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John James Montgomery

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John James Montgomery (1832-1884)

1884 Obituary [1]

JOHN JAMES MONTGOMERY, born at Ballymore, in County Westmeath, in the year 1832, was the eldest son of Mr. John Montgomery, now residing in Liverpool, but formerly connected with the Coast and Boundary Surveys and the General Valuation of Iroland. His maternal grandfather was Major Nethery, of the 27th (Fermanagh) Regiment, who was killed in the Peninsular War, at the siege of Tarragona.

His early education was received at some of the best classical and scientific schools in Ireland. Subsequently he became a student at Queen's College, Belfast, where he obtained the first Scholarship in Civil Engineering. Being delicate, and the climate of Belfast not appearing to suit him, he removed to Cork and entered the Queen's College there; here again he distinguished himself. Leaving Cork he went to London and obtained a practical knowledge of his profession in the office of the late Mr. C. B. Lane, M. Inst. C.E., of Westminster, and after this received an appointment at the Royal Observatory, acting as private secretary to Sir George Airy, acquitting himself with ability, and to the entire satisfaction of the late Astronomer-Royal.

His first engineering engagement was at Blackburn, where he was largely occupied with the drainage of the borough and other municipal operations. On leaving Blackburn he was appointed chief assistant to Mr. Charles Gott, M. Inst. C.E., the Borough Engineer of Bradford, where; in addition to the ordinary duties of his office, he was engaged, in conjunction with that gentleman, in the construction of the extension of the water-supply of the town-a work of considerable magnitude.

The office of Borough Engineer of Belfast became vacant in 1861, and Mr. Montgomery was successful in obtaining the appointment. Belfast at that time was a town of some 121,000 inhabitants. The population at the last census was 208,122, and is still rapidly increasing. It required all Mr. Montgomery’s energy to keep pace with the long strides which Belfast made during these years, but the present aspect of the town shows that he was equal to the strain thus demanded of him. In 1866 Mr. Montgomery designed an extensive scheme for the arterial and outfall drainage of the borough. This scheme was referred to Mr. (now Sir Joseph) Bazalgette, President Inst. C.E., who fully approved of it, suggesting but slight modifications. A large portion of the arterial drainage has been carried out under Mr. Montgomery’s superintendence, but the main outfall-works remain in abeyance. In the early days of Mr. Montgomery’s career in Belfast the low-lying districts of the town were continually subject to flooding. He set vigorously to work to overcome this evil, and by a system of storm-overflows, tidal-valves, and skilful dealing with the several water-courses traversing the Borough, so far succeeded that flooding is now of comparatively rare occurrence. The rapid development of Belfast of late years has necessitated the laying out and paving of several hundreds of new roads and streets, involving the construction of many miles of tributary sewers, all designed to harmonize with the general scheme of drainage above referred to The local Act of 1878 gave power for the diversion of the River Blackstaff, which has a watershed of about 8,400 acres. Although this river is fed by rapid and variable streams descending from the neighbouring hills, within the Borough it occupies a flat valley almost coinciding in level with the lowest part of the town. Along its banks are situated large mills and other manufactories; and the water rights of some of these being materially interfered with, many difficulties presented themselves in the design and construction of the works of diversion.

The old river course traversed in a serpentine route a large district somewhat centrally situated, but for the most part unoccupied by buildings, owing to the presence of a tidal river contaminated with impurity. The new covered course consists of two culverts, each 12 feet wide, constructed with heavy ashlar walls and invert and brick arches, the whole covered with concrete. A new street, 70 feet wide, over the new river course, has been opened for public traffic since Mr. Montgomery’s death. The Blackstaff diversion was a favourite scheme of Mr. Montgomery for many years, and it is satisfactory to know that he lived to see it an accomplished fact.

Another extensive work carried out under the local Act already referred to, was the removal of several hundred tenements in a densely populated part of Belfast, and the opening up of a thoroughfare 80 feet wide and about 1,600 feet long. This work was accomplished under Mr. Montgomery’s direction, and although the street lines laid out are not quite in accordance with his own views, the undertaking has been a notable success, as but few vacant building lots now exist. The buildings since erected have been four storeys and upwards in height, including several important public and Government edifices.

The foregoing are only leading instances of many important works of municipal engineering and town-improvements achieved under Mr. Montgomery’s term of office in Belfast, and they are the best evidences of his skill and foresight, sometimes under difficulties and in face of opposing opinions. In the Parliamentary Committee-rooms he was well known, and his evidence in engineering matters was always received with respect and often with a compliment.

In 1878 Mr. Montgomery was offered an important engineering appointment in Brazil at an annual salary of £2,000, but after mature consideration, and on material inducements being offered by the Belfast Corporation, he resolved to remain at his post. One of the last problems to which he had addressed himself, was an extensive scheme for deepening and embanking the tidal portion of the river Lagan, situate above the harbour of Belfast.

Mr. Montgomery was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 7th of February, 1871, and always entertained a keen interest in its proceedings.

His death was as sudden as unexpected. In August, 1884, while travelling alone in the vicinity of the St. Gothard Tunnel, he was seized with a severe illness, which terminated fatally in three days, at Airolo, and he was interred at the English Protestant Cemetery in the suburbs of Lucerne. His name is cherished by many, and by none more than his brother officers and professional friends. At a meeting of the Town Council of Belfast on the 1st of September, a resolution was unanimously passed in expression of regret at the loss, in Mr. Montgomery, of a valued officer and adviser, and directing a letter of condolence to be forwarded to his widow.

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