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Lawrence Birks

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Lawrence Birks (1874-1924)


1925 Obituary [1]

LAWRENCE BIRKS was born in Adelaide, South Australia, on 19th May 1874, and was educated at the Prince Alfred College, Adelaide, and at the Adelaide University, where he took his B.Sc. degree in 1875 with triple honours, and in the following year won the Angas Engineering Scholarship which entitled him to three years' training in Great Britain. This period was spent at the University College, London, where he was in 1896 Senior Gilchrist Engineering Scholar, and in the workshops and testing departments of Messrs. Easton, Anderson and Goolden, of Erith, and of the Callendar Cable Co.

After spending some time as lecturer in electrical engineering at the Finsbury Technical College and at the Heriot Watt College, Edinburgh, he returned to Australia in 1900 and was appointed assistant engineer to the Sydney Electric Tramways.

In 1903 he became electrical engineer to the Christchurch City Council, New Zealand, in connexion with the first installation of electric power in that city, and later on he took up the duties of engineer and manager to the New Zealand Electrical Construction Co., a local organization formed for the purpose of constructing the Christchurch electric tramways.

On its completion Mr. Birks was appointed, in 1906, engineer-in-charge of public works at Rotorua.

In 1910 he became assistant to Mr. Evan Parry, chief electrical engineer to the New Zealand Government, and after carrying out much responsible preliminary work in connexion with the works at Lake Coleridge, under the Aid to Water Power Act, he was transferred to Christchurch in 1913 to supervise the construction of those important works and to manage the commercial side of the undertaking.

On the resignation of Mr. Parry in 1919, Mr. Birks was appointed to the position of Chief Electrical Engineer of the Public Works Department.

He died at Wellington, New Zealand, on 25th July 1924, at the age of fifty.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1912.


1924 Obituary [2]

LAWRENCE BIRKS, B.Sc, was educated at Prince Alfred College and at the University of Adelaide, where he obtained his B.Sc. degree with triple honours in 1895. In the following year he was awarded the Angas Engineering Scholarship, which entitled him to three years' training in Great Britain. This period was spent at University College, London, and in the workshops and test departments of Messrs. Easton, Anderson and Goolden, of Erith, and of Messrs. Callender's Cable Co.

He served for a time as lecturer in electrical engineering under Prof. Silvanus Thompson at Finsbury Technical College, and also as assistant professor of engineering at Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh.

In 1900 he returned to Adelaide, and, after one session as lecturer in electrical engineering at Adelaide University, was appointed assistant engineer to the Sydney electric tramways in connection with the reconstruction of Ultimo power house and the installation of high-tension underground feeders and substations.

In 1903 he was appointed city electrical engineer at Christchurch, N.Z., in connection with the first installation of electric power in that city, the power being derived from the destruction of refuse. In the following year he was appointed lecturer in electrical engineering at the Canterbury College, but after one session he took up the duties of engineer to the New Zealand Electrical Construction Co., a local company formed for the purpose of constructing the Christchurch electric tramways. On the completion of this work he was appointed engineer of Rotorua.

In 1910, at the passing of the Aid to Water Power Act, he became assistant to Mr. Evan Parry, chief electrical engineer for the Dominion and, after assisting in the design of, and specifications for, the Lake Coleridge works, was transferred to Christchurch in 1913 to supervise the construction of those works and to manage the commercial side of the undertaking.

On Mr. Parry's resignation in March 1919, Mr. Birks was appointed chief electrical engineer to the Public Works Department, when active steps were taken by the New Zealand Government to materialize a comprehensive scheme of power supply planned for the North Island.

The following works were carried out during his period of office, viz. the development of the Mangahai source with transmission lines to Palmerston, Wellington, Wairapa and Hawkes Bay. Preliminary works were carried out at Waikaremoana and Arapuni, and a contract placed for head works and plant for the latter source. During this period also the power-house plant at the Horahora Falls belonging to the Waihi Gold Mining Co. was taken over by the Government, extended and utilized for the supply and distribution in the Waikato district.

In April 1924, he left New Zealand to represent the Dominion at the World Power Conference in London, but on his arrival in Adelaide he was obliged to seek medical advice, as a result of which he immediately returned to New Zealand, where he died on the 25th July at Wellington.

His knowledge and experience of all matters pertaining to hydro-electric power development and of distribution systems as applied to the general supply of electricity were very extensive. His engineering achievements also were considerable and varied, and one of them deserves particular recognition: the result of his work in Canterbury was to demonstrate to the world at large the commercial possibility and the economic advantage to a State of a generous supply of electricity to every home, not only for light but for every purpose, including water-heating. In character he was energetic and resourceful, open-minded and generous. All his actions bore the impress of high ideals and his life, was an inspiration to all who were associated with him.

He joined the Institution as an Associate in 1896, was elected an Associate Member in 1899, and a Member in 1912. He was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, a member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers and a Member of Council of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers. He took an active part in the affairs of the New Zealand Institute, and was one of the sub-editors of the New Zealand Journal of Science and Technology.


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