George Wythes (1811-1883)
Born Hadson, Worcestershire
1865 Both George and his son George Edward, both of Bromley, became Associates of the Inst of Civil Engineers
1871 Public works contractor, living at Bickley Hall, Bromley, with Frances Wythes 58
c.1871 Formed George Wythes and Co with John and Henry Cochrane.
1872 in conjunction with John Jackson (1834-1891), they constructed the Rio Quarto Railway in the Argentine Republic.
1874 Messrs. Wythes and Jackson, also surveyed and constructed the Natal Government Railways from Durban to Maritzburg, and of the North and South lines from Durban to Isiping and Verulam.
1881 Living in Bickley Hall, Bromley with his grandsons George E. Wythes 13 and Ernest J. Wythes 12
1883 Obituary 
GEORGE WYTHES, son of the late Mr. Thomas Wythes, of Worcestershire, whose family for a long series of years had occupied land in that county, was born in June 1811.
At an early period of his life he exhibited, in a very remarkable degree, some of those sterling qualities of character for which, in later years, he was so eminently distinguished. Few men afforded a more striking proof of the value and importance of self-reliance and self-respect, not only in building up a colossal fortune for himself, but, while doing so, in rendering signal and permanent benefit to the commercial activity and enterprise of the community in which he lived. His unflagging energy and perseverance, under more than ordinary difficulties, placed him in a comparatively brief period in the foremost rank of railway contractors.
Gifted with extraordinary powers of perception, he possessed the rare and happy art of surrounding himself with men of zeal, efficiency, and willing service. He was a shrewd, intelligent man of the world, and was endowed with a keen sense of penetration into human character. Hence it is not surprising that he became one of the most popular, as he certainly was one of the most successful, railway contractors of his day. Such a man does not rise to the summit of his profession by accident. There is a shallow notion, and it is to be feared somewhat popular, that chance, or luck, aided by opportunity, decides the destiny of such men.
There never was a greater mistake. Let any one examine with attention the mental and physical development of these successful pioneers in the engineering profession. Let him note the investment of brain and muscle which forms the stock-in-trade which these foremost men employ who do the world's work. He will soon perceive that chance, in its popular meaning, has nothing to do with the advancement of such men. Extraordinary powers of perception, combined with extraordinary perseverance, enable them to win the day, and to reach the goal which crowns all their efforts, with the justly-merited rewards of wealth and social distinction. This, and this alone, was the secret of the success of Mr. George Wythes.
His peculiar fitness for work soon opened up to him an enormous amount of business ; so that, among the earliest efforts of his industry and skill, he was successfully engaged in a very large contract on the Essex line of railway.
The following extract from a notice of his work is taken from the Chelmsford Chronicle of that date - April 1843:- 'The village of Kelvedon was all gaiety and bustle on the 29th ultimo, first, by the life and animation thrown into it, in common with other towns, by the opening of the line; and next, because G. Wythes, Esq., having completed his contracts in that district, set the day apart as a holiday for his workmen, and furnished them with the means of enjoying it in true English style. Never were cheers more enthusiastic or more honest than those which echoed to the health of their excellent master, so justly has he earned the good repute of the neighbourhood."
It is well known that, although only at that time in his thirty-second year, he had amassed a considerable sum of money, and there are engineers still living who can remember how he was pointed at as he passed along as the rising contractor of the day.
After his success in the Essex line he rose rapidly in influence and in wealth in the railway world, until he became associated with Messrs. Brassey, Jackson, and others, in carrying out very important and extensive contracts in Europe and in the East.
George Wythes partnered with Thomas Brassey (1805 to 1870), Charles Henfrey with whom he bid on the construction of the Delhi railway line and Mr. Jackson with whom he build 72 miles of the railway from Chalisgaon to Bhusawal in India.
He undertook the early and more difficult part of the work of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, from which he derived considerable profit. Still, it would be erroneous to conclude that he was always favoured with equal good fortune. It is well known that he met with many reverses, owing to the varying fluctuations of all such speculative undertakings. Nor was it only in railways that he realised his large fortune. At one period of his career he had a large interest in some blast furnaces in the north of England, and at the time of his death he was personally and financially interested in extensive mining operations near Spezzia. In fact, there are few countries in Europe with which his names and capital mere not associated, and he had property scattered over almost every quarter of the globe.
Few men ever acquired greater influence among his employ& and, like his co-partner, Mr. Brassey, it was due mainly, if not exclusively, to the good sense and good nature which led him to treat every one connected with him in business, from the Navy to the Engineer-in-chief, with that delicate and considerate courtesy which never yet failed to create mutual confidence and respect. There was another secret of his success which also appeared prominently in Mr. Brassey’s character. These men were always easy of access. No officials ever were allowed to be obstuctives in the path of those who wanted a personal interview, regardless of the importance or position of the person seeking it, from the Plate-layer of the line of rails to the Chairman of the Company.
If Mr. Wythes was disengaged and in his office the way was open to all corners. These small courtesies, in themselves, perhaps, mere nothings, are, in the aggregate, of the greatest importance. When a man in power and position assumes airs of authority, and stiffens his deportment with too much buckram and pipeclay, he may flatter himself that he commands obedience, but he may be very certain that he does not obtain respect. Along with these popular advantages which, like air-cushions, if they do nothing else, greatly assist in easing jolts, Mr. Wythes was a man of the utmost simplicity of character, in the ordinary details of everyday life, and he was as upright and sincere as he was simple.
The subject of this memoir married Miss Frances Wagstaff in the year 1836, by whom he had an only son (George Edward Wythes), born in 1839, and who died in 1875. This was a terrible blow to his father. Life lost its zest, and his home and wealth their charm. This crushing bereavement pressed heavily on his mind, and it is considered that it brought on that fatal malady which for eight years had been secretly undermining his constitution, naturally of the most robust description. He was a man of great reticence, even with his - (who was laid up from chronic illness), and he told me that intimate friends, and seldom, if ever, alluded to the depressing influences which all could see were telling their sad tale upon his health.
The death of his wife occurred four years after that of his son. This completed the blank in his existence, and accelerated the ravages of the disease which now began to make serious inroads upon his bodily strength. He attended, it is true, to business with wonderful punctuality, and every Monday he visited his estate at Copt Hall in Essex. Still any one who knew him in former years, while his son still lived, could see that his life was disconsolate and purposeless. In the evening of his days he was bereft of all that could make life dear, and wrapped up in his own thoughts, in an inner world of sadness and disappointment he lingered on, always in physical weakness, and not unfrequently in pain. Death released him, in the seventy-second year of his age, from the solitariness of his sufferings, on the 3rd of March, 1883, at Bickley Hall, Kent.
Mr. Wythes was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 7th of February, 1865.
Sources of Information
- 1861 census
- Civil Engineer Lists
- 1871 census
- 1881 census
- 1883 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries