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Samuel Power

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Samuel Power (1814-1871)


1872 Obituary [1]

MR. SAMUEL POWER, M.A., was born at Waterford, in Ireland, on the 28th of July, 1814.

From childhood upwards he was remarkable for his love of study, but, being of a delicate frame of body, he had little taste for the usual rough sports of boyhood. Partly on this account and partly also on account of his serious disposition, his parents intended him for the Church; and at the age of fifteen he entered Trinity College, Dublin, where he greatly distinguished himself, gaining all the prizes and certificates in Classics, the gold medal for Greek, and a scholarship at the early age of between sixteen and seventeen, and the Divinity premium as well as the Hebrew prize in the Divinity course.

His younger brother being at that, time engaged in the study of medicine, Mr. Power was induced to join in those studies, pursued them with his accustomed ardour, graduated with high distinction both as a surgeon and a physician, and received flattering offers and promises of professional employment.

It appears, however, that these pursuits were not congenial to the young men; and the younger of the two, attracted by the accounts of the wonders of railway enterprise in America, and by watching the progress of the Dublin and Kingstown railway then in course of construction, first served an apprenticeship with Mr. Brassington, C.E., of Dublin, and next resolved to seek his fortune in the New World. In this he was joined by his elder brother, who, sharing his taste for engineering pursuits, gave up all the bright prospects of distinction at home; and the two brothers accordingly proceeded to America, against the advice and remonstrances of their friends and relations, - the elder of the two being at the time little more than twenty years of age.

It does not appear that they had any definite object in view, except love of travel and adventure, and a desire to see the wonders of the American continent, and to seek for engineering employment. They sailed for Quebec, ascended the river St. Lawrence, and following the chain of the Great Lakes, rested for a time in the Indian hunting ground of the Chippewas, near Lake Huron.

Having built a hunting lodge, they began to examine the country, specially with reference to a scheme for a canal to connect Lakes Simcoe and Caschichan with Lake Huron, by way of the river Severn. They went to explore the rapids and cascades of that wild and beautiful river without an Indian guide, and nearly lost their lives in the pursuit.

Mr. Power had in view at that time the publication of a work, on the resources of the country and on the social condition and prospects of settlers, which might be relied on, and in contravention of various untrustworthy descriptions then published. When navigating Lake Caschichan, in a small sailing boat, the brothers were overtaken by a hurricane or tornado, which nearly brought their earthly career to a close ; they were swept along by its irresistible force, and their boat was dashed to pieces on a small rocky island, where they nearly perished from cold and hunger.

They did, however, manage to make their escape in a small canoe on the cessation of the storm, and reached the hunting lodge in a very forlorn condition. The winter set in soon afterwards, and kept them ice-bound there for nearly seven months, Mr. Power employing himself mostly in study and writing, and his brother in hunting and trading with Indians to supply the larder. On one of these excursions he chanced to meet a former schoolfellow, then residing with an elder brother in the backwoods, and from the accidental meeting of these two boys resulted some years later Mr. Power’s first elevation to name and position in his future, and at that time unthought of profession of a Civil Engineer.

In the following spring, their means of remaining longer in the backwoods having been lost in the wreck of the boat, they travelled through the United States to New York by the Erie canal as soon as the navigation was opened. Mr. Power at once applied for a professorship in a preparatory college in that city, then vacant by the resignation of Mr. W. H. Herbert, the wellknown author. He first obtained the professorship of Greek and Latin, to which was added, in a few weeks, the professorship of chemistry in the same Institution.

In the meanwhile his brother, having submitted his architectural drawings and credentials to Major (afterwards Major-General) MacNeill, the eminent American engineer, obtained an appointment on the Long Island railroad, under Mr. Kirkwood.

It was at this time that Mr. Power resolved to abandon literary pursuits and to adopt the profession of an engineer. He accordingly resigned his appointment at the college, and after studying with his brother the details of surveying and drawing, had no difficulty in obtaining employment with Mr. Mifflin, on the Reading railroad, in Pennsylvania.

He subsequently joined the Long Island line, when Mr. Kirkwood was not slow to find out his abilities, and in the course of a year despatched the two brothers to the Charlestown, Louisville, and Cincinnati railroad, 500 miles in length, on which Mr. Power held an important position.

On the exploration and surveys of this line some time was spent, but want of funds prevented the prosecution of the works. No less than sixty engineers were employed under the command of Captain Williams, who was associated with Major MacNeill in this undertaking. Seeing no immediate prospect of advancement, and judging that the project would be abandoned for a time for the reason mentioned, Mr. Power and his brother sailed for New York, and then proceeded to Washington, where, through the influence of Captain Williams, they were appointed joint engineers of 50 miles of railway on the Eastern shore of Maryland, under Colonel Kearney. On their way thither, it occurred to the elder brother, that as one must be subordinate to the other on such a work, and as their previous relative positions might possibly be changed, which would be unpleasant, to propose that they should draw lots, the successful one to take the post of chief engineer and the other to return to Washington in quest of employment. This romantic idea was carried into effect; and the younger being successful, Mr. Power returned to Washington.

His next occupation was a survey for a canal of a difficult character under Colonel Abert, chief of the topographical corps. This being completed, he returned to New York, and was forthwith sent by Major Smith, the commandant of New York harbour and garrison, to open granite quarries at Frenchman’s Bay, on the northern coast of Maine, for the construction of a lighthouse at the entrance of New York harbour. Experiments were made with large granite blocks, but Major Smith’s designs were not carried out. Mr. Power was recalled, and found employment as assistant to Mr. Kirkwood on the Great Western railway in Massachusetts.

He was here joined by his brother, and giving up his appointment, took a contract with him for a portion of the railway, and completed it with great success.

One of the periodical financial crises had at this time occurred, and nearly all public works were suspended in the United States. So Mr. Power, looking round for employment, heard of the works then projected in Canada, through the young man whom the brothers had met near Lake Huron, and who was employed on a canal in that country. He wrote to Mr. Killaloe, the Engineer and President of the Board of Works for the Province, and in reply had the offer of an appointment on the Welland Canal, the great work round the falls of Niagara, which connects Lake Erie with Lake Ontario. His previous varied course of employment fitted him well for this kind of work, which was of an arduous and difficult nature, although almost prostrated at length by over exertion, both physical and mental, he had the satisfaction of completing this noble work, the locks of which have been considered among the best on the American continent.

On Mr. Killaloe’s retirement, Mr. Power resigned his situation as engineer of the Welland Canal and returned to England, with many flattering letters and testimonials.

On arriving in London he was appointed by Mr. Brunel, Resident Engineer to the Great Western Docks at Plymouth, which were conducted by him from their commencement until near final completion, when he was called on to embark for India. Mr. Brunel expressed much regret at parting with him, after having had the benefit of his assistance for nearly ten years, and wrote in the highest terms of his ability and integrity.

About this time, that is early in 1857, Mr. Turnbull, M.Inst.C.E., who was then the Chief Engineer of the East Indian railway in Bengal, being in want of efficient assistance for carrying on the Soane Bridge works, situated about 450 miles from Calcutta, made a requisition for a man of special skill and experience, as the works were of exceptional character and magnitude, and were making slow progress. In due time Mr. Power was sent out by Mr. Rendel, the company’s consulting engineer in London, and he arrived in Calcutta in June, 1857.

It happened that, in the preceding month, the great Indian mutiny had broken out at Meerut and Delhi; the traffic and general trade of the country were paralysed, and the railway works suspended on the greater part of the line. At the end of July the native regiments at Dinapore mutinied, marched to the river Soane, and destroyed all the preparatory works of the bridge, on their way to their memorable attack upon Arrah.

It was not until towards the end of 1857, when the country became more tranquil, that Mr. Power was placed in charge of the Soane Bridge. This great work consists of twenty-eight spans of 150 feet each on piers of brickwork, which piers stand upon brick cylinders or wells of 18 feet diameter, there being three wells to each pier. These wells are sunk more than 32 feet below the low water level, through the sandy bed of the river into a bed of stiff clay; the floods rise upwards of 20 feet, and the current is very rapid. As the bridge is nearly a mile in length, contains about a million and a half cubic feet of brickwork, and the site is unapproachable during the annual inundation and floods, much exertion was necessary, and good organization also, to keep pace with the rest of the works. This was effected by Mr. Power, with his able assistant, Mr. Schmidt, M. Inst. C.E., and matters were going on prosperously, when a second out break took place in July, 1858. Hoer Singh came down with his rebellious troops, and on their way to Jugdeespoor again almost destroyed the works, and brought all to a complete stop for the second time. This inroad was, however, soon suppressed, and work was resumed about the middle of November of the same year, 1858. The loss in time and money by these successive disasters was very heavy, as most of the preparatory works had to be recommenced.

Failing health, from over exertion and exposure, caused Mr. Power to return to England, and he sailed from Calcutta in August, 1860.

After a year’s absence he arrived again in India in restored health, but the works have been carried on satisfactorily with an approach to completion under Mr. Schmidt, he was not placed as before in exclusive charge of the Soane Bridge, but acted as general assistant on the whole line.

The Soane Bridge was completed in November, 1862, and public traffic was commenced by trains running over it on the 22nd of December of that year, when the line was opened to Benares, 541 miles from Calcutta.

On the retirement of Mr. Turnbull, in the year 1863, Mr. Power was appointed Chief Engineer. He fulfilled the duties of the situation for six years, to the entire satisfaction of the Railway Company, and not less so to that of the Government of India, with whom he was much in contact. Declining health compelled him then to retire, when a farewell address and a valuable service of plate were presented to him by the railway staff.

On reaching Europe in September, 1869, he settled in Coblenz, on the Rhine, with his wife, a daughter of Major Edward Sutherland, of the Royal Artillery, and their only child, a boy. He died there after a few days’ illness, on the 28th March, 1871, at the age of 57 years.

If Mr. Power’s bodily constitution had been equal to his mental powers, he would probably have reached even a higher position than that which he attained; but his great modesty, retiring disposition, and conscientiousness, made him relinquish professional matters that came before him, from a feeling of physical inequality, brought him home in 1869, and caused him to give up his distinguished position in India. He was a man of a most amiable disposition, kind and affectionate in private life, of singular equanimity of temper, and much esteemed by all who served under him, and also by all who were intimate with him.


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