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Henry Wood

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Henry Wood (1805-1886) of the Portsmouth Dockyard


1887 Obituary [1]

HENRY WOOD was born on the 12th of June, 1805.

He entered the Portsmouth Dockyard, which was to be the scene of his long and distinguished service, at the early age of fourteen as a “Chip boy.” His taste for engineering ere long began to manifest itself, and by dint of sheer hard work in acquiring theoretical as well as practical knowledge, and by never allowing any opportunity of gaining information to pass by unimproved, Mr. Wood, in the course of five years, qualified himself for the position of draughtsman. In this capacity he was appointed to the Portsmouth branch of the Department of the Director of Engineering and Architectural Works of the Navy. Here he continued to serve for forty-five years, and having once got his foot upon the ladder, gradually mounted until he attained the highest rank to which he could aspire, becoming in 1864, the Superintending Civil Engineer of the Dockyard.

During the period of his service that establishment was almost re-created, so extensive were the additions and improvements made to it. In 1840 its extent was only 81 acres ; it contained seven small dry docks (the largest of which was but 220 feet in length), five building slips, two small basins, and a limited number of workshops and storehouses which have since been re-constructed. The extension of the yard commenced in 1864, and is scarcely yet completed. It was the most important work entrusted to Mr. Wood, and was carried out by him in a very successful manner. The cost of this undertaking has up to the present time amounted to about £2,200,000. There had previously been important additions to the yard ; notably the construction of the steam basin (opened by Her Majesty in May 1848), the steam factory, completed in 1849, and No. 11 Dock ; but these may almost be said to have been insignificant when contrasted with the great extension works by which the area of the yard has been increased to 293 acres, comprising fourteen dry docks, some of them of the largest size, with two lock entrances and basins, having respectively water areas of 3, 7, 14, 14 and 22 acres, as well as a tidal basin of 10 acres. The frontage of the yard has also been provided with jetties at which the largest ships in the Navy can lie at low water; and numerous important buildings have been erected, among which may be mentioned the new steam factory, smithy, iron and brass foundries, shop for iron shipbuilding, armour-plating shop and several others. These structures were all built under the supervision and direction of Mr. W0od.

Mr. Wood was a man in whose vocabulary the word "impossible" had no place. Whatever the emergency he was always ready to meet it, and he was a tower of strength to Commanders-in-chiefs and Admiral Superintendents, who ever relied with the utmost confidence on his promptness when arrangements had to be made for the reception of distinguished visitors to the dockyard, or on any of those state occasions which frequently occur at that great military port. There are doubtless many who still remember how when the French Fleet visited Portsmouth in 1866, Mr. Wood, in an incredibly short time, transformed an open flagged court into a magnificent and elegant ball-room.

In addition to the works at the dockyard, Mr. Wood during the latter period of his service, had charge of the Royal Marine Artillery Barracks at Eastney, the Royal Marine Light Infantry Barracks at Forton, the Royal Naval Hospital at Haslar, the Royal Clarence Victualling Yard at Gosport, the Gunboat Yard at Haslar, the Coast Guard Buildings, and all other Admiralty works in the Portsmouth district. The extensive dredging operations in Portsmouth Harbour and on the Bar, and the construction of the Queen’s Landing Place at East Cowes were also carried out by him, and his great local knowledge was often of service in the questions of foreshore rights which have at times arisen at Portsmouth.

Although engaged in official duties sufficiently arduous to satisfy the appetite of the most ardent lover of work, Mr. Wood found time to attend to and interest himself in local improvements. The sanitary welfare of Portsmouth was an object which he had much at heart, and he was one of the first supporters of a public movement for securing to the inhabitants of the town as well as to the various members of the Government Service in the place, an improved and constant supply of pure water, which resulted in the establishment of the existing water company, from whose works upwards of 5,000,000 gallons of water are now daily distributed throughout the borough instead of 500,000 gallons, which was the limit of supply some thirty years ago.

Though a civil servant of the Crown, Mr. Wood was not devoid of military aspirations. He served as a captain in the Portsmouth Dockyard Brigade until its abolition, and when the Volunteer movement was started he joined heartily in it, and was for several years Major of the 3rd Rants Volunteer Artillery. A man of refined mind, he found relaxation from the toils of office in the cultivation of his taste for the fine arts. He was possessed of considerable musical talent, and was a connoisseur of paintings, of which he had a small but choice collection. Some of his most amusing anecdotes, for he was an excellent narrator with an inexhaustible fund of reminiscences to draw upon, related to the way in which he picked up many of his pictures from dealers in promiscuous articles, who knowing his artistic proclivities, informed him when anything likely to tempt him had come into their possession. He was, moreover, a good geologist, a great lover of flowers, and an ardent admirer and student of Shakespear.

Mr. Wood retired from the Admiralty in 1879, receiving a special pension on account of his long and faithful service, and he died on the 23rd of December 1886, respected and regretted by all who knew him. In his life he thoroughly practised those great principles of charity inculcated by the masonic body in which he held high rank. He was essentially one of nature’s gentlemen, and at the conclusion of his prolonged term of official life, though he had made host of friends, he was without a single enemy. Mr. Wood has left to the cadets of the profession a noteworthy example of what may be effected by industry, perseverance, zeal and integrity.

He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 41h of April, 1871.



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