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Edwin Arthur Bernays

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Edwin Arthur Bernays (1822-1887)

1882 Superintending Civil Engineer of the Chatham Dockyard.[1]

1888 Obituary [2]

EDWIN ARTHUR BEBNAYS was the second son of Adolphus Bernays, Ph. Dr., Professor of German at King’s College, London. He was born in London in 1822, and was educated at St. Paul‘s School and at King’s College.

In 1841 he received an appointment at Her Majesty’s dockyard, Woolwich, in the Department of the Director of Works. Woolwich was at that time one of the great Government shipbuilding yards, and young Bernays, by his untiring energy and application to his duties, soon acquired the confidence and esteem of his chiefs. At that time civil servants of his grade were termed “Clerks of the works,” and the position marked out by that title was felt to be hardly a sufficient recognition of the services rendered by a body of men who were frequently charged with the active superintendence of public works of an important character. With the approbation of his chiefs, Mr. Bernays became the leader and spokesman of his colleagues in laying the claims of the Clerks of the works before the Government. The question involved was more than that of a mere name, and the authorities recognised its importance by creating the grade of "Civil Engineers" in the Works Department of the Admiralty.

In 1859 Mr. Bernays was appointed to the rank of Assistant Civil Engineer. Whilst at Woolwich he superintended the construction of many important buildings, including the Rigging House, the Saw-Mills, the Iron roofing of large span over the shipbuilding slips, the hydraulic coal store, &c. He also suggested ad superintended the laying down of cast-iron tram-plates throughout the dockyard, an improvement which greatly facilitated the transport of heavy articles by ordinary wheeled vehicles ; and the improved stores, which were erected for drying planks, were, in a great measure, of his special contrivance.

In 1860 Mr. Bernays was appointed to Pembroke dockyard, where he superintended the enlargement of the dry dock, and several other works of magnitude. In 1862 the enlargement of Chatham Dockyard, then recently commenced, required the superintendence of a man of energy and experience. Mr. Bernays was selected for the post, and he here found fitting and congenial employment for the remainder of his active life. This great work, the major portion of which was designed by Sir Andrew Clarke, R.E., G.C.M.G., was carried to completion entirely under the care of Mr. Bernays, whose first appointment thereon was as Assistant Civil Engineer under Major-Gen. Charles Pasley, R.E., at that time the Superintending Engineer. Subsequently, upon the appointment of General Pasley in 1873 to the post of Director of Works of the Nary, Mr. Bernays was appointed as Superintending Civil Engineer to the sole charge of the Works at all the Admiralty establishments at Chatham and Sheerness.

The extension works at Chatham may be briefly described as the transformation of St. Mary’s Island, then a dismal swamp, intersected by muddy tidal creeks, into an enormous dockyard, replete with all the appliances of modern science for the building and equipment of war-vessels of the largest size. These works comprised, amongst other features, a “repairing-basin,” having a mean length of 1,270 feet, a width of 700 feet, and an area of 20 acres 16 perches ; a "factory-basin,” of a mean length of 1,245 feet, width 700 feet, area 19 acres 3 roods 36 perches; a “ fitting-out basin,” somewhat irregular in form, having an area of 27 acres 3 roods; a tidal dock for the discharge of steam-colliers ; extensive machinery-shops and engine-houses ; a deep artesian well, &c. The total cost of the works has been estimated at over £2,000,000 sterling.

It is to be regretted that Mr. Bernays did not live to present to this Institution a Paper upon the construction of these remarkable works, but students will find ample details thereon, together with much other information, in the Lectures which he delivered at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham, at the request of the C0mmandant.

A few words from one of his Lectures may illustrate the spirit in which he performed his labours, He says: “I cannot tell you how interesting an occupation it has beer, to me to watch the growth of this great engineering work, and see a large tract of amphibious ground, half land, half water, gradually pass from a state of chaotic desolation into the vast establishment of which any nation may be proud."

A large number of convicts were from time to time employed on the works, and Mr. Bernays took a keen interest in the utilization of their labour for the service of the State, employing them not only on the rougher kinds of manual labour, but frequently on more skilled descriptions of handicraft. In the Lectures above referred to he has recorded, in some extremely practical remarks, his opinion on the subject of the employment of convict labour in general. If a good workman be known by his tools, an able engineer may be recognized by the quality of the materials which he uses, and their special applicability to the particular works under his charge. It was a favourite remark of Mr. Bernays that the Government was a sure paymaster, and that he saw no reason why it should not get full value for its money. The specifications which he drew up for the supply of materials, exhibit great practical sagacity ; they are simple in their working, avoiding all fanciful and vexatious conditions, but conveying to the contractor, in terms which are mainly those in use in his particular trade, the most explicit instructions as to the requirements of the engineer. To his extreme care in the selection of materials may in part be attributed the great success of the new departure which he inaugurated in the employment of Portland cement concrete. This material was not originally specified in the plans for the Chatham extension works, but at the recommendation of Mr. Bernays its use was introduced on a very extensive scale, for purposes and by methods which were in many respects without precedent. The results proved to be entirely satisfactory, and a great saving was thereby effected in the cost of the works ; one especial novelty consisting in the construction of important sections of the work with concrete of an entirely satisfactory nature, composed of 12 parts of gravel to 1 part of Portland cement; another, in the ingenious method which he adopted for coating this rougher concrete with a facing of a finer description, where smoothness of surface was required, the two layers being worked together so as to become thoroughly incorporated at the line of junction.

In May, 1880, a Paper by Mr. Bernays on "Portland Cement Concrete,” was read before the Institution, for which the Council awarded a Telford Medal and Premium. It has proved to be a valuable treatise on a most important engineering material, no methods being there proposed which had not first been tested by careful and laborious experiment, and afterwards put to the severer proof of successful employment upon works of great magnitude.

In 1882, upon attaining the age of sixty, Mr. Bernays, in the ordinary course, would have been superannuated, but the Admiralty decided to retain his services for a further period of two years, which period was subsequently extended until 1886, the Lords of the Admiralty stating that their decision was arrived at “in consideration of the important duties performed by Mr. Bernays, and in view of his further retention being desirable, solely with reference to the interests of the public service.” He had the gratification of superintending the successful completion of those great works upon which he had so long laboured, and which were opened on the 3rd October, 1885, and in September 1886 he retired from the public service.

The following extract from a letter, addressed to Mr. Bernays by the Lords of the Admiralty on the 2nd of October, 1886, will serve to show the estimation in which he was held by his official superiors: “ . . . they desire to convey to you their sense of the very valuable, zealous and efficient services rendered by you during your long service of more than forty-five years, especially in the supervision of the work for the extension of the (Chatham)Dockyard ; the satisfactory completion of which is to a great extent due to your care and ability.”

Mr. Bernays was an indefatigable worker, not only in the discharge of his professional duties, but also in philanthropic enterprises of various kinds, especially in connection with the education of the poor, and in active co-operation in parochial work of the Church of England. A faithful and upright servant of the State ; an affectionate husband and father, constant and true-hearted in his friendships, his loss is deeply lamented by many who had hoped that he would have enjoyed, for many years to come, the leisure which he had so amply earned.

Mr. Bernays was elected a Member on the 1st of April, 1879.

He died at Worthing, on the 27th day of September, 1887.

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