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Alexander Brebner

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Alexander Brebner (1853-1903)

1903 Obituary [1]

ALEXANDER BREBNER, born in Edinburgh on the 24th December, 1853, was the eldest son of the late Mr. Alan Brebner, M. Inst. C.E.

He was educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, showing some proficiency in architectural drawing before be left it at the age of 14.

He spent the summers of 1867 to 1870 as a mason in dressing stones for Dhu Heartach Lighthouse and in fixing them in their places on the rock. During the intervening winters he attended engineering and science classes and laboratories at the University of Edinburgh. For some time at Earraid Island, where the stones for Dhu Heartach Lighthouse were prepared, he had as companion the late Robert Louis Stevenson, who has referred briefly to the circumstance in one of his books. Mr. Brebner also has left an unpublished fragment bearing on this and other meetings with the celebrated novelist.

From 1871 to 1874 he made acquaintance with engineering office work under J. and A. Leslie, of Edinburgh, chiefly in connection with waterworks. He was thereafter appointed to superintend the execution of waterworks for Dunbar and for Peterhead.

In 1875-76 he was employed under Thomas E. Harrison, Past-President, at the head offices of the North Eastern Railway Company in connection with designs of jetties and wharves for the Tyne and the Hartlepool Docks.

From 1876 to 1880 he was engaged for Mr. (now Sir) John Jackson on the construction of the Queen’s Dock, Glasgow, and during that period he also superintended, for Mr. Jackson, the execution of a fishing harbour, comprising concrete piers and excavation.

On the completion of the important work of the Queen’s Dock, he entered, in 1881, the employment of D. and T. Stevenson, of Edinburgh, in which firm his father was a partner. He remained with Messrs. Stevenson for nine years, during which he made himself generally useful, in the preparation of designs for works for the improvement of rivers and estuaries, harbour works of various classes and lighthouse works, acting as Resident Engineer on works carried out by contract, or as Executive Engineer on works carried out without a contractor.

In 1889 Mr. Brebner was selected by the late Sir James Brunlees, Past-President, and Mr. McKerrow to take charge of surveys of the Harbour of Rio de Janeiro, and to report on the best method of carrying out a scheme of docks and warehouses for the improvement of the port, together with railway connections.

From 1892 till 1895 he practised on his own account in Edinburgh. He always had a strong literary bent, and during slack periods about this time he wrote “A Little History of China and a Chinese Story,” which was published by Fisher Unwin in 1895.

At the end of 1895 Mr. Brebner was appointed Director of Public Works in the Crown Colony of Lagos. But after a few months’ duty there he was compelled by an attack of malarial fever to return home on leave in May, 1896.

In the following year he was instructed by Messrs. Coode, Son and Matthews to carry out, under Mr, Heenan, Engineer-in-Chief to the Port Elizabeth Harbour Board, an important and intricate marine engineering survey of Algoa Bay. In this task he seems to have been in his element and to have enjoyed the work. He would refer gleefully to the little incident of the boat he was taking soundings from capsizing and his small party being none the worse for the ducking.

In his report op this survey he gave an account of sand travel on sea coasts under and on the fringe of tidal waters, which he held to be in some respects novel. Whilst on this Cape work he obtained leave of absence in order to visit the site of the Wonderfontein scheme of water-supply for Johannesburg and a few smaller neighbouring communities, and to report professionally upon it. After going carefully over the ground he reported in favour of the scheme already approved by a Government Commission, suggesting only a modified estimate. This work he did on behalf of a London company.

By midsummer of 1899 he had completed satisfactorily the marine survey of Algoa Bay and returned to London.

Mr. Brebner died suddenly at his. residence in Edinburgh, on the 15th April, 1903. He was a careful, methodical worker, and, though strict, always just in his dealings with those under him, by whom he was greatly respected.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 3rd February, 1891.

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