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Joseph Colthurst

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Joseph Colthurst (1812-1882)

1841 Joseph Colthurst became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1883 Obituary [2]

JOSEPH COLTHURST, the fourth and youngest son of Major John Colthurst, of Dripsey Castle, Coachford, County Cork, was born on the 12th of August, 1812.

For three years (1830-33), Mr. Colthurst was employed on county works in the south of Ireland. He then went to London, and studied civil engineering and surveying at University College, during the session of 1833-34..

In the beginning of 1835 he entered the service of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel, and was for a short time one of the four assistant engineers (his contemporaries being Lewis D. B. Gordon, Andrew Crawford, and Thomas Page) on the Thames Tunnel, at the most critical period of the history of that notable work. He was in the tunnel at the time of the memorable irruption, when part of the shield was broken, and had to run for his life.

At these works he became acquainted with Sir Isambard's celebrated son, and a year afterwards, in 1836, left the tunnel to superintend, for Mr. I. K. Brunel, the construction of the Brent Viaduct, on the Great Western Railway, having charge also of the district between Hanwell and Iver. There was much difficulty in constructing the embankment across the valley of the Brent, arising from the nature of the ground. The bank was continually subsiding and forming small hills on each side of the line. Mr. Colthurst successfully carried out the plan of weighting these hills, so as to form a balance to resist the pressure of the cembankment, and the subsidence then ceased.

Subsequently he was transferred to the Didcot and Uffington section, fourteen miles, the works of which were completed under his direction.

About the year 1844 Mr. Colthurst became an assistant to his old associate on the Thames Tunnel works, Mr. Thomas Page, when he took part in the inquiries being carried on by the latter in reference to improved communication between England and Ireland, and in the opposition to the bill for the construction of the Birkenhead Docks. He was, also engaged with Mr. Page in the new survey of the Southampton and Dorchester railway, which led to the alteration of that line as originally laid out by Captain Moorsom, so as to pass by Brockenhurst, instead of interfering with the sylvan charms of Lyndhurst.

He was for one year Engineer-in-chief of the Brandling Junction Railway, and here his energy, zeal, and liveliness in resenting interference with his field-work, and in putting to flight an array of keepers, &C., got him into difficulties with the local magistrates, who locked him up, presumably until the date for depositing the plans was past ; but Colthurst took it all in good part, considering it as an excellent joke.

For three years prior to 1849 he was Resident Engineer on the Syston and Peterborough Railway, as well as being in private practice. The remainder of his professional career was occupied on railway work in Spain, Italy, Norway, and Sweden. He also, thus early, made surveys for a tunnel under the St. Gothard.

On the death of his brother Richard, Mr. Joseph Colthurst came into the family estates, and abandoning engineering, except as a recreation, took up his residence at Dripsey Castle, to devote himself to the ordinary life of a country gentleman. For more than thirty years he was thus enabled to indulge his love of outdoor sports shooting, fishing, and hunting-to which he was persistently devoted.

He took considerable interest in local affairs, and on the occasion of the fight between the rival schemes of the Cork and Macroom direct, and the Cork, Blarney, and Macroom railways, promoted a line known as the “Middle Line,” which, though not adopted, is said to have possessed more merit than either of its competitors.

Mr. Colthurst was connected with the Institution for more than forty years, having been elected a Graduate on the 22nd of June, 1841. He was transferred to the class of Members on the 12th of June, 1849. During the earlier part of his association with the Society, he took an active part in the proceedings, and frequently joined in the discussions. He contributed three Papers, viz., 'Experiments for determining the position of the neutral axis of rectangular beams of cast- and wrought-iron and wood, and also for ascertaining the relative amount of compression and . extension at their upper and under surfaces, when subjected to transverse strain' (Minutes of Proceedings, vol. i. [1841], p. 118) ; 'An account of some experiments to determine the force necessary to punch holes through plates of wrought-iron and copper' (vol. i. [1841], p. 60); and a 'Description of the method employed for repairing a chimney 120 feet high, at the cotton-mill of Messrs. Couper, Glasgow' (vol. iii., p. 223). For the first of these communications he received a Walker premium.

He devoted much time and study to the abstruse subject of the resistances encountered by bodies moving through fluids, and made an elaborate series of experiments with models to ascertain the influence of different forms of vessels; also, as to the retardation due to skin friction. The results of these experiments are appended to Mr. Phipps’s Paper on the same subject in the Minutes of Proceedings, vol. xxiii., p. 339, and are also contained in a separate pamphlet he had printed in 1863 bearing the title, ‘Experiments in a Running Stream on the Resistance of Floating Bodies'

Mr. Colthurst was a favourable specimen of the courteous, genial, vivacious Irish gentleman. Full of anecdote, and overflowing with fun and good-humour, he was deservedly popular among his associates. A man of considerable invention and resource, it is probable that had the necessity existed for using his powers to their full extent, he would have attained to considerable eminence in his profession.

He died on the 4th of October, 1882, at the age of seventy.



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