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Henry Palfrey Stephenson

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Henry Palfrey Stephenson (1826-1890), founder of the Society of Engineers


1890 Obituary [1]

... was born on the 27th of March, 1826, at Portobello, near Edinburgh, where his father, Major Stephenson, of the 6th Dragoon Guards, was stationed. The first years of his life were passed in Ireland, but at six years of age he was taken to Cheltenham, and remained there for two or three years. He subsequently resided up to the age of fourteen at his father's estate, Boscombe Manor, near Bournemouth. He was educated at a private school at Twickenham, and afterwards, in 1842, in order to prepare himself for the profession, he entered as a student the College for Civil Engineers, Putney. He remained there for five years, and among his fellow students were: Sir Guilford Molesworth, Mr. W. J. Kingsbury, Mr. E. Riley, Mr. E. Pontifex, Mr. M. Woodifield, and Mr. Robert King. The Principal of the College then was the Rev. Morgan Cowie, DD., Dean of Exeter, and among the Professors were Sir Lyon Playfair and Professor Codrington. Mr. Stephenson acquitted himself so well at this College that he was one of the few students upon whom a Diploma would have been conferred had the College been continued and received a charter ; in consequence, however, of its ceasing to exist, Mr. Stephenson was induced to establish what was at first called the Putney Club, but which was afterwards converted into the Society of Engineers, his idea having been to establish a Society for the encouragement of young students in the profession, and thus enable them to take a more active part in the proceedings of the senior Society, which did not, at that time, accept students.

While at College, he was engaged for a short time in the survey of projected lines of railway in Ireland, then creating such a stir in financial and engineering circles. After leaving the Putney College, he was, in 1849, employed on the extension of the Sunderland docks, under the late Mr. John Murray. In 1850 he entered into partnership with the late William Dredge, and the firm of Dredge and Stephenson was for some time engaged in the construction of bridges in England and Wales. The partnership, however, was not of long duration, and in 1852 Mr. Stephenson devoted himself to private practice. However, this was not of long duration, and in 1852 Mr. Stephenson devoted himself to private practice.

From the foregoing, it will be seen that Mr. Stephenson’s training essentially fitted him for a dock and railway engineer, and it was in this capacity that he commenced private practice. Among other works which occupied his attention about this time was the designing - in conjunction with his old fellow-collegian, Mr. Robert King - of several iron bridges which were erected in Singapore, Adelaide, the Argentine Republic, and Natal, under the title of the Iron-Bridge Association. Altogether he erected about twenty bridges, ten of them being in England or Scotland. Conjointly they were also engaged in the arbitration case in which Dr. Oakes, of Cherry Hinton, Cambridge, claimed compensation for the proposed abstraction of water from springs on his property by the Cambridge Water Company; and also in the arbitration case with respect to the sale of the West London Junction Gas Company, Wormwood Scrubbs, to the Great Western Railway Company. He was Engineer to the Ware, Hadham, and Buntingford Railway Company, the works for which he designed and carried out, and which was afterwards sold to the Great Eastern (then the Eastern Counties) Railway Company. He also designed and carried out sewerage and drainage works at Narborough, Norfolk, so as to utilize the sewage on the estate.

In 1858 Mr. Stephenson, with that intuitive insight which he showed throughout his professional life, saw that the lighting of towns by coal-gas would be greatly promoted, and therefore gave much attention to this subject. Consequently he designed and carried out successfully, with the help of his then pupil and assistant, Mr. Charles Gandon, gas-works in the following towns in Germany, viz., Tilsit, Naumburg, Ludwigsburg, and Zeitz; and he was also consulted as to numerous gas-undertakings in Holland, and, as Director and Consulting Engineer, gave valuable advice to a great number of gas companies; so that perhaps no man now living can lay claim to having served in the former capacity to the same extent as Mr. Stephenson.

Previous to his retirement about 1882, on account of ill health, he was a Director of the Bahia, Bombay, Singapore, Georgetown, Cagliari and Para Gas Companies, and until the day of his death he was on the Boards of the Crystal Palace District and Croydon Gas Companies. He was connected with the Singapore and with the Georgetown (British Guiana) Gas Companies from their origination, and was Chairman of both. With regard to the Crystal Palace District Gas Company, he was associated with the late Sir Erasmus Wilson and other gentlemen in its promotion (the first general meeting being held in March, 1858), and for many years he was Chairman, and by his exertions it was established on a firm basis. Mr. Stephenson served on the board of the Croydon Commercial Gas and Coke Company from 1859. As recently as February 19, 1890, he retired from the office by rotation; and although it was announced that he could seldom attend the Board meetings, the shareholders showed the measure of confidence they reposed in him by re-electing him without a single dissentient. The deep interest which he took in the concern, up to the day of his death, is evidenced by the fact that, whenever it was possible for him to be wheeled out in his bath-chair, he invariably desired to be first taken round the works of this Company, which are situated only a short distance from his house.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 3rd of Nay, 1853, and was raised to Membership on the 23rd of February, 1864.

As a noteworthy incident in his life, it may be stated that, by his active and acute investigations some years ago into the affairs of the New Sombrero Phosphate Company, the shareholders, by the decision of the Law Courts, obtained their rights and recovered their money, and they consequently presented Mr. Stephenson with a handsome testimonial as a mark of their gratitude. The work in which Mr. Stephenson took most interest was the preparation and giving of evidence in arbitration cases, and in inquiries before Parliamentary Committees; and it was his intention, had his health been maintained, to devote himself almost exclusively to that class of practice.

Mr. Stephenson's personal characteristics were an unfailing courtesy and an extreme willingness to help his fellow-workers when appealed to for advice and assistance. Many men owe their successful careers to his kindly actions and thoughtful consideration. He did not forget those who had worked well for him or with him, and watched their progress with sincere gratification. Although he had been in failing health for several years, he never shirked work, and occupied himself up to the last with mastering all the facts of any business matter in which he was interested. His intellect was vigorous, and his brain singularly active, while his retentive memory enabled him to supply all the details of recent and long-past events.

Mr. Stephenson died on the 30th of April, 1890.



Stephenson, Henry Palfrey (1826 - 1890), civil engineer, son of Major John Stephenson of the 6th dragoon guards, was born at Portobello, near Edinburgh, on 27 March 1826. He was educated at a private school at Twickenham, and in 1842 became a student at the college of civil engineers, Putney. The then principal was Dean Cowie of Exeter; Sir Guilford Molesworth, and several other well-known engineers were his fellow students. He founded the Putney Club, which was afterwards converted into the Society of Engineers. His early professional work consisted mainly of the design of iron railway bridges, and of arbitration work. In 1858 he turned his attention to gas lighting for towns; he designed and carried out several important gas undertakings on the continent, and was connected as a director with a large number of similar undertakings both in England and abroad. He was elected an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1853, and a full member in 1864. About 1882 his health began to fail, and he gradually retired from active professional pursuits; he died on 30 April 1890.




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