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Josiah Latimer Clark

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Josiah Latimer Clarke (1822-1898), a key figure in the development of the electric telegraph and the construction of submarine cables.

1822 (Josiah) Latimer Clark was a civil engineer, born at Great Marlow, Buckinghamshire, on 10 March.

1846 His elder brother, Edwin Clark went to London and came to know Robert Stephenson, who appointed him superintending engineer of the Britannia Bridge across the Menai Straits(opened 5 March 1850).

1847 Latimer Clark started work as a chemist for some years with a firm of chemical manufacturers in Dublin.

1848 Latimer Clark was appointed assistant engineer under his brother on the Britannia Bridge. He helped his brother prepare his book on that bridge and contributed to it an account of the tides in the Menai Strait.

1850 In August, he became assistant engineer under his brother to the Electric Telegraph Co.

c.1852 Conducted a trial of a pneumatic tube system for conveying packages at the London Stock Exchange[1]

1853 His researches on telegraph wire formed part of the government report on submarine telegraph cables.

1853 Clark proved that electric currents travelled at the same rate irrespective of voltage; his experiments were repeated before Faraday and delivered at the Royal Institution in 1854. Clark was also interested in other forms of engineering. His earliest patent had been one for "conveying letters or parcels between places by the pressure of air and vacuum".

1854 Introduced the idea of pneumatic tubes for the transmission of messages which was to be implemented by the Pneumatic Despatch Co within a few years [2].

1854 Patent to Clark (of Chester Villas, Canonbury Park, Islington), for his invention of an apparatus for conveying letters or parcels between places by the pressure of air and vacuum (underground pneumatic tube).

1855 Clark published his results in a pamphlet "Experimental investigation of the laws which govern the propagation of the electric current in submarine telegraph cables".

1859 The Pneumatic Despatch Co was established with Clark as one of its engineers. The first pneumatic tube was constructed between the General Post Office (GPO) and Euston Station and other, longer tubes were then constructed but after 15 years the lack of profitability led to closure of the company. Clark also assisted Sir George Biddell Airy to devise a method of indicating Greenwich mean time throughout the country. [3]

1860 He served on the committee appointed by the government to inquire into the subject of submarine telegraphy.

1861 Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. For some months he was engineer to the Atlantic Cable Co. Clark entered into partnership with Sir Charles Tilston Bright, and their joint paper, read at the Manchester meeting of the British Association, led to the appointment of the committee which defined standards for measuring the nature and strength of electrical currents.

1862 With Bright he invented the method of covering submarine cables with asphalt, hemp, and silica to extend their life (Bright and Clark's compound) by coating the gutta-percha covering with a solution to prevent its decay; for eight years their firm was engaged in laying telegraph cables, principally in the East. Clark also invented a very effective insulator to carry telegraph wires. He filed 150 patents.

1863 Succeeded his brother as chief engineer to the Electric and International Telegraph Co, and held this post until the telegraph companies were nationalized in 1870.

1868 In September, Bright and Clark dissolved their partnership and Clark with Henry Charles Forde (1827–1897) formed the contracting firm Clark, Forde, and Taylor, of Great Winchester Street, London. Under Clark's supervision some 50,000 miles of submarine cable were laid across the world's oceans, linking capital cities and commercial ports.

1870–71 Clark took a large part in founding the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians (later renamed the Institution of Electrical Engineers).

1874 He entered into partnership with John Standfield as hydraulic and canal engineers; the works of the firm were at Grays, Essex, and it constructed numerous floating docks, notably those at Vladivostok, Hamburg, Havana, Stettin, and North Shields.

1874–5 he served as the fourth president of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians

1875 He was also senior partner in the firm of Latimer Clark, Muirhead and Co, formed to manufacture electrical apparatus and machinery.

1889 In June, he was elected FRS, and he was also fellow of the Royal Astronomical and Geographical societies.

1898 Josiah Latimer Clark died, aged seventy-six, on 30 October, at his residence in South Kensington, London, and was buried at the Kensington Hanwell cemetery, Ealing, Middlesex.


1899 Obituary [4]

LATIMER CLARK, whose name will remain associated with the history of the development of the electric telegraph and the construction of submarine cables, was born at Great Marlow on the 10th March, 1822.

Like his elder brother, Edwin, he did not begin life as an engineer, for, having studied chemistry, he spent some time as a manufacturing chemist in a large works in Dublin. But influenced, no doubt, by the example of the elder brother, he determined to give up chemistry for engineering, and in 1848, at the age of 25, became an assistant on the construction of the Britannia Tubular Bridge, under his brother, whom Robert Stephenson had appointed Resident Engineer.

Latimer Clark was entrusted with considerable responsibility, having to a large extent practical charge of the building and floating of the tubes of the bridge, and of raising them in position by means of hydraulic power. In the course of that work he narrowly escaped losing his life by the bursting of an hydraulic press under which he was standing, and the consequent fall of one of the tubes. He rendered much assistance in the descriptive portions of the work, 'The Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges,' published by Edwin Clark in 1850, and wrote for it an interesting chapter on the tides of the Menai Straits.

About the year 1846 the Electric Telegraph Co had been incorporated for the development of electric telegraphs. This Company afterwards became the Electric and International Telegraph Co, and provided telegraphic communication for almost every railway in the United Kingdom, as well as entering into other large applications of electricity in various ways. Those distinguished engineers and Past-Presidents, Robert Stephenson, George Parker Bidder and Joseph Locke were Directors of the Company.

Both Edwin and Latimer had been much interested in the subject of electricity generally, and at the Menai Bridge they had applied electricity for the purpose of firing a time-gun every evening at 8 o’clock. This circumstance led to their introduction to Lewis Ricardo, the Chairman of the Electric Telegraph Company, and in August, 1850, they were appointed respectively Engineer and Assistant Engineer to that Company.

Latimer subsequently succeeded his brother as Engineer-in-Chief, and his connection with the Company lasted until 1870, in which year the telegraph business of the country was taken over by the Government.

During that period Latimer Clark introduced many important improvements in the telegraph system, among which may be mentioned the insulation of underground wires by coating them with a solution outside the gutta percha, with a view to obviate its decay in air.

In 1854 he invented a system of transmitting messages by the pneumatic tube, now extensively used, and in 1857 he became Engineer, in conjunction with Mr. Rammell, to the Pneumatic Dispatch Co, which laid down a system of lines from Euston Station to Holbrook and the General Post Office.

In 1856 he patented the form of insulator known as the 'doublecap invert,' now in general use.

During some experiments he carried out he was struck by the retardation of the electric current in subterranean lines, and finally was able to demonstrate that the rate of flow was constant, irrespective of pressure. These experiments were repeated before Faraday and formed the subject of a lecture at the Royal Institution in 1854.’

In 1858 he invented a method of preserving submarine cables by a covering of asphalt, hemp and silica, known as 'Clark’s compound.'

Two years later, as a Member of the Joint Committee appointed by the committee of Privy Council for Trade and the Atlantic Telegraph Company to inquire into the construction of submarine cables, he conducted a series of experiments, the results of which, in addition to forming part of the official report, were published separately under the title 'Experimental investigation of the Laws which govern the Propagation of the Electric Current in long Submarine Telegraph Cables.'

In 1861 Latimer Clark entered into partnership with Sir Charles Bright, and in the same year a joint Paper by them was read at the Manchester meeting of the British Association, entitled 'The formation of Standards of Electrical Quantity and Resistance.' The subject attracted considerable attention and a Committee of the British Association was formed, of which Mr. Clark and Sir Charles Bright were members, the result of their labours being the system of electrical units now in universal use, the original names of Ohm, Farad and Volt, as proposed by the writers, being retained. Mr. Clark‘s 'Elementary Treatise on Electrical Measurement,' published in 1868, became a standard work,

In 1863 the partners carried out a careful series of experiments on the effect of temperature on the insulation of gutta percha described in Sir Charles Bright’s Paper 'The Telegraph to India, and its Extension to Australia and China,' read before this Institution in 1865.

For that work they acted as engineers and designed a cable of great strength and durability, personally superintending its laying in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Clark was subsequently engaged on similar work in various parts of the world ; and in September, 1869, while on one of these expeditions, he was wrecked in the Red Sea and narrowly escaped drowning.

At the meetings of the British Association in 1867 and 1869 Mr. Clark read Papers in which he dealt with the unsatisfactory nature of the Birmingham Wire Gauge,l and on those Papers the present standard is practically based.

In 1871 appeared 'Tables and Formulae for the Use of Telegraph Inspectors and Operators, published by Mr. Clark in conjunction with the late Robert Sabine.

Two years later his description of his Standard Voltaic Battery was communicated to the Royal Society by Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin). This battery, known as the 'Clark cell', has a constant electromotive force, and has proved of great value in promoting accurate measurements of electric potentials.

About the year 1869 a partnership was formed between Mr. Clark, Henry Charles Forde and subsequently Herbert Taylor, and the firm of Clark, 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 that date.

After the present Eastern Telegraph Co was formed, triplicate cables were laid from Suez to Aden and Bombay, and duplicate cables between Madras and Penang, Singapore and Batavia.

As engineers to the respective submarine telegraph companies, the firm laid down cables between Singapore and Nagasaki ; England, Gibraltar, Malta and the Levant; Durban and Delagoa Bay (nearly 4,000 miles) during the Zulu war; five Atlantic cables, including that from Brest to Newfoundland in 1869 (2,584 nautical miles) ; the first South Atlantic cable, from Pernambuco to St. Louis in Senegal ; and many others.

In 1874 Latimer Clark entered into partnership with the late John Standfield, who had acted as Resident Engineer on Edwin Clark’s hydraulic lift graving-dock at Hog Island, Bombay.

Messrs. Clark and Standfield devoted themselves particularly to the study and improvement of floating-docks and hydraulic canal-lifts, and invented several novelties in connection with that branch of engineering. The most important of those inventions were :- the gridiron depositing docks constructed for the Russian Government at Nicolaieff, on the Black Sea, and at Vladivostok ; a gridiron depositing-dock at Barrow-in-Furness ; hydraulic canal-lifts at Les Fontinettes, near St. Omer, in France, and at La Louviere, Belgium ; and the 'off-shore dock,' the first of which was built at Messrs. Clark and Standfield's works at Grays, Essex, and was launched and towed to Cardiff in 1887. An account of the Nicolaieff Dock was presented by Mr. Clark to the Institution of Naval Architects in 1876.'

Numerous examples of floating docks constructed by Messrs. Clark and Standfield are now extant, notably those at Hamburg and North Shields, and the large floating docks, for Havana and Stettin, of 10,000 tons and 11,000 tons lifting power, the former of which was successfully towed over 6,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

He was also a partner in the firm of Warden, Clark and Muirhead, electrical engineers and contractors, afterwards known as Latimer Clark, Muirhead and Co.

Mr. Clark was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 13th April, 1858, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 19th November, 1861. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society, of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Astronomical Society, an original member of the Physical Society, and in 1874 he was elected President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians (now the Institution of Electrical Engineers), in the formation of which he had taken an active part. His inaugural address contained an interesting account of the early history of the electric telegraph. He was also a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

Latimer Clark's recreations were his library, astronomy and horticulture. He was a great lover of books and spared neither trouble nor money in getting together a collection which, especially in relation to electrical works, is of exceptional interest and value.

To the study of astronomy he devoted many of his leisure hours, and in 1882 introduced a transit instrument, which, by its simplicity and comparative cheapness, has done much to render the science popular among those who cannot afford to buy costly instruments. His love of horticulture was displayed in the rare and beautiful flowers and plants with which he filled the grounds of his residence, first at Sydenham, and subsequently at Maidenhead.

Some indication has been given of Latimer Clark's many sidedness, both in his professional work and in his recreation. A list of the patents taken out by him during his long career would occupy too great space here, but it is not too much to say that many of them were of great importance and value and that most of them were of practical utility. As another illustration of his versatility, it may be mentioned that he invented a single camera to take stereoscopic pictures, and that he is said to have introduced into England the method of vignetting photographs which was secretly pursued abroad. He suggested the affixing of stamps to telegrams as payment, and the registering of abbreviated addresses for cablegrams.

Mr. Clark died at his town residence, 31 The Grove, Boltons, on the 30th October, 1895, in the 77th year of his age.


1899 Obituary [5]



See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. Underground London, by Stephanie Smith
  2. The Times, 2 November 1898
  3. The Times, 4 October 1876
  4. 1899 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  5. 1899 Institution of Electrical Engineers: Obituaries