Leonz Egg (born in 1718) stayed in the Gäu area, married Maria Burkhard and had five children. He was naturalised as a citizen of Oberbuchsiten on 1 January 1746, and was able to buy property there. Like his father, he was a talented gunsmith and locksmith, and taught his sons the same trade. Apparently widowed, he remarried on 18 April 1768.
Was this the cause of friction between him and his grown-up sons? The elder son, Hans Jakob, moved quite early to Upper Alsace near the Swiss city of Basle, where the French had built a fortress with an arsenal near Hüningen, obviously an attractive opportunity for a gunsmith. He married the widow of a well known French gunsmith, which probably also helped his career. Soon, his younger brother Urs Christian, who had fallen out with his father, turned up on Hans Jakob’s doorstep, where he found a welcome and work.
However, “der Urs” was an ambitious young man. in 1770 he appeared in London “with 3 shillings and 6 pence in his pocket” and found work with the then famous British gunsmith Henry Nock. By 1772 he had his own business with rented premises in the Haymarket, Panton Street, under the name of Durs Egg. On 3 June 1776 he sold two “Ferguson Rifle Guns” to the British army for £31, the first of many regular orders for arms, and by 1778 he was ensconced at St James, Piccadilly, where he counted the Prince Regent among his customers.
Among the numerous Durs Egg weapons which are shown as masterpieces in the weapons collection in Windsor, is a pair of pistols on which the trademark “Gun Maker To His Royal Highness” appeared for the first time. The prince’s esteem for Durs Egg was revealed in a letter to his brother Prince Ferdinand of Hanover:
“… the rifle barrel gun was made by the best workman we have here; he is a Swiss German and his name is Egg. This gun is made after Ferguson rifle, it is almost the neatest piece of workmanship, ever was made.”
One of these weapons is also kept at Windsor Castle.
At the age of 35, Durs Egg married Ann Mary Salomon, daughter of a London merchant of German descent, and had seven children with her. On 29 August 1791 he became a British citizen. At this time a conflict with France began to emerge, which he could survive better as a British citizen than as a national of a country which soon had to come under French influence.
In 1792 his father Leonz Egg died in Oberbuchsiten, leaving Durs the relatively modest sum of 900 guilders (approx. £70 ). From 1799 Durs Egg was allowed to call himself “Gun Maker To His Majesty, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York”.
During the war years against Napoleon Bonaparte, Durs Egg produced a large number of rifles and pistols for the army and he also supplied the French royalists, who had established themselves on the Channel Islands, with a large series of carbines. The historian John F. Hayward mentions in his work “The Art of the Old Gunsmiths” that Durs Egg was particularly famous for his double-barrelled shotguns and duel pistols, which he produced in large numbers.
Having made his fortune, Durs Egg participated in various companies and buildings and himself bought a few properties. At this point, he made the acquaintance of a fellow Swiss, equally if not more ingenious than himself, who fired his imagination with a totally new project. The inventor Samuel John Pauly (born Johannes Samuel Pauli near Bern) had arrived in London from Paris. Please read his fascinating story on Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean_Samuel_Pauly as I can’t do him justice here.
Although penniless, Pauli brought with him the blueprints for an airship that he had developed with support from Maréchal Ney. Durs Egg was enthusiastic about Pauli’s airship plans and became a partner investing large sums of money, from £5,000 (statement Pauli) to £10,000 (statement Egg). Together they entered a patent specification for the construction of the airship “Dolphin”. Pauli was to prepare the plans and supervise the construction. The length of the hull was approx. 29 m and its largest diameter approx. 8 m. The hull was made from the dried intestines of 70,000 oxen sewn together in several layers into the shape of a dolphin, with a second hydrogen-filled balloon inside and it had a moveable tailfin as a rudder. It was driven by a steam engine, since the combustion engine had yet to be invented. It took a long time to develop, but plans were announced for regular flights between London and Paris carrying 15 to 20 passengers at a time, and the public poured in to pay a guinea per person for a peep inside the hangar where this aircraft was being constructed.
Unfortunately for Durs Egg, the defeat of Napoleon and the ensuing peace meant that in 1815 his income fell from around £90,000 pa to about £2,300. He was also beginning to lose his sight at this time, and clearly getting cantankerous, involving lawsuits with family and business partners. He fell out with Pauli, dragged him to court, and work on the Dolphin was stopped. His airship was later sold to the American showman Phineas T. Barnum who exhibited it as an attraction with his famous midget General Tom Thumb in the gondola in the zoological garden of Surrey. It was an irony of fate that this was the only use of the costly but captivating project, wrote J. E. Hodgson in 1924 in “The History of Aeronautics in Great Britain”.
From 1822 Durs Egg was blind. He lived until 1831.
Only one of his sons, John Egg, born 1795, followed his father in the gunsmith profession but the economic situation forced him to give up until 1837 when, with the support of his family, he was able to reopen his own business. He chose an address three doors away from his father’s former shop (No. 4 Pall Mall, In the Opera Colonnade) and was successful, although as a gunsmith he wasn’t in the same class as his father. John Egg was probably the supplier of arms for the last known pistol duel in England in 1843.
He was married and had two sons and two daughters. One of his sons, Georg D. G., born in 1842 and died young in 1870, is mentioned in the annals of the gunsmiths of London, but no further information can be found. It seems that he left no children. His brother John chose another profession and remained unmarried. One hundred years after Durs had set foot in London his line died out.
However, Jean Joseph Egg, a son of Hans-Jakob Egg – the brother of Durs Egg who had emigrated to Hüningen in Alsace – became a gunsmith like his father and followed his uncle to London. Joseph Egg worked for Henry Tatham from 1801 and later co-founded the company Tatham & Egg. In 1814 he opened his own shop at Piccadilly Circus. In addition to his professional successes, Joseph Egg’s personal references are sparse, as he is not included in the traditional family chronicle written by a daughter of Durs Egg.
What is certain is that Joseph was probably the most creative of the entire gunsmith dynasty. His speciality at first was a new type of miniature pistols (pocket pistols) of the highest quality, whose precision is reminiscent of the work of watchmakers. They have one or two barrels and fittings made of engraved silver, in some cases even gold. This was followed by a whole series of inventions and patents. Joseph Egg’s weapons can be found in Windsor Castle, the Leningrad Hermitage and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Augustus Egg, born 2 May 1816, the son of Joseph Egg, inherited the creativity and considerable wealth of his father and became an important artist of the Victorian age. He was admitted to the Royal Academy in 1835 and his works can be seen in numerous museums and galleries in England (Leicester; London: South Kensington, Tate, Birmingham, Preston; Sheffield). He was also an excellent actor in the amateur group around Charles Dickens, the most important writer of the time. With Charles Dickens he travelled around Italy in 1853. Because of his fragile health he spent the last years of his life in southern climates, in Italy, France and finally in Algeria where he died in 1863.
Claude Blair, the weapons historian and author of a newspaper article “The Egg family” described the significance of the Egg gunsmith dynasty as follows:
“Among the outstanding gunsmiths of the late 18th and early 19th centuries in Great Britain, Durs and Joseph Egg were among the most important. Most English collections contain weapons from their hands that are much sought after and valued for their great reputation.”
This is a summary of the Egg Gunsmith Dynasty:
(see also https://londonstreetviews.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/joseph-egg-gunsmith/
Egg Jakob abt. 1690-1748, from Blüemlismatt, Solothurn, emigrated to Pennsylvania in 1745, father of Leonz
Egg Leonz 1718-1792, naturalised in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith, father of Hans Jakob and Urs Christian .
Egg Hans Jakob 1745-1815, born in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith in Hüningen (F), father of Jean Joseph.
Egg Urs Christian (Durs) 1748-1831, born in Oberbuchsiten, gunsmith in London, father of John
Egg John 1795-1870, born in London, gunsmith in London, son of Durs
Egg Jean Joseph 1775-1837, born in Hüningen (F), gunsmith in London, son of Hans Jakob.
Egg Charles 1811 – 1867, born and lived at 1 Piccadilly, London, gunsmith, son of Joseph
Egg Henry 1815-1869, born and lived at 1 Piccadilly, London, gunsmith, son of Joseph.
How do these Eggs tie in with my daughter’s in-laws, the millers in Schlatt and Ellikon? The Solothurn Eggs were Roman Catholics, registered as “peregrini”, non-residents, in the Gäu region of Solothurn in 1718. Where had they come from in those turbulent times? So far, I haven’t been able to identify a connection, but I’m pretty sure there is one if I can get back to the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries.
(All images credited to Wikipedia)