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William Stuart

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William Stuart (1773-1854)

1828 William Stuart, Plymouth Breakwater, Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1855 Obituary [2]

MR. WILLIAM STUART was born at North Leith, near Edinburgh, on the 5th of January 1773; his Father, who was engaged in the West India trade, dying when the subject of this memoir had only reached his sixth year, he became dependent upon his friends for his education, and by their aid, he continued at school, until he attained the age of fourteen years, when he was placed as an apprentice to a builder, in the south of Scotland, where he remained for about seven years, during which period he acquired a practical knowledge of masonry in all its departments.

At the termination of his apprenticeship he sought employment in various parts of Scotland, and spent the next four years in the practical part of his calling, sometimes executing work on his own account, and at other times for employers.

In the year 1798 he was engaged by Mr. Andrew Brocket, Contractor, of Glasgow, for whom he superintended the construction of all the locks built on the Crinan Canal, as well as numerous extensive works in Glasgow and in other places. Among these were the opening and working of stone quarries, the erection of public buildings, squares, &c. &C., and the erection of Nelson's Monument at Glasgow ; he was also employed upon the Firth of Clyde Navigation, Greenock Harbour, and other public works, during which period he became acquainted with Mr. John Paterson, the Resident Engineer at the Leith Docks.

In the early part of 1807 the late Mr. Rennie requested Mr. Paterson, who was then superintending for him the works at Leith, to look out for a person to superintend certain proposed works at Fraserburgh Harbour, of which he was the chief Engineer. This induced the introduction of Mr. Stuart to Mr. Rennie, and subsequently led to his appointment to me of the most important public works ever executed in this country.

On the 16th of March 1807, Mr. Rennie completed his arrangement with Mr. Stuart for his taking charge of the works at Fraserburgh Harbour; and, leaving Glasgow, he at once entered upon the task of superintending the construction of a new pier and other works, for which Mr. Rennie had prepared the plans and specifications. The quarries were first opened, and on the 1st of September 1807, the foundation stone of the pier was laid. There he was occupied until the completion of the works in August 1811, at a cost of £9,053. 5s. lld., part of which sum was advanced by the Commissioners of Highland Roads and Bridges. That circumstance led to the late Mr. Telford's visiting the works, in his capacity of Engineer to the Commissioners, and induced an acquaintance with Mr. Stuart, which, in after years, ripened into a high regard.

Meanwhile he was frequently engaged on various surveys for Mr. Rennie, Mr. Telford, and others, and in 1809 he made a report on the practicability of improving the harbour of Rosehearty, and in 1810 produced plans and reports, for Mr. Telford, of part of the coast of Buckie, where it was then proposed to construct a harbour.

On the 8th of August 1811, on the eve of his quitting Fraserburgh for London, a most gratifying resolution was passed at a meeting of the Town Council, stating that during the period of his residence at that place, engaged in building the New North Pier, he had paid the most unremitting attention to his task, and had finished the work, in a very complete and substantial manner, at an expense considerably under what it had been estimated to cost ; therefore the Town Council voted their thanks to Mr. Stuart for his attention to the duties of his employment, his zeal for the interest of his employers, and his uniform propriety of conduct during his residence in Fraserburgh; which resolution was accompanied by the presentation of a silver cup, with a suitable inscription;- a token of regard and esteem which he valued very highly.

After remaining about three months in London, he received, by the recommendation of Mr. Rennie, on the 3rd December 1811, the appointment from the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, to the Plymouth Breakwater, a great national undertaking then about to be commenced in Plymouth Sound, in accordance with a plan and report made by Mr. Rennie and Mr. Joseph Whidbey, in 1806, and which it was ultimately decided should be carried into execution.

Mr. Whidbey, who was a Master in the Navy, and in that capacity had sailed round the world with Vancouver, had been Master-Attendant at the Dockyards of Sheerness and Woolwich ; from his great nautical experience he had been associated with Mr. Rennie, in preparing the plans and reports for the Breakwater, and was appointed on the 2Sth October 1811 to be the Superintendent of the Breakwater Works. Mr. Stuart removed to Plymouth, in the month of December 1811, and entered upon the important duties, to which he devoted himself almost exclusively for the long period of forty-two years.

One of his first duties was to report on suitable limestone quarries from whence the stone necessary for the construction of the Breakwater might be obtained. He selected those at Oreston, which were procured from the Duke of Bedford, together with ground for the Breakwater offices and the working establishment on shore. The other preliminary works, such as the construction of wharfs, from whence the stone might be shipped; the basins, or docks for the vessels to lie in; the railways for the transmission of the stone to the water-side; the building of stone vessels, &C., were next attended to, and the quarries having been well opened, on, the 12th of August 1812, the first stone of this great work was dropped into the ocean, - the first of a series of nearly four million tons of stone deposited on the line of the Breakwater Works. The works were now prosecuted with vigour; and some interesting particulars of the work, furnished by Mr. Stuart, are given in vol. i. of the 'Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers for 1841,' page 160.

The decease of Mr. Rennie on the 4th October 1821 deprived Mr. Stuart of a good friend and kind patron, for whom he had always entertained the highest respect. On the sixth of the previous month Mr. Rennie had concurred in the report to the Admiralty, relative to the lighthouse, designed by him and proposed to be erected on the Breakwater, and that appears to have been his last act in connection with those works.

In the year 1822 some alterations in the original plan of the Breakwater being proposed, Messrs. Telford, Jessop, and George and John Rennie (the sons of the late Mr. Rennie) were consulted by the Admiralty, and in 1823 they visited the works.

Perhaps the most anxious period of Mr. Stuart’s connection with the Breakwater, was in November 1824, when a storm of unusual severity disturbed the upper part of the whole work. This led to Messrs. Chapman, Jessop, and Rennie being called in, and on that occasion Mr. (now Sir John) Rennie made a series of elaborate reports, which, with the concurrence of Messrs. Chapman and Jessop, were adopted by the Admiralty and ordered to be carried out.

On the 31st of March 1830. Mr, Whidbev (then at an advanced age) retired from the superintendence of the Breakwater on a pension of £1000 per annum, and went to reside at Taunton, where he died on the 9th October 1833, in the seventy-ninth year of his age. By the direction of the Lords of the Admiralty, Mr. Stuart was then ordered to take upon himself the management and superintendence of the work, which he accordingly did, and continued in charge up to the period of his decease.

Mr. Whidbey, before leaving his post, placed in Mr. Stuart’s hands the following certificate :-

'These are to certify, that my ever-to-be-lamented friend, the late Mr. John Rennie, who was so well acquainted with Mr. William Stuart’s professional abilities, joined with me, in requesting that the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty would appoint him to assist me in constructing the Breakwater, in Plymouth Sound, and that he was accordingly appointed on the 3rd December 1811.

'In retiring from the superintendence of the Breakwater, I feel great pleasure in acknowledging the unremitted zeal, alacrity, and professional ability of Mr. Stuart, from the above period to the date hereof, not only as regards his services as connected with the Breakwater, but also in conducting the works of the reservoir and pipes, as well as the pier at Staddon Point. Nearly twenty years’ experience of Mr. Stuart’s talent, as a Civil Engineer, enables me to say, that I could not have been more fortunate in meeting with one possessed of practical and scientific knowledge ; nor could I have desired one in whom I could better place confidence.

'In thus bearing testimony to Mr. Stuart’s conduct and abilities, I avail myself of the opportunity of expressing at once my gratification in delivering the charge of so important a work into his hands, and my conviction, that the choice made by their Lordships could not have devolved on one better qualified, in every respect, to conduct it to their satisfaction and the public advantage.'

In 1838 the works of the Breakwater at the west end suffered greatly from storms, on which occasion Mr. James Walker (M. Inst. C.E.) was called in by the Admiralty, to confer with Mr. Stuart, and to examine and report on the works. This he did, and continued henceforth to act as Consulting-Engineer of the Admiralty, in reference to those works. It was from the designs of Messrs Walker and Burges that, in 1841, the Breakwater Lighthouse was commenced, which was completed in 1844, and which, from its position and construction, has not been inaptly termed, 'The Modern Edystone.'

On the occasion of the lantern of the lighthouse being illuminated on the 1st of June 1844, the officers and men of the Breakwater presented Mr. Stuart with a silver salver suitably inscribed,- 'To mark the respect they entertained for one who had been so long connected with the Breakwater works.'

The Breakwater was practically completed during Mr. Stuart’s tenure of office, as the works recently in course of execution have been chiefly those repairs which, in a work of such magnitude, must always be expected to occur. The expenditure on the Breakwater works from their commencement, down to the time of Mr. Stuart’s decease, was £1,516,144, and the weight of stone deposited was 3,834,957 tons.

In 1841 Mr. Stuart read a short paper on the Plymouth Breakwater before the Mechanical Section of the British Association at its Annual Meeting held that year at Plymouth.

In 1844 he was examined before the Commissioners for the proposed Harbours of Refuge, and in 1851 he prepared, by the special order of the Admiralty, a Model of the Breakwater, which after being shown at the Exhibition of the Works of Industry of All Nations, in Hyde Park, in 1851, when a medal was awarded to him, was deposited in Somerset House.

Between 1811 and 1854 he was also called upon to report on and assist in many public works;- among which were the Government Reservoir and Pier at Staddon Heigts;- the Wharf Walls in H.M. Dockyard, Devonport, where the diving-bell was extensively used;- the Harbour-works at Brixham, Torquay, and Bude;- the Embankments and Sea-walls at Kitley;- the Sea-works at Mawes, for the Duke of Buckingham, &c., &c.

Mr. Stuart was an old Member of the Institution, having been ejected in May 1828; he always took great interest in its proceedings, contributing papers and attending the meetings, whenever he visited the metropolis.

In 1853 he co-operated with gentlemen in the formation of 'The Devon and Cornwall Society of Architects and Engineers' at Plymouth, of which he was elected the first President.

Mr. Stuart died at his residence, Woodside, Plymouth, on the 11th of January 1854 in his eighty-first year. Strenuous to the last in the performance of his duties, he was at his post, on the Breakwater works, only five days preceding his decease. His remains were followed to their last resting-place, in the Plymouth cemetery, by a large assembly of persons of all ranks, among whom, at their own particular desire, were the workmen of the Breakwater, anxious to testify their respect for one who had lived amongst them so long, for whom they had ever entertained the highest esteem and in whom they had reposed the utmost confidence.

Mr. Stuart’s death having been officially announced to the Admiralty, their Lordships made the following gratifying communication to the family, through Commodore Seymour, the Superintendent of H.M. Dockyard, Devonport :-

'Having reported to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty the decease of your much-respected husband, I have to express to you, by direction of their Lordships, their wish to record their sense of the long, faithful, and valuable services of the late Mr. William Stuart, ; and I have therefore the satisfaction of conveying to you their expression of the estimation in which he was held, and their sympathy with you in your loss, and may I request you will be good enough to communicate these sentiments to such other relatives of Mr. Stuart as may be on the spot.'

Mr. Stuart’s memory will be long cherished for the strict integrity, the unwavering piety, and the universal benevolence that distinguished his career.


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