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John Fowler (1824-1888)
1889 Obituary 
JOHN FOWLER was born in the year 1824 at Rubislaw, near Aberdeen.
He was educated at the Aberdeen Grammar School, which he left at the age of fifteen. He does not at this time appear to have had any clear idea what vocation he should follow, and has left no information as to his tastes or inclinations beyond the fact of his great love of Botany. His family at this day hold a rather valuable collection of specimens gathered on the Aberdeenshire hills; and in his later life, his great interest in this science was evinced by the tenderness with which he would pluck flowers, fruit or ferns, and the care with which he examined the same.
Probably influenced by his love of this subject, after leaving school, he was appointed as a gardener to Sir Thomas Gladstone, of Forgue, in Forfarshire; but, after a month or two, he went to London for the purpose of getting employed on some of the great engineering works of the Metropolis. He did not stay there long, as at the age of eighteen he visited his half-brother, Mr. James Johnson, then Superintendent to the Tees Navigation Company, Stockton, who persuaded him to stay in that town as his assistant.
On the death of Mr. Johnson, Mr. Fowler succeeded to the position of Superintendent; and in the year 1854, on the transference of the interests of the Navigation Company-a private company-to the Corporation of the Tees Conservancy Commission, he was appointed Chief Engineer. In this year a start was made with the series of works, which have converted the River Tees from a shallow unimportant stream into a river easy of navigation, and capable of accommodating vessels of over 4,000 tons burthen; and which reflects credit on Mr. Fowler.as furnishing one of the most striking instances of river improvement, both with respect to economy and the permanent benefits secured. The various improvements designed and carried out by him have been described in Papers entitled “Dredgers, and Dredging in the Tees,” and “River Tees Improvements,” contributed to the Institution.
It may not, however, be out of place to say that, thirty-five years ago, the channel from Middlesbro’ to the bar - a distance of 7 miles - was beset with shifting sand-banks and shoals, and split up, sometimes into four, and always into two. In the 3 miles of river from the bar upwards, forty-two buoys, besides beacons, mere needed to mark out the channel, and required changing, more or less, every spring-tide. The available depth at low-water was 1 foot 10 inches in two places; and the channel crooked. Ships that would now be considered very small ran many times into the sand-banks, before getting through. During the thirty-three years that have elapsed since the commencement of the works, the channel has been gradually improved, SO that, at the present time, there is an available depth of 15 feet at low-mater up to Middlesbro’, a width of channel at that place of 170 yards, increasing to 360 yards at the fifth buoy-light. Ships of 3,000 tons are built and engined at Stockton, and vessels carrying 1,700 tons trade there. At Middlesbro’ vessels carrying over 4,000 tons, and drawing 24 feet of water, are not unusual. The estuary has also been made into a safe harbour of refuge, and a graving-dock, capable of accommodating the largest vessels, has been constructed by the Commissioners. To accomplish this, more than 20 miles of low-water training-walls, and 16 miles of high-water walls have been constructed; 21,000,000 tons of material have been dredged, and 120,000 cubic yards of rock removed. The breakwater on the south side was completed about two years ago. The northern one is in course of construction. On the 25th of October, 1888, the First Lord of the Treasury, Mr. W. H. Smith, MP., formally opened the south breakwater in the presence of a large and influential company, and dedicated it as a “national work for ever.” But Mr. Fowler, the completion of whose hard and honest labour of thirty-five years was thus celebrated, was not spared to see the consummation of his task ; for a fortnight earlier, on the 11th of October, he was called to his rest. In his position as Engineer to the Commission, Mr. Fowler had not opportunity of getting information and experience in any but his own branch of his profession, nor did he attempt or wish to do so.
His whole professional life was devoted to the action of waves, tides, currents, and other matters contingent on his duties as a harbour-engineer. With application, he made himself so conversant with this subject that the value of his opinion was in a short time recognized. In few instances of improvements to our inland navigations was he not consulted ; his knowledge in these matters being so complete that he was in great demand as a parliamentary witness, being retained on every scheme of importance connected with waterways brought before the Parliamentary Committees. His evidence was always tendered in a straightforward, ready way, giving the impression of truth and conviction, and without equivocation in cross-examination. He was a leading witness in all the parliamentary fights in connection with the Manchester Ship Canal, and among the many rivers respecting which he was consulted were the Humber, Ouse, Trent, Mersey, Ribble, Eden, Clyde and Carron, and in Ireland, the Forth, Liffey, Boyne and Shannon.
In 1868, he was offered the appointment of Engineer to the Clyde Trustees, and it speaks greatly to his credit hat his employers were unanimous in doing all in their power to induce him to remain with them, which, after some consideration, he decided to do, although at some pecuniary sacrifice.
In 1885, he was consulted in reference to the improvements for the Port of Havre, but his engagements prevented him from entertaining that flattering proposal then made to him. He was also consulted some years ago on the harbour of Pobena, in Spain. At the time of his death, he was Engineer to the Trustees of the Ouse Navigation, who are carrying out improvements between York and Goole. The last work completed by him was the Naburn New Lock, 6 miles below York, opened by Prince Albert Victor on the 27th of July, 1888. He was also Engineer to the Pier and Harbour Commissioners of Whitby.
There are men who make a favourable impression at first, but are found, on more intimate acquaintance, to fall short of the estimate which has been formed concerning them. It was not so with Mr. Fowler. A natural reserve made it somewhat difficult, to know him intimately; but those who were privileged to get within the fence of this reserve, discovered the sterling excellences of his character, the deep true worth of the man. To know him was to respect him ; to know him well so as to love him much. He was an upright, honest and unselfish man, leal-hearted and true, in whose death all who knew him have to mourn the loss of a faithful friend ; those associated with him in work of any kind, that of a trusted colleague and ever ready helper ; while those more closely related to him by ties of blood, sorrow most of all for the removal of a kind and loving husband and father.
Mr. Fowler was elected a Member of the Institution on the 4th of February, 18i3.