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John Harvard Biles

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Sir John Harvard Biles (1854-1933) was Professor of Naval Architecture at the University of Glasgow, 1891 to 1921. He was awarded an LLD in 1922.

Born in Portsmouth, Biles served his apprenticeship at Portsmouth Dockyard and in 1875 graduated from the Royal Naval College, Greenwich.

He joined the Admiralty and in 1880 he was appointed chief designer at J. and G. Thomson's Clydebank Shipyard. Biles continued to work as a consultant during his tenure of the University chair, often involving his students in these commissions.

His work on numerous government committees, and valuable services rendered to the Admiralty in the development of the Dreadnought warships and other projects, led to the award of a knighthood in 1913 and his appointment as a KCIE in 1922.


1933 Obituary [1]

NAVAL architects and marine engineers, both in our own country and in many lands overseas, will learn with regret of the death of Sir John Bile's, which took place at his Surrey home, Highfield, Virginia. Water, on Friday, October 27th. Sir John was in his eightieth year, and although during the past few months or so his health had suffered, he came up to his office quite regularly until a few weeks ago. His death has came as a surprise to his many friends.

Few naval architects have lived a fuller and more successful and more varied life. During the sixty years in which Sir John was in practice, he always followed the latest developments of shipbuilding and marine engineering with the greatest of interest, and he himself had the satisfaction of contributing not a little to them. His own work embraced both the design and construction of naval vessels and merchant ships; he spent no less than thirty years at the University of Glasgow as the John Elder Professor of Naval Architecture, and during and since that time he built up a large practice as a consultant.........[much more]


1933 Obituary[2]

"THE LATE SIR JOHN BILES.

It is with deep regret that we have to announce the death of the eminent naval architect, Sir John Biles, which occurred on the 27th ultimo, at his residence at Virginia Water, Surrey. Our regret, we are confident, will be shared by the naval architects and shipbuilders of all maritime nations, as his fame had spread beyond the borders of the British Empire to the United States and Japan, in all of which countries he had travelled extensively.

Born at Portsmouth on January 6, 1854, Sir John was in his 79th year at the time of his death. He served an apprenticeship at Portsmouth Dockyard and afterwards passed an entrance examination to the Royal School of Naval Architects and Marine Engineers, at Kensington. This institution was transferred to the Royal Naval College at Greenwich while Biles was in attendance; at Greenwich he took first place in naval architecture. After completing his course there, he joined the staff of the Naval Construction Department at the Admiralty, which subsequently formed into the Royal Corps of Naval Constructors, and John Harvard Biles thus became a Member of the Corps. He was an Admiralty Naval Constructor from 1877 to 1881. On leaving the Admiralty, he joined Messrs. J. and G. Thomson, at Clydebank (now Messrs. John Brown and Company, Limited), as naval architect, afterwards becoming shipyard manager. While at Clydebank, he designed many notable vessels, such as the America, the City of Paris, and the City of New York, which, in their time, were the fastest vessels on the Atlantic service. He also designed a number of fast cross-channel boats, and in 1885, he constructed the first torpedo-boat destroyer built in this country. He also played a prominent part in the change from iron to steel as a constructional material for shipbuilding, and was also associated with the application of the steam turbine to marine propulsion, particularly in the case of cross-channel steamers.

Perhaps, however, Sir John’s greatest work for naval architecture was done while he held the John Elder Professorship in this subject at Glasgow University. Efe was appointed in 1891, and continued in tins appointment for 30. years, resigning in 1921. During this time, he trained many naval architects who have since reached high rank in the profession, both in this country and abroad. After leaving the University, Sir John started a consulting business now known as Sir J. H. Biles and Company, of which he was senior partner, and we understand that he was actively engaged in this business until a few weeks before his death.

During his lifetime Sir John served on innumerable official committees and other bodies. Of these, we may mention the Boats and Davits Committee, 1912-13, of which he was chairman, and the Titanic Inquiry, 1912, of which he was assessor. He will be known to most of our readers as vice-president of the Institution of Naval Architects, taking the chair on numerous occasions at the spring meetings. It will also be remembered that he contributed a large number of valuable papers to that Institution. His other publications include a treatise on steam turbines for marine propulsion and a book on the design and construction of ships.

Many well-merited honours were conferred upon Sir John Biles. The first of these was the third-class of the Order of Osmanieh, which he received in 1906 for his services to the Egyptian Government. He was made a knight in 1913, and a K.C.I.E. in 1922. In connection with this latter honour, it may be explained that Sir John was consulting naval architect to the High Commissioner for India, and received the thanks of the Secretary of State in Council for his work in connection with the design and construction of river craft for the Expeditionary Force in Mesopotamia, 1916-18. He was LL.D. of the Glasgow and Yale Universities, and D.Sc. of Harvard, and was an honorary member of several foreign institutions of naval architects. He was a Past-Master of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights, was President of the Engineering Section of the British Association in 1911, and was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Sir John had been in failing health for some time, and had never recovered from the death of Lady Biles last June. His son, Mr. J. H. Biles, is partner in the firm of Sir J. H. Biles and Co."


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. The Engineer 1933/11/03
  2. Engineering 1933/11/03
  • [1] Glasgow University