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Arthur Sydney Ormsby

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Arthur Sydney Ormsby (1825-1887)


1887 Obituary [1]

ARTHUR SYDKEY ORMSBY was the youngest son of the late Rev. Owen Ormsby, M.A., of Kilmore and Grange, Co. Roscommon, Rector and Rural Dean, Co. Louth.

He was born at Seatown House, Dundalk, in February 1825, and was educated by a private tutor.

In 1839 he was articled for five years to the late Mr. George Halpin, M.Inst.C.E., Engineer to the Dublin Ballast Board, the Board of Irish Lights, &c., under whom he acquired considerable experience in the ordinary business of an engineer’s office, and also in masonry work and piling.

On completing his pupilage he was engaged for a year by Sir John Macneill, M.Inst.C.E., in the preparation of Parliamentary plans and sections, and contract plans in connection with the Great Southern and Western Railway.

Mr. Ormsby next became Resident Engineer of a part of the works of the Midland Great Western Railway, then being carried out by the late Mr. G. W. Hemans, Vice-President Inst. C.E.

After one or two other short engagements on railway works - one under Mr. Brunel on the Dublin, Wicklow and Wexford line - he in April 1849 left home to seek his fortune in the United States, having obtained a good introduction from the Hon. Abbott Lawrence, then American Minister in England. This was the beginning of a career of very varied experience in many parts of the globe. He appears to have obtained immediate employment in America on railway work, but, probably imbued with the restless spirit of his new friends, never stayed long in one place ; for in the course of two or three years he was successively Assistant Engineer on the Richmond and Danville Railroad, the James River and Kanawba Canal, and the Cumberland Valley Railroad ; then Resident Engineer on the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, under the well-known Benjamin H. Latrobe; Chief Engineer of a division of the Illinois Central Railroad ; and, finally, Consulting Engineer to the Troy and Greenfield Railroad and Hoosac Tunnel.

In after years Mr. Ormsby became solicitous that it should be recorded that a Member of the Institution was the original Consulting Engineer to the celebrated Hoosac tunnel (the longest in America), and which, after a very long and chequered career, when its success was much doubted, was finally completed by the adoption of the course Mr. Ormsby originally proposed.

Arthur Ormsby might have remained in America, and risen to fame and wealth among congenial surroundings, but his health failed, and he suffered the mortification of having to throw up the important position he had acquired when only twenty-six years old. He returned to Ireland ; but a few months later set sail for Melbourne, where he was appointed Assistant Colonial Engineer, holding that office till it was abolished.

He then went to New Zealand and contracted with the Government for the surveying of large tracts of country, making in this way the first trigonometrical survey ever carried out in the Colony. But this sort of work being in limited demand, and there being no further prospect of employment in New Zealand, Mr. Ormsby proceeded to Melbourne, and shortly afterwards successively to Mauritius and to Calcutta, where Lord Canning appointed him an Executive Engineer in the Public Works Department of the Government of India. He remained in this service from 1858 to 1861, when his agreement was cancelled in a manner Mr. Ormsby always maintained was arbitrary and unjust. He embarked in a long crusade against the constitution of the Department, and more especially the predominance of the military element, and tried to get Lord Stanley (now the Earl of Derby) to call attention to the matter in Parliament. There is no doubt that the treatment - just or unjust - which he received greatly embittered the remainder of Mr. Ormsby’s life, and rendered him a disappointed man.

He returned to England in 1861, and settling in London, took up the water-question. He warmly maintained that the supply of potable water should be considered apart from that for ordinary domestic and manufacturing purposes ; but his views differed from those who, pursuing the same end, seek to procure such water from deep wells or other terrestrial sources. His proposed to collect the rainfall before it reached the ground ; to filter it and store it in underground tanks. He devised several modes of carrying out this idea, but finally gave the preference to a system of shallow, water-tight collecting-ponds, made of concrete and furnished with the necessary adjuncts of pumps, meters, &C., the system necessitating that the pure water thus furnished should be dispensed with rigid economy and at a fixed quantity per head. In support of this proposal he wrote a pamphlet entitled “A new idea for the water-supply of towns. A letter addressed to the Secretary of the Royal Commission on water-supply, explanatory of the impossibility of getting pure water from any of the various sources that have been already propounded ; and suggesting the construction of non-absorbing collecting-grounds, to hold and supply natural and pure water for drinking and cooking purposes only. 8vo. Lond., 1867.”

After years of persistent advocacy he had an opportunity of carrying out, at Hillbottom, Berkshire, an actual water-supply based on these principles, where a population of fifty cottagers is daily supplied with 2 gallons of pure water per head for drinking and cooking; the ordinary well-supply, which is of evil repute, remaining available for other purposes.

In 1866 he reported upon a proposed railway from Dortmund in Prussia to Enchede in Holland. Latterly Mr. Ormsby was engaged with Mr. S. MacBean in promoting the construction of a tunnel between Scotland and the North of Ireland, on the lines of a scheme originally propounded in 1866 by Captain W. Macbay, and was working eagerly at this project when his death occurred, on the 24th of February, 1887.

Mr. Ormsby was a man of strong likes and dislikes, and of great persistence and determination in following up his ends. Having at an advanced period of his career fallen into adverse circumstances, he never for an instant thought of yielding to fate, as many men of less courage might have done, but manfully set to work to begin life again, bravely competing with others of half his age for any appointment, big or little, for which he deemed himself fit, and facing with composure the rebuffs and cold-shouldering too often meted out to the unwelcome solicitor of official patronage. He had a keen sense of the honour and status of the profession, and sturdily resented any alights put upon it by the thoughtless or the malevolent. More especially was he exercised over the tolerance extended in remote districts, and in some of the colonies, to the unqualified agent or foreman of works who ventures to append the letters "C.E." after his name.

Mr. Ormsby was elected a Member of the Institution on the 3rd of February, 1863.



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