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Bernard Price

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Bernard Price (1877 - 1948), O.B.E., Chief Engineer, the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Co., Ltd.


1948 Obituary.[1]

BERNARD PRICE, O.B.E., D.Sc.(Eng.), who died in South Africa on the 9th July, 1948, was born in London on the 1st July, 1877, and was educated at St. Dunstan's College, Catford, and the Central Technical College, Kensington. After serving an engineering pupilage and gaining experience in various positions, he joined the staff of Merz and McLellan as Chief Electrical Assistant. In this appointment he was intimately concerned with the development of the Newcastle Electric Supply Co., which pioneered in Britain large-scale electric supply with interconnected power stations and the-application of bulk-supply electricity to industrial, mining, municipal and kindred purposes. With C. H. Merz he was a joint inventor of the Merz-Price differential system of automatic discriminating relay protection for all types of electrical apparatus, the principles of which are still widely applied. In November, 1909, at the age of 32, he was appointed Chief Engineer of the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Co., which had recently been established for the electrification of the Rand mining industry. In 1928 he became General Manager and Chief Engineer of the Company, holding these joint positions until 1936, when he relinquished them on becoming the Company's Resident Director in South Africa—a position he held until his death.

His association with the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Co. is probably unique in industrial history; he joined the Company almost at its inception, when the total capacity of its two power stations was 20 000 kW. He pioneered it during its early development, managed and directed it until it became one of the most efficient and successful undertakings in the world, and finally negotiated its transfer to the Electricity Supply Commission of South Africa on the 30th June, 1948. At the time of this transfer the maximum demand on the systems operated by the Company approached 900 000 kW, with an annual output of electricity and compressed air approaching 5 000 million kWh from seven interconnected power stations.

Coupled with his work for the Company, he had an indefatigable spirit of public service, not only to his profession but to the country of his adoption. He occupied with distinction the positions in turn of President of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers and of the South African Institution of Engineers, and a few years before his death he was President of the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa, which is the co-ordinating Council of the sixteen leading engineering, mining and technical societies of the Union. The Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Co. was a regular and valuable contributor to technical literature on large-scale electric power supply, and as improvements in operating methods were evolved under Dr. Price's guidance he was always insistent that information should be published through the various engineering societies to give the advantage of locally acquired experience and knowledge to other undertakings.

He was made an O.B.E. for his outstanding research service during the First World War into the natural resources of the Union of South Africa to make good deficiencies in the Union's requirements caused by the virtual cessation of essential imports.

Some indication of the diversity of his many activities may be gathered from his membership of such bodies as the Council of the Witwatersrand University, the Social and Economic Planning Council of the Union, the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, the Management Committee of the Government Metallurgical Laboratory, the South African Institute of International Affairs, and the Board of Trustees of the Dongola Wild Life Sanctuary.

His many public contributions included the establishment of the Bernard Price Foundation for Palaeontological Research and the establishment of the Bernard Price Institute of Geophysical Research. A few days after his death, it was announced that his will disclosed a gift of a further £100 000 to the University of the Witwatersrand for research work, £15 000 to the Church of England in South Africa, £10 000 to the South African Institute of Race Relations and numerous other benefactions amounting to a total of £150 000.

He will be remembered by his associates as a brilliant administrator, a gifted engineer and a valued friend of generous and forthright character.

He became a Member of The Institution in 1909 and was for many years a member of the Transvaal Local Committee.



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