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James Nicholas Douglass

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Sir James Nicholas Douglass (1826-1898)

1881 of College Road, Dulwich

1892 Retired as chief engineer of Trinity House. Succeeded by Thomas Matthews.

Sir James was a vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers..."More


1898 Obituary [1]

SIR JAMES NICHOLAS DOUGLASS was born at Bow, London, on 16th October 1826, being the eldest son of Mr. Nicholas Douglass, superintending engineer to the Trinity House.

He was educated at Newcastle-on-Tyne and Tenby; and served his apprenticeship with Messrs. Hunter and English at Bow, and with Messrs. Seaward and Capel at the Isle of Dogs.

In 1850 he was appointed assistant engineer under Messrs. Walker, Burgess and Cooper, consulting engineers to the Trinity Corporation, in the erection of the Bishop Rock iron-pile lighthouse off the extreme south-west of the Scilly Isles; the Bishop is one of the most exposed half-tide rocks round the British coast, being open to the full force of the Atlantic ocean.

His next works were the construction of the Mucking Flat and Gunfleet Sands pile lighthouses in the estuary of the Thames; and the Rundlestone beacon near the Land's End, which was afterwards superseded by a bell buoy of his design.

For two years he had the management of Messrs. Laycock's railway carriage works on the Tyne.

In 1856 he returned to the employment of the Trinity House as resident engineer for the construction of the lighthouse on the Smalls Rock off the coast of Pembrokeshire, near Milford Haven.

On its completion in 1860 he was transferred in the same capacity to Penzance for the erection of the Wolf Rock lighthouse midway between the Land's End and the Scilly Isles.

In 1862, whilst this work was in progress, he was appointed engineer to the Trinity Corporation; and on the death of his father in 1881 he was appointed engineer-in-chief.

During his thirty years of office at the Trinity House he designed and constructed lighthouses on the Longships off the Land's End, the Great and Little Basses off the coast of Ceylon, the Minicoy on the Lakkadiv coral islands off the Malabar coast in the Indian ocean, the new lighthouse on the Eddystone to replace Smeaton's tower, and a stone lighthouse on the Bishop Rock to replace the previous iron-pile structure.

He also placed land lighthouses at Hartland Point, Anvil Point, Southwold, St. Tudwall, Round Island, Withernsea, and in many other positions on the English coast.

He brought about many improvements in the design and construction of light-vessels, buoys, beacons, optical apparatus, burners, and other accessories incidental to the lighthouse service. By foreign and colonial lighthouse boards he was frequently consulted, and did much to improve the lighting of the Indian, Australian, and Italian coasts. The great work with which his name will always be associated is the new Eddystone lighthouse. Observing that the curved outline of Smeaton's tower tended to guide the waves and spray up over the lantern, he made the new tower of truly cylindrical shape up to a height of 22 feet above the foundation; and the top of this cylindrical base forms a platform and convenient landing place, from which starts the tapering shaft of the new lighthouse. The sudden break thus introduced in the outline of the tower prevents the waves from being guided up to the lantern as they had been by the uninterrupted taper of the old tower. The work was commenced in July 1878, and occupied only three years.

On its completion in 1881, including the removal of the upper portion of Smeaton's tower for re-erection upon The Hoe at Plymouth, he received the honour of knighthood.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1879, and was a Member of Council from 1885 to 1888, and a Vice-President from 1889 to 1894, after which he was precluded by impaired health consequent upon over-work from offering himself for re-election. Upon the subjects of the papers read before the Institution he was a frequent speaker in the discussions, contributing always valuable practical information derived from his own long experience and extensive observation. Commenting upon the electric lighthouse on the Isle of Slay (Proceedings 1887, pages 358-62), he dealt with the question of the relative value of oil, gas, and electricity for lighthouse illumination; and described the fluted carbons, which he had invented and used with entire success for the production of a steady arc light. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Vice-President of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and a member of numerous other scientific societies. For a number of years, while residing at Dulwich, he took an active part in the administration of Dulwich College, of which he was a governor.

On relinquishing in 1894 the post of engineer-in-chief to the Trinity Corporation, he removed to Bonchurch, Isle of Wight, where his death took place on 19th June 1898 in the seventy-second year of his age.


1898 Obituary [2][3]

"...died at his residence at Bonchurch, Isle of Wight. His father, Nicholas Douglass, was a Cornish man, who devoted his life to lighthouse work. In 1847, when James Douglass was twenty-one, and just "out of his time," his father, who was superintending engineer to the Trinity House, took him on as his assistant, and he saw much rough work during the construction of the celebrated Bishop's Rock lighthouse. His next important position was that of resident engineer, with sole charge of the construction of a lighthouse on the Smalls Rock, off Milford Haven. On the death of Mr. James Walker, F.R.S., engineer-in-chief to the Trinity House, in 1862, James Douglass became his successor, and he built in rapid succession the Wolf Rock, Longship, Great and Little Basses, and Muncoy lighthouses. His most important work, however, was the construction of the new Eddystone Lighthouse, which..." More.


1899 Obituary [4]


1900 Obituary.[5]



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