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Gerrit Simons

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Dr Gerrit Simons (1802-1868)

1841 Gerrit Simons of The Hague, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1873 Obituary [2]

DR. GERRIT SIMOSS was born at Thamen aan den Amstel, not far from Amsterdam, in 1802. He was the youngest son of Nr. Adam Simons, a popular poet, and a distinguished profcssor of Dutch literature, at the University of Utrecht.

At the age of seventeen Mr. Gerrit Simons attended the courses of lectures on medicine at that university; but some time afterwards his personal preference for the science of geometry and natural philosophy induced him to discontinue them. In the new branch of science to which he devoted himself he began very early to show superior attainments; and, while yet a student, he was awarded a gold medal for a Paper upon the chemical composition of aqueous vapour in the atmosphere. About the same time he was appointed Observer at the Observatory of Utrecht.

After having published a dissertation upon the expansion of liquids by heat, he received the degree, in 1828, of Doctor of Philosophy. Two years later his scientific researches were stopped for some time in consequence of political events ; and he served as a volunteer in the civic guards during the war with Belgium.

In 1832 he was appointed Consulting Chemist and Mechanician to the Ministry of the Interior at the Hague. During a residence of about thirteen years there Mr. Simons distinguished himself by a series of useful labours.

In 1838 he was appointed a member of the committee nominated for reporting upon the best means of draining the lake called 13aarlemmermeer, with an area of about 45,000 acres; and he prepared a valuable memloir upon the subject, which was published and presented to the King in 1839. In those days it was a question whether the motor to be adopted for the pumping machinery should be wind or stcam. Very many water-mills, driven by the action of the wind, more in existence, while steam-mills were almost unknown. A few experiments with steam-mills had given no favourable results, when looked at from an economical point of view. In the designs for the drainage of the Haarlemmermeer, made in 1838, a combination of seventy nine wind-mills and three steam-mills of 40 H.P. each were proposed.

Mr. Simons, however, demonstrated that great improvements could be introduced in the existing steam-mills, and that for a lake of this large size powerful steam-pumps were the most appropriate.

The question was decided in 1840 in accordance with that opinion; and three large pumping-engines were erected, which, in honour of three great promoters of the drainage, were called Leeghwater, Cruquius, and Lynden. The Leeghwater has eleven pumps, each 1.60 metre in diameter ; both the other engines have eight pumps, of 1.83 metre diameter. The average depth from which the water is pumped is 4.5 metres. The pumps can work combined or separately. During the whole of the drainage operations eight or nine pumps of the Leeghwater, and six or seven pumps of the two other engines wore, on the average, at work. The pumping was completed in three years and seven months, in which time about 832,000,000 cubic metres of water were pumped out. The total cost of the enterprise was about S700,OOO. The drainage has proved a complete success ; a stormy and dangerous lake has been replaced by a fertile polder; and a numerous population earn their living from the drained soil. During the whole period of the execution of these works Mr. Simons took an active part in designing the machinery.

In 1840 he was nominated a member of the Committee of Government Superintendents; and he paid repeated visits to English engine-works, particularly to those of Messrs. Harvey and Co., and Messrs. Fox and Co. in Cornwall, and of Messrs. Gibbs and Dean of London, who had undertaken part of the designing and of the construction of the engines. His special study of the advantages to be obtained by the application of steam in drainage-works procured him a Gold Medal, in 1844, for a Paper written in conjunction with the late Chief Engineer of the Waterstaat, A. Greve, and awarded by the Academy of Science at Rotterdam.

Seven years later, he was once more called upon to give proof of his ability in this branch of engineering, when he was appointed a member of the committee nominated for reporting upon the proposed drainage of a bay along the North Sea, called the Lauwerzeer, in the province of Friesland.

In the following year a new sphere of activity was opened to Mr. Simons. He was appointed at first Deputy-director, and short,Iy afterwards Director, of the Royal Academy of Civil Engineers, which was founded at that time at Delft. He kept that position till 1856, and his earnest, liberal, and genial directorship secured him the high approbation of the Government, and the general esteem and sympathy of the scholars.

It was a great loss for the engineering school, when Mr. Simons accepted a seat in the Cabinet, in 1858. He was appointed Minister for the Interior; but though his activity was beyond praise he was not supported by a majority in the Second Chamber ; and when, a few months after, the yearly budget was rejected, Mr. Simons resigned the post, in order to recover his health, which was seriously affected. On this occasion the King of the Netherlands gave him a flattering proof of interest and good-will by putting a part of the royal castle, “Het Loo,” at the disposal of the patient.

Mr. Simons, having quite recovered his health, was able to accept a place in the Council of State. He held this post till 1862, when, on a reorganization of the Council, the honorary membership was presented to him. About this time he was elected a member of the Second Chamber Parliament for the township of Gorinchem, a position he retained till 1868, when a serious illness proved fatal to his noble and useful life.

During his stay at the Hague he was one of the editors of a scientific periodical, in which several articles from his pen give a proof of his witty and keen critical talent. Wishing to contribute to the best of his ability in rendering the knowledge of natural philosophy and applied mechanics more general and popular, he commenced a course of lectures in 1836. These were attended by a numerous audience ; and he continued them every winter till 1840, being assisted during the latter part of that period by his friend, Dr. A. Vrolik.

In 1846 he was one of the three founders of the Royal Institute of Civil Engineers in Holland ; the late Mr. F. W. Conrad, M. Inst. C.E., being another. In the same year Mr. Simons was appointed Member of Council of the Society for promoting the Development of Industry ; and during seventeen years acted in that capacity with great zeal and energy. He gave the impulse, or at least contributed largely, to the organization of the exhibitions at Delft, in 1849, and at Haarlem, in 1861.

An eloquent plea, in favour of getting the labour of children in factories settled by law, was presented by the above-mentioned Society to the King of the Netherlands, of which every line bore the character of Mr. Simons’ style. A report upon the desirability of abolishing the $rants, or patents, was written by him in 1851. The Royal Academy of Science at Amsterdam presented him with their diploma of membership ; and in 1857 he was elected a President of the section of Natural Philosophy. The Ring of Holland presented him with the Order of the Dutch Lion, and with that of the Royal Oak of Luxemburg. The Emperor of Russia offered him the decoration of St. Anne.

He was elected an Associate of the Instution of Civil Engineers on the 15th of June, 1841.

Mr. Simons died at the Hague on the 17th of November, 1868. At the cemetery of Eik en Duinen, close to the residence, a simple monument shows the place where his body reposes. The words of Horace, “Integer vite,” which are engraved on his tomb-stone, have rarely been more deservedly applied.


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