Samuel Davidson

Founder of Belfast’s Sirocco works

Born in Belfast in 1846, Samuel Davidson was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institute until the age of 15 when he was apprenticed to the surveyor of Belfast. Already a self-taught musician and amateur photographer, he worked for some time at his father’s mill on the Co Down side of the river Lagan.

In 1864 he travelled to Assam in India to assist in the management of a cousin’s tea plantation, intent on studying and improving the methods of tea production. At the time, leaf tea was either rolled by hand or foot or between flat round stones, placed in the sun to ‘ferment’ and partially dry, then fired over open charcoal braziers. Davidson patented a cylindrical drying machine in 1869, a tea-rolling machine in 1870 and in 1877, the ‘Sirocco’ fan-assisted drying machine that was to make his name.

Davidson returned to Belfast in 1881 and established the Sirocco Works. Initially a single shed employing 70 workers, the firm employed a workforce of 1000 by 1900. In addition, Davidson owned extensive tea plantations in India.

Married to Belfast woman Clara Mary Coleman in 1872, his son and heir James Davidson was tragically killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme,  July 1, 1916. Samuel Davidson was knighted in 1921, only a few months before his death.  

Consult the Linen Hall Library catalogue

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