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George Berkley

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Sir George Berkley (1821-1893)

1821 April 26th. Born at Islington the son of James Berkley (1792-1853), Gentleman, and his wife Mary Davis (1792-1874). Brother of James John Berkley

1846 May 20th. Married at Poplar to Matilda Garford

1847 of 24 Great George Street, Westminster

1893 December 20th. Died at Kensington


1894 Obituary [1]

Sir GEORGE BERKLEY, K.C.M.G., who was born on April 26, 1821, and died on December 20, 1893, was one of the engineers to whose energy and skill the railway systems of Great Britain and the Colonies are due. After having served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Samuda Brothers, the well-known marine engineers, he was received in 1840 into the office of Robert Stephenson, where he remained until 1849, when he began to practise on his own account.

He carried out important civil engineering works of a varied character. He designed Fenchurch Street Station, and widened the line of the Blackwall Railway, for which company he acted as engineer to the date of his death. He also constructed many other lines, and in 1859 succeeded Robert Stephenson as consulting engineer to the Great Indian Peninsular Railway Company.

He also acted as consulting engineer for railways in Natal, Cape Colony, and the Argentine. In India, besides acting as engineer to the Indian Midland Railway, and reporting on other railways, he carried out other engineering works in various parts of the empire. From 1891 to 1892 he served as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. He was for many years one of the Board of Managers of the Royal Institution, and on the Queen's birthday, 1893, he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George.

As a member of the Iron and Steel Institute, he took part in the American meeting in 1890. He made a special study of the properties of iron and steel, one of the most important of his investigations being described in a paper contributed to the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, in 1870, on the strength of iron and steel, and on the design of parts of structures which consist of those materials.


1894 Obituary [2]

SIR GEORGE BERKLEY, K.C.B.G., was born on the 26th of April, 1821, and was educated at a private school at Hampstead.

At the early age of fourteen he was removed from school and apprenticed to Samuda Brothers, the well-known marine engineers. After going through the shops he assisted in preparing designs for railways worked on the atmospheric system, to which that firm was then giving considerable attention.

About the year 1840 he had the good fortune to be received through his brother James, who was then acting as secretary and assistant to that gentleman - into the office of Robert Stephenson at No. 24 Great George Street, Westminster.

Shortly before this appointment George Berkley, who had been in somewhat delicate health, was advised to try country air. For a time he lived at Bishop Stortford, and while there took advantage of the immediate neighbourhood of some repairing shops on the Eastern Counties system to make a number of connected experiments and observations on the working of locomotives under varied conditions. To this work he was prompted by an irresistible impulse to be always doing or learning something which never left him through life. Although under no pressing need to work, and sent into the country for relaxation, he devoted himself steadily to an investigation in a branch of mechanics in which he had received no special instruction, and laboriously gathered information, for a remunerative application of which no opportunity was then visible.

With characteristic modesty he made no mention of this work to Mr. Stephenson and was the more pleased, therefore, when in 1844 he received instructions from that gentleman to proceed to Dublin for the purpose of making a series of independent experiments on the working of the atmospheric system of traction, then in operation on the short line of the Kingstown and Dalkey Railway. The results of these experiments, made in conjunction with W. P. Marshall, formed an appendix to a Report on this subject by Robert Stephenson to the Directors of the Chester and Holyhead Railway Company and were embodied in a Paper entitled 'The peculiar features of the Atmospheric Railway System,' presented to the Institution by Mr. Berkley in the following year.

He also made some further investigations on the London and Croydon Railway, which was then being worked atmospherically under the direction of Messrs. Samuda Brothers.

Another matter in which Mr. Berkley rendered considerable assistance was the Battle of the Gauges in 1846. Three years previously he had carried out for Robert Stephenson an alteration of gauge in the Cambridge line of the Eastern Counties Railway from 5 feet 0.5 inch to the ordinary width of 4 feet 8.5 inches.

Later, in 1873, when the gauge question was again before the Institution, Mr. Berkley communicated much valuable information, the outcome of thirty years’ special experience. In conjunction with the late George Henry Phipp, he made for Robert Stephenson in 1850 a series of experiments and examinations of the deep wells of Liverpool with reference to the water supply of that city. He was always on terms of intimate friendship with Mr. Stephenson, who placed the greatest confidence in his ability and at death left him a bequest as a mark of regard and esteem.

In the year 1849 Mr. Berkley commenced to practise on his own account. He designed and constructed Fenchurch Street Station and widened the line of the Blackwall Railway, for which Company he acted as engineer to the date of his death.

He also constructed the Hampstead Junction Railway, the Hammersmith branch of the South Western, the Stratford and Loughton of the Great Eastern, the Wimbledon and Croydon, the East Suffolk system of the Great Eastern, the Wells and Fakenham and other lines.

From the beginning of 1851 he acted as the representative of Robert Stephenson as consulting engineer to the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company, to which post he was appointed on that gentleman’s death in 1859.

In 1867 and 1886 he visited India and, besides reporting on railways, was engaged in other engineering work in various parts of that empire.

In 1874 Mr. Berkley became one of the consulting engineers to the Colonies, for railways in Natal and viaducts in Cape Colony.

In 1886 he was appointed consulting engineer to the Indian Midland Railway Company, and in 1887, in conjunction with his son, to a similar post on the Argentine North Eastern Railway.

He was for many years one of the Board of Managers of the Royal Institution and a member of the Athensum Club. In May 1893, he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. Unfortunately his health, which had not been good for some time, now began to show signs of serious failure. He had always an idea that his heart was not strong, and in this he was probably not far wrong, for he passed away suddenly during a fit of asthmatic coughing on the 20th of December, 1803.

An able engineer, Sir George Berkley owed much of his success to a capacity for taking advantage to the utmost of the many opportunities of advancement which fell in his way, and to the virtues of dogged perseverance and tenacity of purpose. Another marked feature of his character was incorruptible honesty in act and speech and a disinclination to acquiesce in anything of the nature of false suggestion or suppression of truth, even when such a course might have been followed by pecuniary benefit. His own estimate of his scientific and professional acquirements was always singularly modest, and even the importance of the position to which he ultimately attained did not serve to entirely remove this habit of self-depreciation.

Sir George Berkley’s connection with the Institution began on the 1st of April, 1845, when he was elected an Associate. On the 17th of January, 1854, he was transferred to the class of Member; on the 17th of December, 1872, he was elected to a seat on the Council; and he served the office of President during the session 1891-92. In addition to the Paper on the Atmospheric Railway System, of which mention has already been made, he contributed to the Proceedings in 1870 a treatise entitled 'On the Strength of Iron and Steel and on the Design of parts of Structures which consist of those materials.'

In his Presidential Address, delivered on the 10th of November, 1891, he endeavoured to trace briefly the advance of engineering work in relation to social progress.


1893 Obituary [3]



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