Note: this framed photograph probably predates William Bragge’s time in Sheffield.
William Bragge was a noted engineer and antiquary. Born in Birmingham in 1823, he went out to Brazil in 1852 and was responsible for overseeing the lighting the city of Rio de Janeiro with gas for the first time. He went on to supervise the construction of the first railway in Brazil (the line from Rio de Janeiro to Petropolis) before turning his attention to Argentina, where he lit Buenos Aires with gas for the first time and oversaw the construction of Argentina’s first railway. He returned to England from South America in 1858 where he settled in Sheffield on the invitation of Sir John Brown (1816-1896) to become a partner (and later Managing Director) of John Brown and Company, Steel Manufacturers of Atlas Works.
Outside of Bragge’s role in Sheffield as Managing Director of Sir John Brown and Company, he played a prominent part in public life in Sheffield, becoming Master Cutler, Councillor and later Alderman, President of the Sheffield Literary and Philosophical Society, President of the Sheffield School of Art, Chairman of the Free Libraries and Museum Committee (where he played a key role in the establishment of Weston Park Museum). He was also a keen antiquarian who amassed extensive collections of rare manuscripts and artefacts, many of which were sourced from his extensive overseas travels. He continued to travel widely working for Sir John Brown and Company.
Arguably Bragge’s most remarkable antiquarian collection, was of pipes and smoking apparatus, sourced from all over the world. He published a catalogue on the collection which listed some 13,000 examples of pipes from places far and wide including China, Tibet, Japan, Van Diemen’s Land, the Gold Coast North and South America, Greenland and the Falkland Islands. The collection also included hundreds of different samples of tobacco and snuff boxes, etc. The collection was ultimately broken up and dispersed. Bragge was the author of two catalogue works concerning tobacco: ‘Bibliotheca Nicotiana; a first catalogue of books about tobacco’ (1874) and ‘Bibliotheca Nicotiana; a catalogue of books about tobacco together with a catalogue of objects connected with the use of tobacco in all its forms’ (1880).
Bragge lived in Sheffield between 1858 and 1877 (latterly having spells in Paris where he was engaged in a sewage purification treatment scheme). In Sheffield, Bragge lived initially at Collegiate Crescent before moving to Shirle Hill on Cherry Tree Hill Road (the former residence of Sir John Brown who had been instrumental in bringing Bragge to Sheffield in the first place). Bragge returned to his native Birmingham following his wife Martha’s death at home at Shirle Hill in March 1877.
Original at Sheffield City Archives: MD7801/5/1.