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Robert Augustus Oldham (1842-1903)
1903 Obituary 
ROBERT AUGUSTUS OLDHAM, born on the 13th August, 1842, began his engineering career in May, 1862, as a pupil under Mr. W. F. Gooch, at the Great Western Railway works at Swindon. During the two years of his pupilage he worked as a mechanic in the fitters’ and carpenters’ shops, erecting and running sheds, and finally in the drawing office. This gave him a thorough practical knowledge of the construction and working of locomotive and other engines.
In June, 1864, he was articled for a year to Joseph Mitchell, under whom he was employed first in superintending the construction of the Ross-shire Extension Railway, and subsequently on the survey, sections and bridges of the Sutherland Railway. After the completion of that work he was transferred to the Aberfeldy branch of the Highland Railway.
In 1865, he was employed for George Barclay in making surveys, plans and specifications for a railway in Cornwall, on the completion of which he was appointed by Mr. (subsequently Sir John) Fowler, Past-President, an Assistant Engineer on the St. John’s Wood Underground Railway.
In 1866, Mr. Oldham entered the service of the Eastern Bengal Railway Company as an Assistant Engineer. During the following two years he was employed on all descriptions of engineering works connected with the railway, such as maintenance of roads, repair and rebuilding of bridges, besides having charge of 50 or 60 miles of open line.
In January, 1869, with the sanction of the Railway Company, Mr. Oldham was appointed by the Government of India an Assistant Engineer, First Grade, and posted to the Sone Canals in Behar, where he was first employed in constructing a railway of 9 miles to the quarries, in opening up the quarry face, and commencing the head works generally, under the direction of Mr. R. Long, Executive Engineer.
He was then instructed to assist Captain J. M. McNeile, R.E., in surveying and drawing up the plans for the extension of the Main Western Canal. After completing this he was placed in charge of the Kao sub-division of the Sone Canal, where his work consisted in superintending all the excavations, erection of bridges and buildings, etc.
In March, 1871, Mr. Oldham was promoted to Executive Engineer, Fourth Grade, and after assisting Captain J. M. Heywood, R.E., in completing the plans and estimates of the Arrah Division, he was transferred to the Midnapore Canals, under the immediate orders of Mr. James Kimber, Executive Engineer in charge of the Canals. There he was first employed in getting out the plans and estimates for remodelling the Midnapore weir and head sluices.
After this his services were specially applied for by the Eastern Bengal Railway Company to assist in drawing up designs and estimates for new bridges to replace those washed away by the floods of 1871, for submission to Sir John Hawkshaw, the Company’s Consulting Engineer in London.
On his return from the Eastern Bengal Railway, he was placed in charge of the Experimental Water Distribution Scheme, which he successfully completed about June, 1872.
He was then transferred to the Hooghly Investigation Scheme, under the superintendence of Mr. John Whitfield, but was unable to do more than commence this work, owing to his being obliged to take sick leave to England.
On his return to India in September, 1874, Mr. Oldham was specially deputed to draw up the plans and estimates for a navigation canal in Sylhet, under the direction of Mr. John Heyman, Superintending Engineer; and on the completion of that work he was placed in charge of the Backergunge and Furreedpore divisions, the duties of which consisted in looking after and maintaining all the roads and buildings in those districts, together with working out plans and estimates of all new works, and being responsible for the whole of the expenditure in the two districts.
In June, 1875, he was transferred to the Gunduck Circle under Mr. T. Martin, Superintending Engineer, and placed in charge of the Lower Gunduck division, a district of some 6,000 square miles. While holding that post he originated and drew up an irrigation project for the Sarun district, which was so strongly recommended by the Government of Bengal that sanction was immediately given, and the work carried out has since fully realized the Chief Engineer’s expectations.
In September, 1879, he retired from the Government service.
From 1879 to 1890, Mr. Oldham was engaged in private practice on several works of considerable magnitude and importance, among which may be mentioned the preparation of plant and estimates for the Trichipopoly water scheme, which he carried out in consultation with Mr. James Kimber, then Engineer to the Corporation of Calcutta. The Vellore drainage scheme and the Calcutta eahtern suburban water scheme were also cartied out by him in consultation with Mr. Kimber. He held the appointment of Engineer to the Receiver of the High Court of Calcutta, and was continually employed by the Administrator-General and other Government officials.
In May, 1890, Mr. Oldham sold his Calcutta business and returned to England, where he found great difficulty in obtaining professional work, and finally invested his savings in a city firm of East India merchants, from which he retired in June, 1898.
He died at Edinburgh on the 19th February, 1903, in his sixty-first year.
Mr. Oldham was elected an Associate of the Institution ou the 5th December, 1871, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 19th February, 1878.