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William Scamp

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William Scamp (1801-1872)


1873 Obituary [1]

MR. WILLIAM SCAMP was born on the 5th of June, 1801, at George-Ham, near Barnstaple, where his father carried on the business of a maltster, occupying and farming his own land, as well as being the owner of vessels trading from that port.

At the age of nine his father died; and the means of procuring an education befitting the ability then, though so early, developing itself was much interfered with. At twelve he had outstripped the knowledge of the local schoolmaster, particularly in geometry, astronomy, navigation, and land surveying, for each of which he showed a marked aptitude. The natural bent of his mind was, however, in the direction of engineering and architecture, and he applied himself with earnestness to the study of those subjects.

His first work was the Assembly Rooms at Ilfracombe, which was carried out under his personal supervision, his design having been selected in competition.

The qualities displayed by Mr. Scamp on that occasion procured him an appointment under Sir Jeffery Wyattville, then Mr. Wyatt, by whom, at the commencement of the restoration of Windsor Castle, he was selected to form one of the local establishment, from which most of the drawings for that large work emanated.

Here his industry, perseverance, and energy, united with an iron frame and a good constitution, enabled him, during the thirteen years the works were in progress, not only to promote the interests of his chief, but likewise to lay a foundation upon which to build in after-years a name and reputation for himself. It was no uncommon thing for him, after working all day in the office, to study the whole night, take a morning bath, have a pull on the Thames, and go back to the office again for another hard day's work.

On the approaching completion of Windsor Castle, he was appointed to the Works Department, Woolwich Dockyard, as assistant engineer to Captain Denison, R.E., Assoc. Inst.C.E. (afterwards Lieut.-Gen. Sir William Denison, K.C.B.), under whom many important works were brought to a successful issue.

While at Woolwich, Mr. Scamp introduced a vessel of novel design for agitating the mud in front of the dockyard at ebb tide. The mud was thus carried down the River Thames into deeper water, and many shoals were in this way removed at a trifling cost.

During this employment the long-felt necessity for dock accommodation at Malta being again brought into prominence, by the urgent want of means for repairing the English fleet in the Mediterranean, Mr. Scamp, among others, applied himself to the solution of the problem; and in the year 1841 he was sent to Malta with a party under Captain Brandreth, Director of Engineering Works to the Admiralty, to report upon the possibility of carrying out the project. After carefully inspecting the harbour and vicinity, he submitted designs, which were finally approved; and he was appointed to carry them into effect.

The foundation-stone of the dock was laid by Sir Patrick Stuart on the 28th of June, 1844, and the dock was opened on the 5th of September, 1848, when, for the first time, a British vessel of war was refitted at Malta for sea service. The execution of this work was attended with considerable engineering difficulties; but Mr. Scamp successfully overcame all obstacles, and so paved the way for making Malta, what it has eventually become, one of the chief naval stations in the world.

He likewise remodelled the establishment, by designing and constructing a new bakery, coal stores, water tanks, officers' quarters, as well as many other improvements. While at Malta, the establishment at Gibraltar was placed under his control, and the New Mole and other works were completed, convict labour being, at his suggestion, extensively employed for the purpose.

At this time, too, the Protestant church which was in course of erection at Malta, at the expense of the Dowager Queen Adelaide, showed such signs of settling down, part having actually given way, that immediate steps mere necessary to avert a calamity, and to save the large expenditure already incurred. In this threatened crisis Mr. Scamp's aid was specially requested, and he advised a mode of dealing with the foundations which resulted in the perfect security of the building, admitting not only of its being finished as nearly as possible according to the original plan, but also enabling a tower and spire (designed by him) to be added, which were not previously contemplated, This work was completed under his personal control, without the aid of contractors, and almost entirely by native labour.

In acknowledging this service, which was gratuitous on his part, Her Majesty was pleased to signify her approval, not only by a gracious letter of thanks, but by presenting to him, at Windsor Castle, on his return to England, a costly silver candelabrum, with the following inscription:- 'Presented by Her Majesty Queen Adelaide to W. Scamp, Esq., in grateful remembrance of his services in completing the Collegiate Church of St. Paul, at Malta. March 1st, 1845.'

Mr. Scamp was recalled from Malta in 1845 to assume the post of Chief Assistant to the Director of Admiralty Works; and in April, 1852, he was appointed Deputy Director of Engineering and Architectural Works. His chief duties consisted in visiting and organising the Works’ Department Staff, at the various naval establishments; and arranging for the efficient carrying out of the works designed at the central office at the Admiralty. To the excellent system of administration then initiated is mainly due the success which has attended the gigantic engineering works, since completed in those establishments, all over the empire.

The works with which Mr. Scamp has been connected as engineer on behalf of the Admiralty afford a memorial of a life of unceasing activity. The more important at Portsmouth, Devonport, Keyham, Chatham, Pembroke, and Woolwich, were designed to afford facilities for the construction and repair of the steam navy, then in embryo, and include a large dry dock at Keyham, two large dry docks at Devonport, with gates and apparatus, culvert wells, engine houses, &C., and several jetties, founded in deep water; and a new tunnel from Keyham to Devonport, connecting the two yards.

Among other improvements introduced by him, the air-chamber and sluice arrangements, for working the largest caissons in closing dock entrances, are the most remarkable; not only from their simplicity and efficiency, but also for their economy, Among the seven caissons now in use at Keyham, that closing the deep entrance to the lock, upon which Mr. Scamp bestowed especial care and attention, stands conspicuous.

At the close of the Russian war of 1853-56, Mr. Scamp designed a hauling-up yard, for the preservation of the gun and mortar boats, numbering upwards of one hundred, as it was found they were subject to rapid deterioration in the basins, besides occupying much valuable space. The locality selected was Haslar Lake, near Gosport; and in the course of two years the yard was ready for one hundred gun and mortar boats, The slip is in the form of a 'T', the stalk of the 'T' running down into the creek. In this stalk a hauling-up cradle receives the boat out of the water and lands it on another cradle, which runs along the top of the 'T', and delivers the boat, by an endless screw, on either side, to the shed.

In the year 1860 Mr. Scamp projected the extension of the Grand Harbour at Malta, by the addition of about ninety acres to the water space of the harbour, and the construction of the surrounding quay wall. This was one of the largest engineering works carried out in modern times in the island. During its progress he visited Malta several times, and had the satisfaction of seeing it successfully completed.

The crowning feat of Mr. Scamp's life was the part which he took in designing the important works, now in progress, for the extension of Portsmouth and Chatham Dockyards. For five or six years before bringing forward the plans it was his practice to rise at 4 A.M. and work at them till the usual time for going to the office.

Although Mr. Scamp has not lived to see the completion of these works, his name will be remembered in connection with them; and in the testimony which his existence bears to the skill of their designers his breadth of intellect and great genius will receive their full share of recognition.

Mr. Scamp was held in high estimation by his colleagues. In the year 1860 Colonel Greene, late Director of Admiralty Works, brought before the Board of Admiralty Mr. Scamp's claims for reward in these words:-

'And although the important services recently performed by Mr. Scamp would entitle him to every favour the Board could bestow, I will take wider ground, and base my recommendation on the services rendered by Mr. Scamp to the State during the fifteen years he has held the very arduous post of civil engineers to the Admiralty. During this interval no Admiralty work of my importance has been executed which has not received his most careful and constant attention. Many of the most considerable either originated with him or have been so entirely remodelled in accordance with his views as to become in fact his own. The present Admiralty establishments at Malta, Gibraltar, and Bermuda, are almost entirely projected by him. Deptford, Woolwich, Sheerness, Portsmouth, Devonport, and Pembroke, owe many of their best buildings to his professional talent. Keyham is almost entirely his own, from first to last. I feel I am not doing justice to Mr. Scamp in merely alluding to the establishments which owe so much to him, but it would be tedious to enumerate in detail the specific works in each. I may indeed say, after an experience of thirty-five years, I have never met so efficient a public servant combining in himself, as he does, first-rate attainments as a civil engineer and architect, a thorough acquaintance with the minutiae of every branch of the profession, complete knowledge of the difficult and intricate duties of surveyor and measurer, and an intimate acquaintance with the business of an accountant. All these unusual attainments he has, during the eleven years I have had the pleasure of working with him, brought to bear on his public duties at the Admiralty with an amount of energy, intelligence, and entire devotion to the service, seldom, if ever before, witnessed. I trust the Board will observe that I am not advocating the case of the Deputy Director of Works, but of Mr. Scamp, as a special and exceptional case. It is the work of the Crown to confer honorary distinction, as well as pecuniary rewards, for meritorious services; I beg very strongly to recommend Mr. Scamp for both. I know of no man better deserving their lordships’ favour, and any distinction her gracious Majesty may confer.'

Again, in August, 1867, Colonel (now Sir Andrew) Clarke, R.E., Assoc.Inst.C.E., when forwarding Mr. Scamp’s papers to the secretary to the Admiralty, wrote:-

'No one knows better than you, sir, the important and valuable service this gentleman has, during a professional career of half a century, rendered the sovereign and the country, nor could language of mine in recapitulating those services place them before you more clearly than that used by the late Director of Works in his Minutes of 9th December, 1858, and 20th November, 1860, attached to this letter, and in which I fully concur.'

Towards the close of the year 1867 Mr. Scamp retired from the public service. Having taken this step, the Board recommended the Treasury to allow him full pay; and in the letter accompanying the announcement that this had been conceded, they acknowledged in handsome terms the service he had rendered to the State.

After Mr. Scamp’s retirement, his health, which had previously begun to show signs of giving way, completely failed; to the last, however, he employed his mind upon questions of large engineering interest; and, before his death, he had prepared a report and elaborate plans, for the reclamation of land in Morecambe Bay, and for the improvement of Lancaster Harbour as a mercantile port, which he believed might be made to rival Liverpool, if not, by reason of its natural advantages, even to surpass it.

On the 13th of January, 1872, after a week’s illness, he died from congestion of the lungs.

He was upright, straightforward, and outspoken; no courtier, nor subtle diplomatist, seeking his own advancement. His motto was 'duty.' He acted up to it himself, he expected others to do the same. He was devotedly attached to his wife and children; no self-sacrifice seemed too great for their good; and it was only when their health demanded it, that he absented himself from public duties.

The loss of both his sons, each having attained the age of manhood, was a severe blow to him; but his unswerving sense of duty enabled him to work on steadfastly and manfully in the face of these afflictions.

He died at the age of seventy, after a life faithfully and uprightly devoted to the public service.

Mr. Scamp was elected a Member of the Institution on the 6th of March, 1849, and for many years he attended the evening meetings; but latterly professional duties seldom permitted his doing so.


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