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Robert Thom

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Robert Thom (1774-c1847)

1831 Robert Thom of Rothesay, Isle of Man, Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1835 Planned and supervised the scheme to bring water to Paisley from the south of the town, having made careful experiments over 3 years to ascertain the amount of water available; he awarded one-fourth of the potential supply to the bleach fields as compensation.


1848 Obituary [2]

Mr. Robert Thom was born at Tarbolton, in Ayrshire, in the year 1774.

His youth was spent in agricultural employments on his father’s farm; but the winter months, as well as any other hours that could be gained, were devoted to the cultivation of his mind, and he thus acquired a good sound education.

He then, under the instructions of an elder brother, became an expert joiner, or 'wright,' at which trade he worked at Glasgow, whither he removed, in the hope of advancing in life.

He then (about the year 1794) turned his attention to cotton-spinning, which branch of manufacture was at that time rising into importance. Although the days were occupied in laborious employment, the evenings were devoted to attending the University lectures on mathematics, &C., and to receiving private instruction from some of the most eminent professors of the period; and he so distinguished himself, that when Mr. Lothian, Professor of Mathematics, emigrated to America, he presented Mr. Thom with his MS. papers and the notes of his lectures.

After some time, the direction of the cotton mills at Pollockshaws was offered to him, and although the consequent duties fully employed him, he found time to pursue his favourite studies, and he investigated and controverted some of the speculative views then introduced by Count Rumford.

From Pollockshaws, Mr. Thom removed to the cotton mills at Blackburn, where he acted as the managing partner until 1817, when he became interested in, and took the direction of, the spinning mills at Rothesay, in the Island of Bute.

Here was executed his first attempt at the collection of a supply of water, in reservoirs, against the dry season, which previously had always stopped the works. This he accomplished by forming an extensive system of drains, which conveyed the superabundant moisture, from the surrounding land, into the loch, there to be stored until it was required. The self-acting sluices were also used here, and in addition to the advantages to the works, the whole district was benefited by the improved system of drainage he had introduced. The result surpassed the most sanguine expectations of the ingenious and persevering projector, and naturally directed his mind to those practical hydraulic studies which have since rendered Mr. Thom so well known among Civil Engineers.

His great work at Shawswater, near Greenock, is so well known, as to need only passing mention; but it must ever remain a model of bold conception and careful construction, well worthy of imitation.

The system of combining the production of water-power for driving machinery, with the supply of water for the public and domestic wants of large towns, was, in this case, as successfully executed as it was boldly conceived, and in the numerous public works of the same kind, for which he either gave advice, or of which he superintended the execution, he extended and perfected the details of his first plans.

In the year 1840, his connexion with the Rothesay Mills ceased, and he retired to his estate at Ascog, with the intention of passing the evening of his days in comparative repose; but he was induced to lend his advice and assistance, in combining and executing plans for the supply of water to several towns in the United Kingdom, and also to consider many foreign schemes which were submitted to him.

In all these works he adhered to the gravitation principle, and used, with success, the large filters described in the pamphlet on the Shaws-water. In the execution of the embankments of the reservoirs, he adopted the plan of construction he had found so successful in forming the extensive reservoir near Greenock, upon the site of that which had burst some years previously, and had swept away a considerable portion of the eastern suburbs of that town. This system of construction was described by Mr. Thom at a meeting of the Institution, in June, 1843.

The barometrical observations made by Mr. Thom, the registers kept with scrupulous precision and attention, and the tables of the state of the atmosphere, the quantity of rain falling on a given extent of surface, the amount of evaporation, and other remarks on the same subjects, have already, in some degree, become known, and have been found very useful ; but as he has left a mass of MS. papers, partially arranged, with a view to the publication of a work 'On the supply of Water to Towns,' it is hoped, that the whole will be given to the world by his son, Mr. William Thom, who has been long engaged in carrying out the plans of his father.

Mr. Thom made several interesting communications to the Institution, and whenever he came to London was an assiduous attendant at the Meetings. His loss will be severely felt by a large circle, not only of domestic, but of professional and scientific friends, by whom his talents were duly estimated.



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