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Thomas Duncan

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Thomas Duncan (1804-1868)

1862 of 44 West Derby Street, Liverpool. Developed a water meter.



1870 Obituary [1]

MR. THOMAS DUNCAN was born on the 4th of December, 1804, in the city of Perth, where his father carried on the business of a builder and contractor.

After having served a regular apprenticeship as a practical mason under his father, he was engaged at the bridge of Perth, and on the works of the Leeds and Bradford canal; he was then, for two years and a half, one of the assistant engineers on the Hull and Selby railway, where his constructive talent and aptitude for mastering difficulties attracted the attention of the late Mr. James Walker (Past President Inst. C.E.). During the next two years and a half he was employed by Messrs. Walker and Burges to superintend, as resident Engineer, the construction of lighthouses at Hunstanton, in Norfolk, and at Great Fern (the subsequent scene of Grace Darling’s famous exploit), and at Langstanes, in Northumberland.

The deficiency in the supply of water for extinguishing fires, and for other public purposes, and the occurrence of a series of great conflagrations in 1840, raised an adverse feeling in the town against the water companies, and induced the Commissioners of Highways to seek for parliamentary powers to draw water from the docks or river, or to obtain a supply from the red sandstone for the extinguishing fires, supplying bath, watering streets, and other public purposes.

They obtained the powers they sought in the session of 1843. The late Mr. James Simpson, Past President Inst. C.E., was the engineer entrusted with the works, and he, having witnessed the skill displayed by Mr. Duncan in carrying out the various works referred to, induced him to become his resident engineer in Liverpool.

In the summer of 1844 these works were commenced by the sinking of a well and working shaft at Green-lane, and constructing a spacious reservoir at Kensington, and were successfully completed under Mr. Duncan's care about the close of 1846.

In April, 1847, the Corporation appointed him assistant to Mr. Newlands (M. Inst. C.E.), Engineer for the borough under the Liverpool Sanatory Act of 1846.

The Corporation had obtained powers in 1846 to purchase the works of the existing Water Companies, and to construct an extensive system of artificial lakes to collect the rainfall of the neighbourhood of Rivington Pike, and to bring it to Liverpool, a distance of twenty-four miles, by gravitation, a scheme of which Mr. Hawksley, Vice-President Inst. C.E., was the engineer.

Under these powers the works of the Bootle and Harrington Companies, and of the Highway Board, passed into the hands of the corporation, and were temporarily managed by Mr. Scott and by Mr. Newlands; but in 1850 Mr. Duncan was appointed manager of all the waterworks of the borough.

The carrying out of the Rivington Pike scheme, under the Act of 1846, was strongly opposed by a large party of the inhabitants, who believed that an adequate supply of water could be obtained at a much less cost from the red sandstone of the district. This opposition gave rise to a long delay and a memorable controversy as to the relative merits of obtaining the supply of water from the sandstone on the spot, or of deriving it from surface gatherings elsewhere; at length the whole question was referred to the Mr. Robert Stephenson, who, in 1S50, issued a report which decided the Corporation to carry out Mr. Hawksley's scheme.

The works were let in five contracts, and were carried out under the immediate superintendence of Mr. Duncan, who, in 1855, at the request of the water committee, successfully completed the formation of filter beds and the construction of two very large reservoirs, which one of the contractors failed to perform.

When, in 1858 Mr. Hawksley retired from the position of Engineer-in- Chief, on the completion of his original design, Mr. Duncan was placed in sole charge of all the water-works, at a competent salary, which was subsequently increased. In the interim, several extensions and improvements, derived from experience, were designed and carried out by Mr. Duncan, in the appliances for supplying half a million of people in Liverpool and its suburbs with water.

Among these may be named the reservoir at Roddlesworth, another at Prescot, besides important alterations in the construction and working of the great filter beds at Harwich. When the tenders for the Roddlesworth reservoir were opened by the water committee, it was found that they were much in excess of the estimates made by Mr. Duncan, who was thereupon requested to undertake the supervision of the erection, by which a saving of several thousand pounds was effected.

Of the works in the town, he designed and constructed the reservoir at Toxteth Park, the reservoir at Aubrey street, Everton, begun in 1853, with its surface and town tanks the latter a striking architectural feature, novel in conception, and combining beauty and utility. The main object of this construction is to obtain a high-pressure service in all parts of the town, and it is said to have been one of the chief means, combined with an active fire brigade, of saving Liverpool from those disastrous conflagrations which formerly, at frequent intervals, ravaged the neighbourhood of the docks and warehouses.

The extension of the works at Green-lane, the construction of the great reservoir at Woolton, in 1864, and of the new pumping station at Dudlow lane, and also one at Bootle, were likewise due to Mr. Duncan.

During the whole of the time that Mr. Duncan was an officer of the Corporation of Liverpool, he devoted himself to his work with an energy, a single-mindedness, and an ability which could not be surpassed. He was esteemed as much for his social qualities, his probity, and his kindness of heart, as for his intimate practical knowledge of all the details of his profession, and for his scientific acquirements,-qualities which, combined with a clear and vigorous intellect, were eminently shown in the works produced from his designs, or executed under his superintendence, and in the numerous special reports which he was called upon from time to time to furnish to the Corporation of Liverpool.

Mr. Duncan’s connection with the Institution of Civil Engineers dates from the 6th of June, 1848, when he was elected an Associate. He was transferred to the class of Members on the 26th of January, 1858, having in the interim furnished an original communication, descriptive of the Liverpool Corporation Water-works, which was read in the session 1852-53, and for which a Telford Medal was awarded.

His decease occurred on the 3rd of December, 1868, after a protracted illness of four months, brought on by hard work, and within one day of attaining his sixty-fifth year.

His remains were interred in the Smithdown-lane cemetery, in the presence of a numerous assemblage of sorrowing friends, who by this last sad act testified t.heir respect for the memory of the deceased, and the high esteem in which he had been held both in public and in private life.


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