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Robert Mullineux Walmsley

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Dr. Robert Mullineux Walmsley (1854-1924), of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute.


1924 Obituary [1]

ROBERT MULLINEUX WALMSLEY, D.Sc, F.R.S.E., who was elected an Associate of the Institution in 1884 and a Member in 1890, died on the 15th June, 1924, as the result of a street accident which occurred two days previously and for which no one was to blame.

He was a pioneer in the vast fields of electrical enterprise which were opened up during the eighties of last century, but was chiefly a distinguished educationist who sought to weld the industries with the higher training institutions and university technical colleges. This desire for unification of the whole structure of technical industry was perhaps reflected in the "sandwich system" of training at the Northampton Engineering College in Clerkenwell and in the affiliation of the College to the University of London.

Certainly he did much to eliminate the false distinction between "theory" and "practice" and to dignify the term "Academic" - too often used with indulgent contempt. His ruling passions were the Northampton Institute, of which he was principal for nearly 30 years, and the University of London, but his interest was extended to widely differing stages and types of education.

Dr. Walmsley was born near Liverpool, where he received his early education.

He took his London B.Sc. degree in 1882 and, after a short period of teaching experience, became the first senior demonstrator in the electrical department of the Finsbury Technical College under Prof. Ayrton. Continuing under Prof. Silvanus Thompson he took his doctorate in 1886 and in the following year became principal of the Sindh Arts College of Bombay University, where he advised the Government on various educational matters.

In 1888 he became senior mathematical lecturer under Prof. Henrici at the City and Guilds Engineering College, and from 1890 to 1895 was the first professor of electrical engineering at the Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh.

In 1895 he was appointed the first principal of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute and with characteristic energy and enthusiasm began the immense task of building up from small beginnings one of London's greatest technical institutes.

He was deeply interested in the progress of technical optics and was chairman of important optical bodies. Space does not permit a detailed account of his manifold educational activities. In connection with his work in the University of London, he was chairman of numerous senatorial committees of the University Extension Board, of the Board of Studies in Electrical Engineering, and of the Board of Examiners, the culmination being his appointment as Chairman of Convocation.

His distinctively electrical work began in his Edinburgh days when he was consulting engineer for the electric lighting of several important Scottish buildings. His writings include "The Electric Current" (1894) and "Electricity in the Service of Man," which began as a revision of Dr. Urbanitzky's book and was transformed, expanded and reissued in numerous editions until in 1904 it was completely rewritten and became his own work.

In the same year he read before the Institution a paper on "Transatlantic Engineering Schools," the fruit of study during three months spent in Canada and the United States at the instance of the Governing Body of the Northampton Institute. An earlier paper which appeared in the Journal dealt with .the electrical features of the Edinburgh International Exhibition, 1890. He also collaborated with Mr. C. E. Larard in a paper on "Engineering Colleges and the War " for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

As a man Dr. Walmsley's outstanding characteristics were an extraordinary capacity for work; a geniality and humour which kept him a boy at heart, even to the end of his 70 years; a gift of astute diplomacy, most valuable in controversial or administrative affairs, and a kindliness which glowed with unexpected warmth when his imagination was wakened to anxieties or sorrows among those with whom he came into contact. He loved music, of which he had a wide knowledge, and was ever ready to hear or to tell a good joke. Many may see his character in a new light when they realize that his father's premature death left him with eight younger brothers and sisters to bring up. The distinction won by many of them shows his success, but to such strenuous beginnings may be traced the extreme austerity and self-sacrifice of his devotion to the great technical institute which he served so long. Students and others who hold him in affectionate remembrance must feel, as they stand within the walls of the "Northampton," the applicability of Wren's epitaph in St. Paul's Cathedral:- "Si monumentum requiris circumspice."


1924 Obituary [2]

"The Northampton Polytechnic Institute has suffered a severe loss by the death, as the result of a street accident, of Dr. Robert Mullineux Walmsley, which occurred on Sundat last at the Royal Northern Hospital, Holloway. On Friday evening last Dr. Walmsley was walking to his home in the north of London, when he was knocked sown by a car. He was taken to the hospital, where an operation was performed, but he died two days later without having recovered consciousness.

Robert M. Walmsley received his early education in Liverpool, where he passed through Queen's College. In 1879 he matrictulated at London University, taking his degree of Doctor of Science seven years later..." [more].


1924 Obituary [3]

ROBERT MIILLINEUX WALMSLEY, D.Sc., F.R.S.E., died as a result of a street accident on Friday, June 13. Confused by traffic, he was struck by a slow-moving car and, excepting that no one was to blame and that unconsciousness was instantaneous and continuous until his death, it is unnecessary to enter into further details as to the manner of his going from amongst us.

Dr. Walmsley was a man of phenomenal energy and vigour, and remained active and alert to the end of his seventy years. He began life in Liverpool, where he received his early education, though his B.Sc., taken in 1882, was a London degree. After various work, including assistance to Professor Perry at the Horological Institute, Dr. Walmsley became the first Senior Demonstrator at the Finsbury Technical College and worked successively under Professors Ayrton and Silvanus Thompson. Between his Finsbury appointment in 1883 and his acceptance of the Principalship of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute in Clerkenwell, he took his Doctorate, was Principal of the Sindh Arts College, where he advised the Indian Government on technical education, and subsequently became the first Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at the Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh.

The great technical institute, known familiarly as "The Northampton," is, of course, his life-work, and its Engineering Day College and Optical Department, like its crowded evening classes and active social side, stand out with such prominence that their success need not be indicated. His other great interest was the University of London, in which he occupied the distinguished position of Chairman of Convocation after many years of yeoman service on numerous committees and in such branches of its activities as the University Extension Board, of which he was Chairman. From 1905 he was a member of the Senate, but his educational activities wept outside the 488 Obituary

University, and the list of committees, schools, and educational associations in which he played a vigorous and often commanding part would be somewhat formidable. He was an Original Member of the Institute of Metals and a keen supporter of its work. Dr. Walmsley became a Liveryman of the Worshipful Company of Spectacle Makers in 1894, and was Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Optical Convention in 1912. The Optical Department of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute was turned to highly practical account under him during the war, and he was, throughout, greatly interested in the development of Technical Optics in England. His "Electricity in the Service of Man," beginning as a translation of Urbanitzky's book, underwent successive transformation and enlargement until it assumed independent scope and magnitude and became his own work, passing through numerous editions.

Dr. Walmsley will be remembered chiefly, however, as Principal of "The Northampton," which grew from its inception to its present fame under his guidance, and for the high position which he reached in the counsels of the University of the world's greatest city.— R. P. H. G.


1924 Obituary[4]

"THE LATE DR. R. M. WALMSLEY.

A figure very well known in connection with engineering education has been removed by the death of Dr. Robert Mullineux Walmsley, Principal of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute, John-street, Clerkenwell, London, E.C. 1. Dr. Walmsley died last Sunday as the result of a street accident, being knocked down by a car as he was walking to his home on Friday evening. He suffered from concussion and a broken ankle, and was taken to the Royal Northern Hospital. An operation was performed on Saturday, but he died the next morning without regaining consciousness.

Dr. Walmsley, who was born near Liverpool, had been connected with technical education during practically the whole of his working life. He was educated at a private school and at Queen’s College, Liverpool, and matriculated at the University of London in 1879. He obtained his B.Sc. in 1882 and his D.Sc. in 1886.

During his professional career Dr. Walmsley was first engaged in connection with secondary education, and later as a technical assistant to Professors Ayrton and Perry. He was appointed Senior Demonstrator in Electrical Engineering at the Finsbury Technical College in 1883. In 1887 he went to India as Principal of the Sind Arts College of the University of Bombay, but returned to England the following year, and after spending a year as a member of the staff of the City and Guilds (Engineering) College, became First Professor of Electrical Engineering and Applied Physics at the Heriot-Watt College, Edinburgh. He retained this position for some five years, and in 1896 became Principal and Head of the Electrical Engineering Department of the Northampton Polytechnic Institute —a post he held until his death. Dr.' Walmsley was Chairman of Convocation and a Senator of the University of London, and had held many similar positions. He was for 15 years Chairman of the University Extension Board, and was Chairman of the Council of the Association of Technical Institutions in 1909, Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Optical Convention in 1912. He had been a member of council of the Royal Aeronautical Society of Great Britain, and was a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers and a Fellow of the Institute of Physics.

In addition to his educational activities Dr. Walmsley did some consulting work, and his name was familiar to a very wide circle by some of his published work, particularly his well-known “ Electricity in the Service of Man.” This was based on Dr. Urbantizsky’s book of the same name, the second edition of which Dr. Walmsley partly revised and extended. He later, in 1904, entirely re-wrote and greatly extended the book, which since has passed through many editions."


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