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James Adamson

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James Adamson (c1850-1931), honorary secretary of the Institution of Marine Engineers

First member of the Institute of Marine Engineers. Memorial tablet at the institute..[1]

1931 Obituary.[2]

IT is with great regret that we have to record the death of Mr. James Adamson, honorary secretary of the Institute of Marine Engineers, who was inseparably connected with the founding and the growth of the Institute from 1889 to the present day.

Mr. Adamson died at his home at Harrow on Thursday last, following an operation, and many engineers were present at his funeral on Monday last at Pinner. He was eighty-one years of age, and up to the last took a very keen interest in all the affairs of the Institute.

He came of seafaring stock, and was apprenticed in 1866 to a millwright in Falkirk, his birthplace, after which he spent four years with the engineering firm of Forrest and Barr, of Glasgow.

In 1875 he came to London and entered the drawing-office of Messrs. J. and W. Dudgeon, of Millwall, afterwards spending some time at sea. On his return to this country he obtained n position with Alexander Stephen and Son, of Linthouse, and afterwards took a three years' course at Glasgow University.

In 1880 he was appointed an assistant to Mr. Malcolm Campbell, the superintendent engineer of the British India Steam Navigation Company, and on the death of Mr. Campbell in 1889 he succeeded him as superintendent engineer, remaining in that office until he retired after thirty-five years' of service in 1915.

In the autumn of 1888, in association with several superintendent engineers at the Royal Albert Dock, he laid the foundation of the Institute of Marine Engineers, which has done so much for marine engineers and has now reached an honoured place in the ranks of our technical and scientific institutions.

Mr. Adamson was the author of many articles, and he took a keen interest in the "Transactions" of the Institute of Marine Engineers, which have a world-wide circulation. He was one of the best-known personalities at the meetings of technical societies, and his death will be keenly felt by a wide circle of friends.

1931 Obituary[3]


To write an account of the late Mr. James Adamson whose death, we regret to record, took place on August 20, is almost to relate the history of the Institute of Marine Engineers, since for 40 of his 81 years of life he had been intimately connected with it, first as one of its founders, and later, until February, 1930, as its very -active honorary secretary. Mr. Adamson, born in Stirlingshire in 1850, came of a maritime stock, his grandfather, grand-uncle and father all having had shipbuilding yards in various Scottish seaports. The latter’s yard was at Alloa, and there Mr. Adamson’s early years were spent, his education being received at schools at that place, at Falkirk, and at Dollar Academy. His first introduction to practical work was with the construction of marine engines in a smith and millwright’s shops at Falkirk. Then followed service in the drawing offices of the firm of Messrs. Alexander Stephen and Sons, Messrs. Rait and Lindsay, and Messrs. James Howden and Company. During this period of his life he attended courses in technical subjects for three sessions at the University of Glasgow. Mr. Adamson’s next move was to London, where he acted as draughtsman to Messrs. J. and W. Dudgeon for some years, but death having caused some changes in the firm he then became a seagoing engineer. Giving up the sea about 1878, Mr. Adamson was appointed draughtsman and assistant to Mr. Malcolm Campbell, superintendent engineer to the British India Steam Navigation Co and the Ducal Line, becoming in 1889, on the death of Mr. Campbell, superintendent engineer to the company at the Royal Albert Dock, London. In this capacity he took special interest in the boilers of his ships, and quickly became a reliable source of advice to many concerned with the subject of marine steam generation.

Recognising the importance of professional cooperation in technical matters, Mr. Adamson, in the autumn of 1888, joined with some other engineers, superintendents and engine builders, to form a society for the study of such matters amongst marine engineers, and to Mr. Adamson fell the task of preparing the first circular regarding it. Early in February, 1889, the scheme was successfully launched, a reading room being rented by the founder committee and furnished by it with books and papers. Incorporated in July, 1889, the Institute of Marine Engineers arose from this modest beginning, and on January 31, 1890, it is recorded as possessing 253 members. Steady progress was made, and finally the time arrived when the Institute was able to consider premises of its own, the present handsome and convenient building near the Mint on Tower Hill being occupied in 1914. It may be noted, in passing, that the membership at the end of 1930 was 3,289, a very creditable advance on the original figures. Throughout these changes Mr. Adamson continued his enthusiastic and painstaking work for its benefit, and from 1917 the Institute benefited by practically the whole of-his. time and energy. For a very long period he was responsible for the-preparation of-the transactions and-the annual reports, contributing also to the discussions and papers. A notable paper by Mr. Adamson was delivered in 1912 on the celebration of the centenary of steam navigation on the Clyde. He served on the London Committee for the World Engineering Congress at Tokyo in 1929, and was, also in that year, presented with the Honorary Freedom of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights. Apart from his unstinted work in the interests of marine engineering, for which not only the members, but others concerned with its prosperity will hold his name in grateful remembrance, Mr. Adamson was a strong supporter of several religious and philanthropic organisations, a fact which no doubt contributed to the conscientious manner in which he conducted his professional life."

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