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John Gibb

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John Gibb (1776-1850)[1]

Like his father before him, John Gibb found himself an orphan as a child at the young age of fifteen. Although one of a large family, he was noted to be his father's son. John served as an apprentice to John Rennie on the new harbour for Greenock and the Lancaster canal and at Leith under Alexander Easton of Falkirk.

It was while working at Greenock, he caught the eye of Mr. Telford. He placed John Gibb as resident engineer to the reconstruction of Aberdeen harbour. Gibb worked there for six years, writing in a letter to his chief about the "awfully tremendous gale" when the new half completed breakwater was almost destroyed. Gibb gained Telford's respect and was his most trusted deputy on harbour works and bridges throughout Scotland. He covered every branch of his profession, building the lighthouses of Rhinns of Islay, Buchanness and Cape Wrath.

John Gibb, like his father became a contractor and his last great contract was a renown section of the Edinburgh-Glasgow railway. Similarly John comleted the contract at the expense of his fortunes.

He was a founder member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

When working for Mr Alexander Easton he met Easton's daughter Kathrine, whom he married.

1820 Mr. Gibb of Aberdeen became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[2]


1851 Obituary [3]

Mr. John Gibb was born in the year 1776, at Kirkcows, a small property near Falkirk, belonging to his father William Gibb, an extensive contractor, who, however, dying in 1788, after finishing the Kelvin Aqueduct on the Forth and Clyde Canal, left his son, in his twelfth year, to the care of his relatives, by whom he was apprenticed as a mechanic, and he was afterwards received upon the works of the Lancaster Canal, by his brother-in-law, the late Mr. Porteous, who constructed part of that canal under the direction of Mr. Rennie.

He subsequently was engaged under Mr. Easton, at the Leith Docks; then, from 1805 to 1809, under Mr. Rennie, at the formation of the New Harbour, Greenock, where he exhibited such ability in carrying on works of considerable difficulty, that he attracted the attention of Mr. Telford, by whom he was placed at Aberdeen, as Resident Engineer to the Harbour, and where he undertook the restoration of the South Pier Head, a work of Smeaton’s, which had been destroyed in the winter of 1807.

For six years his attention was almost exclusively devoted to this harbour, where he extended the North Pier, and built the Breakwater on the south side. The former of these was a work of considerable difficulty, and in consequence of its exposure to the German Ocean, the eastern point was frequently injured by heavy storms, which, however, only excited Mr. Gibb’s energies, and in three seasons the structure was completed, thus confirming the predictions of Mr. Telford and himself, that the best means of deepening the access to the Docks would be, by first completing the entrance, and then constructing the Harbour. These piers still remain among the best examples of that kind of construction.

During this period he built part of the quay walls of the intended Docks, and he first introduced into Scotland the Steam Dredging Machine, for increasing the depth against the walls.

In the life of Telford these labours are thus noticed:- 'Mr. Gibb, with unremitting attention, superintended every operation connected with these difficult works, in which he has distinguished himself by remarkable ingenuity and perseverance.'

During a temporary suspension of the works, Mr. Gibb, with that disinterestedness and integrity which marked his character, proposed the appointment of a Superintendent, at a less salary, resigned his post of Resident Engineer, and turned his attention to the execution of works by contract, and in 1817, on the recommendation of Mr. Telford, obtained that for the repair of the Crinan Canal; and in the Report of the Commissioners (Lords Castlereagh, Binning, Melville, and Glenbervie), it is stated, that 'the activity exercised greatly surpassed their expectations, and that on a review of what had been done by Mr. Gibb they could not but be gratified at such an instance of exertion.'

From 1818 to 1821 he was employed under Mr. Telford, as acting Engineer for the improvement of the Harbours of Peterhead, Cullen, Banff, and Nairn, being at the same time engaged with Jolliffe and Banks, the contractors, in the supply of blocks of granite of large size, from the quarries in Aberdeenshire, for the construction of the works at Sheerness Dockyard, under Mr. Rennie, and for a bridge near Ipswich, under the direction of Mr. Cubitt (President Inst. C.E.)

Mr. Gibb’s attention being directed to the subject, his scientific knowledge and practical skill were applied to the introduction of a more improved system of quarrying granite, and thus, owing to his exertions, this fine durable stone, with which Aberdeenshire abounds, has been generally employed in public works, and an extensive trade has been created, for the benefit of the port and vicinity of Aberdeen.

During this period he completed surveys of the River Dee, for the town of Chester, and of the Nene Outfall, and, in conjunction with the late Mr. Minto, formed part of the new turnpike road between Glasgow and Carlisle, on which there occurred several bridges, remarkable for their height, particularly that at Cartland Craigs, near Lanark, whose altitude reached 125 feet.

From 1823 to 1826 he was chiefly occupied, under the direction of the late Robert Stevenson (of Edinburgh), in the erection of lighthouses, for the Northern Lighthouse Commissioners, and from 1827 to 1829 in the construction of the Don Bridge and other works, for the Commissioners of Highland Roads and Bridges.

About this period he prepared, from the design of James Walker (M.Inst.C.E.), the granite tramway for the East India Dock road, as to the success of which Mr. Gibb was very sanguine, hoping eventually to see the same kind of tramway adopted for the hilly parts of all turnpike roads.

In 1829 the Aberdeen Harbour Trustees again had recourse to Mr. Gibb, who, with his son (Alexander Gibb (1804-1867), M. Inst. C.E.), undertook the construction of the Wet Dock and other works, under the direction of Mr. Telford, by whom was also intrusted to them the erection of the Dean Bridge, near Edinburgh, of which he stated, 'the entire success which attended the execution of the Dean Bridge, and the expedition with which the work was carried on, are in a great measure attributable to the judicious manner in which the machinery and scaffolding were constructed;' and the striking of the centering, he stated, 'was a delicate operation, and is understood to have been unprecedented.'

In 1835, the Glasgow Bridge, which was expected to have occupied full four years, was completed in two years and eight months, and the 'Trustees presented to the Contractors two pieces of plate, in testimony of the high sense they entertained of their zeal and fidelity.'

Their attention being directed to railway works, Mr. Gibb and his son undertook, in 1836, the building of the Victoria Bridge, over the river Wear, on the line of the Durham Junction Railway, under Thomas Harrison, (M.Inst.C.E.); a work of considerable importance, on account of the great height of the piers, and the large span of’ the arches.

The last considerable work in which he was engaged, was the contract for the works across the Almond Valley, on the Edinburgh and Glasgow line, under Mr. Miller (M. Inst., C.E.), and soon after its completion, in consequence of the decline of his health, Mr. Gibb retired from active employment.

Mr. Gibb was one of the oldest Members of the Institution, having been elected in the year 1820. He evinced a lively interest in its prosperity, attending the meetings, whenever he came to London, and taking part in the discussions, when his practical opinions were received with great respect, as he was considered one of the few remaining links, connecting the last generation of Civil Engineers with their present successors.

His decease occurred on November 3, 1850, at the age of 74, full of years, and honoured by all who knew him.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Alexander Gibb The Story of an Engineer by Godfrey Harrison
  2. 1820 Institution of Civil Engineers
  3. 1851 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries