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Ailsa Janson

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Ailsa Janson (1844-1885)


1885 Obituary [1]

AILSA JANSON (named after his godfather the Marquess of Ailsa) was born in January 1844, at Richmond in Surrey, where his family then resided, and he died of yellow fever, at Pernambuco, on the 28th of April, 1885, at the early age of 41.

Ailsa Janson was the only son of Henri Etienne Janson, formerly an officer in the French Army, and subsequently one of the tutors to George V., King of Hanover. The father, wishing his son to enter the French military service, took entire charge of his education up to the age of 16; but the sympathies of the son being essentially English, and the father objecting to his joining the British Army, his education was completed with a view to his following the profession of a civil engineer. After spending about a year at a private school in Paris, he went - at the instance of his father’s friend and former pupil, the late King of Hanover - to the Polytechnic School of Hanover, where he had the advantage of studying under Professor Ruhlmann and other distinguished men attached to the professional staff. The course usually extends over four years, but by close application young Janson completed his studies in three years ; this success may probably be ascribed, to some extent, to the sound methods, and the knowledge of modern languages, acquired under his father’s tuition. Concurrently with his studies in Hanover, Ailsa Janson had some practical work on the Luneburg-Lauenburg and on the Gossnitz and Gera Railways, then under construction.

In 1865 and 1866 he was employed by the late Mr. Tolme, M.Inst.C.E., on the Gellivara Canals in Sweden, and in 1868 as assistant to the late Mr. Blair, M.Inst C.E., in making the engineering surveys and calculations for the regulation of the Danube at Vienna.

In 1869 he was engaged in the construction of the Grosswardein-Klausenburg Railway, about 100 miles in length, and had charge of the preparation of the working drawings. In 1871 he was Resident Engineer on a section of the East Hungarian Railway, which included the important terminal station of Maros-Vashhely, and from 1872 to 1875 was similarly occupied on the main line from Gyhres to Kocsard, on which length there were two tunnels, large iron, timber and stone bridges, and heavy earthworks in slippery ground requiring special precautions.

In 1875, on the recommendation of Mr. Fowler, Past-President Inst. C.E., Consulting Engineer to the Egyptian Government, he was entrusted by His Highness the Khedive with the construction of the Soudan Railway, then proposed to be carried out from Wady Halfa to a distance of about 150 miles, whence there is uninterrupted water-communication with Khartoum. The surveys for the line had been made under Mr. Fowler’s direction, and largely under his personal supervision; but, with a view of creating a staff of native engineers, the final surveys and the execution of the works were entrusted to Egyptian engineers, under Mr. Janson’s guidance and direction, and the only contract was with Messrs. Appleby Brothers for the permanent-way materials, rolling stock, &C., which they delivered to the Soudan Railway Stores in Egypt. Mr. Janson’s sound education and singular faculty for acquiring languages proved of great value in this service, and early in 1878 the late General Gordon, by order of His Highness the Khedive, made him Director of Works in the Soudan. Owing, however, to financial pressure on the resources of Egypt, the works on the Soudan Railway were soon afterwards abandoned, and, unfortunately for the country, have never been carried out.

In 1879 Mr. Janson was appointed Engineer and General Manager of the Great Western Railway of Brazil, Mr. Charles Neate, M.Inst.C.E., being the consulting engineer. The works were commenced by the contractors, Messrs. Wilson, Son, and Co., in March 1879, and the line was formally opened in October 1881 as far as Pao d'Alho, the whole line and the branch being completed in September 1882. In addition to the routine-work incidental to the construction and subsequent management of 60 miles of railway with an increasing traffic, aided by a very slender European staff, Mr. Janson completed surveys and estimates for an extension of the line, 30 miles in length, and conducted protracted negotiations on the subject with the Brazilian Government, involving several visits to Rio de Janeiro.

His energies were further taxed, for the last two years of his life, by a series of complicated law-suits in the Brazilian Courts, the proceedings in which were successfully concluded only on the very day of his death. It seems probable that a long course of excessive work, with much anxiety, in a tropical climate, may have enfeebled his naturally very strong constitution, and rendered him more sensitive to the influence of the fever which carried him off after a few days' illness.

Mr. Janson possessed a thorough knowledge, both theoretical and practical, of his profession; he had good administrative abilities, and was an indefatigable man of business. He also possessed linguistic and other accomplishments in a high degree ; he united with a cultivated mind and polished manners great geniality of temperament and goodness of heart. Mr. Janson was remarkably popular with his assistants, whose esteem and devotion he always commanded; his success with workmen and officials in so many countries may have been due to some extent to his educational advantages, but they were probably far more so to his unswerving rectitude and his patience even under great provocation. The esteem in which he was held at Pernambuco was shown by the general suspension of business when his death was made known, and by the large concourse which followed him to his grave. The Directors of the Great Western of Brazil Railway Company, and especially the Chairman - Mr. Frank Parish, who had a Long personal intercourse with Mr. Janson - held in the highest estimation his character and abilities, and have endeavoured to do honour to his memory, recognizing in him a rare combination of qualities which would have made him an invaluable manager or representative of any railway company in a foreign country, and which were never displayed to greater advantage than during his representation of the interests of the Great Western of Brazil Railway.

Mr. Janson was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 3rd of December, 1872, and was transferred to the, class of Member in May, 1878.


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