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British Industrial History

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Thomas Gray (1832-1890)

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1866 of H.M.C.S. Presented a paper on Legislation in regard to the construction and equipment of steamships to the Royal Society of Arts which was reprinted in The Engineer.


WE regret that the death is announced of Mr. Thomas Gray, C. B., of the Board of Trade, on Saturday, at Rokesley House, Stockwell, at the age of fifty-eight. Sir Thomas Farrer has sent to the Times the following appreciative notice of the career of his old colleague:

"By the death of Mr. Thomas Gray, of the Board of Trade, the public have lost an excellent servant and his colleagues an old and valued friend. The many presidents whom he has served - the Duke of Richmond, Lord Norton, the Speaker, Mr. Stanhope, Mr. Shaw-Lefevre, Mr. Chamberlain, and Mr. Mundella - would, I am sure, bear willing testimony to his merits. He was one of those men whose energy would have made a mark in any sphere of life, and who, if engaged in business, would probably have amassed a large fortune. He was the son of a poor man who gave his son something better than wealth - a strong character and a sound, practical education. He came into the Board of Trade about the year 1851 as a boy clerk at 15s. a week, was attached to the Marine Department, and won his spurs by making himself master of the business of surveying steamships, a branch of work to which he always remained much attached. There was something of genius in his rapid comprehension of mechanical problems, and his knowledge of ships and their machinery was as accurate and extensive as that of a shipbuilder or marine engineer. Few persons have such capacity as he had for making the technicalities of these subjects intelligible. The Duke of Richmond, when he came to the Board of Trade as President, used to say that after an hour with Mr. Gray he felt that he had been all the time in the inside of a ship. But he was not a mere specialist. In all subjects connected with the mercant1le marine and with the welfare of seamen, in the abolition of crimping, in the improvement of officers, in wreck inquiries, in the commercial code of signals, in all the legislation and administration arising of Mr. Plimsoll's move, he took a leading, helpful, and useful part. The rules of the road at sea he made almost his own, and his rhymes on that subject are as well-known among seafaring men as 'Rule Britannia,' and have been translated into all languages. Like all energetic men, he was fond of power, and sometimes overshot the mark; but he was always public spirited, loyal, and invaluable to those who trusted him. He was insatiable of work, and drew too largely on his powers. His holidays were work in another form - rough voyages, exposed to hardships in search of practical information to be used in his official duties. His place brought him into inevitable contact - not infrequently collision - with shipowners, sailors, and engineers. But I believe there are few among them who will not now join with me in recognising his devotion to the public service, his energy, and his very peculiar and unusual knowledge of the subjects with which he had to deal."

  • A Memorial Trust was subsequently named after him, initially managed by the Royal Society of Arts and subsequently by the Marine Society. Its objectives were "the advancement of the science of navigation and the scientific and educational interests of the British Mercantile Marine."

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