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George Black

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George Black (1823-1873)


1875 Obituary [1]

MR. GEORGE BLACK, the eldest son of Mr. James Black, the head of an old family in the county of Limerick, and lately of Tramore, in the county of Waterford, was born on the 4th of March, 1823, and passed his early years in France, his tutor being the Rev. Hugh Oxenham, then of Dinan. Afterwards, his education was matured at the college of St. Servan, under the immediate care of one of the professors, in whose house he resided.

On leaving France, he adopted the profession of a civil engineer, and was articled to Mr. Joseph Mitchell, M. Inst. C.E.

In 1846, Mr. Black became an assistant on the Oxford, Worcester, and Wolverhampton railway, under the late Mr. Brunel, Vice-President Inst. C.E., where his genial disposition, zeal, intelligence, and assiduity made him a general favourite. Whilst thus employed he acquired much experience of detail in laying out the line in the valley of the Avon at its various points of crossing that stream, also in traversing, in the most judicious manner, the valuable and highly cultivated garden ground at Evesham. This may have helped to guide his subsequent practice when dealing with larger rivers and less cultivated areas in Western America.

The supervening dearth of employment in this country led Mr. Black to seek occupation abroad, and in 1851 he went to California, where he became largely engaged in the construction of roads, canals, and other works, and in the general practice of his profession. He was employed by Mr. Jos. P. Ronayne, M.P., N. Inst. C.E., first on the surveys, and subsequently as Resident Engineer, during the construction of the works of the Sierra Nevada Water Company, for a period of nearly four years.

Mr. Ronayne, on the 3rd of December, 1862, wrote to his father:- 'While thus engaged with me he had the charge of the surveying, laying out, and the supervision during construction, of nearly 100 miles of main canal and branches, and the various works connected therewith, including roads, dams, aqueducts, &c.; the importance of some of the works upon which your son was engaged, and the arduous nature of the duties he had to perform, may be estimated from the fact that one reservoir alone contained over 350 acres of water, and was formed by the construction of an artificial dam nearly 100 feet high; and the works had to be laid out and constructed in mountains covered with snow in winter and through a region of dense brush and forest heretofore uninhabitable and unexplored, and in its natural state almost inaccessible. During the four years that your son was thus engaged, he gave me the greatest satisfaction, and I ever found him anxious, reliable, and conscientious in the discharge of his professional duties, while no terms would be too strong for me to express my high opinion of his honour, integrity, and general personal character.'

Mr. Black wrote a pamphlet on the engineering operations of the Sierra Nevada. He was employed in works of importance in nearly every district of the Pacific coast. The Truckee Mining Ditch, one of the largest in California, the Donalme and Cloverdale railroad, the Cliff House Road, and many of the most important works of California were designed and wholly or partially executed by him.

His sound, disinterested advice saved one company a large sum of money, for which he obtained from them a cordial and unanimous vote of thanks.

His last letter home was dated June 27th, 1873, wherein he says:- 'I am now engaged in making a report on the project of bringing water to this city (San Francisco), and latterly I have made a trip of 3,000 miles through the state of Oregon to report on railroads there, and on the practicability of connecting Oregon and San Francisco by railroad.'

Whilst thus in the midst of his active career, he was cut off on the 15th of August, 1873, after three days’ illness, in the fifty-first year of his age.

A local paper of San Francisco in recording the death of Mr. George Black, observed, 'He justly held a foremost place among his professional brethren on this coast. An unsullied integrity, a chivalrous spirit of honour, and a warm heart marked the career of Mr. Black in life, and attached to him a numerous circle of friends who are left to regret his untimely death.'

Mr. Black was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 2nd of May, 1865, but his residence abroad prevented him from taking any personal part in its proceedings.


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