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Bindon Blood Stoney

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Bindon Blood Stoney (1828-1909)

Irish civil engineer

Born 1828 at Oakley Park, Co. Offaly. Died Dublin, 1909 [1]

1862 Presented a Paper 'On the Strength of Long Pillars' to the Royal Irish Academy, 23 June 1862.[2]

1909 Obituary [3]

BINDON BLOOD STONEY, M.A., LL.D., F.R.S., was the second son of the late Mr. George Stoney, RA., of Oakley Park, King’s County, and Anne, daughter of Bindon Blood, D.L., of Cranagher and Rockforest, County Clare.

He was born at Oakley Park on the 13th June, 1828, and died in Dublin on the 5th May, 1909.

After graduating with distinction in Arts and Engineering in the University of Dublin, in 1850, he obtained his first appointment as Assistant to the Earl of Rosse in the Observatory at Parsonstown.

Subsequently he was an Assistant Engineer on surveys for Spanish railways, Resident Engineer on the Boyne Viaduct, Assistant Engineer of the Port of Dublin, and later Executive Engineer and Engineer-in-Chief of that port, which last appointment he held until 1898, when he retired after nearly 43 years’ service.

Bindon Blood Stoney entered his profession when the training of a civil engineer was especially influenced by the requirements of the English railway construction period. Traditional methods of bridge construction in stone, brickwork and cast iron were giving place to the wrought-iron girder bridge. The great tubular bridges across the Menai Straits and Conway River had been recently opened, and the attention of engineers was concentrated upon questions of improvement in the design of such long-span bridges.

The need for scientifically trained engineers was increasingly felt, and the University of Dublin was the first of the universities which endeavoured to meet the want by the establishment of an Engineering School. Its enterprise was rewarded by an increasing demand for educated engineers for railway work, and the names of many distinguished engineers in various parts of the world are associated with the early history of its Engineering School. One of the most distinguished of these was the subject of this memoir.

The scientific training received in Dublin University was not thrown away. His natural craving for scientific accuracy made him dissatisfied with the empirical methods employed in his day. He desired to acquire by careful scientific experiment and research a true knowledge of the properties and value of the various materials used in engineering structures, and by the application of mechanical principles to utilize these properties to the best advantage. The novelty and boldness of the design of the tubular bridges as well as the extensive experimental research undertaken prior to their construction did not fail to make a profound impression on the young engineer, and when a few years later he was appointed an Assistant Engineer under Mr. James Barton on the River Boyne Viaduct, it is easy to understand the fascination this work had for him, and the enthusiasm he brought to bear on problems which broke new ground in the practical construction of continuous lattice girder bridges. The successful completion of this work afforded a complete vindication in practice of the theoretical considerations which governed its design, and it is reasonable to assume that his connection with its construction led to the writing of his classical work on 'The Theory of Strains in Girders and Similar Structures,' with which his name will ever be associated.

Although one of the pioneers in the scientific treatment of iron and steel structures, nothing impressed those who worked under him more than the broad lines which he adopted in the application of theory to practice. He became impatient when he found theoretical considerations being forced into greater prominence than was warranted by the physical qualities of the materials to be employed, and probably it was largely to this practical quality that he owed the high position which he attained as a constructive engineer.

It was, however, in the Port of Dublin that his brilliant constructive powers were exhibited to the best advantage. He was appointed Assistant Engineer in 1856, having had but little previous experience in harbour work. In 3 years he was called upon to act as Executive Engineer, in consequence of the ill-health of his chief, the late Mr. George Halpin, junior, and after holding this position for 3 years he was appointed, in 1862, Engineer-in-Chief.

When he entered the service of the Port, its condition may be briefly described as a tidal harbour with a shallow approach channel from the Bay to the City. The depth of water across the Bar was greater than in the navigable channel within the harbour, thanks to the great works carried out in the early part of the nineteenth century, in the construction of the Great North and Great South Walls. The improvement of the channel within the harbour was therefore one of the most pressing needs that he had to deal with when appointed Chief Engineer. He found the methods in use for dredging and the disposal of the dredged material costly and inefficient. As usual he broke away from precedent and designed large dredging plant, including hopper barges of the capacity of 1,000 tons for conveying the dredged material out to sea. It was the economy thus effected that allowed the Port Board of the day to press forward the improvement of the approach to the Port of Dublin, so that at the present time it is no longer a tidal Port, but is open at all states of the tide to vessels engaged in the cross-channel and coasting trade, which represents 80 per cent. of the total trade of the Port.

At that time there were no quays at which vessels could lie afloat at all states of the tide, except in the Custom House Docks, which belonged to the Government, or the private docks of the Grand Canal and Royal Canal. While Chief Engineer he rebuilt a length of 6,825 feet of quay walls, equal to half the shipping quays of the Port, replacing the tidal berths by deep water berths at which large oversea vessels could lie constantly afloat. In addition to this, the northern quays were extended eastward and the Alexandra Basin was begun. It was probably in the construction of these latter quays that his ingenuity and resource were more especially recognized by the general public. To avoid the necessity of costly cofferdams and pumping, he built the lower portion of the quay walls with concrete masonry blocks of 350 tons weight, which were built on a platform, and when sufficiently hardened lifted by a floating shears and transported to the site of the new quay. The machinery for handling these blocks, and the gigantic diving-bell for preparing the foundations, were all designed by him. The works were fully described in a Paper' which he contributed to The Institution, and for which he was awarded a Telford Medal and premium. Other Papers contributed by him will be found under his name in the Indexes to the Proceedings.

In a brief biographical notice such as this, it is impossible to refer to many of the engineering structures which remain as monuments of his talent and constructive ability. It should not be forgotten, however, that in addition to the works connected with the harbour, two of the metropolitan bridges in Dublin, Grattan Bridge and O'Connell Bridge, were reconstructed under his direction, and Butt Bridge (an entirely new bridge) was built across the Liffey near the Custom House.

Dr. Stoney retired from the service of the Port of Dublin at the end of 1898, in his seventh-first year, and was privileged to enjoy 10 years of leisured rest, in the full possession of his mental powers. He never ceased to be interested in the progress of the Port, and the advances made in engineering science. But the range of his mental activity was not limited to his profession. He thought deeply on educational, social and metaphysical problems, and devoted much of his time to questions of national defence, both naval and military. His universally acknowledged ability as an Engineer, his unswerving integrity and love of truth and justice, gained the esteem and reverence of those who worked under him.

In consideration of his distinguished services, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, and received the honorary degree of LL.D. from the University of Dublin. He was a Member of the Royal Irish Academy, a Member of the Institution of Naval Architects, and a Member and Past-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland.

He was elected an Associate of The Institution on the 12th January, 1858, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 17th November, 1863. He also served on the Council of The Institution for a number of years.

See Also


Sources of Information

  1. [1] Dictionary of Irish Architects 1720 - 1940
  2. The Practical Mechanic's Journal, 1 Dec 1862. Contents of Paper reproduced in the journal
  3. 1909 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries