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George Graham (1822-1899)

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George Graham (1822-1899), M. Inst. C.E., the engineer-in-chief of the Caledonian Railway.

He began life as a mechanical engineer in the works of the Mr. Robert Napier, of Lancefield.

1899 Died.

1899 Obituary [1]

GEORGE GRAHAM, Chief Engineer of the Caledonian Railway, died on the 30th June, 1899 - the day on which his resignation took effect - and the Company thus lost a distinguished and devoted servant, whose career was intimately bound up with its fortunes, and with the railway development of Scotland from the commencement.

Born in 1822 at Hallhills in Sibbaldbie parish, Annandale, a farm of which his forefathers had been tenants for about three centuries, Mr. Graham began practical life as an apprentice with the famous Robert Napier in Glasgow, and in that capacity worked at the engines of the first Cunarder 'Britannia,' and on those of the first steam war-vessels, the 'Vesuvius' and the 'Stromboli.'

Although thus interestingly associated in his opening manhood with the earliest developments of steam-power as applied to navigation, his destiny was to run, not along the great highways of the sea, but on those of the land. His health gave way, and he was compelled to quit Glasgow and recuperate in his native air.

In 1845 the real opportunity of his life came with the making of the survey for the Caledonian Railway. Engaged as an amateur assistant, he was brought into contact with Joseph Locke, Past-President, the engineer of the undertaking - a man for whose work Mr. Graham throughout his life entertained a profound respect, which was manifested notably in his account of the origin and completion of the railway published in 1888. Young George Graham was taken on as a member of the staff.

The contest with the Glasgow and South Western and the North British companies, in Parliament and out of it, was already a serious fact, and the preliminary levels and surveys were often made under difficulties. 'Our surveyors,' Mr. Graham himself has recorded, 'were assaulted. At Sanquhar one of them threatened to shoot one of the crowd with his level, and rather frightened them, but, like. the natives that are met with by travellers, they soon got acquainted with what was going on, and eventually broke his level.'

In spite of all such obstacles and difficulties, more serious matters were going steadily forward, and on the 10th September, 1847, the first public passenger train on the system - from Beattock to Carlisle - was started by Mr. Graham, whc rode on the engine. The first ticket issued was to the late Mr. Cuthbertson, founder of the Annandale Observer.

Once the railway had been fairly set going, it was not long before it became impossible for Mr. Locke’s firm of Locke and Errington, the original engineers, to continue to attend to their undertaking. On their retirement, after two intermediate appointments, the office again had to be filled up in 1853.

Mr. Graham’s qualities had by this time earned such confidence that he was installed as Engineer-in-Chief and custodian of the permanent way, At that time the distance travelled by the company’s engines was about 195 miles, and the capital amounted to about £7,500,000. During the forty-six years which have elapsed since then, the 195 miles have expanded to about 1,116 miles, and the capital has grown to about £48,000,000.

In this vast development, responding to the wonderful industrial evolution of the second half of this century, it is no exaggeration to say that Mr. Graham was responsible for a considerable part. It is difficult to give details so as to be intelligible without being tedious-a railway map would best show how widespread are the marks of Mr. Graham’s handiwork and design, the routes he adapted or brought into junction with the already existing system, the extensions which he himself advised and planned. Until 1880 the upkeep of the permanent way was his main duty, and it was in no spirit of idle boasting that at the jubilee celebration of 1897 Sir James Thompson, General Manager, asserted as a well-known fact that the Caledonian road was 'in perfect order,' and he recognised at the same time, in becoming terms, the credit due to Mr. Graham, who had not failed, he said, to leave his mark on his department. What that mark was Sir James did not say, probably thinking it was not necessary, for the stamp of solidity and thoroughness is impressed on all that Mr. Graham did. Mr, H. B. Neave, solicitor of the company, on the same public occasion, paid a warm tribute to the great industry of Mr. Graham, his wonderful perseverance, and his skill and genius in mastering and marshalling details.

Mr. Graham was relieved of the charge of the permanent way and works in 1880, when two divisional engineers were appointed to superintend the maintenance, while he reserved himself for the new works and the extension of the system, then covering 775 miles. Of these extensions, that at Gourock, although only 32 miles in length, has proved to be of importance far beyond its size, resulting as it has done in placing the Company in a most commanding position in the competition for the pleasure traffic on the Firth of Clyde. Amongst the earlier notable lines was the Edinburgh and Leith line, while his latest was the Mid-Lanark Railway now in course of construction, to give direct railway communication between Lesmahagow coalfields ,and the Ayrshire ports. Mr. Graham bridged the Clyde no fewer than seven times, and viaducts of all kinds of his designing in steel and iron and stone are to be found in all parts of the district.

His preferences were instinctively conservative, and his bias was for solid and durable construction. Stone bridges were his choice when possible. He considered that stone was more permanent and cheaper to maintain than metal, though the first cost might be more. Had the Caledonian routes not lain so frequently through mineral districts, subject to subsidences tending always to destroy stone bridges, there would have been fewer metal structures on the system.

It is easy to detect in hisp ersonal character the qualitiesw hich made his work so sound. An unreliable man will never do thorough and enduring work. Everybody knew that George Graham could be depended on. He disliked ostentation; his modesty often took the form of shyness. For instance, nothing could induce him to enter the witness-box. He had a very retentive memory; in fact, he knew the history of every bit of land the Company acquired, and it is to be hoped that his systematic collection of notes and papers on the subject of railway development in Scotland will not remain unpublished.

Mr. Graham was elected a Member of the Institution in 1889, and his address as President of the Glasgow Association of Students of the Institution was one of those chapters of reminiscence and engineering history which are always welcome.

In 1896 he was elected a Member of Council as representative for Scotland. In the Engineer and Railway Volunteer Staff Corps he held the rank of Major, and in other departments of social life he took some part. He filled the President's chair of the Glasgow Dumfriesshire Society, of the Glasgow Annandale Association, and other kindred institutions.

He married in 1857, but had been a widower since 1871. He is, however, survived by two daughters and one son.

1899 Obituary [2]

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