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Bernhard Schmidt

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Bernard Schmidt (1828-1889)


1889 Obituary [1]

BERNHARD SCHMIDT was born on the 13th of April 1828, at Prenzlau in Prussia. His father was Pastor of the Parish of S. Nicolaus in that town, his mother Adelaide von Raven, a daughter of Baron von Raven of the Ukermark.

Of six children Bernhard was the eldest son. He received his early education at the gymnasium of his native town. He was being carefully prepared for the University when the death of his father at the early age of 41, necessitated a change of plans, and he was removed to the Polytechnic School of Potsdam, to receive a practical training as an engineer.

On leaving this school he served an informal apprenticeship, first in a smaller workshop in Potsdam, and later with Mr. Spazier, an ironfounder and machinist of some note in Berlin. While in this establishment young Schmidt’s intelligence and quick perception, and the uncommon excellence of his drawings, attracted the attention of Mr. Buckholz, who was attending to some engineering work in Berlin for the late Mr. I. K. Brunel, and who in 1848 brought him to England, and obtained for him an appointment in Mr. Brunel’s drawing office, where he remained for about eighteen months; he then left to assist Mr. Charles Heard Wild in preparing the working drawings of Sir Joseph Paxton’s design for the Great Exhibition Buildings of 1851.

When, after the close of the World’s Fair, the scheme of the, Crystal Palace was projected, involving the re-erection at Sydenham of the Exhibition Buildings on a greatly enlarged and improved design, Messrs. Fox and Henderson secured the services of Mr. Schmidt in preparing the detail drawings of the work, and on its completion he joined the staff of the Zealand Railway, for which Messrs. Fox and Henderson were the contractors.

Returning to England in 1864 Mr. Schlnidt was immediately engaged by the late Mr. J. M. Rendel, Past President Inst. C.E., to assist in designing iron bridges for the new railways in India, of which Mr. Rendel was consulting engineer, and for other places.

Among these designs was one of a light and graceful arch to span the ornamental water in St. James’s Park. On its submission to the Office of Works, however, objection was taken to the camber of the bridge, and the condition was imposed that the footway must be practically level. The result is seen in the existing “ugly suspension bridge.”

But the principal work on which Mr. Schmidt was engaged, while in the office of Mr. Rendel, was the design for the bridge to carry the East Indian Railway across the River Soane at Patna. The bridge consists of twenty-eight wrought-iron lattice girders, each of 150 feet clear span, resting on brickwork piers 12 feet wide, these piers being built upon wooden curbs shod with iron and sunk into the clay bed of the river to an average depth of about 30 feet. The total length of the bridge between the abutments is 4,530 feet, added to which there are smaller spans on each side forming the land approaches.

Compared with the iron and steel bridges of the present day these dimensions are not remarkable, but in many details of construction as well as in graceful appearance, the Soane bridge was a great advance on the railway bridges which had preceded it, and it has for more than thirty years well stood the test of the heaviest railway traffic in India. The bridge (weighing approximately 3,500 tons) was constructed in this country, and its erection in India was entrusted to the late Mr. Samuel Power, an experienced member of Mr. Brunel’s staff, with Mr. Schmidt for his assistant. But before the work of erection had very far advanced, Mr. Power was compelled on account of ill-health to leave India, and on the special recommendation of himself and of the late Mr. Turnbull, Engineering chief of the Railway, Mr. Schmidt received from the Board full charge of the works with the rank of District Engineer. It was in the performance of his duties at the Soane bridge that Mr. Schmidt was thrown from his horse, and had his left foot so severely crushed that immediate amputation of the leg below the knee was necessary.

Mr. Schmidt remained in the service of the East Indian Railway Company until the completion of the line to Benares in 1862, when he accepted, from the Indian Public Works Department, an appointment as Executive Engineer of the first class, for service in Madras on the River Godavery improvement and part canalization.

About two years were occupied in this work, when Mr. Schmidt returned to England, and on the recommendation of Mr. (now Sir) George B. Bruce, President Inst. C.E., he was appointed Resident Engineer of the then newly projected Berlin-Gorlitz Railway, which formed so important a line of communication for the German troops in the war of 1870-1.

In 1867, on the completion of the Berlin-Giirlitz line, Mr. Schnlidt was appointed Engineer-in-chief of the great North East Railway of Hungary, the construction of which occupied the next five years of his active life, and on the completion of the line hew as called to Vienna to regulate the financial matters of the syndicate which had taken over from Dr. Strousberg the contract for the construction of the railway.

In 1874, after thirty years of arduous and unremitting toil, Mr. Schmidt retired from the profession, and took up his residence at Weimar, but his mind was of an order which could not endure idleness. From his boyhood he was an accomplished draughtsman and colourist, his portfolios were filled with water-colour sketches of the more remarkable places he had visited all of them exhibiting vigorous and accurate drawing, and many of them harmonies of brilliant colour which might well excite the envy of a professional artist; but he now entered the studio of the famous German painter, Friedrich Preller, and pursued for several years with all the enthusiasm of youth the study of oil painting. He also (and particularly after the death of his great master) devoted his engineering knowledge and experience to the benefit of his adopted town. As an Alderman (Rathsherr) of Weimar, he evinced the greatest interest in every measure for its improvement and sanitation. He took an active part in providing adequate gasworks.

To his influence it is chiefly due that the present waterworks were constructed, which, from a distance of about 4 miles, provide Weimar with an abundant supply of good water; also that a new grammar school has been built and equipped after the latest and best models. He also prepared plans for the systematic enlargement of the town, and was ever ready by advice, by personal labour, and by pecuniary help to promote the comfort and happiness of those among whom he lived.

Bernhard Schmidt died at Weimar on the 6th of February, 1889. By his death, Weimar lost one of her best citizens, and engineering one of its ablest exponents.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 5th of December, 1865.


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