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John Hawkshaw

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Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-1891)
1868.
1868.
1883. Inner circle completion railway.
1883. Inner circle completion railway.
1883. Inner circle completion railway.
1868.
1869. Nile Navigation Improvements.
1869. Nile Navigation Improvements.
1869. Nile Navigation Improvements.

Sir John Hawkshaw (1811-1891) was an English civil engineer.

1811 April 9th. Born in Leeds, Yorkshire and was educated at Leeds Grammar School. Before he was 21 he had been engaged for six or seven years in railway engineering and the construction of roads in his native county, and in the year of his majority he obtained an appointment as engineer to the Bolivar Mining Association in Venezuela. But the climate there was more than his health could stand, and in 1834 he was obliged to return to England.

He obtained employment under Jesse Hartley at the Liverpool Docks, and subsequently was made engineer in charge of the railway and navigation works of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Co.

1835 March 20th. Married at Wixley, J. Hawkshaw, Civil Engineer, of Liverpool, to Ann Jackson the daughter of the Rev. James Jackson of Green Hammerton.[1] [2]

In 1845 he became chief engineer to the Manchester and Leeds Railway, and in 1847 to its successor, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway for which he constructed a large number of branch lines. One such was Manchester and Southport line Surveyed by his associate Clement Wilks and as well as the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway near Heckmondwike.

In 1850 he removed to London and began to practise as a consulting engineer, at first alone, but subsequently in partnership with Harrison Hayter. In that capacity his work was of an extremely varied nature, embracing almost every branch of engineering.

He retained his connection with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company until his retirement from professional work in 1888, and was consulted on all the important engineering points that affected it in that long period.

In London he was responsible for the Charing Cross and Cannon Street railways, together with the two bridges which carried them over the Thames; he was engineer of the East London railway, which passes under the Thames through Sir Marc Brunel's well-known tunnel; and jointly with Sir John Wolfe Barry he constructed the section of the Underground railway which completed the inner circle between the Aldgate and Mansion House stations.

In addition, many railway works claimed his attention in all parts of the world - Germany, Russia, India, Mauritius, etc. One noteworthy point in his railway practice was his advocacy, in opposition to Robert Stephenson, of steeper gradients than had previously been thought desirable or possible, and so far back as 1838 he expressed decided disapproval of the maintenance of the broad gauge on the Great Western, because of the troubles he foresaw it would lead to in connection with future railway extension, and because he objected in general to breaks of gauge in the lines of a country.

The construction of canals was another branch of engineering in which he was actively engaged. In 1862 he became engineer of the Amsterdam ship-canal, and in the succeeding year he may fairly be said to have been the saviour of the Suez Canal. About that time the scheme was in very bad odour, and the Khedive determined to get the opinion of an English engineer as to its practicability, having made up his mind to stop the works if that opinion was unfavourable. Hawkshaw was chosen to make the inquiry, and it was because his report was entirely favourable that Ferdinand de Lesseps was able to say at the opening ceremony that to him he owed the canal.

As a member of the International Congress which considered the construction of an inter-ocean canal across central America, he thought best of the Nicaragua route, and privately he regarded the Panama scheme as impracticable at a reasonable cost, although publicly he expressed no opinion on the matter and left the Congress without voting. Sir John Hawkshaw also had a wide experience in constructing harbours (e.g. Holyhead) and docks (e.g. Penarth, the Albert Dock at Hull, and South Dock (formerly the City Canal) of the West India Docks in London), in river-engineering, in drainage and sewerage, in water-supply, etc.

He was engineer, with Sir James Brunlees, of the original Channel Tunnel Co from 1872, but many years previously he had investigated for himself the question of a tunnel under the Strait of Dover from an engineering point of view, and had come to a belief in its feasibility, so far as that could be determined from borings and surveys. Subsequently, however, he became convinced that the tunnel would not be to the advantage of Great Britain, and thereafter would have nothing to do with the project.

He was also consulting engineer to the Severn Tunnel, which, from its magnitude and the difficulties encountered in its construction, was one of the most notable engineering undertakings of the 19th century. Following the inundation of the tunnel working in 1879, he employed Thomas A. Walker as lead contractor to complete the work.

He also designed the famous Puerto Madero, the port of Buenos Aires, collaborating with Thomas A. Walker and James Murray Dobson. The works started its construction in 1885 and was finished in 1898.

1836 John Hawkshaw of Manchester / Liverpool, a Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[3]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1855.

He served as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers between December 1861 and December 1863.

He was knighted in 1873.

He died in London on 2 June 1891. His son, John Clarke Hawkshaw was born in 1841 and was also a civil engineer.


1891 Obituary [4]

JOHN HAWKSHAW was born in 1811, in the West Riding of Yorkshire, where his father’s family for some generations were farmers in the neighbourhood of Otley, Learly, and Bramhope.

He was educated at the Leeds Grammar School, but left it at an early age, and was engaged for about five years under Charles Fowler, chiefly in the construction of turnpike roads in that neighbourhood in place of the old and circuitous ones which were difficult and dangerous to travel upon. The Leeds and Whitehall, the Holme Lane End and Heckmondwike, the Dewsbury and Batley Turnpike Roads were among those constructed during that period.

Before he was twenty years old, Mr. Hawkshaw became an assistant to Alexander Nimmo, the well known Civil Engineer, who was then chiefly engaged on piers, harbours, and other public works in Ireland.

In 1830 and the two following years, Mr. Nimmo surveyed the projected railway from Liverpool via Leeds to the Humber. The proprietors of this railway purchased the Manchester, Bolton, and Bury Canal navigation, and succeeded in obtaining an Act for a railway along the course of that canal, but failed to obtain powers for the remainder of the scheme.

After the death of Mr. Nimmo, Mr. Hawkshaw, in July 1832, made an engagement to take charge of the works of the Bolivar Mining Association, which were situated in Venezuela, about 200 miles from Caracas. He remained there for nearly three years, being chiefly occupied in improving the navigation of the River Aroa, which he adapted for navigation by flat-bottomed boats, and in making communication between the mines and the Aroa, and generally in superintending the operations of the Association.

The mines, situated near St. Felipe, produced copper. They were wrought by adits driven from the mountain side into the lode, which was of great thickness and very rich. The climate was so unhealthy that many of the English miners, chiefly picked men from Cornwall, died, as did also the doctors ; and Mr. Hawkshaw had not only to perform the duties of the latter as best he could, but he also officiated at their burial. The house in which he lived at the mines not only still exists, but bears his name. Shortly after he left, all the occupants of it were murdered, and the house has remained uninhabited since.

Repeated attacks of fever and ague compelled Mr. Hawkshaw to return to England in 1834, when he was engaged for some time in the Liverpool Dockyard under Jesse Hartley.

Afterwards he was for a short time in the office of James Walker, who was then newly elected President of the Institution. Whilst with Mr. Walker he laid out the Leipsic and Dresden Railway.

In 1836, the year in which Mr. Hawkshaw became an Associate of the Institution, he was requested by the Directors of the Manchester, Bury, and Bolton Canal navigation and railway to take charge of their works, and of the completion of the railway, which was at that time, from various causes, only about one-half finished. Completed under his superintendence, the railway was opened for public traffic towards the end of 1838, and Mr. Hawkshaw, on the 7th of August, was transferred to full Member.

In the same year Mr. Hawkshaw was called upon by the Directors of the Great Western Railway to report, in conjunction with Nicholas Wood, on the desirability or otherwise of maintaining the broad gauge on the Great Western Railway system.

His report was adverse to the maintenance of the broad gauge, chiefy on the ground of the inconvenience it would occasion in the future extension of railways. Although his advice was not followed at the time, subsequent events have fully proved the soundness of his views. These remained unaltered throughout his life, and he gave expression to them on many subsequent occasions when questions of break of gauge arose ; notably in 1872 and 1873, when the Indian Government adopted a resolution to alter the gauge of the Indian Railways. A reference to the discussion on Mr. Thornton’s Paper will show how the whole weight of engineering opinion was in agreement with Mr. Hawkshaw, and against a break of gauge, scarcely any engineers of note supporting the official view.

Soon after the completion of the Manchester, Bolton, and Bury Railway in 1838, the canal, which was only adapted for the passage of narrow boats, 7 feet wide, of shallow draught of water, was deepened and widened so as to admit of boats of 14 feet beam, drawing 4.5 feet of water.

In 1844 Mr. Hawkshaw became the Consulting Engineer to the Manchester, Bury, and Rossendale Company, formed for the construction of a railway into Rossendale, and which was afterwards expanded into the East Lancashire Railway Company.

In the following year, 1845, he became Chief Engineer of the Manchester and Leeds Railway Company, which was the nucleus of the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, incorporated under an Act of Parliament passed in 1847. Mr. Hawkshaw held the post of Consulting Engineer to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company until he retired from practice in December, 1888. During his earlier connections with that Company he constructed the Manchester and Bolton, the Liverpool, Ashton, and Stalybridge, the West Riding Union, the Sheffield, Barnsley, and Wakefield, the Liverpool and Bury Extension, and other Railways connected with the Manchester and Leeds line, which now constitute part of the Lancashire and Yorkshire system.

The difficult nature of the district through which some of these railways pass, made it desirable to adopt steeper gradients than had hitherto been attempted or worked. When the West Riding Union Railway was under discussion, a contest took place on the question of gradients in which Mr. Hawkshaw was opposed to Robert Stephenson, a contest which equalled in severity and importance that on the question of the gauges. Mr. Hawkshaw clearly proved in face of much opposition, the practicability of introducing steeper gradients, and the advantage of doing so even when, by taking a more circuitous course, easier inclines could be secured.

On the Oldham branch (1839) there was an incline of 1 in 27, which was worked by rope traction until 1853. The Hunts Bank incline (1839) was 1 in 47, and on the West Riding Union Railway (1847) there was an incline of 1 in 50. The soundness of the views advocated by Mr. Hawkshaw on the question of steeper gradients is now generally admitted, and their recognition has led to the rapid extension of railways in all parts of the world.

Amongst some of the important works designed by Mr. Hawkshaw in the Lancashire and Yorkshire district may be mentioned the Lockwood Viaduct, a stone structure of fine proportions. On one occasion, at a time when two important viaducts, the Denby Dale and Holmfirth, were about to be begun, the masons struck. Mr. Hawkshaw at once prepared designs for timber structures, which were completed without delay. These viaducts were rebuilt of stone in 1877; when this was done it was calculated that the new structures were wholly paid for by the saving in interest due to the smaller capital expended in the first instance when the change was made from stone to timber. The Liverpool and Bury and Wigan viaducts were also of timber.

In 1850 Mr. Hawkshaw removed from Manchester to 33 Great George Street, Westminster, where he remained until the close of his professional career; at first alone, and from 1870 in partnership with his son, J. C. Hawkshaw, and his former chief assistant, Harrison Hayter. In 1873 he received the honour of knighthood.

During thirty-eight years professional practice in London he was constantly employed in designing and superintending engineering works, and in reporting and advising as to their practicability, not only in this country, but in many other parts of the world. His practice was not confined to any special branch of professional work. During that time he was in constant request as a witness before Parliamentary Committees, and as an arbitrator in important cases. He was twice appointed sole Royal Commissioner, and served on more than one Committee appointed by the Government.

In dealing with his professional career between 1850 and 1888, it will be more convenient to set forth his more important work, not in order of time, but to classify it under the following heads : -railways, tunnels, viaducts and bridges, canals, harbours, forts, docks, water-works, town drainage, land drainage, river improvements, floods prevention, Royal Commissions, Committees appointed by Government Departments, arbitration.

His connection with the railways of Lancashire and Yorkshire began in 1830, and from 1836 to 1888, a period of fifty-two years, he was continuously chief or consulting engineer for the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway system. During that time he was consulted by the Company as to every important work; he supported and defended their Bills before Parliamentary Committees, and opposed those of other companies which were antagonistic to the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company’s interests.

Sir John Hawkshaw constructed the Charing Cross and Cannon Street railways, now an integral part of the South Eastern Railway, of which system he was consulting engineer from 1861 to 1881. Probably the 3 miles of the Charing Cross Railway are the most costly in existence, including as they do two large bridges over the Thames, and two first class terminal stations.

He constructed the Riga and Dunaburg and the Dunaburg and Witepsk Railways in Russia between the years 1858 and 1867. During that time he frequently visited the works. On his first visit to Riga, before the works were begun, he posted from Riga to Witepsk and back, arranging his stages so that the ground passed over by night in going was traversed by day on the return journey. In 1871, at the request of Messrs. Baring’s, he reported on the Moscow and Koursk Railway, after the line had been inspected by Mr. Hayter and Mr. S. C. Hawkshaw.

The East London Railway, which connects the railways south of the Thames with those on the north side by means of the elder Brunel’s Thames Tunnel, was also his work. It presented unusual difficulties, passing as it does beneath Shadwell basin, the London Docks, and at a considerable depth beneath the brick viaduct of the Blackwall Railway. The brick tunnel under this basin was built in a cofferdam. By an agreement with the Dock Company this dam could only be made to extend half way across the basin at one time, and be just of sufficient width to admit of the brickwork being built within it. When one half of the tunnel was completed the dam had to be removed before the other half could be begun. The difficulty of effecting a junction between the old work and the new beneath the dock bottom, which consisted of Thames gravel, can be well imagined.

In conjunction with Mr. J. Wolfe Barry, he was engineer to the Joint Committee of the Inner Circle Completion Railway, by which the District Railway at the Mansion House was connected with the Metropolitan Railway at Aldgate, a most complicated and troublesome work.

He constructed the Staines and Wokingham Railway in the years 1853-57, including the bridge across the Thames at Staines. He was consulting engineer for the Mauritius railways, begun in 1862, and for railways in Jamaica.

In India he was consulting engineer for the Madras Railway from 1857 to 1888, and to the Eastern Bengal Railway until it was taken over by the Indian Government. He also constructed the West of India Portuguese Railway from Mormugao up the Ghats to the British frontier.

Owing to the hilly nature of the country traversed by the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway the works carried out by Sir John Hawkshaw for that line included many tunnels, but the one with which his name will be always associated is that made by the Great Western Railway Company under the Severn. It is 4.3 miles long, of which distance 2.25 miles are under the tidal estuary of the Severn, where there is a rise of tide of 40 feet, so that the tunnel may be truly called submarine. The difficulties encountered in constructing it have been ably described in a book written by the late T. A. Walker, the contractor.

Sir John Hawkshaw was engineer in conjunction with Sir James Brunlees to the original Channel Tunnel Co from the year 1872, in which it was incorporated, until the year 1886, when it ceased to exist as an independent company. For many years previously he had been carrying on independent investigations to satisfy himself that it was reasonably probable that a tunnel could be made beneath the sea to connect the railways of England with those of France.

In 1865 he employed Mr. Hartzinck Day, a skilful geologist, with a knowledge also of surveying, to examine the Cretaceous strata on both coasts, and to trace, as far as possible, their course beneath the channel. In the years 1865 and 1866 he employed Mr. H. M. Brunel to make a marine survey of the channel, and to ascertain as far as possible the nature of the strata forming the bed of the channel. Mr. Brunel’s survey showed that the Cretaceous strata were exposed in the bed of the channel, and that the outcrop of the beds could be traced beneath the sea from shore to shore. To ascertain the depth of the chalk near Dover and Calais, Mr. Hawkshaw had deep borings made. Mr. Brassey and Mr. Wythes, who both took great interest in these investigations, shared the expense of this costly operation with him. By 1867 he had obtained such practical information as was necessary, and had solved the Channel Tunnel question, in so far as that could be done without actually carrying on the work.

The investigations carried out afterwards by French engineers, and still later by the Company promoted by the South Eastern Railway Company, have done no more than confirm Mr. Hawkshaw’s investigations. At first he looked upon the Channel Tunnel question from a purely engineering point of view, but in later years, when he had considered it as a national question, he came to the conclusion that it was more advantageous that this country should maintain its insular condition than that it should have direct railway connection with the continent, and having formed that opinion he declined to take any further part in advocating such a tunnel.

Some of the viaducts on the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway have already been mentioned, as also the Charing Cross and the Cannon Street bridges, and the bridge over the Thames at Stakes.

Mr. Hawkshaw likewise designed the South Bridge at Kingston-on- Hull, which was a large opening bridge at the time it was constructed.

He also constructed the Londonderry Bridge in Ireland (1862 to 1864), the Nerbudda Bridge in India, which is nearly 1 mile long, and many less important ones elsewhere. In conjunction with Mr. W. H. Barlow he completed the Clifton Suspension Bridge, adapting the chains removed from Brunel’s Hungerford Bridge over the Thames, when it was pulled down to make way for the Charing Cross railway bridge, to the piers built by Brunel at Clifton, which had remained unfinished from 1843 until 1861.

In early life Mr. Hawkshaw was connected with some canal navigations, as the Bolton and Bury Canal already mentioned, but the importance of canals was then waning before the prominence assumed by railways in this country. Some few maintained their position-among others the Weaver Navigation, to which he was consulting Engineer for many years prior to his retirement.

In July, 1863, when Said Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt, was in England, he requested Mr. Hawkshaw to visit Egypt, and examine the site of the proposed Suez Ship Canal, and to report his opinion to the Government of Egypt. At the close of the year Mr. Hawkshaw went to Egypt, and while there spent twenty-seven days in examining the district to be traversed by the canal. Having thoroughly investigated the question he reported that there were no works on the canal presenting any unusual difficulties, and that no obstacles would be met with that would prevent the work when completed being maintained. This report decided the future of the Suez Canal, for Said Pasha had determined to stop the work if the report were unfavourable.

Mr. de Lesseps fully recognized at the time how much the enterprise which was to be associated with his name owed to Mr. Hawkshaw, as the following extract from Lord Houghton’s Life tends to show. Lord Houghton represented the Royal Geographical Society at the opening ceremony, and thus describes what took place :-

'When Mr. Hawkshaw landed at Port Said, M. de Lesseps took him by the hand, and presented him to the Engineers who were about him, and said, ‘This is the gentleman to whom I owe the canal,’ and it was literally true. At the time when the reputation of the canal was at its worst, when public opinion in Europe was growing against it, when money was the hardest to get, the Khedive asked for an English engineer who would give him a final opinion as to the practicability of the canal. He selected Mr. Hawkshaw, a man not only high in his profession, but of the most singular independence and simplicity of character. The Khedive told Mr. Hawkshaw that if he would report to him confidentially that the canal was impracticable he would take care that the works were brought to an end without injury to anybody. He reported that the canal was not only feasible, not only practicable, but that, to his mind, the main engineering difficulties which had been raised were not such, in any degree, as would authorise its abandonment; that he believed the canal could be made, and could be maintained at a moderate and reasonable expense. And therefore when M. de Lesseps presented Mr. Hawkshaw, as I saw him do, to the persons present at Port Said, he was thoroughly justified in saying, ‘It is to him that I mainly owe the accomplishment of this great enterprise.’ '

Subsequent events have proved the soundness of the opinions set forth in Mr. Hawkshaw’s report to Said Pasha, both as regards the completion of the canal and of its maintenance.

At the invitation of M. de Lesseps Sir John Hawkshaw went to Paris in 1879, sixteen years later, to be present at an International Congress on the question of an inter-oceanic ship canal across Central America. He made a short statement of his views on certain points at the meeting, as he at once saw what was and will always remain the great obstacle to making a canal on the Panama site, and which had apparently up to that time been overlooked by the promoters of the Panama Canal - the difficulty of dealing with the Chagres river. He showed that as no provision had been made for the waters of that river it would, when in flood, flow through the proposed tunnel for the canal (afterwards abandoned), and almost completely fill it, which was equivalent to saying that the canal as then designed was impracticable. He then proceeded to say that he saw no difficulty in working a ship canal with locks, provided a sufficient water-supply could be obtained at the summit level; but he publicly expressed no opinion as to the practicability of a canal on the Panama site ; as a matter of fact he did not believe it to be practicable at a reasonable cost. He took no further part in the Congress, and as he felt he could not support the project, he left before the conclusion of the meeting without giving any vote.

It is the more necessary to state what really took place at the Congress because M. de Lesseps in his autobiography has placed Sir John Hawkshaw’s name first among those who notified the decision of the Congress with respect to the proposed Panama Canal. For this he has no authority, and has stated what is contrary to the fact. Among the various proposals brought before the Congress, Sir John Hawkshaw was most favourably impressed by that for the Nicaragua route, recommended by Admiral Ammen and Mr. Menocal, representing the United States of North America.

In 1862 he was appointed Engineer to the Amsterdam Ship Canal, Mr. Dircks of Amsterdam being the Resident Engineer. Until the Manchester Ship Canal is complete, that from Amsterdam to the North Sea will rank second only to the Suez Canal. Its length is close on 16 miles, its depth 23 feet as compared with 26 feet, the depth of the Suez Canal, which however it exceeds in width, being 88 feet 7 inches at the bottom, against 72 feet, the bottom width of the Suez Canal. It comprised some important contingent works; the Zuyder Zee locks built out in the Zuyder Zee in a. temporary circular timber cofferdam, 525 feet diameter, on 10,000 bearing piles, the bottom consisting of mud for a great depth.

These locks were afterwards connected with the land by two banks or dams, together nearly a mile long, made on the same soft bottom, shutting out the water of the Zuyder Zee from the canal. Large locks were also made at Ymuiden in a deep cutting in the sand hills, and the entrance from the North Sea was protected by two breakwaters, each nearly a mile long, enclosing a large harbour. The pumping-machinery erected to maintain the water-surface of the canal at a prescribed level is on an extensive scale. He visited Holland frequently during the progress of the works, which were formally opened for traffic by the King of Holland on November lst, 1876.

In the year 1864 Mr. Hawkshaw was asked by Ismail Pasha, Viceroy of Egypt, to examine the first cataract of the Nile, and report as to the practicability of making it navigable. Early in the following year he sent Mr. Hayter, his son Mr. J. C. Hawkshaw, and the late Mr. Graham, the surveyor, to make a survey of the first cataract. On their return he reported that the canalization of the first cataract was practicable, and gave a plan for accomplishing it.

The Government Harbour of Refuge of Holyhead was begun in 1847, from the designs and under the superintendence of James Meadows Rendel. When he died in 1856 Mr. Hawkshaw was appointed Engineer-in-chief, and held that post for seventeen years, until the works were finished in the year 1873. The Prince of Wales then visited Holyhead, and formally declared the harbour to be completed.

He was frequently consulted as to other harbours in the United Kingdom, such as Alderney, Dover, Folkestone, Belfast, Aberdeen, Greenock, Wick, and many others.

In 1874, at, the request of the Emperor of Brazil, Sir John Hawkshaw visited some of the most important sites for harbours on the coast of Brazil from Maranhao on the north to Rio Grande do Sul on the south. In the following year he reported to the Brazilian Government, giving designs and estimates for the harbours of Maranhao, Pernambuco, Parahyba do Sul, Torres, Rio Grande do Sul, Rio Grande do Norte and Maceio; some of these are now being carried out.

In 1861 he was called upon by the War Office to design the foundations for the Spithead Forts, which were carried out under his superintendence in the years 1S61 to 1868.

He was Consulting Engineer to the Hull Dock Co for twenty-six years (1862 to l888), and designed and carried out important works at Kingston-upon-Hull. Among others an enlargement of the old Victoria Dock and the construction of a new one, the Albert Dock, opened by the Prince of Wales in 1869.

He constructed the South Dock for the East and West India Dock Co, also the Penarth Dock near Cardiff, the Fleetwood Dock, and the Maryport Dock, the Granville Dock at Dover, and he was frequently consulted by the Greenock Harbour Trust, and was often called in to advise on dock questions both at home and abroad. In 1885 he prepared designs for a system of docks for Buenos Ayres, and in 1887 he visited that city shortly after the works now in progress, had been begun.

In 1860 he was appointed sole Royal Commissioner to decide the important question of the water-supply of Dublin. His decision was given after hearing all the evidence that could be obtained on the subject, and the scheme he recommended, that originated by Mr. Hassard, for obtaining water from the Vartry, was afterwards carried out, and has proved of great benefit to the city. On a subsequent occasion he reported on a scheme, also by Mr. Hassard, for increasing the supply of water for the Dublin district from the Dodder. This work has been successfully carried out. He reported and advised on many other projects for supplying water to towns and districts both at home and abroad.

The Brighton intercepting sewer, 7 miles long, was constructed from his designs and under his supervision. He also drained the town of Cardiff, and reported on and gave designs for the improvement of the drainage of Dover, Torquay, Lowestoft, Norwich, and Ayr.

In 1874 Sir John Hawkshaw was appointed sole Royal Commissioner to inquire into the causes of pollution of the Clyde and its tributaries, and the best means of remedying the evils arising therefrom. In his report to Her Majesty, he recommended engineering works for dealing, not only with the sewage of ~Glasgow, but also of the adjoining towns of Paisley, Coatbridge, Airdrie, &c.

He was Consulting Engineer for the General Commissioners for drainage by the River Witham, and was also consulted by the Boston Harbour Trust, who were interested in the outfall of that river. The River Witham was widened, deepened, and improved under his advice, and important works were carried out in the adjoining fens. Among other works he erected the Lade Bank pumping-engines for the Fourth District, which proved a great success.

He was also Consulting Engineer to the Middle Level District in Norfolk. One of the most troublesome tasks which he was ever called upon to undertake was to remedy the disaster caused by the failure of the Middle Level outfall sluice at St. Germains. The sluice, originally designed by Mr. J. Walker and built in 1847, gave way on May 4th, 1862, and admitted the tidal waters of the Ouse into the drain, up and down which then flowed each tide with great velocity for a distance of 20 miles. In a few days the drain bank gave way and 6,000 acres of land were inundated. Mr. Hawkshaw at the time when this occurred was much engaged in Parliamentary Committee work, so that it was with difficulty he could find time for the necessary journeys to and from Lynn to inspect the remedial works which he recommended.

The tide was finally shut out by a dam of novel design, across which sixteen large siphons, 33 feet diameter, were laid, which fulfilled all the requirements of the drainage of the district for many years. The siphons still remain, but are no longer used, as the Commissioners built a new sluice by the side of them from his designs in the years 1876 to 1880.

He was called upon from time to time to advise as to the amelioration of British river-channels. He laid down river-lines for the Humber, and was consulted as to the channels in the entrance of the Clyde. Sir John Hawkshaw was engineer to the Thames Valley Drainage Commissioners, and prepared designs and estimates for works to diminish the floods in their district, which includes Oxford. Some of these works have been carried out with good results.

After the disastrous floods which occurred at and near Lincoln in 1877, when part of the town was flooded and some of the fen lands laid under water for weeks, he was consulted, and after a careful survey of the district gave plans and estimates for remedial works.

He was consulted by the Norwich Municipal authorities after the floods which did much damage in that city in 1877, and also by the authorities of Burton-on-Trent when that town was flooded in 1879.

He served on more than one occasion on Committees appointed by Government Departments to investigate important questions. He was one of a Committee of five members appointed by the War Office in 1868 to enquire into the construction, condition and cost of the fortifications erected and in course of erection. During this enquiry the Committee personally examined the whole of the works. He was also one of the Committee appointed by the Board of Trade in 1880 to consider the question of Wind-Pressure on Railway Structures.

By an Act of Parliament passed in the year 1868 to enable the Postmaster-General to purchase the electric telegraphs, the Marquis of Salisbury, and failing him Mr. Hawkshaw, was appointed arbitrator to distribute the purchase money among the shareholders of the different Companies in such proportion as he should award and determine after due consideration. As Lord Salisbury did not accept the post, this important duty devolved on Mr. Hawkshaw, who divided the large sum in question among the various shareholders.

His professional engagements left no time for literary work other than the many reports he was called upon to write. In 1838, after his return from Venezuela, he published in one volume a short account of his experiences in that country. This work shows that he was a good observer taking interest in questions of natural science, especially in those relating to geology. He became a Fellow of the Geological Society of London in the same year (1838). The sixth volume of the Transactions of that Society contains some papers by him. In 1843 he wrote a Paper entitled, 'Some Observations on the present state of Geological Enquiry as to the Origin of Coal,' published in Sturgeon’s Annals of Philosophy, 1843. He was also a Fellow of the Manchester Geological Society. In 1855 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society and was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

He was President of The Institution of Civil Engineers in 1862-63, and of the British Association in 1875. He was for twenty-six years an officer of the Engineer and Railway Transport Volunteers, and was the Lieut.-Colonel Commandant from the year 1878 until his death.

Political life had no strong attraction for him, no one who knew him could imagine him as a party man. Nevertheless he was persuaded in 1863 to offer himself as a candidate for Andover in the Liberal interest, but he was not successful.

In 1864 he bought the estate of Colonel Pinney at Lyme Regis in Dorsetshire, and made arrangements to offer himself as the Liberal candidate for the borough at the general election in 1865. Being advised only a few days before the election that he was disqualified by his holding a Government appointment, his son took his place and lost the election by nine votes. He was always a liberal in the true sense of the word, and so in due course became a Liberal Unionist.

Like all Yorkshiremen he was not without some love of sport. For many years he had a moor in Scotland. In earlier days, before the luxurious lodges of the present day had come into existence, he shared a room in a black bothy in Aberdeenshire with his old friend William Dunlop, a director of the Edinburgh, Perth and Dundee Railway. Later on he rented Inverkroskie Lodge in Perthshire for some years.

In 1865 he bought the estate of Hollycombe in Sussex, and there continued to enjoy covert shooting until within two years of his death.

He was never happier than when out for a day visiting some of his professional works during their progress, for he had a true love of his work and was little influenced by questions of pecuniary gain. His common sense was remarkable. This was apparent not only in his reports and in the work which he carried out, but by the kind of work with which he allowed his name to be connected.

His firmness of character often stood him in good stead. He did not give his support to any project until he had carefully and honestly considered it, and when he had once made up his mind, and felt sure that his decision was correct, no cross-examination could make him waver in the least degree. As a witness before Parliamentary Committees and other tribunals he has not had many equals. Though reserved in private life he was of a kindly disposition, as many who have known him can bear witness. Sir John Hawkshaw was undoubtedly one of the greatest engineers of the century, and his membership of this Institution forms an important episode in the history of the society.

Throughout his long connection of fifty-five years he steadily supported it, freely contributing information of the most valuable and practical kind from the stores treasured up in the conduct of his large and successful practice. In the Name-Index to Vols. I. to LVIII. of the Proceedings, which correspond to the most active period of his career, there are no less than six closely printed pages referring to his contributions, whilst many of his works, such as the railway bridges over the Thames, the docks at the Isle of Dogs and Hull, Holyhead and Alderney Breakwaters, the Amsterdam Ship Canal, Brighton Main Drainage, &C., formed the subject of communications by his assistants, most of whom subsequently achieved positions in the front rank of the profession.

In 1850 Sir John Hawkshaw was made a Member of Council, being afterwards continuously re-elected until he reached the President’s chair in 1861. In 1864 he was one of the first to respond to the appeal made for a Benevolent Fund, subscribing S500 to that undertaking. Two years later, when the subject of rebuilding the premises in Great George Street became urgent, he subscribed £2,OOO to the fund proposed to be raised among the members for that purpose, and although the subscription list was afterwards cancelled, there is no doubt the money would have been cheerfully paid had it been needed. Lastly, by his will he left the society £500 free of legacy duty.

This distinguished engineer died on the 2nd of June, 1891, leaving a reputation such as few have achieved for variety of good and honest work. Certainly no man has done more to enhance the honour and reputation of the profession.


1891 Obituary [5]



1891 Obituary [6]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Leeds Mercury - Saturday 28 March 1835
  2. Yorkshire Gazette - Saturday 28 March 1835
  3. 1836 Institution of Civil Engineers
  4. 1891 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  5. The Engineer 1891/06/05
  6. Engineering 1891 Jan-Jun: Index: General Index