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Francis Whishaw

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Francis Whishaw (1804-1856)

1842 Published 'Railways of Great Britain and Ireland (1842)'


1857 Obituary [1]

MR. FRANCIS WHISHAW, third son of the late Mr. John Whishaw, solicitor, was born on the 13th of July, 1804.

He received a sound education, and having displayed, whilst at school, peculiar aptitude for the mathematical and mechanical sciences, it was determined that he should adopt the profession of an Engineer.

He was accordingly articled to Mr. James Walker, M. Inst. C.E. During his pupilage, he was employed in the year 1824, in preparing plans and sections for a railway to be laid down on the Commercial Road, between London and Blackwall. Subsequently, however, a granite tramway was substituted, extending from the entrance of the West India Docks to the top of the Commercial Road. At this time he constructed a model of a flat arch springing from cast-iron plates, connected by wrought-iron ties, so as to counteract the outward thrust, and to facilitate the building of arches with a small rise, and to reduce the thickness of the superstructure. This system has since been extensively adopted in the construction of fire-proof floors.....

..... In 1835, in conjunction with Mr. T. L. Gooch, M. Inst. C.E., he acted as an Assistant Engineer, under Mr. R. Stephenson, MP., President, and was employed in preparing the estimates for the Manchester and Leeds Railway, and in arranging the requisite proceedings, in Parliament.

In 1836, he reported on the proposed Hertfordshire Grand Union Railway, which was to form a junction between the London and Birmingham and the Northern and Eastern Railways, and to give railway communication to the towns of Watford, St. Alban’s, Hatfield, Hertford, and Ware.

In the year 1837, Mr. Whishaw brought out his 'Analysis of (projected) Railways,' at which time, as the Preface sets forth, he had given seventeen years’ attention to engineering pursuits, and had made repeated surveys of the principal railways of Great Britain......

In 1841, he also published a Railway Map, on which he showed upwards of 1,600 miles of new lines, which he thought necessary to complete the railway system, in addition to about 1,700 miles of railway then open. Several of the proposed lines have since been executed......

In 1837, he invented the Hydraulic Telegraph, which attracted great public attention, and was favourably reported on by officers of the Government; but the introduction of the electric telegraph, which occurred at nearly the same time, prevented its being extensively used. The attention he paid to the subject of telegraphy, induced the consideration of arithmography, or the foundation of a code of signals, by means of the varied combination of numerals, which should be universal in its application ; each particular arrangement of figures being made to represent, the same word, or thing, in all languages. By this system he conceived, that greater expedition would be insured, and he commenced the preparation of a general arithmographical lexicon, but did not proceed very far with it.....

In November 1844, he publicly exhibited at the Society of Arts, the first specimens of Gutta Percha which came to this country. He pointed out, at the time, the applicability of that substance, as bands for driving machinery, in place of the ordinary leather bands, as well as the facilities it afforded for reproducing mouldings, cornices, and copies of works of art.

Subsequently, in 1846, he was engaged by the Electric Telegraph Company, under the presidency of Mr. J. L. Ricardo, M.P., to form the Signal-Clerk department, but he left the Company before any very material progress was made......

About this time he was appointed the Consulting Engineer to the Gutta Percha Company, and he suggested many valuable applications of that material, particularly endeavouring to render it useful for telegraphic purposes.....

His earthly career was suddenly terminated, on the 6th of October 1856, in the fifty-second year of his age......



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