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Frederick Willem Conrad

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Frederick Willem Conrad (1800-1869)


1872 Obituary [1]

MR. FREDERIK WILLEM CONRAD was born at Spaarndam near Haarlem, in the year 1800.

He was the youngest son of Mr. F. W. Conrad, Inspector-General of the Waterstaat in Holland, whose name is honourably associated with several important works, executed in the beginning of this century, and especially with the large sluice works near Katwyk.

After having followed a course of study at the engineering school at Delft, Frederik Willem Conrad entered, at the age of seventeen, the corps of the Waterstaat; and passing successively through the different ranks, he was promoted in 1866 to the high position which was held some years before by his father.

It was only after long years of political disturbance, that the Treaty of Vienna secured the independence of the Netherlands in 1815. The revival of national prosperity soon enabled the Government to order the execution of large public works, that were required for the development of trade and industry. In the designing and execution of these works Mr. Conrad took a very active part.

After having distinguished himself, in 1820, in repairing the damage, caused by serious inundations, he was called upon, in 1822, to undertake the construction of a dock at Hellevoetsluis, and in 1824-25 he made the Zederik canal, between the Leck at Vianen and the Merwede at Gorcum.

In 1828 the Dutch Academy of Science awarded him a gold medal for a Paper upon the best methods of preventing the sinking and sliding of earth embankments. During subsequent years, Mr. Conrad, in his Waterstaat Service, was engaged upon important river works, especially along the shores of the island of Goeree, and in making designs for several canals. He also contributed to the first designs for the drainage of the lake called Haarlemmermeer.

In March, 1839, Mr. Conrad entered upon the duties of Engineer Director of the Railway Company of Holland, to which position he had been appointed by the Government, at the request of the Council of Administration of the Company. He at once took in hand the laying out of the railroad from Amsterdam to Rotterdam, which had been commenced in 1838, and in the construction of which he gave proof of great engineering abilities.

The difficulties offered by the weak peat soil were successfully overcome, by the use of fascines in marshy spots as a foundation for the embankments, which were chiefly composed of sand from the sea beach ; and where the railway traversed pools of water, the fascines were loaded with rubble stone, and were held together by stakes and wattles. The works of art embraced several descriptions of swing and other opening bridges, including one called the 'turn-rail' bridge, which was specially devised by Mr. Conrad as a cheap and simple mode of crossing the numerous canals intersected by the line of railway. Each rail was carried on a timber bearer, jointed to a heel part of oak, which was shod with iron and turned upon a centre, on a plate set in the masonry of the abutments.

The bearers were further supported by brackets of cast iron, and each pair was connected by two bars, turning as joints, to preserve the parallelism of the rails, and each pair opened outwards.

This form of bridge was found to answer well for spans not exceeding 16 feet. These and other peculiarities in the construction of this the first Dutch railway secured him a great reputation.

He presented to the Institution of Civil Engineers an account of this railway and of the works upon it, and for this communication a Walker Premium was awarded.

In 1847 he gave to the Institution a description of the bridge over the Poldevaart, on the same line of railway, including a sketch of the precautions necessary in preparing the foundations, on account of the treacherous nature of the ground.

In 1842 he had forwarded to the Institution a history of the canal of Katwyk (before mentioncd), and detailed notices of the sluices at that place; and a Telford medal was awarded to him for this memoir, which he was induced to undertake by the subject being one of those proposed by the Institution, and by a desire to do justice to the memory of his father, whose early decease alone prevented him from becoming as extensively known as his talents deserved. These several communications were written in the French language, and were translated into English by Mr. Charles Manby, M. Inst. C.E., then Secretary, now the Honorary Secretary of the Institution.

Mr. Conrad was elected a Member of the Institution on the 7th of March, 1843, and always continued to take a deep interest in the proceedings.

In 1851 Mr. Conrad, and his friend, Mr. Outshoorn, the Architect, prepared a design for a building for the International Exhibition in Hyde Park; and he served as a member of the Jury in Class VII., ‘Civil Engineering, Architectural, and Building Contrivances.’

He was promoted to the rank of Chief Engineer of the Waterstaat in 1852, and became a member of the Committee of Government Surveyors for the drainage works at the Haarlemmermeer, which were then in course of execution under the superintendence of Messrs. Kock and Beyerinck. This committee finished its labours six years later, when the great enterprise was completed with perfect success. During that time Mr. Conrad was elected a member of the Council of the Province of South Holland, and in that position he was able to promote the execution of valuable public works.

In the year 1855 M. Ferdinand de Lesseps, acting for H. H. the late Said Pacha, Viceroy of Egypt, invited Mr. Conrad to become a member of an International Commission, for the purpose of considering and reporting on the practicability of forming a ship canal through the Isthmus of Suez, between the Mediterranean and the Red Seas, and the best mode of constructing it. This Commission was composed of the following members, in addition to Mr. Conrad, viz., Captain Harris, Captain Jaures, M. Lentze, M. Lieussou, Mr. J. R. McClean, Mr. Charles Manby, M. Montesino, N. de Negrelli, M. Paleocapa, M. Renaud, Mr. J. M. Rendel, and N. Rigault de Genouilly. Mr. Conrad was elected President, and shortly afterwards he became the representative, or Commissioner for the Viceroy in the Society that undertook the execution of thc colossal work.

In 1856 Mr. Conrad was nominated a member of the Committee of superintendence for the construction of new dock works at Nieuwediep. In making the foundations of these works great difficulties were encountered, which were however overcome. He was also a member of the Council of the Waterstaat for the new canal from Amsterdam, and for the river-works from Rotterdam to the North Sea, which are still in course of construction, under the direction of Mr. Hawkshaw, Past-President, Inst. C.E., and Mr. J. Dirks, of Holland. As President of the Committee, appointed by the Minister, to report upon the protection of the sea-shores in the province of Zeeland, he had an important share in that interesting inquiry.

Among his many valuable papers and reports upon subjects in relation to the Dutch Waterstaat, a memoir, written in 1861, in conjunction with Messrs. Van der Kun and Fynje, upon the actual state of the rivers in Holland, deserves special mention. In that document it is shown to be necessary to continue the regulation of the river-beds, aft,er the plan adopted by the Government, and designed by Messrs. Ferrand and Van der Kan, in 1850.

In 1863 the Danish Government asked Mr. Conrad’s advice respecting canal works, which were proposed to-be made for connecting the East Sea and the North Sea through Holsteyn; and again in 1868 he was called upon to report upon different designs for a harbour on the coast of Jutland, in connection with a canal between the Liimfjord and the sea. The Free-town of Hamburg invited him and the Dutch Chief Engineer, Beyerinck, in 1864, to prepare a design for the drainage of the suburb of Hammerbrock.

In 1866 the new railway works, that are still in course of construction in the province of Zeeland, met with a strong opposition in Belgium. The Belgian engineers were afraid that the railway embankments, into two open arms of the sea, called the Eastern Schelde and the Sloe, would have a bad influence upon the bed of the river between Antwerp and the North Sea. This opinion was quite opposed to that held by the Dutch engineers. A joint commission of Belgian and Dutch engineers was therefore called together, but failed in coming to any agreement upon this important question. In consequence of steps taken by the Belgian Government, three foreign engineers, Sir Charles A. Hartley, Messrs. Gosselin, and Hagen, gave each a separate report upon the subject. These three reports contained very divergent opinions. Mr. Conrad, after having studied and compared the several reports, still retained the opinion held by the Dutch engineers, and ended his report by stating, that there was no reason for the Dutch government to alter their views or designs. Since that time the works have been made, and the result is generally known to have fully proved the correctness of Mr. Conrad’s opinions.

The desire to be present at the opening of the Suez canal in 1869, induced Mr. Conrad to undertake once more a journey to Egypt, to witness the completion of the great enterprise, in the accomplishment of which he had been so actively engaged. His health having been on the decline for some time, the fatigues of the return journey unfortunately proved too much for his active spirit, which had been unduly tried by his great and unceasing labours.

Upon arriving at Munich on the 1st of February, 1869, he was taken ill and shortly expired. The sudden news of his decease caused a great and general feeling of mourning in his own country, and among his many friends abroad. Mr. Conrad was a man of a warm and genial nature. His witty discourse and great tact were highly appreciated among his friends. The Dutch engineers are much indebted to his continued efforts to promote a genial relation among them, and especially to his powerful impulse in the formation of a Dutch Royal Institute of Engineers.

He was elected a President of the Institute in 1848, and acted in that capacity for many years. Not only the Transactions of that Institute, but also several literary and technical papers and reviews give proof of his great and manifold attainments. He was a member of several scientific bodies in England, Holland, and France. The King of the Netherlands created him a Commander in the Order of the Dutch Lion, and of that of Crown of Oak of Luxembourg. The Emperor of France, the King of Sweden and Norway, and the King of Denmark, likewise presented him with decorations. Mr. Conrad also enjoyed this great source of satisfaction, that his merits were fully appreciated during his lifetime.


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Sources of Information

  1. 1872 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries