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Richard Beamish

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Richard Beamish (1798-1873)

1829 Richard Beamish, Cork, Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1875 Obituary [2]

MR RICHARD BEAMISH, the fourths on of Mr. William Beamish, of Beaumont, descended from a Durham family who have been settled in the county of Cork since the time of Queen Elizabeth, was born in July 1798.

His father was adjutant of the 15th regiment during the American war, and eventually became the head of an extensive brewery in Cork. His mother was a daughter of Robert de la Cour, of Short Castle, descended from a French Protestant family which took refuge in Ireland at the time of the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, in 1685.

Amongst Mr. Beamish's earliest recollections were the terrible days when his father's house was barricaded, and defended from loopholes, against the Whiteboys, or Ribbonmen, of the period succeeding the Rebellion.

In his tenth year he was sent to a school at Clifton, but owing to the difficulties of communication between Cork and Bristol in those days, it was some time before he returned to Ireland. His holidays were spent in Doddershall Park, in Buckinghamshire, under the roof of Colonel Pigott. This second home grew dearer to him than the memories of Beaumont; for here he found encouragement for his best endeavours - a well-furnished library, and that gentleness and sympathy for which his affectionate nature craved.

From Clifton he went to the Royal Military Academy, then located at Marlow, and took a place in mathematics, in drawing, and in other subjects of examination, such as entitled him to a commission without purchase, but his father bought him a commission in the Coldstream Guards.

In 1815 he went with his regiment to Belgium, and served with the army of occupation in France, returning to England in 1816.

Being endowed with courtly manners, strong health, high courage, and an ardent nature, he allowed himself to be drawn into the vortex of pleasure open to a young guardsman in the extravagant and licentious times of the Regency. There is, however, abundant evidence in his journals, begun as early as 1819, that this dissipation of life vexed his conscience.

In 1818 he eagerly accepted an offer from Sir Stamford Raffles to go with him as aide-de-camp, on his appointment as Lieutenant-Governor of the English settlements in the Eastern Archipelago, but his parents objected ; and shortly after, on the reduction of the forces, Mr. Beamish was put on the half-pay list.

He now dedicated his leisure time to the study of music, and acquired skill in playing the piano and the violoncello. He had lessons, too, in French and Italian, and made a systematic study of English grammar and elocution.

After an absence of eleven years he returned to Beaumont, where he remained for some time, entering into the social duties and enjoyments expected of a country gentleman. He also visited many parts of Ireland, and recorded with sorrow the idleness, lawlessness, and poverty he met with.

Disappointed by the opposition of his parents to a projected marriage, Mr. Beamish resolved to work out a career that would make him independent of patrimony. Accordingly, in the winter of 1824, he determined to learn the profession of civil engineering, upon the exercise of which fresh demands were being made from year to year, as the various industries of the country were developed under the influence of peace at home and abroad.

He found that, though long neglected, he readily revived the mathematics he had acquired at Marlow, as well as drawing to scale. He often spent twelve hours a day in study; and finally proceeded to England to acquire engineering knowledge and practical experience in the best schools and on works in execution.

In February, 1826, he arrived in London, and visited Mr. Alexander Nimmo, who introduced him to Mr. Telford, the then President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The erection of new London Bridge was in progress; also the new Custom House quay walls, an extension of the London Docks, and other important works, all of which Mr. Beamish frequently visited under the best auspices ; and he became so enthusiastic an admirer of the mason's arts that he offered to apprentice himself for a time to one of the foreman masons on London Bridge works, who, however, dissuaded him from this step.

In June 1826 he was particularly recommended to Mr. Brunel, an introduction which led to his being received on the works of the Thames Tunnel for a month on trial; and in August he was appointed an assistant to Mr. I. K. Brunel, the Resident Engineer.

The story of Mr. Beamish's engineering life at the Thames Tunnel for the next two years is recorded in his 'Memoir of Sir M. I. Brunel,' published in 1866. He seems to have felt the greatest enthusiasm for his new duties, his journals showing the vivid, unflagging interest with which he carried them out. They contain the results of experiments on the resistance of the bricks supplied, and on the strength of the Yorkshire and Portland cements furnished for the works. Also a minute record of the elements of cost of the finished work, week by week, as prepared by him for the Resident Engineer.

But in addition to these open journals, as assistant engineer, his 'Private Journals' prove that the Brunels - father and son - relied upon Beamish's matured judgment and knowledge of the world for support, and even counsel, in many matters,independcnt of the Tunnel works - in circumstances most trying and delicate, in which he acquitted himself so as to gain their lasting friendship and esteem. He had not a particle of the spirit of rivalry; no ambition but to accomplish the end that led him to adopt the profession into which he was being initiated, guided by the genius of the Brunels.

Having studiously trained himself to write English clearly and logically, he was often engaged to compile the professional reports of Mr. Brunel, whose views he was thus enabled to set forth with great precision. He was sent on two occasions to Liverpool to collect information on the project of a tunnel under the Mersey, on which Mr. Brunel’s opinion had been asked by Liverpool capitalists; and he accompanied Mr. I. K. Brunel when the model of the great landing stage was exhibited and explained to the mayor and town council. On this occasion - November 1826 - he visited the works in progress for the Liverpool and Manchester railway, accompanied by Mr. C. B. Vignoles, Past- President Inst. C.E., then Resident Engineer, and who, like himself, was a half-pay officer.

He was introduced to Mr. George Stephenson, of whom he records: 'Fine head - remarkable tension in long upper lip: like all the men whom I have seen that have risen from their own powers, he has great refinement of countenance. Inquired much about the Thames Tunnel, and showed us everything doing in the tunnel in red sandstone under the town of Liverpool.'

The works on Chatmoss were begun, and Mr. Beamish heard the various and contradictory opinions as to their probable success; but the platform of hurdles to float the embankment in the 'Bog' called forth his lively admiration.

Before the closing of the Thames Tunnel works, in July 1828, Mr. Beamish‘s father died, leaving him a considerable patrimony; but the untimely death of the lady whom he had hoped to marry caused him to seek relief from his sorrow in active professional work. He was soon employed as Engineer for Cork and the neighbouring counties, and in this capacity projected and carried into, execution many new roads or improvements of old roads, re-constructing bridges, quay walls, &c. ; and he introduced into the conduct of such works, and in the business of committees, an order and economy hitherto unknown.

For nearly six years he dedicated most of his time to this useful, though routine, work in Ireland ; but he never seems to have had any feeling but the intense desire to be useful to his country, which he dearly loved.

In 1834 he saw one of his favourite wishes accomplished, viz., the grand jury system was changed; and though, from the peculiar framing of the law, he, as a landed proprietor, could not take any professional part in its application, he rejoiced to think that a new era had begun in the management of the public works in Ireland.

At the end of 1834 Mr. Beamish accepted, at the request of the Brunels, the position of Resident Engineer at the Thames Tunnel, Mr. I. K. Brunel having by this time risen to a high professional position, and being in extensive employment. Mr. Beamish‘s journals for this period, kept with even greater minuteness of detail than those of 1826-28, detail his engineering work until August 1836, when failing health compelled him to resign. To Mr. Brunel he became more endeared than ever. To his assistant engineers he was not only ever courteous, while demanding strictest punctuality, but kind and hospitable. Living at the very entrance to the works, in the depths of Rotherhithe, Beamish with his wife created a pretty home. He established evening meetings for music, and for reading, viva voce, good literature, grave and gay.

In 1836 he was admitted a Fellow of the Royal Society; and for some years after he lived in comparative retirement, though he took a few pupils, whom he instructed in such elementary mechanics and drawing as should qualify them for entering an apprenticeship as engineers.

In 1845, at the request of Mr. I. K. Brunel, he undertook to prepare the parliamentary plans of the Cork and Waterford railway.

Mr. Beamish at this time suffered great pecuniary losses from most unlooked-for causes, and, becoming anxious for professional employment, was appointed by Mr. Brunel Resident Engineer for the construction of the Gloucester and Forest of Dean railway. The completion of this work in 1850 ended Mr. Beamish’s engineering career. Although he did not attain to the eminence of initiating great projects, he was eminently useful to his employers, beloved by his assistants, and much respected by all who had business relations with him.

After winding up the contractor’s accounts at Newnham, Mr. Beamish went with his family to Hanover, where they passed more than two years, dedicated to education, and in the society of Mrs. Beamish‘s German relatives.

In 1854 he settled in Cheltenham, and became a leader in the active intellectual society of the place. As a member of the Committee of the 'Cheltenham School of Art,' he insisted on the 'necessity of there being a library of reference added to the school, as a means of increasing the knowledge of the students, and developing their higher intelligence pari passu with their mechanical dexterity.'


He was the principal promoter of the Junior Proprietary School, and was a constant contributor to the local press upon subjects connected with science, music, education, and religious liberty.

In 1856 the British Association met in Cheltenham. As the time of meeting approached, he was called upon to take the office of a local secretary; and he thus had a large share in all the necessary arrangements. When the week was passed, his fellow-labourers in the committees acknowledged Mr. Beamish‘s services by presenting him with a copy, in gold, of the medal struck to commemorate the meeting, with a eulogistic letter of thanks.

Mr. Beamish had an intuitive power of reading the character of men in their countenances. This power he, from an early period, endeavoured to cultivate, by the study of 'Lavater’s Essays on Physiognomy.'

He also, in 1826, became a disciple of Spurzheim, and for a time a 'propagandist' of the philosophy of phrenology as propounded by George Combe. With this cultivated bias to belief in outward signs of character, he readily accepted D'Arpentigny’s interpretation of the form of the hand into mental characteristics and propensities. But he knew full well that these outward signs gave not the whole truth, nor near it, and the grand words of St. Paul about charity were so engraven on his heart, that his estimates of character were seldom uttered if they were adverse to any one. But with all his honest thirst for knowledge he had not a logical mind. He was misled, by reasoning from analogy.

He admitted too readily the influence of authority in matters of opinion. He was, seemingly, not aware wherein ordinary evidence fails, and the amount and kind of evidence sufficient to substantiate an extraordinary statement. Mr. Beamish was a believer in the mesmeric second sight and the spiritualism of mediums, through one of whom he imagined latterly that he held intercourse with the spirit of I. K. Brunel.

The latter years of Mr. Beamish‘s life, from 1865 to 1872, were passed in retirement in the Isle of Wight, and in the village of Woolston, near Southampton. Yet here too his society was courted by his neighbours, amongst others by the staff of Netley Hospital, where his younger son was Government superintendent of works, being now an officer of the Royal Engineers. With the strength an& spirits that remained to him, in spite of much suffering from a painful malady, Beamish found a sphere of usefulness in bringing together a sufficient number of adepts to give amateur concerts, readings, and short lectures to the fishermen and artisans of the parish. The lectures he delivered 'On Useful but Calumniated Little Animals' were published by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Mr. Beamish bore the sufferings entailed by the progress of the disease with patience and equanimity. Expecting to find a milder climate, he removed from Woolston to Bournemouth, and died there on the 20th of November, 1873.

Mr. Beamish was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 27th of January, 1829, and, during his connection with the Thames Tunnel works, frequently attended its meetings, and otherwise testified to the interest he felt in the then infant society.

His published works are, 'Popular Instruction on the Calculation of Probabilities, translated from the French of A. Quetelet,' 1839 (two editions); 'Statistical Account of the Town and Parish of Cheltenham' (read before the British Association in 1856); and 'A Memoir of the Life of Sir Marc Isambard Brunel,' 1866 (two editions).


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