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John Robinson McClean

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John Robinson McClean (1813-1873) of McClean and Stileman

1813 Born in Belfast.

1834 Studied at Glasgow University.

1839 John Robinson McClean of 7 Delahay Street, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1844 Was made a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers by transfer.

1847 Became a member of the Inst of Mech Engineers; of 17 Great George Street, Westminster

1864-66 President of Institution of Civil Engineers.

1873 July 13th. Died. Obituary in The Engineer.[2]


1874 Obituary [3]

JOHN ROBINSON McCLEAN, M.P., F.R.S., &tc., was born at Belfast, in the year 1813.

After receiving a good general education, he studied at the University of Glasgow, with the intention of qualifying himself for the profession of Civil Engineering.

About the year 1838 he entered the office of Walker and Burges, by whom his talents were soon duly appreciated. He was actively employed on some of the large works under their direction, particularly upon the improvement of the Birmingham Canal, where he exhibited great engineering talent and skill, as well as fertility of resource. But he more especially displayed qualities which gained many friends, who at a future period gave that effectual support which carried him forward in his successful career.

He subsequently acted for the firm as Resident Engineer on several important works, where, by attention and skill, he so distinguished himself, that Mr. Walker, desiring to retain his services, made him seemingly most advantageous offers; but, acting on the judicious advice of an attached friend, he determined to start on his own account in London, and at the end of a year found success was assured.

Mr. McClean’s professional engagements became eventually varied and extensive, as mill be apparent from a glance at the names of some of the enterprises with which he became connected. Among the earliest of his important works were the South Staffordshire railway and branches, followed by the Birmingham, Dudley, and Wolverhampton line, traversing Birmingham by a double tunnel. Then came the system of the Furness railways, of which he was the Engineer-in-chief. This led to the numerous great enterprises of the Barrow-in-Furness district, including the harbour, docks, and railways, with all which Mr. McClean maintained his connection as long as he continued to practise professionally. He was also interested in the iron and steel manufactures of the district.

In 1840 plans were invited by the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers for the complete drainage of both sides of the Thames. In answer to this, one hundred and sixteen designs were sent in, and among them one from Mr. McClean, which was designated by the Commissioners as 'the best conceived and most practicable schemes submitted, characterised by a well-devised system of intercepting sewers, in determining the situation and course of which a careful and elaborate study of the levels has been made.'

On two consecutive years Mr. McClean introduced into Parliament a well-considered scheme for supplying the metropolis with water, principally by gravitation, from Henley-on-Thames; and although the water companies were successful in their opposition to it, they were shortly afterwards obliged by Parliament to remove their pumping stations from London to above Teddington Lock, to improve the quality of the water supplied.

In the same year Mr. McClean took into partnership Mr. F. C. Stileman, M.Inst.C.E., who had been engaged with him as assistant in the construction of the South Staffordshire railway, the Birmingham, Dudley, and Wolverhampton railway, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal Reservoirs, and the South Staffordshire Waterworks, by which latter a very extensive district is supplied with mater from Lichfield.

In 1851 Mr. McClean received instructions from the late Emperor Napoleon III. to report upon the practicability of introducing in Paris the English system of public baths and washhouses. His advice was sufficiently favourable to induce the construction, at the private expense of the Emperor, of some extensive buildings and machines, in which he was assisted by the late John Manby, M. Inst. C.E., long resident in Paris.

About the years 1854 and 1855 Ferdinand de Lesseps repeatedly visited England, for the purpose of resuscitating the scheme of cutting through the Isthmus of Suez, and, by means of a canal, to give a direct communication for large vessels between the Mediterranean and the Red Sea, so as to facilitate the voyage to India and China.

The project had been examined in 1840 by Linant Bey and Mougel Bey, French Engineers in the Egyptian service, and then by M. Panlin Talabot, M. de Negrelli, and Robert Stephenson - the latter personally traversing the Isthmus - and, by the careful levelling and survey made under their direction by MM. Bourdaloue, Enfantin, and assistants, the identity of level of the two seas was established. This fact caused the abandonment at the time of the project, and induced the conviction that although the canal could be executed without difficulty, there were circumstances connected with it which would render the undertaking commercially unprofitable.

M. de Lesseps, however, with his usual indomitable energy, suggested the nomination of an International Commission, composed of some of the leading Engineers of England, France, Austria, Italy, Spain, and Holland, to visit Egypt, for the purpose of examining the localities, and of advising H.H. Said Pacha, then Viceroy of Egypt, on the project. M. de Lesseps sought aid in this country, when Mr. Rendel and Mr. McClean were nominated commissioners, and Charles Manby, the then Secretary of the Institution of Civil Engineers, was appointed one of the secretaries; but, from circumstances, Mr. McClean alone could proceed to Egypt at that time.

On the return to Europe of the Commissioners, it was resolved that the results of the local investigation should be reported upon by a scientific commission at Paris. This was attended by Mr. McClean and Mr. Manby, when, as the reports show, they both dissented from most of the conclusions of the majority.

Recent events have proved that the opinions formed by Mr. McClean, on his first visit to Egypt, as to the commercial prospects of the undertaking, were substantially correct.

In the course of his professional career Mr. McClean, among other works, became connected with the Birmingham Canal Navigation, the Bute Docks, the Cardiff Docks, the Alexandra Docks (Newport), the Surrey Commercial Docks, the Tottenham and Hampstead Junction railway, the Bristol and Portishead Pier and Railway, the Eastbourne Water and Sewerage Works, and many others.

He was also extensively consulted upon foreign works, and was Consulting Engineer of the system of railways in Galicia and Moldavia, for which the late Mr. Brassey was the contractor.

In 1861 he was appointed one of the Royal Commissioners for examining and reporting upon the numerous plans submitted for the Thames Embankment - a project to which he was always very favourable.

In 1862 and 1863 he again acted on Royal Commissions for the extension of the Thames Embankment; and in 1865 upon the Royal Commission appointed for the investigation of the Cattle Plague, upon which he expressed some sound original views. In the latter year he was also appointed one of the royal Commission on Railways.

On the decease of James Walker, in 1862, several Government appointments which became vacant were offered to and were accepted by Mr. McClean, who thus became the Engineer to the harbours of Dover, Alderney, and St. Catherine's, Jersey; with the Breakwater and the Shovel Rock Fort at Plymouth - most of which positions he held until the year 1868, when he retired from the active duties of the profession, on entering Parliament as Member for the Eastern Division of Staffordshire.

He had previously, in 1857, in conjunction with Mr. G. F. Ferguson, unsuccessfully contested Belfast against the present Lord Cairns and Mr. Richard Davison. Henceforth he took more leisure. He travelled much, visiting Egypt several times. At last he unfortunately determined to make a longer journey, to India, China, Australia, etc.; but whilst in India he received a sunstroke, which necessitated his return to England, and from the effects of which his health never completely recovered.

It should not be omitted to be mentioned that Mr. McClean took an active interest in ocean telegraphy, and was for some time Chairman of the Anglo-American Telegraph Co. He was a Fellow of the Royal, the Geological, the Astronomical, and other scientific societies.

Mr. McClean was elected a Graduate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 12th of February, 1830; in June 1844 he became a Member by transfer; in 1848 he was elected a Member of Council, in 1858 one of the Vice-Presidents, and in the years 1864 and 1865 he occupied the Presidential Chair. In his able inaugural address, which attracted considerable attention, he demonstrated very forcibly the direct bearing of Engineering work upon the general prosperity of the country. He was warmly attached to the Institution, and never omitted any opportunity of being useful to it, or of impressing upon the world the benefits which it was calculated to confer upon society. He also took great interest in the creation of the Benevolent Fund of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and employed his influence as President to secure the adoption of that admirable project.

For more than thirty years Mr. McClean occupied a prominent position in the profession of which he was an ornament, not only from his talents, but from his uniformly upright, conscientious conduct. His decease occurred at Stonehouse, Isle of Thanet, on the 13th of July, 1873. Esteemed as a public man and beloved as a friend, his loss was deplored by a wide circle, whilst there are many who will miss the kindly, generous acts so unostentatiously and so delicately performed by him.


1874 Obituary [4]

JOHN ROBINSON MCCLEAN, M.P., was born at Belfast on 21st March 1813, and educated at the Royal Academical Institution in that town; and in 1834 went to Glasgow University to study engineering.

In 1837 he entered the office of Messrs. Walker and Burges, Westminster, and was more or less connected with the various works undertaken by Mr. James Walker until 1844, when he established himself independently as a civil engineer; at the same time he became Engineer-in-chief of the Furness Railways, and was also connected with other principal public works in that district, including the Barrow harbour works and graving docks.

In 1849 he sent in competitive plans to the Metropolitan Commissioners of Sewers for the drainage of London on both sides of the Thames, and his scheme was pronounced by the Commissioners to be the best conceived and most practicable of those submitted.

In the same year he took into partnership Mr. F. C. Stileman, with whom he engaged in the construction of the South Staffordshire Railway, the Birmingham Wolverhampton and Dudley Railway, the Staffordshire and Worcestershire Canal reservoirs, and the South Staffordshire Water Works supplying water from Lichfield to a very extensive district.

He was also consulting engineer to numerous other public works and companies in this country and abroad; and in 1855 was invited to visit Egypt, and report upon the practicability of uniting the Mediterranean and the Red Sea by a ship canal, and upon the barrage of the Nile, and other works.

After the death of Mr. James Walker in 1862 he was appointed Government Engineer to the harbours of Dover, Alderney, and St. Catherine's, Jersey, and to the Plymouth breakwater and fort. For many years be was the sole lessee of the South Staffordshire Railway, and in that capacity took a very prominent part in developing the mineral and agricultural resources of the Cannock Chase district, in which he was a large holder of mining property.

He was President of the Institution of Civil Engineers for the years 1864 and 1865.

He was one of the Members of Parliament for East Staffordshire from 1868 to the time of his death, which took place on 13th July 1873, in the sixty-first year of his age, after an illness of several months.

He was a Member of this Institution from the commencement in 1847, and for some years also a member of the Council.


1873 Obituary [5]



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