading businessmen and entrepreneurs in Ulster in the decades either side of the turn of the century.

, in 1881, to manufacture his inventions exclusively was named Sirocco, after the notoriously dry wind of North Africa; in 1898 it became Davidson & Co Ltd and by 1900 had a workforce of 1,000 having started with only seven. He died shortly after the award of his knighthood in 1921. Sirocco is remembered by a special plaque on the Lagan walkway; the Northern Bank had his picture on its £50 note.

His elder son, Captain James Davidson, was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916, generally agreed to have been the blackest day in British military history. A son and daughter survived.

Born: 18 November 1846
Died: 18 August 1921
Richard Froggatt
Dictionary of Irish Biography; The Sea Horse, RBAI, Winter 2015