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William John Bird Clerke

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William John Bird Clerke (1838-1896)


1896 Obituary [1]

WILLIAM JOHN BIRD CLERKE, B.A., C.I.E., was born on the 3rd of February, 1838, at Lorigga, near Skibbereen, CO. Cork.

He was educated at Dr. Stackpoole’s school, Kingstown, and obtained a mathematical sizarship at Trinity College, Dublin, where he gained the engineering diploma and graduated B.A. in 1860. In the same year he became a pupil of the late Mr. W. R. Le Fanu, well known as a railway engineer in Ireland.

He was then employed for five years on the construction of the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford Railway, and subsequently on that of the Great Northern and Western of Ireland Railway for two years and a half.

The greater part of Mr. Clerke’s professional life was, however, spent in the service of the Public Works Department of the Government of India, which he entered in December, 1868. On arrival in Bombay he was sent into the Rajputana district to aid in famine relief operations there, and was subsequently employed in maturing the Taptee Irrigation scheme, which work he actually commenced. During the great famine of 1876-77 in the Bombay Presidency employment had to be found for large masses of unskilled and inexperienced workmen, and it was due in a great measure to Mr. Clerke’s powers of organization that under such conditions many large irrigation works of permanent utility were designed and constructed in the Poona district. Among these may be mentioned the tanks at Supa, Matoba, Sirsophal, Patus and Bhadalwadi, and the Mutha Canal extension.

In 1883 Mr. Clerke was in England on leave. On his return in the following year his services were placed at the disposal of the Municipality of Bombay which had applied to the government for an officer to revise and report on Major Tulloch‘s Tansa project for the additional water-supply of the city.

In August, 1885, he submitted a report, with general plans and estimates, and in the following January the construction of the masonry dam at Tansa was commenced under his charge. The works, which were opened on the 31st of March, 1892, by the Marquis of Lansdowne, Viceroy of India, were described by Mr. Clerke in a Paper read at the Institution in the following year. In recognition of his share in this vast undertaking, Mr. Clerke was created a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire, while the Council of the Institution awarded him a Telford medal and premium for his Paper.

Mr. Clerke then returned to this country, leaving behind him a singularly high official reputation. In January, 1894, he was appointed an engineering inspector under the Local Government Board, and to the performance of the duties of this post he devoted the same conscientiousness and energy which had made him successful in India. But his career was unfortunately brought early to a close. He was attacked by a malignant disease of the throat and was called upon to decide between the risk of a lingering and painful death, or a dangerous operation with some chance of recovery. He chose the latter and faced the operation with a courage which won the admiration both of his friends and of the surgeons in attendance. Although it appeared successful, pneumonia supervened, and he died on the 13th of February, 1896, within forty-eight hours of the operation.

Mr. Clerke's ability as an engineer has been fully indicated by the foregoing notice. He hail decided views and was not easily induced to alter his convictions, although he always sought to express them in such a way as not to wound others. His industry and capacity, coupled with entire fairness, were in a great measure the cause of his success in undertakings when many subordinates had to be dealt with by the force of example. His genial and unselfish nature won friends for him wherever he went.

Mr. Clerke was elected a Member on the 2nd of May, 1871, and during his residence in London frequently attended the meetings of the Institution.


1896 Obituary [2]

WILLIAM JOHN BIRD CLERKE, C.I.E., died on February 13, 1896, at the age of fifty-eight. Mr. Clerke, who at the time of his death was an inspecting engineer under the Local Government Board, was educated at Trinity College, Dublin, where he graduated with distinction. After some years' work at his profession in Ireland he joined the Public Works Department under the Government of Bombay, and was employed for many years as an executive engineer in the Irrigation Department.

In the great famine of 1876-7 the engineers had to find employment for large masses of unskilled and inexperienced workmen, and it was due, ill a great measure, to Mr. Clerke's powers of organisation that under these conditions many large irrigation works of permanent utility were planned and completed in the Poona district. When the Bombay Municipality decided to settle the question of the water-supply of the city by the construction of a huge reservoir known as the Tansa Lake, he was appointed to carry out the work, with which his name will be permanently associated. The lake was formally inaugurated by the Viceroy of India in April 1892, Mr. Clerke being created a Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in recognition of his services. He then closed his career in the East, leaving behind him a singularly high official reputation. He esteemed himself fortunate in securing employment under the Local Government Board, instead of having, like the majority of retired Anglo-Indians, to rest in idleness.

He was a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1888.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1896 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  2. 1896 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries