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Charles Manby

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1857. Joseph Francis and Manby's military wagons.

Charles Manby (1804-1884)

1804 Born at Cowes, Isle of Wight, first son of Aaron Manby and his wife Juliana.

Educated in England and France.

1815 Joined his father at the Horseley Ironworks.

1823 Manby went to Paris to take charge of the gasworks established there by his father.

Managed the foundry at Charenton.

1829 Moved to South Wales to manage the Beaufort Ironworks.

1830 Married Ellen Jones.

1835 Set up business as a civil engineers in London, specializing in the heating and ventilating of buildings.

1837 Charles Manby of 8 John Street, Adelphi, a Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1839 Appointed secretary to the Institution of Civil Engineers

1856 Subscribed £10 to the Smith Testimonial Fund, commemorating the work of F. P. Smith in promoting the screw propeller.

1856 Retired.

1884 Died in London home.

1885 Obituary [2]

CHARLES MANBY died, in the eighty-first year of his age, on the 31st of July, 1884. His name will be well known to every member of the Institution as having filled, for nearly half a century, the office of Secretary (acting or honorary) ; but only those who have been more especially familiar with the management and progress of the body during this time can properly appreciate the benefit it has derived from his services. It is not too much to say that the great prosperity of the corporation, and the unexampled position it occupies among scientific and technical associations, are due largely to him.

He was born on the 4th of February, 1804, and was the eldest son of Aaron Manby, an engineer and member of the Institution, who had established a largo engineering factory at Horseley, a few miles from Birmingham. This establishment was devoted to the design and construction of steam-engines, machinery, and ironwork of all kinds. It was conducted by the elder Manby with great skill and enterprise for many years, and it has ever since retained a high reputation in the world of mechanical engineering.

Charles’s early education was received at a Roman Catholic seminary, whence he was sent in 1814 to the semi-military college of Saint Servan, in Brittany, with the object of gaining a knowledge of foreign languages, and of preparing him for a military career, which it was then intended he should adopt. His uncle, Captain Joseph Manby, who was A.D.C. and Private Secretary to Prince Edward, Duke of Kent, had obtained for him a commission in the army. But this was soon resigned; the expectation of universal peace, which sprang up after the Battle of Waterloo, having induced his father to withdraw him from a pursuit which no longer seemed to promise beneficial employment. Young Manby accordingly returned to England in 1815, and after a short interval, devoted to mathematical and scientific studies, he entered the ironworks established by his father.

The varied nature of the work carried on at Horseley gave him an excellent opportunity of acquiring engineering experience, and he was not slow to avail himself of the advantages thus presented. After a short period spent in the workshops, he was sent out by his father in charge of important contract work of all kinds. He worked for some time in the West India Docks under the elder Mr. Rennie, and subsequently under Mr. Telford, the first President of the Institution.

Among the works thus entrusted to Charles Manby by his father was one of special historic interest, namely, the building and trial trip of the first iron steam-vessel that ever made a sea voyage.

The following notice of this work was given by Sir John Rennie in a presidential address delivered before this Institution on the 20th of January, 1846:- ‘Neither must we forget the very important improvement in the introduction of iron for the construction of vessels, which enables us to combine lightness and elegance of form with strength and durability. For this valuable addition to marine architecture we are indebted to Aaron Manby. In 1820-21 he constructed at Horseley, near Birmingham, a wrought-iron boat, called the 'Aaron Manby, 120 feet long and 18 feet beam, and when laden drawing 3 feet 6 inches water. It was propelled by Oldham’s feathering paddle-wheels, worked by a single engine of 80 H.P., and was built for the purpose of plying on the river Seine. The boat was completed in 1821-22, and was navigated across the Channel by the present Sir Charles Napier, who was deeply interested in the undertaking; it was not only the first iron vessel that ever made a sea voyage, but also the first that conveyed a cargo from London to Paris direct, without transhipment. She continued plying between Paris and Havre for several years, until superseded by other more powerful and improved boats; the hull is yet in existence, and is still used with new engines on board, as are three others which were built about the same time.'

The 'Aaron Manby' arrived in Paris on the 12th of June, 1822. At that time Charles Manby was barely 18 years old, and he had not only put the engine into the vessel, but had served as Chief Engineer during the voyage.

Another mechanical matter of history on which Charles was engaged during this period was the design and construction of the first pair of marine engines having oscillating cylinders. This contrivance was invented by Aaron Manby, and was carried into execution in 1821. The original drawing of these engines, made by Charles Manby, is preserved in the Institution.

In the year 1819, Mr. Aaron Manby established an iron-foundry at Charenton, near Paris, the management of which he had entrusted to the late Daniel Wilson, M.Inst.C.E.

Mr. Manby had taken a very active part in the introduction of lighting by gas, and for several years he had been making persistent efforts to obtain a concession for lighting Paris in this way, and had taken out a patent for gas-lighting in France on July 12th, 1821. He met, however, with considerable opposition from a rival firm, and it was not until 1823 that his efforts were successful, when [[Manby and Co]]. were granted the privilege of lighting Paris by gas. Charles Manby then went to Paris, and undertook the construction of the gas-works and the operation of laying the pipes in the streets, tasks he successfully performed, though he had to contend with great difficulties, amongst which the inexperience of the French workmen was not the least.

On Mr. Daniel Wilson assuming the administration of the gas-works, Charles Manby took charge of the Charenton foundry, where he constructed a number of marine engines for the French Government and for private companies, as well as machinery of various kinds for the ironworks which were then springing into existence all over France. Thence he removed to the now famous Creusot Ironworks, which his father had undertaken to reorganise, and, after remaining there for a short period, he was employed by the French Minister, Count Benoist d‘Azy, in the construction of the State Tobacco Manufactories, and was appointed Chief Engineer of the Tobacco Department of Public Works. At the same time a commission in the French Military Engineers was given to him through the friendship of Marshal Soult.

Towards the end of 1829 Charles Manby returned to England, and undertook the management of the Beaufort Ironworks in South Wales, where he remained for some years. He was then for a short time connected with the Ebbw Vale Iron Co, when he introduced several ingenious modifications in the rolling of rails.

He was next engaged for a few months at the Bristol Ironworks, and finally removed to London in 1835, where he commenced practice as a Civil Engineer. For a time he devoted himself principally to the introduction of a system of warming and ventilating buildings, known as Price and Manby’s system, which was used extensively in many important buildings in London and elsewhere.

In 1838 he was appointed Engineer to a Steamship Company, established in London by Sir John Ross, to run steamers between England and India. Only one vessel, the 'India,' was built, and this vessel was afterwards bought, and the Company absorbed, by the Peninsular and Orient Steam Navigation Company.

On his acceptance of the office of Secretary to the Institution in 1839, he relinquished professional practice, but in 1856 he, at the urgent request of Robert Stephenson, took the position of London representative of the firm of R. Stephenson and Company, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, which he retained till he died.

But the most important duty in this notice of Charles Manby is to chronicle his connection with the Institution, to which he devoted the best energies and the best years of his life.

He was elected an Associate on the 2nd of May, 1837, and a year or two afterwards, it having been noticed that he possessed qualifications remarkably suitable for the official duties of an important society, he was invited, at the instance of Messrs. Simpson and Bramah, to undertake the post of paid Secretary, the office having previously been filled honorarily. He accepted it, and he was appointed on the 21st of June, 1839.

The engineering history of this country was at this period entering upon a stirring phase, and the new Secretary resolved to devote his time, his talents, and even his means, to extending the influence and raising the character of the Society, and making it a body which should be worthily representative of a great profession.

Soon after his election, he threw himself heart and soul into a movement which revolutionized the Society. The Presidential Chair had been held for ten years by James Walker, who seemed to regard it as a life-honour, as it had been in the case of Thomas Telford, the first President. It was felt, however, by many rising men, especially by those connected with the great railway-works then in progress, that the Chair should be open to other eminent members of the profession. After some stormy debates, Mr. Walker retired, new by-laws and rules were framed, and the Chair has since been filled in rotation by men whose names have added lustre to their calling.

For many years Charles Manby appeared to live solely in and for the Institution. Thanks to his unwearying exertions the number of members rapidly increased, the finances improved, and the reputation of the body extended. Eminent men in all branches of science attended its meetings, and the leading statesmen and noblemen of the country came to the Conversazione, feeling that it was a matter of duty to contribute to the development of an association so thoroughly representative of the technical skill and the intellectual energies of the nation. It is no disparagement to successive Presidents and Members of Council to say that a very large measure of the progress thus achieved was due to the ability, devotion, and energetic action of their Secretary, and in fact this sentiment and conviction have long been universal.

In 1856 (when he undertook the duties already mentioned for the firm of Robert Stephenson and Co.), feeling that he had done seventeen years good work in bringing the Institution to such a prosperous position, he expressed a wish to be relieved of his more arduous labours; and accordingly the duties of Acting Secretary were confided to his old pupil, James Forrest, Mr. Manby retaining the post of Honorary Secretary, which he filled until his death. His leave-taking was the occasion of a very cordial demonstration of the esteem in which he was held by the members, and by his personal friends. Four hundred and seventeen of them joined together in presenting him with a service of plate and a purse of £2,OOO. These offerings were presented to him at a special meeting on the 23rd of May, 1857, by Robert Stephenson, then President, 'as a token of personal esteem, and in recognition of the valuable services he had rendered to the members individually and collectively.' In acknowledging this mark of appreciation, he asked to be allowed to devote a portion of the sum to the foundation of an annual premium which should bear his name, and the Manby Premium now forms one of the prizes at the disposal of the Council.

Charles Manby continued until his death to work unremittingly for the interests of the Institution. His unceasing labours on its behalf were again recognised in 1876, when he received from the members a silver salver, and a purse of upwards of £4000, 'in friendly remembrance of many years’ valuable services.'

In 1850 he was transferred to the grade of a Member of the Institution.

In 1857 he suggested the formation of a fund for the relief of members of the engineering profession who might be in distress ; but nothing was done until seven years later, when 'The Benevolent Fund of the Institution' was successfully established by the zeal and energy of Mr., now Sir, Frederick Bramwell.

Those who only knew Charles Manby in his declining years can hardly realise the value of his services to the Institution and to the profession generally. His was no mere official position, he formed personal intimacies with large numbers of the members, and took a pride in holding himself at the disposal of any and every one who wanted his aid, from the President down to the most humble individual. He advised, assisted, and encouraged the young, and was the trusted friend and counsellor of the old ; many of the former have gratefully acknowledged their after success in life as largely due to his aid; while many of the latter: have had to thank him for essential and important services in difficult and critical points of their career.

The prominent position Mr. Manby occupied caused him to be often applied to for important services of various kinds. In 1851, at the period of the projected International Exhibition, he was entrusted by Sir Robert Peel with some of the preliminaries of that new and vast undertaking. The idea of the guarantee fund emanated from him; in one day he obtained the guarantee of £10,000; on the following day Sir Morton Peto put down his name for £50,000, and thus the success of the movement was assured.

At a later period he was named, conjointly with Mr. J. M. Rendel and Mr. J. R. McClean, a member of the International Scientific Commission which was held at Paris, for the purpose of considering and reporting on the practicability of constructing the proposed Suez Canal. Mr. Manby was then elected one of the Secretaries of the Commission, with Mr. Barthdemy Saint-Hilaire, and Lieutenant Lieussou, as his colleagues. But they all resigned their functions when the Company commenced commercial operations.

The desire to widen the usefulness of the engineering profession led Charles Manby, in the year 1864, to take an active part in the establishment of the Engineer and Railway Volunteer Staff Corps, the official business of which was subsequently to a large extent carried on by him. This corps consists of engineers, railway managers, and contractors, and was constituted 'for the purpose of directing the application of skilled labour and of railway transport to the work of national defence, and for preparing in time of peace a system on which such duties should be conducted.' In this corps he held till his death the post of Adjutant, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel, a title of which he was always very proud.

Mr. Manby’s early continental associations, and his perfect knowledge of the French language, made him well known to foreigners connected with science or technical matters. He was consequently often applied to by them for aid, and the services which he was enabled to render to strangers from all parts of the world, have been universally recognised. On the occasion of her Majesty’s coronation, Marshal Soult was deputed to represent France as Minister Plenipotentiary, and Charles Manby, who during the Marshal’s visit never left him, successfully organised and arranged a series of inspections of public works, receptions, and banquets, for which he received the thanks of the King of the French in more than one autograph letter. All foreign engineers visiting this country obtained, through his influence, a cordial welcome amongst their English brethren ; while his extensive foreign relations were always at the disposal of English professional men to assist them on their travels.

Mr. Manby had a large circle of friends and acquaintances outside science and engineering. He had, at an early period of his residence in London, formed a close friendship with an eminent personage in the theatrical world, and in pursuance of certain testamentary dispositions he found himself obliged to assume the business management of the Adelphi and the Haymarket Theatres. Foreign as this duty was to his ordinary vocations, he loyally performed it for many years with great energy and perseverance, and his excellent judgement and businesslike habits were of the greatest advantage to the interests here presented. This connection brought him into contact with many celebrities in the artistic and literary world, and introduced him into many clubs and coteries where he was always a favourite.

In private life Charles Manby was deservedly liked by all, loved by many. His many attainments and versatile natural powers made him a charming companion. The great variety of men - scientific, artistic, and literary - whom he was intimate with, indicated the peculiar attractiveness of his character. He was constant and loyal to his friends, in whose interests no efforts were too great for him. It was well said by one who knew him well, that the greatest favour a person could do him was to ask a favour from him. But it must be acknowledged that, while none could be warmer or more constant in attachment, so, on the other hand, as a partizan or as an opponent he was very human, and the grey eye that shone with a woman’s tenderness on a friend, lighted up with an unmistakable fire on a presuming or obstinate opponent. The stuff that was in Charles Manby was typical of the spirit that has raised the profession to its present state-a determined will, guided by an intelligent brain, and ordered by the discipline of a thorough man of business and of the world.

In 1853 Mr. Manby was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1867 an Honorary Member of the Institute of Civil Engineers of Holland. He was an officer of the Legion of Honour (France), and Knight of the Orders of St. Maurice and St. Lazarus (Italy); the Rose (Brazil) ; Wasa (Sweden), and the Medjidie (Turkey). Although, from the nature of his social relations, he had many temptations to live what is called a fast life, he was exceedingly temperate, moderate, and even self-denying in his habits, and he reaped the full benefit of this in his continual good health and power of work. Be retained these to a ripe old age ; he resided, during the latter part of his life, on the estate of his step-son, Mr. Arthur Hood, at Eastbourne; but he had also an official residence in London where he passed many days every week, and where he was taken ill, and died by pure decay of nature.

He was twice married, first in 1830, to Miss Ellen Jones, of Beaufort, and secondly in 1858, to Harriet, daughter of Major Nicholas Willard, of the Greys, Eastbourne, and widow of Mr. W. U. Hood, formerly a partner in the publishing house of Whitaker and Co. He left no issue.

1884 Obituary [3]

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Biography of Charles Manby, by R. B. Prosser, ODNB.