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Alexander Gordon

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Alexander Gordon (1802-1868) Pioneer civil engineer, specialised in lighthouse construction.

Son of David Gordon. Associated with Thomas Telford and Joseph Bramah.

Invented the "fumific" propellor

1827 Alexander Gordon, 33 Cornhill, Engineer to Portable Gas Establishments, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1832 Author of 'Treatise on Elemental Locomotion' published in 3 editions and translated.[2]. [3]

1832 Started the 'Journal of Elemental Locomotion'.[4].

1839 Engineer of the Steam Conveyance Co

1861 Living at 3 Middle Scotland, St Martin in the Fields: Alexander Gordon (age 58 born in America - British subject), Member of Institute of Civil Engineers. With his wife Sarah Gordon (age 57 born Pimlico). Two servants.[5]

1868 May 14th. Died


1870 Obituary [6]

Alexander Gordon was the second son of Mr. David Gordon, the inventor and patentee of the system of compressing gas and using it in a portable form, and the grandson of Sir Alexander Gordon, of Culvennan, Greenlaw, Castle Douglas.

He was born at New York (where his father at that time resided) on the 5th of May, 1802. At the age of five years he returned with his father to Scotland, and was subsequently educated at the Edinburgh University.

In early life he was much employed by Telford, and was on intimate terms with the Messrs. Bramah, Donkin, Field, Simpson, and other members of the Institution.

For many years he was agent for Mr. R. Napier, the marine engineer at Glasgow, and he was also manager of the portable gasworks in London, until they were abolished.

Mr. Gordon devoted himself principally to the construction and management of lighthouses, especially in the colonies.

In 1833 he introduced a polyzonal arrangement, both dioptric and catadioptric, constructed by M. Maritz, of the Hague; and, in the same year, the catadioptric apparatus of Fresnel, which he adopted for lighthouse purposes, and which he exhibited at a meeting of the British Association at Edinburgh in the following year.

This he followed up in 1834 by patenting a holophotal apparatus; and in 1842 he designed and erected the original great sea-light in an iron tower at Morant Point, Jamaica, the first of many of a similar character.

In the lighthouses erected by Mr. Gordon, he preferred using multiple reflectors, so that if through accident or carelessness one or two of the lamps were extinguished, there were still sufficient left to maintain the light.

In 1837 Mr. Gordon published a treatise on locomotion, which passed through three editions, and was translated into several languages.

He also, in 1845, patented a fumific propeller. Besides the branches of engineering already enumerated, he designed and superintended the construction of the South Australian Company’s swing bridge at Port Adelaide, which was made at the manufactory of Easton, Amos and Sons.

Mr. Gordon was one of the originators of the Polytechnic Institution with Sir George Cayley and several other gentlemen, the object of the Institution being, at that time, entirely scientific. He was highly esteemed in private life; and many of his pupils acknowledged that they owed their success in life to the instruction and advice received from him.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 10th of April, 1827; was transferred to the class of Members on the 17th of February, 1835, and contributed a Paper on 'Photography, as applicable to Engineering,' in the year 1840.

After that date he frequently took part in the discussions at the evening meetings. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. Mr. Gordon died at Sandown, Isle of Wight, on the 14th of May, 1868, in the sixty-seventh year of his age.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1827 Institution of Civil Engineers
  2. The Times 14 September 1932
  3. Treatise on Elemental Locomotion by Alexander Gordon
  4. The Times 14 September 1932
  5. 1861 census
  6. 1870 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries