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Joseph d’Aguilar Samuda


10 Dominion Street

Joseph d’Aguilar Samuda was born in Finsbury, at 10 South Street (now Dominion Street), to a Sephardi family that had been in London for at least three generations. His parents, Abraham and Joy Samuda – part of the network of cousins linking the Basevis, Lindos, Ricardos and others based in Islington – lived latterly at 32 Myddelton Square, Clerkenwell, where Joseph is likely to have been a regular visitor. His wife, Louisa (Leah) Ballin, was a Jewish girl from Holloway.

Joseph trained with his brother Jacob as an engineer, and in the early days of the railway boom they patented a scheme for an ‘atmospheric railway’, which would use piston-driven air pressure from a central source (rather than an engine on the locomotive itself) to provide the propulsion. They got as far as running experimental operations in Croydon, Dublin and Paris. And they were not alone in developing the idea: Brunel among others tested a scheme of his own not long afterwards. But the idea proved to be ahead of its time, and railways that used engine-driven trains soon became the norm.

The brothers’ main business, however, was marine engineering and shipbuilding, where they became leaders in the use of iron cladding on steamships. It was while testing a new ship-engine that Jacob and six others met their premature deaths after a defective joint caused the engine to explode.

Joseph carried on the business, building ships for the Royal Navy, the merchant navy, passenger and mail services, along with royal yachts and river boats. Though it was a big firm, Samuda is understood to have supervised personally a lot of the work.

In the 1860s he turned to politics. He was elected Liberal MP for Tavistock in 1865, then for Tower Hamlets in 1868, and spoke with authority in the House on matters relating to his profession. He lost his seat, however, in 1880, apparently because of his support for his distant cousin Disraeli’s foreign policy.

Joseph d’Aguilar Samuda
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