Grace's Guide To British Industrial History

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Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 149,675 pages of information and 235,472 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,919 pages of information and 233,587 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

George Willoughby Hemans

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George Willoughby Hemans (1814-1885) F.R.G.S., F.G.S.

1837 George Willoughby Hemans of St. Martins Place, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1845 Appointed Chief Engineer of the Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland

1869 of 1 Westminster Chambers, Victoria Street, London. [2]

1886 Obituary [3]

GEORGE WILLOUGHBY HEMANS bore a name that must ever find a home in the hearts of those who love to see exquisite fancy, beautiful feeling, and pure thought clothed in the language of poesy. He was the son of the poetess Felicia Hemans, his father being an officer in the 4th (King’s Own) Regiment, who, having served with distinction in the Peninsular War and the Walcheren Expedition, had settled in the romantic district of St. Asaph, in North Wales. Here the subject of this memoir was born, on the 27th of August, 1814.

In 1818 his father, Captain Alfred Hemans, whose health had been long impaired, was induced to try the effects of a southern climate, and became domiciled at Rome, the education of his children being arranged for by their mother, who continued to reside at St. Asaph. Notwithstanding the unceasing exercise of her mental gifts, Mrs. Hemans devoted many hours each day to the labour, so dear to a woman of elevated mind, of instructing her children. It was a childish question of George Hemans, or one of his brothers, which gave birth to those most favourite and oft-quoted lines, 'The Better Land.'

On leaving his mother’s care, young Hemans, after passing some short time with his father in Italy, entered the Military College of Sareze, in France, where he passed three years. During his sojourn at this school he exhibited all the promise of the distinction he afterwards attained, bearing away every prize, both in foreign languages, science, and drawing, and leaving the establishment with no less than six medals.

Mr. Hemans was next placed under the guardianship and care of his uncle, Colonel Browne, C.B., an excellent and popular magistrate of Dublin, who placed him, after filling some appointment under the Ordnance Survey with much credit, as a pupil under Sir John Macneill, M. Inst. C.E., then practising in London. In this position he was employed on several Irish and Scotch lines of railway, and on the completion of his time of pupilage was given charge, as Resident Engineer, of the Dublin end of the railway to Drogheda, the works of which were entirely confided to him by Sir John Macneill.

The first two iron lattice bridges built in this country were on this line, and were constructed under Mr. Hemans's superintendence. One was a foot-bridge, of considerable span, over a deep cutting; the other a bridge of 140-feet span, carrying the railway over the Royal Canal at Dublin. After the opening of the Dublin and Drogheda line he was immediately placed in charge of a more extended division of the railway then commencing between Dublin and Cork (Great Southern and Western), and was ultimately appointed by Sir John Macneill District Engineer over 50 miles of those works.

At this juncture, however, the directors of the Midland Great Western Railway of Ireland, having obtained an Act of Parliament enabling them to construct their line to Mullingar and Longford, applied to Mr. Hemans, in August 1845, to take charge of their works as Chief Engineer. This offer he accepted, and was immediately engaged in preparing plans for the construction of their line, and for its branches and proposed extensions.

During the great depression that all railways laboured under, subsequent to the mania of 1846, but slow progress was made with the works to Mullingar; but on the 28th of June, 1817, the first portion, to Enfield, 26.5 miles, was opened to the public.

In the meantime, by the issue of a severe Parliamentary contest, the company had been put in possession of the line to Athlone, and in 1847 these powers were further extended to Galway. In the same year a further portion of the line to Mullingar was opened, on the 6th of December, to the public. It was not until the 2nd of October, 1848, considerable financial difficulties having much retarded the works, that Mr. Hemans could enable the directors to open their line to the public the whole way to Mullingar, and there for a considerable period all further progress was stopped.

In the following May, the extreme distress in the west of Ireland having induced the Government to consider the advantages of giving employment, by the extension of the rail to Galway, a loan was advanced to the company of half a million, to be spent on the line between Athlone and Galway, the company themselves guaranteeing to find the means of construction from Mullingar to Athlone.

A further condition, which then appeared rather startling, was annexed, which was that the whole line from Mullingar to Galway, 77 miles, must be completed by the end of December, 1851.

As the works could not be commenced until land was obtained, in the beginning of 1850, this was considered a difficult task, and was not undertaken without hesitation. Two great rivers, the Shannon and the Suck, and an arm of the sea, were to be bridged over, and some deep bogs to be crossed, besides tolerably heavy earthworks were necessary in the county Westmeath.

In the latter end of the year, the directors, at Mr. Hemans’ strong recommendation, secured the services of Mr. Dargan, the eminent contractor, and early in 1850 the works were actually commenced by him, with a large staff of plant and assistants. From this time, Mr. Hemans devoted all his energies to the arrangements necessary for the completion of the line in due time. Designs were prepared for the numerous bridges, stations, &c., and for the viaducts over the Shannon, river Suck, and the estuary of Lough Athalia. All these works were put in active operation during the summer of 1850; and the result was, that, on the 1st of August, 1851, five months before the stipulated time, and at a cost, it has been stated, considerably under the estimate, the whole line from Mullingar to Galway was opened to the public.

On the completion of the line Mr. Hemans was entertained by the directors of the company at a public banquet, when a large handsome claret-jug and salver were presented to him, bearing the following inscription :- 'Presented by the Chairman and Directors of the Midland Great Western Railway to George Willoughby Hemans, Esq., C.E., in testimony of their just appreciation of the talents, energy, and judgment displayed by him in conducting the engineering works of the company to a speedy and most efficient completion MDCCCLI.'

During the construction of the Midland Great Western, Mr. Hemans was connected with the engineering of several other lines in Ireland, e.g., the Portadown, Dungannon and Omagh Junction; the Newry and Warrenpoint, the Newry and Armagh, the Enniskillen and Bundoran, the Athenry and Tuam, and the Athenry and Ennis Junction, the Waterford and Limerick, the Limerick and Kilkenny, and the Kilkenny Junction Railways. Many of these lines were constructed under extreme difficulties for want of capital, and had it not been for Mr. Hemans’s extraordinary energy and perseverance they would probably never have got beyond the initial stage. As it was he constructed more railways in Ireland than any engineer of his time.

In 1854 Mr. Hemans came to reside in London, and speedily attained a high reputation as a parliamentary engineer. He constructed several railways in England and Wales, namely, the Vale of Clywd, the East Grinstead and Groombridge and Tunbridge Wells, and the Tewkesbury and Malvern lines.

In 1865 Mr. Hemans, jointly with Mr. Bateman (Past President Inst. C.E.), deposited plans for the great scheme for the utilization of the sewage of London proposed by the Metropolitan Sewage and Essex Reclamation Company. These works were actually commenced, but consequent upon the monetary panic of 1866, and the severe depression that ensued, they were abandoned. This proposed undertaking caused much interest when before Parliament, and was the first occasion of the Prince of Wales voting in the House of Lords, when His Royal Highness supported the second and third readings of the Bill.

In 1870 Mr. Hemans was appointed Engineer-in-Chief for the Government of the Province of Canterbury, New Zealand, and subsequently to the Government of New Zealand. Afterwards G. B. Bruce (V.P. Inst. C.E.) was appointed joint engineer with him, for the New Zealand Government.

In September 1872, while staying at Ben Rhydding, Mr. Hemans was seized with a terrible attack of paralysis.

He never recovered from this attack, nor even ever spoke again, and died on the 29th of December 1885, the last thirteen years of his life being passed in retirement in the bosom of his family.

For a man of his activity of mind and body a sadder fate than this death in life could scarcely be imagined, but he bore his trouble with the utmost fortitude and even cheerfulness.

The form of paralysis was that by which the nerves of the brain were so affected as to deprive him of the power of speech and writing, but otherwise leaving the brain active and clear. He was able to take interest in politics, delighted in being read to, played an excellent game of whist and backgammon. Strange to say, he would copy a letter when written for him, or an etching, but he had no powers left of composition. He could not even write 'yes' or 'no' without assistance. Owing to the kindness of Mr. Bruce the New Zealand business was carried on most satisfactorily under their joint names.

Mr. Hemans’s connection with the Institution was a highly honourable and advantageous one on both sides. At the time of his death he was within eighteen months of completing half a century of membership, having been elected an Associate on the 2nd of May, 1837. On the 9th of January following he was transferred to Graduate, and on the 18th of May, 1845, he became a full Member. He was a most regular attendant of the meetings, frequently taking part in the discussions, and being the Author of four Papers printed in the Minutes of Proceedings, namely 'On the Brick Beam at Nine Elms,' i. (1838), 16; 'Description of a Wrought-iron Lattice Bridge lately erected on the line of the Dublin and Drogheda Railway,' iii. 63; 'Description of the Rails, Sleepers, and Fastenings on the Dublin and Drogheda Railway,' v. 233 ; 'On the Railway System in Ireland, the Government aid afforded, and the Nature and Results of County Guarantees,' xviii. 24.

For the second of these communications he received a Walker Premium. His Paper on the railway system of Ireland would also have been rewarded, but for the fact of his being himself a Member of Council. In such cases it is not customary to notice Papers otherwise than by a vote of thanks.

He was elected a Member of Council in 1856. When his lamentable seizure occurred he was a Vice-President, a position which, in the ordinary course, would have in due time secured his nomination for the Presidency. He was annually re-elected until 1875, when, being the senior Vice-President, his name was, at his own request, withdrawn from nomination to the Presidency. On receiving this intimation the Council unanimously recorded their sense of the services of Mr. Hemans in the following terms.

Resolved- That the Council hear, with the deepest possible regret, of the continued indisposition of their esteemed colleague, Mr. Hemans.

That, having regard to the marked attention Mr. Heman invariably showed, and the deep interest he uniformly took in all the details of the administration of the Society, the Council had looked forward with satisfaction to the period now approaching, when Mr. Hemans might have been elected President, the duties of which office, they feel assured, would have been discharged with honour and credit to himself, and with signal advantage to the Institution.

That, in receiving his resignation, the Council desire to record how deeply they deplore the temporary loss of Mr. Hemans’s distinguished services; and how earnestly they hope that at no distant date he may be restored to health, and be enabled to assume the highest office the profession has the power to bestow.

In person Mr. Hemans was slightly below the middle height, possessed of a well-built dapper form, betokening great activity, and with a handsome winning face, and most pleasant manners.

He was fond of athletic exercise, and was a fearless rider, in winter mostly devoting his Saturdays to hunting, even after he came to London, and he took almost daily exercise in the park. As might be expected from his descent, Mr. Hemans was a man of the highest moral character professionally and socially; indeed his sense of honour was almost too keen for the present day. He was an open-hearted, generous and faithful friend, a favourite with all his fellow-pupils in early days, and afterwards with all who worked with him or under him, and it will ever be matter for regret that his name was not destined to be included among the list of Presidents of the Institution.

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