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John Dixon (1835-1891)

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1872. Bridge over the Nile at Ghizeh.
1877. The Cleopatra's Needle Ship.

John Dixon (1835-1891)

1835 January 2nd. Born at Durham the eldest son of Jeremiah Dixon (1804-1882) and his wife Mary Frank (1803-1877) and brother of Raylton Dixon

1851 Living at Market Street, Newcastle-upon-Tyne (age 16 born Newcastle), an Engineer Apprentice. With his patents Jeremiah (46 born Cockfield, Durham), Clerk to the Northumberland and Durham Bank, and his wife Mary (age 47 born Darlington). Also John's siblings Augusta (age 14), Amelia (age 10), Waynman (age 7) and Mary (age 5). One servant. [1]

1861 Partner in Capper, Mounsey and Dixon who briefly reopened Bedlington Ironworks

John Dixon achieved fame after leaving Bedlington. A brilliant engineer he was also responsible for laying the first railways in China, which was no mean achievement when one considers the hazards he overcame.

The Times reports that Dixon was beset by troubles with the natives who complained that construction was disturbing the spirits of their ancestors and insisted on pulling up newly laid tracks when Dixon's workmen had left the job-site for the day.

Dixon also managed to erect the 70-foot long Cleopatra's Needle on the Thames Embankment, after the attempts of other engineers had failed.

Another of Dixon's achievements was in Gibraltar, where he located drinking water on the Rock; this previously had to be brought from the mainland.

1891 Always eager to try out new ideas, and not always successful, Dixon died in 1891, almost penniless.

1891 Obituary [2]

JOHN DIXON was born on the 2nd of January, 1835. He was the eldest son of the late Jeremiah Dixon, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, who came of a well-known Quaker family of coal-owners at Cockfield, in the county of Durham, some of whom were distinguished as engineers and scientists even in the last century.

His uncle, the late John Dixon, was the first Chief Engineer of the Stockton and Darlington Railway, and was associated with George Stephenson in making the original surveys for that work.

John Dixon, the subject of this notice, received his education at Dr. Bruce’s school in Newcastle, and became, in January, 1851, an articled pupil of the late Robert Stephenson.

Soon after the completion of his articles, he was appointed Engineer and Manager at the Bishopwearmouth Ironworks of the Consett Iron Co; but in 1864, after a brief adventure in iron manufacture at Bedlington, he removed to London, where he began a successful career as engineer and contractor, which was continued till his death.

In this capacity he carried out many important works in various parts of the world, commencing with the landing-stages on the Thames Embankment, piers at Southport and at Douglas, Isle of Man, and the large iron piers and wharves at Huelva in Spain, for the Rio Tinto Co. A bridge over the Nile at Cairo was his next work, followed by extensive drainage and sanitary works at Rio Janeiro, and piers in Mexico and Para on the Amazon.

In 1875, in connection with Richard Rapier, he got the concession for, and made, the first railway in China, from Shanghai to Woosung. It was very successful and popular among the natives for a time, but, owing to the prejudices of the ruling Mandarins, was bought by the Chinese Government and taken up in October, 1877; not, however, before thousands of the people had had practical experience of its utility.

Mr. Dixon’s discovery of an unexpected supply of fresh water in the rock of Gibraltar was due to his geological knowledge, and brought him into high repute with the military authorities and the War Department, who purchased his concession. His next enterprises were in Portugal, where he constructed the Custom House piers at Lisbon, and a 60-mile line of railway, for which he was awarded by King Luis I. an Order of Merit. Bridges at Waterford in Ireland, and docks and harbour extensions at Port Talbot, in Wales, occupied him for some time, and almost his last important undertaking was the rebuilding of Hammersmith suspension bridge over the Thames, for the Metropolitan Board of Works.

But the work of all others which brought him most repute, both for the public spirit and the ingenuity displayed in it, was the initiation and carrying out of the transport from Alexandria to London of the famous Cleopatra’s Needle, now on the Thames Embankment, which bears his name on the bronze tablet of its pedestal. In this enterprise he was supported by the late Sir Erasmus Wilson, F.R.S., to the extent of £10,000, but, owing to the unfortunate salvage claims, he was a financial loser to almost the same amount - a fact which has never been sufficiently known and appreciated.

In 1888 he was induced to visit the colonies in South Africa, in the hope of benefiting by the change, but, broken down in health, he never thoroughly rallied after his return, and died on the 28th of January, 1891, at the comparatively early age of fifty-six. . . . [more]

1891 Obituary [3]

1891 Obituary [4]

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