Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Hawkshaw, John

1399841Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement, Volume 2 — Hawkshaw, John1901Thomas Hudson Beare

HAWKSHAW, Sir JOHN (1811–1891), civil engineer, son of Henry Hawkshaw of Leeds, and his wife, born Carrington of Derbyshire, was born in the West Riding of Yorkshire in 1811; his father's family had been for some generations farmers in this district of Yorkshire. He was educated at the Leeds grammar school, and then became a pupil of C. Fowler, who was chiefly engaged on road construction. At the age of twenty he joined the staff of Alexander Nimmo [q. v.], who was then occupied with piers and harbour work in Ireland.

In July 1832 he went to Venezuela to take charge of the Bolivar Mining Association's mines, about two hundred miles from Caracas. He spent three years there; but bad health, brought about by the unhealthy climate, forced him to return to England in 1834. In 1838 he published a book describing his life in Venezuela, entitled 'Reminiscences of South America' (London, 1838). After his return he was employed for a time by Jesse Hartley [q. v.] on the Liverpool docks, and then on railway surveys in Germany for J. Walker; he also superintended the completion of the Manchester, Bury, and Bolton railway line. About this time, in 1838, at the request of the Great Western Railway Company, he reported as to the advisability of the continuance of the broad gauge on that system. In his report he opposed the continuance of the broad gauge, and all through his life he fought strenuously against a break of gauge on railway systems; he took a very prominent part in the opposition in 1872–3 to the proposals of the Indian government for altering the gauge of the railways in India.

In 1845 Hawkshaw was appointed engineer to the Manchester and Leeds Railway, the nucleus of the present Lancashire and Yorkshire railway system, and he remained consulting engineer to the latter company until 1888. His most noteworthy work in connection with this company was the introduction in the new lines of steeper gradients than any which had been adopted down to that date, and although his action was strongly opposed by Robert Stephenson [q. v.], Hawkshaw's sound judgment on this matter has been attested by the adoption since then of similar gradients on similar railways throughout the world.

In 1850 he came to London, and set up in practice as a consulting engineer, and from 1870 onwards he was in partnership with his son and his old assistant, Harrison Hayter.

It is not possible to deal even in outline with the numerous schemes in all branches of engineering for which Hawkshaw was responsible; only a few of the leading and more important ones can be referred to here. In connection with railways perhaps his most famous works were the Charing Cross and Cannon Street railways, with their large terminal stations and bridges over the Thames; the East London Railway, with its utilisation of the old Thames tunnel, constructed by the elder Brunei; and the great tunnel under the Severn for the Great Western Railway Company, which at the time of its completion in 1887 was one of the most noteworthy of such pieces of railway work, the tunnel being four and a third miles long, two and a quarter miles of this being under the tidal estuary of the Severn (see Walker's The Severn Tunnel: its Construction and Difficulties, London, 1891; also Proc. Inst. Civil Engineers, cxxi. 305).

Hawkshaw was also, with Sir John Brunlees [q. v. Suppl.], consulting engineer to the original Channel Tunnel Company; before preparing his plans for this work he had very careful geological surveys made on both coasts, and he also made detailed marine surveys. During his later years, however, he refused to have anything to do with the proposed tunnel, having come to the opinion that the construction of a tunnel would be a distinct national disadvantage.

In bridge work, in addition to those already mentioned across the Thames, Hawkshaw designed the Nerbudda bridge in India, nearly one mile long; and was responsible, with W. H. Barlow, for the completion of the famous Clifton suspension bridge, utilising for this work the old chains from the Hungerford suspension bridge, which had been pulled down to make room for his new Charing Cross railway bridge.

In 1863, at the request of the then viceroy of Egypt, Hawkshaw visited Egypt and carefully examined the site of the proposed Suez ship canal. It was the extremely favourable report which he sent in on the scheme, and on the proposed site, which finally led to the adoption of M. de Lesseps's plans. The khedive had made up his mind that if Hawkshaw should report against the scheme he would have nothing more to do with it. Richard Monckton Milnes, lord Houghton [q. v.], who was present at the time, says that when Hawkshaw landed at Port Said to take part in the opening ceremonies of the completed canal, M. de Lesseps presented him to the engineers who were present with the words : 'This is the gentleman to whom I owe the canal' (Reid's Life of Richard Monckton Milnes, first Lord Houghton, 2nd edit. ii. 217).

Hawkshaw was also a member of the international congress which met at Paris in 1879 to consider the proposed inter-oceanic ship canal across Central America. He was opposed to the Panama canal scheme because he did not believe it could be constructed at a reasonable cost, and so retired from the congress.

In 1862 he became engineer to the Amsterdam ship canal, which was eventually opened by the king of Holland on 1 Nov. 1876. Until the construction of the Manchester and Liverpool ship canal, this was (after the Suez canal) the most important work of its kind which had been carried out, the canal being sixteen miles long with a depth of twenty-three feet; it also involved very difficult and complicated work in connection with the locks on the Zuyder Zee and at Ymuiden (see Proc. Inst. Civil Engineers, Ixii. 1).

In 1860 he was appointed sole royal commissioner to inquire into the question of providing the city of Dublin with a proper water supply, and he recommended that Mr. Hassard's scheme for obtaining water from the Vartry should be adopted; this scheme was afterwards carried out. Again, in 1874, he was sole royal commissioner to inquire into the best means of remedying the evils caused by the pollution of the Clyde and its tributaries. He was also responsible for a very considerable amount of drainage work in the fen country in the eastern part of England, one very noteworthy piece of work being the design, in 1862, of a dam to shut out the tide from the middle level drain in Norfolk, the outfall sluice at St. Germains having given way. Across the dam which he constructed, sixteen large siphons, each three and a half feet in diameter, were laid, and they were sufficient for the drainage of the district for many years (ib. xxii. 497).

Among other government committees upon which Hawkshaw served may be mentioned a departmental committee in 1868 to inquire into the construction, condition, and cost of the fortifications which were in existence, or in course of erection, in the kingdom. In 1880 he served on a committee of the board of trade to investigate the effect of wind pressure on railway structures; and when the electric telegraphs were purchased by the government from the various companies in 1868, he was appointed by the act the arbitrator to distribute the purchase money among the different companies and the various shareholders.

Though he was never a strong politician, Hawkshaw stood as a liberal candidate for Andover in 1863, but was defeated; and again in 1865 he proposed to stand as a candidate for Lyme Regis, but withdrew just before the date of the election.

In 1855 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and in 1873 was knighted. He was president of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1862 and 1863, having joined that body in 1836; and in 1875 he held the office of president of the British Association.

Hawkshaw was without doubt one of the foremost civil engineers of the nineteenth century, not only on account of the importance of the works with which he was connected, but also on account of the wide field covered by his professional activity. Technical reports and his presidential addresses form practically the bulk of his literary work.

He died at his town residence, Belgrave Mansions, on 2 June 1891. He married in 1835 Ann, daughter of the Rev. James Jackson of Green Hammerton, Yorkshire. She died on 29 April 1885, aged 72.

There is an oil painting by Collins at the Institution of Civil Engineers, and another by Mr. G. F. Watts, R.A., in the possession of Mr. J. C. Hawkshaw at Hollycombe, Sussex, and also two earlier portraits, both at Hollycombe. Mr. Hawkshaw has a marble bust by Wontner; the Institution of Civil Engineers has also a marble bust and a small bronze head by Wynn.

The most important of his professional publications were his presidential addresses at the British Association (London, 1875) and the Institution of Civil Engineers (London, 1863); Reports on Dock and Harbour Works at Bristol (1860), Boston (1864), Holyhead (1873), Belfast (1870); on the Suez Canal (Paris, 1863; London, 1863); on the Great Western Railway Locomotive Department (1838), Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Rolling Stock, &c. (1850), Narrow Gauge for India (1870); and on the Drainage of the River Witham (London, 1861, West. 1862, London, 1877), Thames Valley (1878), Purification of the Clyde (1876); The Present State of Geological Enquiry as to the Origin of Coal (1843).

[Obituary notice in Proc. Inst. Civil Engineers, vol. cvi.; Burke's Peerage &c. 1890; Times, 3 June 1891.]

T. H. B.