"Well-written . . . and contributes new information about North’s life and the relation of that life to the economic development of Chile."--Michael Monteón, Professor of History, University of California, San Diego
"A revealing, entertaining, and long-needed biography of one of the nineteenth-century’s most flamboyant and controversial international capitalists--'Colonel' John Thomas North. Edmundson adeptly exploits previously unknown archival materials, the contemporary press, and a vast academic literature on the nitrate industry and Chilean politics to bring the 'Colonel' back to life in all his complexity."--Brian Loveman, Professor of Political Science, Emeritus, San Diego State University and author of Chile: The Legacy of Hispanic Capitalism and No Higher Law: American Foreign Policy and the Western Hemisphere since 1776
"The author's research, conscientiously carried out in English archives, and the collaboration of experts in information and of libraries, not only proves the seriousness of Edmundson’s work, but also the tireless idea of unraveling the life and actions of North in Chile and in other countries where he made investments." ‘El regresso de John Thomas North,’ Diario 21, Iquique, Chile. May 2, 2011 (trans.), Dr. Pedro Bravo-Elizondo (Ret.), Professor of Latin American Literature, Wichita State University.
From the AuthorThis is the first book-length biography of John Thomas North (1842-1896), known as 'Colonel North' in Britain and throughout the world as 'The Nitrate King'. I have used sources in Britain and Chile to trace North's spectacular life from mechanic in Leeds, through thirteen years in Peru and Chile, to become one of the richest and best-known men of his generation, and the first Honorary Freeman of Leeds. While writing my previous book - A history of the British presence in Chile - I was struck by the fact that North is today almost completely forgotten in Britain, and remembered in Chile only to be vilified as the archetypal predatory capitalist. My book calls for a revaluation, and examines several controversies--principally the enduring allegations that North helped manipulate the War of the Pacific, and was active in triggering the Chilean Civil War of 1891. The book describes North's business investments; his re-invention as country gentleman at Avery Hill mansion; and his generosity, including the gift of Kirkstall Abbey to the city of Leeds.
BiographySTOP-PRESS: 'The Nitrate King' has been nominated by Palgrave-Macmillan for the PROSE Award 2011 - The American Publishers Awards for Professional and Scholarly Excellence.
William (Eddie) Edmundson works as a consultant in Recife, Brazil, following a career in teacher training and management with the British Council that has taken him to Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Chile, and his most recent appointment as Director Cuba. He has a B.A. (Hons.) in English literature from Leeds University, a postgraduate certificate in education (Bangor University), and a masters in linguistics (Reading University). His first book focusses on Chile: 'A history of the British presence in Chile' (Nov. 2009). His second book is a biography of 'The Nitrate King' - John Thomas North - who was born in Leeds and made his first fortune in Chile. This book is available from April 2011 in the US, and May 2011 in the UK.
Born in Leeds in 1842 Colonel North was an engineer who was sent to Chile in 1869 to deliver a consignment of British equipment. He spotted the possibilities in the undeveloped Chilean / Peruvean nitrate fields and by various means gained control of a significant proportion of them. He also set up shipping resources to provide water for the industry and its workers, and invested in a mineral railway. He took advantage of the War of the Pacific in 1879, which led to Chile taking the nitrate-bearing territory from Peru and Bolivia, to buy up ownership at an advantageous rate, and, along with his co-investors, made a massive fortune, and returned to England as a tycoon. He was a famous celebrity in his day, although considered by some newspapers as a rogue who fleeced his investors, and was heading for trouble when he died unexpectedly at a relatively young age in 1896. He invested widely, in Australia, the Congo, Belgium and South Wales, where his name still adorns buildings in my home town. Several of his concerns continued into the 20th century, although many of his investors lost money, as so many did in 19th century get-rich-quick investment schemes, this was due to the continuous fluctuations in nitrate demand. His non-nitrate investments had a better track record. Many Chilean historians, and several left-wing ones see him as a robber baron, who stripped Chile of its wealth, but current reappraisals see it slightly differently, as he invested in and modernised the nitrate industry. The chapters in this book look at different aspects of his life and career. The contents are -
P007: We Had Adventures of All Sorts
P015: I Was Better Acquainted Than Any Other Foreigner
P025: Don Juan Thomas North
P037: The Nitrate King
P057: The Grand Promotion Army
P075: Colonel North
P097: The Sensation of the Hour
P107: A Visit to the Nitrate Kingdom
P129: A Millionaire Stripped Bare
This is a readable book, well-written, and although short, covers its subject in sufficient detail - worth getting from the library, as I did, if you are interested in Victorian entrepreneurs and engineering.