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William Alers Hankey

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William Alers Hankey (1771-1859)

Treasurer of the Institution of Civil Engineers 1820-1845

1861 Obituary [1]

MR. WILLIAM ALERS HANKEY was born in London on the 15th of August, 1771.

He received his education in the University of Edinburgh, and he always referred, with pleasure, to the fact of his having there enjoyed, when a student, the friendship of those eminent men, Dr. Robertson, the Principal, and Professors Dugald Stewart and Dalzel.

Having entered the banking firm of which he subsequently became the head, he early took, and for a long series of years sustained, the leading part in the conduct of its affairs. Although much occupied, he was not content to limit his energies to the mere requirements of business. Gifted with a large share of natural abilities, in combination with great activity of mind, he was qualified for a successful pursuit of literary and scientific objects. And with these, especially within the range of biblical subjects, he always evinced considerable sympathy, not unfrequently contributing to one of the organs of periodical literature.

Indeed, to the very close of his life, there was nothing that excited in him a deeper interest than a new reading of the Sacred Text, or a critical note on some passage of the Greek Testament.

But the full amount of his energies was thrown into efforts of various kinds to diffuse moral and religious principles. Hence, in 1801, he joined the Religious Tract Society, and for eight years assisted zealously in its proceedings. It is stated in a published history of the Society, that, on the preparation of some scripture extracts and tracts for the use of the foreign prisoners of war, then in confinement, Mr. Hankey 'made one novel and interesting contribution to the Society’s work. He mastered Spanish, that he might be duly qualified to revise the tracts in that language for the press, so as to insure their freedom from error.'

He also became one of the founders and conductors of the British and Foreign Bible Society ; and at the time of his death, Mr. Hankey was, with one exception, the last survivor of the group of excellent men, who, in 1804, publicly launched into existence that invaluable institution. So again, from 1801 to 1832, he actively identified himself with missionary enterprise, voluntarily combining with the office of Treasurer, which he held during the latter half of those years, many of the duties usually devolving upon the Secretary.

These few details will serve to demonstrate the leading features of Mr. Hankey’s character. With the good of his fellow-creatures much at heart, he was ever ready, by means of his purse, or his influence, to further any well-considered plans of Christian benevolence. But persuaded, that the spread of religious knowledge, with a view to the extension of religious principles, should be the high aim of the Christian philanthropist, he specially devoted himself to these objects ; and during a long life, laboured for them with a perseverance, a singleness of purpose, and a self-denial rarely equalled.

He resided nearly the whole of his life in London, or in its vicinity ; and he closed his mortal career in Hyde Park Gardens, on the 23rd of March, 1859, in the 88th year of his age, wearied with bodily infirmities, but, in his own words, “with the mind at peace.”

His connection with the Institution dates from a very early period in its history. During the early part of his life, Mr. Hankey resided at Hackney, immediately adjoining the property of the Father of Mr. Henry Robinson Palmer, by whose intelligence and talent he was so much struck, that he interested himself much in his career, and introduced him to Mr. Telford, whose favourite pupil he soon became. He still kept up the communication with his young friend ; and when, towards the close of the year 1817, Messrs. William Maudslay, Henry R. Palmer, Joshua Field, James Jones, Charles Collinge and James Ashwell, resolved to form themselves into a Scientific Society, holding the first Meeting of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 2nd of January, 1818, Mr. Hankey encouraged them by every means in his power.

In 1820, after the Institution had assumed a substantial form, he joined it as an Associate, becoming, subsequently, one of the earliest Honorary Members, and in the same year, he was elected Treasurer and Banker to the rising Society. This position he held until 1845, when, for the convenience of the Society, the funds were transferred to a West End bank, and the Council instructed “the Secretary to convey, in an appropriate manner, to Messrs. Hankey and Co., the thanks of the Council for the uniform attention shown by them to the interests of the Institution, and to Mr. William Alers Hankey personally, for having so many years filled the office of Treasurer.”

Whenever his good offices were needed, the Institution could always count upon them, with as much certainty as could the other Societies of which he was the main support.

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