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Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey

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1920. Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey (1853-1926).
1925. Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey (1853-1926).
Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey (1853-1926).

Captain Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey (1853-1925)

1853 November 9th. Born at Nenagh, County Tipperary the son of General W. Sankey, C.B.

He went to school in Switzerland, then attended Mr. Rippon’s School at Woolwich

1873 he received a commission in the Royal Engineers, and started the required course at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham. As he reached the end of his training, he was one of the Royal Engineer officers selected for employment by the Royal Commission on Railway Accidents in connection with the important series of Continuous Brake Experiments carried out in 1876. Later that year he was engaged in the War Department drawing office on the design of barracks.

1879 he was appointed Instructor in Fortification at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Canada. After three years service there he returned to England to take up a position at the Ordnance Survey Establishment at Southampton.

1881 Living in Kingston, Ontario, a college professor with Eliza Sankey 25, Crofton Sankey 4, Celia Sankey 5mo[1]

1882-89 At Ordnance Survey, Southampton, in charge of workshops and electro-typing

1889 he retired from the Service and joined the board of Willans and Robinson, engineers. Was director in charge of Outside department, and then Works director.

1894 Member of I Mech E and Inst Civil Engineers

1901 Henry Riall Sankey 47, captain RE retired, director of Willans and Robinson, MCE, living in Bilton, Warwickshire, with Elizabeth M Sankey 48, Celia K P Sankey 20, Margaret E P Sankey 17, Joyce E P Sankey 13 and his nephew Edward L Pym 7[2]

1904 commenced practice as a consulting engineer.

Later he became a director and consulting engineer of Marconi’s Wireless Telegraph Co, and the Marconi International Marine Communications Co. Ltd. He held these positions until the end of his life.

1911 Henry Riall Sankey 57, Captain, Royal Engineers (retired), consulting engineer and company director, living in Ealing with Elizabeth Mary Sankey 58, and one of his 4 surviving children Joyce Ethel Pym Sankey23[3]

During the First World War, Captain Sankey volunteered his services, and was appointed Staff-Captain in the department of the Director of Fortifications and Works at the War Office. He paid personal visits to the front in 1915 and 1918.

In 1920 and 1921 he was President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was also a member of the Governing Board of the National Physical Laboratory.

1925 October 3rd. Died

Sankey Diagram

Sankey introduced the type of flow diagram which bears his name. See Wikipedia entry for Sankey Diagram.


1925 Obituary [4]

Captain MATTHEW HENRY PHINEAS RIALL SANKEY, C.B., C.B.E., R.E., son of the late General W. Sankey, C.B., was born at Nenagh, Ireland, on 9th November 1853.

His school education was acquired in Switzerland, and this was followed by studies at Mr. Rippon's School at Woolwich, and at the Royal Military Academy, which he entered in 1871.

In 1873 he received a commission in the Royal Engineers and entered upon the prescribed course at the School of Military Engineering, Chatham.

Three years later, when he was nearing the end of this training, he was one of the R.E. officers selected for employment by the Royal Commission on Railway Accidents in connexion with the important series of Continuous Brake Experiments carried out in 1876; and later on in the same year he was engaged in the War Department drawing office on the design of barracks.

In the following year he was placed in charge of the R.E. drawing office at Manchester, and the next two years he spent at Gibraltar in superintending the erection of certain batteries and barracks.

In 1879 he was appointed Instructor in Fortification at the Royal Military College, Kingston, Canada, and on the completion of this three-year service he returned to England to take up a post at the Ordnance Survey Establishment at Southampton. Here he solved certain electrotyping difficulties which had been encountered in the reproduction of maps, beside effecting other improvements of mechanical and commercial value, and in the course of his investigations became acquainted with the merits of the Willans engine of that date.

In 1889 he retired_ from the Service as a Captain, and joined the board of Messrs. Willans and Robinson, Ltd., engineers, of Thames Ditton.

Five years later, in 1904, (sic) Captain Sankey commenced practice as a consulting engineer, in which he was very successful.

Later on he became a director and consulting engineer of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Company, Ltd., and the Marconi International Marine Communications Co., Ltd., and these positions he held to the end of his life.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1894, was a Member of Council 1910 to 1919, was elected a Vice-President in 1919, and was President in 1920 and 1921. He was also a Member of Council and Vice-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, besides being on the Membership roll of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, the Iron and Steel Institute, the Institution of Naval Architects, the Institution of Gas Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

He was also for several years a member of the Governing Board of the National Physical Laboratory. When the Great War broke out Captain Sankey volunteered his services, and he was appointed a Staff-Captain in the department of the Director of Fortifications and Works at the War Office, and as a link with the Civil branches of the engineering profession his work was invaluable.

His activities, moreover, were not confined to work in the home districts, for he paid personal visits to the front in 1915, and again in 1918. For these services he received the distinction of C.B., and after the War, for work on the Valuation Committee, the further award of C.B.E. was conferred upon him. Captain Sankey's death, which occurred at Ealing on 3rd October 1925, brought to a sudden and unexpected close a career of the greatest usefulness to the Institution.

Captain Sankey gained well-merited distinction in whatever department of engineering he interested himself, and, as will be seen from the following list, this Institution is indebted to him for several most instructive contributions to its Proceedings:-

  • Paper on Governing of Steam Engines by Throttling and by Variable Expansion. (Proceedings 1895, p. 154. For this Paper the Council awarded to Captain Sankey the "Premium.")
  • Paper on Heat Treatment Experiments with Chrome-Vanadium Steel. (Proceedings 1904, page 1235.)
  • Memorandum for the Gas Engine Research Committee: Method of determining the Temperature and the Rate of Heat Production in the Cylinder of a Gas-Engine. (Proceedings 1906, page 317.)
  • Appendix II to Paper on Different Methods of Impact Testing on Notched Bars. (Proceedings 1908, page 968.)
  • Paper on Comparison of the Tensile, Impact-Tensile, and Repeated-Bending Methods of Testing Steel. (Proceedings 1910, page 715.)

In addition to the foregoing, Captain Sankey also gave the Thomas Hawksley Lecture on "Heat Engines" (Proceedings 1917 page 703), and his own Presidential Address (Proceedings 1920, page 1039). In the Research work carried on by the Institution he took great interest, and the Proceedings record interesting remarks from him in respect to Steam-Nozzles, Marine Oil-Engine Trials Hardness Tests, and other matters.


1926 Obituary [5]

CAPTAIN MATTHEW HENRY PHINEAS RIALL SANKEY, C.B., C.B.E., R.E., son of the late General W. Sankey, C.B., was born at Menagh (Co. Tipperary) on the 9th November, 1853.

He was educated at Morges and Schaffhausen, Switzerland; the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and the School of Military Engineering, Chatham. He received his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1873 and served in England, in Gibraltar, and, later, as Instructor in Fortification at the Royal Military College at Kingston, Canada.

In 1882 he was appointed to the Ordnance Survey at Southampton in charge of the Trigonometrical Division, Electrotyping Department and Workshops, where he introduced the use of dynamos in the copperplate process of map printing. He described this process in a paper which he read before the Institution on "Electrolytic Deposition of Copper," and for which he was awarded the Fahie Premium. Another paper of his, entitled "A Problem relating to the Economical Deposition of Copper." gained the Paris Premium.

In 1889 Captain Sankey retired from the Service and became a director of Messrs. Willans and Robinson, Ltd., continuing on the Board until 1904, when he took up consulting work.

In 1909 he joined the boards of Marconi's Wireless Telegraph Co., Ltd., and the Marconi International Marine Communication Co., Ltd., of which companies he remained a director until the time of his death.

A number of valuable books and technical papers are due to Captain Sankey. Among these are "The Energy Chart and its Practical Application to Reciprocating Engines"; Part IV Rimmington's "Building Construction" (published anonymously); translation from the German of Professor Ritter's "Bridges and Roofs"; the editing of the posthumous works of the late P. W. Willans on "Steam Engine Trials"; a paper on "The Thermal Efficiency of Steam Engines" for the Institution of Civil Engineers; a paper on "Governing of Steam Engines" for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers; and a series of papers on "Heavy Oil Engines" in the Howard Lectures for the Royal Society of Arts.

In addition to the I.E.E. awards referred to above. Captain Sankey received the Telford Medal and Premium and the George Stephenson Medal of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and the Willans Premium of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was a Past-President of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Member of the Council of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was also a Member of the Governing Board of the National Physical Laboratory, and of the Wireless Telegraphy and Gaseous Explosives Committees of the British Association. During the war he was Hon. Engineering Adviser to the Director of Fortifications and Works, and a member of the Hon. Valuation Committee, as well as of other war committees.

Captain Sankey will be much missed by a large circle of personal and professional friends to whom he was known as an indefatigable worker with a great variety of technical interests on which he was actively engaged up to the date of his death, which occurred suddenly at his home in Baling on the 3rd October, 1925.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution in 1885, and became a Member in 1886. In 1901 he served on the Committee of the Birmingham Local Section (now South Midland Centre).


1925 Obituary [6]

Captain MATHEW PHINEAS HENRY RIALL SANKEY, R.E., C.B., C.B.E., died at his residence in Ealing on October 3, 1925.

He was born at Nenagh, Co. Tipperary, on November 9, 1853, and received his early education in Switzerland, subsequently passing through Woolwich and Chatham, and securing his commission in the Royal Engineers in 1873. During his term of instruction at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham he was lent by the War Office to assist at the famous Continuous Brake Trials, which took place on the Lincoln branch of the Midland Railway in 1875. Subsequently, he was engaged in the office of the late Mr. Edward Woods on calculations connected with those trials.

From 1876 to 1882 he was employed in succession at the War Office (Designs Branch); at Manchester, where he was in charge of the Royal Engineers drawing office; at Gibraltar, in charge of the Military Telegraphs and Signal Station; and at Kingston, Canada, as Instructor in Fortification and Geometrical Drawing at the Royal Military College, which had just been started. In 1882 he was recalled from Canada to take up duties at the Ordnance Survey, Southampton. Here he came into touch with a technical problem which led to a complete change of vocation. The electrolytic process discovered in 1839 by Spencer and Jordan was in use at Southampton for the duplication of engraved plates, the Smee cell being used to provide the current. An Elmore low-voltage dynamo had been bought by the War Office, but could not be worked successfully. Lieutenant Sankey was directed to continue the tests, and his problem was to find an engine which would drive the dynamo steadily enough to produce a constant current. He decided that the high-speed type would be best for the purpose, and he eventually purchased a Willans three-throw engine and achieved success. It was through the purchase of this 6-h.p. high-speed engine that Captain Sankey made the acquaintance of Mr. Willans, whom he joined in 1889.

In 1892 Mr. Willans was killed as the result of an accident, and responsibility for the design of the engines, and later of the turbines, built by the firm fell upon Captain Sankey. Under his direction the firm removed from Thames Ditton, and the new works were laid out at Rugby.

In 1904 he severed his connection with Messrs. Winans and Robinson, and began practice as a consulting engineer in London.

During the war Captain Sankey was honorary Engineering Adviser to the Director of Fortifications and Works, in which capacity he performed services of great value. He was concerned among other things with the repair of machinery used by the Royal Artillery, the Royal Army Service Corps, and the Tank Corps. He also did important work as one of the engineers on the Honorary Valuation Committee.

Captain Sankey was for many years a Member of Council of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers, and became President in 1920-1921. He was also a Vice-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Naval Architects, Gas Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and for some years he served on the Governing Board of the National Physical Laboratory.

He was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1913.


1926 Obituary [7]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1881 Canadian census
  2. 1901 census
  3. 1911 census
  4. 1925 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  5. 1926 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries
  6. 1925 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries
  7. 1926 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries