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John Milroy

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John Milroy (c1806-1886)


1887 Obituary [1]

JOHN MILROY died on the 9th of October, 1886 at the age of eighty years. He was one of the remaining links between the present day and the early period of railway construction, in which the late Mr. Thomas Brassey played a prominent part. Mr. Milroy was associated with that eminent contractor in railway work so far back as in the construction of the line between Glasgow and Greenock, now belonging to the Caledonian Railway.

Mr. Milroy subsequently acted as agent for Mr. Brassey and for Messrs. Brassey and Mackenzie in the construction of lines of great extent on the Continent, the first of them being that between Paris and Rouen, of which Mr. Joseph Locke, Past-President Inst. C.E., was Engineer-in-Chief.

Mr. Milroy was also engaged in a similar capacity on the Rouen and Havre, the Nantes and Caen, and the Caen and Cherbourg, railways.

A few years later he likewise represented Mr. Brassey in the construction of a length of nearly 80 miles of the Great Northern Railway; and there were various other railway undertakings with which he was connected, not only in this country but also in France and Italy. Indeed, a considerable portion of his life was spent on the Continent, where he became exceedingly well known and greatly esteemed on account of his personal character.

From 1865 to 1871, Mr. Milroy represented Messrs. Brassey & Co., the contractors for the Glasgow City Union Railway, and the whole of this work, the cost of constructing which amounted to about £700,000, was carried out under his direction.

For the important bridge over the River Clyde in connection with this railway, it was necessary to sink several cylinders through a bed of fine sand to a depth of about 90 feet below high- water; and this first directed his attention to the subject of cylinder foundations. The engineers had contemplated using compressed air and excavating the material in the cylinders by hand but Mr. Milroy conceived the idea of sinking them by an excavator which could be used without taking out the water, and he proposed to try such an apparatus. This led to the first design of his patent excavator, and after a course of experiments, it was gradually adapted practically to the form in which it has since been used. The cylinders of the bridge were all successfully sunk, and the work established the great utility of the excavator for cylinder-sinking in loose and sandy materials. Mr. Milroy contributed to the Institution a Paper describing this work.

In the year 1870 he was consulted by the Engineers of the Clyde Trustees as to their proposals for building quay walls on cylinder foundations, and he suggested the adoption of brick cylinders, which was finally decided on; and in conjunction with Mr. Brassey he undertook contracts for the Plantation and Mavisbank Quays. In the former of these works the superstructure was built on foundation piers which were formed of successive rings of brickwork. In the construction of Mavisbank Quay, a marked improvement was made in the character of the subaqueous pier foundations, which were formed of concrete, the piers being most securely bound together. The Milroy excavator was here used to excellent purpose, enabling the piers to sink to depths of 50 feet to 60 feet, or 70 feet. These works are fully described in a Paper presented to the Institution by Mr. Milroy in 1873.

The various works which Mr. Milroy carried out in the Glasgow district, including those for which he was sole contractor, cost nearly S1,500,000. After retiring from active life, he passed his remaining years on the estate of Torsonce, Midlothian, which he acquired in the year 1879, and which he occupied himself in improving and beautifying. He had been in failing health for some months previous to his death.

Apart from his special knowledge of subaqueous foundations, Mr. Milroy possessed a very sound judgment as to all kinds of contractor’s work. He had great insight into the cost, and most suitable methods of carrying out engineering operations, and his wide and varied experience, combined with a complete knowledge of practical details, enabled him to detect at a glance any symptom of waste or of unnecessary expense. His method of conducting work was honourable, straightforward, and judicious ; his manner courteous and conciliatory, which, combined with great shrewdness and tact, enabled him frequently to smooth over difficulties that with less judicious handling might have occasioned serious disputes and complications.

Mr. Milroy was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 6th of May, 1868. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and, though of a retiring disposition, took great interest in all that tended to promote the welfare of his fellow men.


1886 Obituary[2]

THE LATE MR. JOHN MILROY.

The death has just been announced of Mr. John Milroy, Assoc. Inst. C.E.,one of the remaining links between the present and the great days of railway construction in which the late Mr. Thomas Brassey played a prominent part. Mr. Milroy died at his residence, Torsonce House, Stow, near Edinburgh. For the past two years he had been in failing health, and ten days before his decease he was seized with a shock of paralysis, from the effects of which be never recovered. Mr. Milroy was very early associated with Mr. Brassey in railway work, so far back, indeed, as the year 1840, in the construction of the first line between Glasgow and Greenock, now belonging to the Caledonian Railway Co, and on which he was a sub-contractor. The most serious portion of that contract was the cutting of the well-known Bishopton Tunnel, which was carried almost entirely through a dense tough whinstone. Mr. Milroy subsequently acted as agent for Mr. Brassey and for Messrs. Brassey and Mackenzie in the construction of lines of railway of great extent on the Continent, the first of them being the Paris and Rouen Railway, with the late Mr. Joseph Locke as the engineer-ih-chief. He was also engaged in the same capacity on the Rouen and Havre, the Nantes and Caen, and the Caen and Cherbourg railways. A few years later Mr. Milroy likewise served Mr. Brassey as his agent in the construction of a great stretch— well-nigh eighty miles—of the Great Northern Railway ; and there were various other railway undertakings with which he was connected, not only in this country, but also in France and Italy ; indeed, a considerable portion of his life was spent on the Continent, where he became exceedingly well known and greatly esteemed on account of his personal character. About a quarter of a century ago Mr. Milroy settled down in his native country, in order to take charge of some large works in which he was interested, along with the eminent firm with whom he had been already associated for about twenty years. The chief of those works was the construction of the City of Glasgow Union Railway, from the plans of Mr. (now Sir) John Fowler. It included some difficult pieces of constructional work to connect the Glasgow and South-Western Railway on the south of the Clyde with the North British system of railways on the north side. There was also a very important iron girder bridge across the Clyde, together with the Sighthill Railway and the Harbour Railway running past Pollokshields and under a public roadway, a canal, and two other lines of railway. While engaged in sinking the cylinders for the viaduct over the Clyde, Mr. Milroy brought into use a new excavator of his own invention, which subsequently did much excellent service in the construction of subaqueous works. While in and about Glasgow the deceased was induced to take two important contracts on his own account, two pieces of work involved in the extension of the harbour of Glasgow, namely, Plantation and Mavisbank Quays. In the former of these works the superstructure was built on foundation piers which were formed of successive rings of brickwork, according to the plans of Mr. James Deas, engineer to the Clyde Trust. In the construction of Mavis-bank Quay, a marked improvement was made in the character of the subaqueous pier foundations, which were formed of concrete, the piers being most securely bound together. The Milroy excavator was here used to excellent purpose, enabling the piers to sink to depths of 50 ft. to 60 ft., or 70 ft. In these harbour works Mr. Milroy was closely associated with Mr. Deas, and he had as his right-hand man Mr. George A. Waghorn, who also saw much service under Mr. Brassey’s firm. The various works which he carried out in the Glasgow district, including those for which he was the sole contractor, cost nearly 1} millions sterling.

After having retired from active life, Mr. Milroy passed his remaining years on the estate of Torsonce, which he acquired in the year 1879, and on which he occupied his time in making considerable improvements by building, roadmaking, &c. He was of a most retiring disposition, and at his death he was eighty years of age."


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Sources of Information

  1. 1887 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  2. Engineering 1886/10/22