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Albinus Martin

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Albinus Martin (1791-1871)


1872 Obituary [1]

Albinus Martin was born at Beckington, in Somersetshire, on the 21st March, 1791.

His father was a surgeon, who, adopting the principles of the then existing French Revolution, advocated them so warmly as to render himself obnoxious to his influential neighbours; and becoming an object of suspicion and persecution, was obliged to fly to America, where he was kindly received by Washington, and was honoured with his friendship.

Albinus, who was an only son, remained in England, under the care of relatives; and was educated with the view of embracing his father's profession, and of following him to the land of his adoption. But the career of the elder Mr. Martin in America came to an untimely close; the yellow fever was raging around him, and being persuaded that the evil arose, in a great degree, from improper drainage, he sought to convince the inmates of a tainted house that they were poisoned by the exhalations of a drain which ran through it. In order to test his views the drain was opened; he inhaled the noxious gases as they rose, and he proved in his own person the correctness of his theory, for he was struck with fever, went home and died.

The death of the father changed the destination of the son. The profession of medicine was abandoned; that of architecture was ultimately adopted, and Mr. Martin became the articled pupil of Joseph Woods, a member of the Society of Friends, and it gentleman alike distinguished as an architect and as a man of letters.

With this gentleman he served his time, and he was also a student in architecture at the Royal Academy. Whilst still articled to Mr. Woods, Mr. Albinus Martin was, for a time, transferred to the office of James Savage, an early member of the Institution of Civil Engineers - in the days when Telford was President - and who combined the profession of a Civil Engineer with that of an Architect.

In Mr. Savage's office Mr. Martin prepared the drawings, and witnessed the execution, of many important works; and in 1809, on the failure of Trevethick's tunnel under the Thames, Mr. Savage, as well as other engineers, prepared designs for carrying out the abandoned work. Mr. Martin assisted him, and thus became identified, in a subordinate capacity, with the efforts to solve that great engineering problem, which, however, it was reserved for the elder Brunel to accomplish, twenty years later.

On the completion of his pupillage Mr. Martin commenced practice as an architect, and jointly with the late S. Beasley, erected the first English opera house, in Wellington Street, Strand, and a few other less important buildings; but he soon abandoned architecture for engineering ; and became successively the Surveyor of the Cromford Canal, the Resident Engineer of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, the Manager of the collieries of the Earl of Ralcarres, and the Bridge-master of one division of the county of Lancaster.

In the year 1824, when the then existing means of communication between Liverpool and Manchester were felt to be quite inadequate, and when the merchants and manufacturers of those towns revived the project of a railway to connect them, Mr. Martin was the Engineer of the Leeds and Liverpool Canal, which, by means of a branch from Wigan to Manchester, had a share of the carrying-trade between this latter town and the great seaport at the mouth of the Mersey. Consequently, when, in the spring of 1825, the Bill for the Liverpool and Manchester railway was brought before a committee of the House of Commons, Mr. Martin was necessarily engaged in defending the interests of the canal company in whose service he was.

The bill, however, was withdrawn, only to be again brought before Parliament in the following year; but by that time Mr. Martin had closed his connexion with the canal, and was free to act in accordance with his own judgment and sympathics. He had maturely studied the question, and clearly comprehending and appreciating all the advantages of a railway system, warmly co-operated with his friends, Mr. Sanders, of Liverpool, and the two Stephensons, in everything that could promote the success of the new undertaking.

Ten years later he was placed on the staff of the London and Southampton - since known as the London and South-Western-Railway.

At about the same time, the late Mr. Locke, M.P., Past-President Inst. C. E., became the Chief Engineer of the line, and under his superintendence Mr. Martin finished the works which had been begun by Mr. F. Giles, and constructed those which remained to complete the line.

With this Company Mr. Martin remained for thirteen years, as Manager and Resident Engineer; and when, in 1849, he resigned the position, he received from the Directors a spontaneous vote of thanks for his able and faithful services ; and - what to him was probably a more gratifying compliment - a token from the working men and others connected with him in the service of the line, of the friendly feelings which had ever subsisted between them. This token took the form of a handsome presentation of plate, bearing an inscription to the effect that it was 'From twelve hundred and thirty-five fellow-labourers, in grateful remembrance of the kindness and goodness which had ever marked his conduct to those associated with him.'

On leaving the London and South-Western railway, Mr. Martin entered into general practice, and was principally engaged as a consulting engineer, and as a referee on engineering and colliery questions, an employment for which not only his great experience, but his fine tact and his inflexible uprightness peculiarly fitted him. This occupation he followed until the attacks of his hereditary malady, the gout - to which he had always been subject - became more and more frequent, and interfered with his professional engagements. He then thought it right to retire from practice; but until his last illness the younger members of the profession, who had the privilege of his friendship, were allowed to draw freely upon his sound judgment and rich store of professional knowledge.

Failing health and frequent absences from London led him, in 1864, to tender his resignation as a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers; but the Council, at its meeting in December of that year, passed the following resolution:- 'That the resignation of Mr. Martin be not accepted; but that as a mark of respect for his long and honourable career in the profession, he be requested to allow his name to remain on the books as a Life Member.'

Mr. Martin deeply felt the honour thus conferred; and up to a very recent period his numerous professional friends had the pleasure of meeting him from time to time at the Institution, in which, since his election in 1840, he had always taken a lively interest.

In the full enjoyment of life, and, with mental faculties unimpaired, he fell sick on the 11th September, and expired on the 17th October, 1871, in his eighty-first year. Few men have been so universally esteemed and beloved; for although by age and experience he was one of the fathers of the modern school of engineers, and although many of his works attest great professional skill, yet his claim to distinction rests in no inconsiderable degree upon his social and private character. Endowed with a remarkably retentive memory, and possessed of a fund of information on almost every subject, he poured his knowledge forth, unconsciously as it seemed, and without the least desire for display. His heart was full of benevolence and the love of others, and there was no room in it for emnity and the love of self.

He was beloved by all who could appreciate sterling honesty and fearless truth ; yet his sparkling and kindly wit never hurt the feelings of others, and never degenerated into sarcasm; his sympathy with all mankind was such, that he had an intuitive perception of what was passing in the minds of his fellow-creatures; and even their foibles he regarded with tenderness. The irresistible charm of his conversation and manner attracted old and young alike; and once a youthful friend asked for the secret of his popularity: Mr. Martin’s reply was Characteristic: 'I don’t know,' he said, 'that I em more popular than my neighbours; but if I am, it must be because I am always careful not to tread upon other people’s toes.' Few men, in any circle, have passed away deservedly leaving so many friends and so few enemies.



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Sources of Information

  1. 1872 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries