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Joseph Gibbs (1798-1864)
1865 Obituary 
Joseph Gibbs was the youngest son of a mill-owner and manufacturer in Staffordshire, where he was born in the year 1798.
His uncle was mineral agent to the Duke of Devonshire, and among the mines of the Derbyshire hills Mr. Gibbs first, acquired a taste for engineering operations and geological research.
He then visited Holland, and was engaged to superintend some hydraulic works in the Dutch colonies; and he resided for some time at Demerara, Berbice, and other places in the West Indies.
On his return to England he associated himself with an excellent and ingenious mechanic, Mr. Smart, of Lambeth, and while with him, he superintended the erection of several extensive corn and saw mills in the neighbourhood of London.
He soon after completed and patented a series of inventions for sawing and cutting wood, metal, and stone; and he established some extensive works at Crayford Mills, in Kent, and also in London for their development.
Among the various mechanical inventions contained in these patents was that now well-known and used, called in Holtzapffel’s work, 'Gibbs’ elbow joint.' This invention is now applied in many ways in the construction of machine tools and other mechanical contrivances; it consists in giving to a cutting point revolving at a high velocity, the capability of being conducted in every direction, and any pattern can thus be engraved in copper plates, and statues in marble, in relief, and the round can thus be copied with mathematical accuracy. The chief purpose to which this series of ingenious inventions was applied practically, was to the construction of inlaid floors.
At Buckingham Palace, at Apsley House, at Windsor Castle, at the Duke of Northumberland’s residence, Sion House, and other places, floors were laid down composed of an infinite number of pieces of wood of every kind and shape, forming the most elaborate designs, each piece being cut out and made accurately to fit its fellow, and to be secured with a tongue, by this machinery; the surfacing and polishing only being done by hand. These floors are now in precisely the same state as when they were first laid.
For many years Mr. Gibbs was engaged in erecting machinery, &c., in England, Ireland, and Holland, for manufacturing purposes, and for lifting water. Having commenced his career in a Dutch colony, and associated with Dutch Engineers, his attention was early turned to the best method of draining the great lake called the Harlemmeer Meer; but some time elapsed before he could persuade the Dutch authorities that steam power was better than wind for the purpose of draining this inland sea. Eventually the Dutch Commissioners, after visiting the great pumping establishments of this country, arrived at the conclusion that Mr. Gibbs’s views were correct; and he and his partner, Arthur Deane, were commissioned by the Dutch Government to execute the work.
Engines of a novel and ingenious kind, specially adapted for the peculiarities of the undertaking, were constructed at the Harveys of Hayle foundry, Cornwall; and ingeniously overcoming great difficulties, the whole of the water of the Meer was lifted within the time stipulated. Commercially this work was a great success; the country was congratulated, and the Commissioners and Engineers were complimented in a speech from the throne, and the site of the Harlemmeer Meer is now one of the most fruitful and best cultivated portions of Holland.
Having constructed some mineral railways, and attempted on an extensive scale the scheme of running carriages, propelled by steam, on common roads, Mr. Gibbs turned his attention to the construction of passenger railways; among his first designs were the present Great Northern Railway, and a line from London to Brighton; for the first portion of the latter, as far as Croydon, his Company obtained a Bill, and he constructed the present line to that place.
He had surveyed one of the numerous competing lines to Brighton, but, after a severe parliamentary contest, the present line was adopted on the advice of Colonel Alderson. In order to avoid an expensive opposition before the Committees of the House, the Croydon Railway Company purchased the old Croydon Canal; and in the endeavours to use the land so obtained, great difficulties of locality were encountered, and a uselessly steep incline was surmounted, which might have been avoided by following the evident course of the Ravensbourne.
The Bill for the Great Northern Railway was thrown out on the second reading; some years later, Mr. Gibbs re-surveyed the line, but he was again unsuccessful. In 1844 the scheme was again brought forward, as the London and York Railway; eventually a Bill was obtained for it in a modified form, under that title, and was afterwards changed to the present, the original title of 1836.
Mr. Gibbs gave evidence before Parliamentary Committees upon nearly all important scientific inquiries, and he generally published his opinion upon them in extenso. He is also the author of an excellent book on the 'Cultivation of Cotton.' He was during his life a great traveller, having visited nearly all the countries of Europe, Asia Minor, Egypt, the East and West Indies, Australia, and New Zealand.
He made several interesting geological and other surveys, and throughout his professional career he took great interest in the manufacturing arts, with the theory and practice of which he was well acquainted, especially in reference to textile fibres, many processes and machines invented by him being now in use. He had a high appreciation of the beauties of Nature, and he was so good an artist, that had not his predilections been for engineering, he would probably have practised the art of painting as a profession.
He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers, as a Member, on the 6th April, 1852, and was a frequent attendant at the Meetings, taking a prominent and useful part in the discussions, when the expression of his opinions and the results of his practical experience, were always received with great respect, by all the leading Members of the profession, by whom he was regarded with feelings of esteem and confidence. He was a warm-hearted, kindly man, believing and trusting everybody, of unbounded generosity, which was too often imposed upon, to the ultimate injury of his own circumstances, and the prospects of his family.
His decease, after a long and painful illness, occurred on the 11th February, 1864, in the sixty-sixth year of his age; and his memory will long live among all those Members of the profession who came in contact with him.