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Henry Charles Forde

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Henry Charles Forde (1829-1897) - Civil Engineer and Telegraph engineer.

Worked with Charles Vignoles and later with Lionel Gisborne.

Messrs. Forde and Fleeming Jenkin were involved in the construction of the waterworks at Rouen in France.

Bertram Cottages were built in about 1872 to the design of Henry Charles Forde, a leading citizen of Wimbledon and an architect and engineer with an international reputation in the field of submarine telecommunications.


1897 Obituary [1]

HENRY CHARLES FORDE, fifth son of the late Mr. Thomas Arthur Forde, barrister-at-law, of Seaforde, Co. Down, was born on the 15th April, 1827.

After being educated privately at home and at school in Brussels, he was entered for three years at the College for Civil Engineers at Putney.

Subsequently he served under Charles Vignoles, Past President, on the survey and laying out of the Limerick and Waterford Railway.

In 1846 he was appointed by the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland an assistant engineer on the River Shannon works, which were carried out to deepen the bed of the river in order to improve the navigation from Limerick to the head of Lough Allen Canal, and at the same time to lower the flood level in order to drain the low-lying land in the neighbourhood of the river. During the great famine of that year he was also employed on various public works in Sligo, and in 1849 he was appointed Resident Engineer on the Lough Lannagh arterial drainage works at Castlebar, Co. Mayo.

In March, 1852, Mr. Forde joined his former chief on the River Shannon works, Lionel Gisborne, in a visit to South America to examine the Isthmus of Darien, with the object of cutting a ship canal from Port Escosses on the Atlantic to St. Miguel Harbour on the Pacific. This and a second expedition in the following year were carried out in the face of much native opposition.

In 1854 Mr. Forde and Mr. Gisborne entered into partnership and soon became known as pioneers of submarine telegraphy.

Concessions having been obtained for submarine cables from the Dardanelles to Egypt and down the Red Sea, for a line from Singapore to Batavia, and for cables from Java to Australasia, the first Eastern Telegraph Co and the Red Sea and India Telegraph Co were formed in 1857, with Messrs. Gisborne and Forde as engineers.

Two years later they acted for the Government as Engineers to the Malta-Alexandria Telegraph, the successful laying of which was carried out under the supervision of Mr. Forde and was described in a Paper he contributed to the Institution in 1862.

On the death of Mr. Gisborne in 1861, Mr. Forde entered into a partnership with Fleeming Jenkin, which lasted seven years.

He was subsequently associated with Sir Charles Bright, with Latimer Clark, with Charles Hockin and with Herbert Taylor.

The firm of Clarke, Forde and Taylor may be said to be largely responsible for the carrying out of a great proportion of the cable extensions throughout the world since 1869, at which date submarine telegraphy became possible as a commercial investment.

After the present Eastern Telegraph Co was formed, triplicate cables were laid from Suez to Aden and Bombay, and duplicate cables between Madras 2nd Penang, Singapore and Batavia, several of them under the personal superintendence of Mr. Forde. As engineers to the respective submarine telegraph companies, Messrs. Clark, Forde and Taylor laid down cables between Singapore and Nagasaki; England, Gibraltar, Malta and the Levant; Durban and Delagoa Bay (nearly 4000 miles) during the Zulu War; five Atlantic cables, including that from Brest to Newfoundland in 1869 (2,584 nautical miles); and the first South Atlantic cable, from Pernambuco to St. Louis in Senegal.

In 1894 Mr. Forde superintended the laying of the cable from Singapore to Labuan (Borneo) and Hong Kong, a distance of 1,972 nautical miles.

Mr. Forde died at West Hill Epsom, the residence of his cousin, Major Forde, on the 21st February, 1897. Of his ability as an engineer some impression may be conveyed by this notice. As a man he was straightforward and genial, qualities which gained for him many friends.

He married in 1855 Catherine Eleanor, eldest daughter of the late Rev. R. Ferrier Jex-Blake, Rector of Great Dunham, Norfolk. Mr. Forde was elected an Associate on the 3rd February, 1857, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 11th February, 1862.


1897 Obituary [2]



1897 Obituary[3][4]

ELECTRO-TELEGRAPHY, like our railways, is gradually losing its pioneers. The telegraphy which may be most appropriately described as a branch. of civil engineering is constituted by the construction and laying of submarine cables. In this connection we no longer have with us such men as T. R. Crampton, F. N. Gisborne, Werner Siemens, Edwin Clark, and Sir Charles Bright. Now again we have lost one who, as a civil engineer in the broadest sense, has furthered the development of submarine telegraphy as much as any one: his name is Henry Charles Ford.

Born in 1827, Mr. Forde had all but reached. his seventieth year before his sudden death on the 21st inst. Young Forde's early life was spent in Ireland, where unlike most telegraph engineers of the present day was engaged on almost every sort of engineering work, including river, canal, and drainage, besides railways partly whilst associated with the late Mr. Charles Vignoles, C.E., F.R.S. The subject of our obituary was also employed on various public works during the historic Irish famine of 1846. Whilst in Ireland Henry Forde was in official communication with the late Mr. Lionel Gisborne. An intimacy grew up which led to a visit being undertaken in 1852 by the two young engineers to South America with a view to examining and considering the Isthmus of Darien, for the purposes of a ship canal. Much and at times critical native opposition was met with, but, as it turned out, more useful work was to be accomplished by these engineers before the termination of their lives. The famous partnership with Mr. Gisborne had its origin the following year. These gentlemen were amongst the foremost and earliest workers in the pioneering of submarine telegraphy. They were the engineers of the Government Red Sea Telegraph of 1857--one of the first deep-water lines Messrs. R. S. Newall and Co. acting as contractors.

In 1859 Messrs. Gisborne and Forde acted as engineers to the Malta-Alexandria Telegraph on behalf of H. M. Government, Messrs. Siemens and Halske being the electricians, whilst Messrs. Glass and Elliot were the contractors. The successful laying of this line was under the entire supervision of Henry Forde, and was fully described by him in the course of a paper read at the Institution of Civil Engineers a short time afterwards.* This was the first cable in which the core was subjected to experimental pressure and to a proper system of electrical tests.

In 1860, Mr. Forde gave evidence before the Board of Trade Commission appointed to consider the construction of submarine cables. In collaboration with Mr. Gisborne and Mr. (afterwards Sir C. W.) Siemens, this gentlemen contributed a table the result of elaborate experiments dealing with the strength of materials used in deep~sea telegraph cables. This formed one of the most useful appendices to the Blue-Book connected with the above investigation. Mr. Forde was associated with the late Sir Charles Bright and with Mr. Fleeming Jenkin in connection with several submarine cable undertakings in the capacity of consulting engineer, as well as with Mr. Latimer Clark, with whom he entered into partnership some years later, to be joined afterwards by Mr. Herbert Taylor. The firm of Clark, Forde, and Taylor may be said to be largely responsible for the proper carrying out of the greater proportion of the cable extensions throughout the world which have grown up since 1869, the date at which submarine telegraphy became a fair subject for commercial investment, so many concerns were promoted. Several of these culminated in the "Eastern" and "Eastern Extension" Companies, to which, amongst others much to their benefit, be it added this firm have for so long acted as technical advisers.

A member of the Institution of Civil Engineers since 1862, and for several years Member of Council of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, Henry Charles Forde was an ornament to his profession in every sense, no less on account of his manly character than on that of his achievements which we have here endeavored to briefly portray. His genial countenance we can no longer behold; but an impression is left behind of what is represented such as will scarcely be forgotten by those who chanced to cross his path. A number of these gathered round the graveside to pay a last tribute of respect to their esteemed friend on Thursday.


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