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Robert Charles May (1829-1882)

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Robert Charles May (1829-1882)

1829 April 5th. Born at Ampthill, Bedfordshire the son of Charles May and his wife Ann

1851 A visitor at 4 Upper Charles Street, Westminster (age 21 born Ampthill), Engineer. In the house of of Henry Chapman (age 30 born Richmond, Surrey), Engineer. [1]

1861 Robert Charles May, Engineer, 3 Great George Street, Westminster.[2]

1882 July 20th. Died at Marseilles


1883 Obituary [3]

Robert Charles May was born at Ampthill, Bedfordshire, on the 5th of April, 1829.

His father, Charles May, F.R.S., was a partner in the firm of Ransomes and May, Ipswich, and it was in the works of that well-known engineering firm that Robert May served his apprenticeship.

His energy, industry, and skill were most remarkable, and his knowledge of the technical part of the business led to his being appointed, at an unusually early age, their outdoor manager, a position he held for upwards of a year, when he had the superintendence of the erection of steam-mill machinery, fixed plant on railways, such as aqueducts, roofs, bridges, etc. He was not at that time a good draughtsman, but he knew just what had to be done on the spot, and managed to get it done.

Afterwards, he was for three years in charge of the fixed plant on the South Eastern Railway, including the erection of the swing-bridge at Rye, and here his technical abilities made such an impression that, to use his own humorous expression, he ran 'imminent risk of being made locomotive superintendent.'

Then, for one year, he was an assistant in the office of J. M. Rendel, F.R.S., Past-President Inst. C.E., and in 1854 he commenced to practise on his own account as a civil engineer. In the early part of his career Mr. May designed and constructed gasworks, corn-mills, piers, bridges, river-diversions, etc., and in 1863 he had charge of the outfall-works of the Walland and Denge marshes in Kent, which possess some features of scientific interest.

It was, however, as a consulting-engineer that he acquired his greatest eminence; as an arbitrator in engineering disputes he had a very large experience, and brought to his decisions sound mechanical knowledge of a high order. His integrity and fairness commanded the esteem of both aides, and gave considerable weight to his decisions. He was one of the Assessors of the Board of Trade, and had also a considerable practice in valuation-work, being well known for the clear perception with which he could, in walking through engineering works, estimate the value of the stock and machinery.

He was also largely engaged as an inspecting engineer for permanent-way materials for Indian and other railways, and 200,000 tons of rails were passed under his supervision; and he likewise superintended the construction in this country of the pipes and machinery for the Madras waterworks.

He had been consulted and reported upon copper and iron mines in Spain-upon estates, mines, and forests in Sweden, Russia, and Finland and upon coalfields in Hungary and ironworks in Germany.

During the last eleven or twelve years of his life Mr. May held the appointment of Engineer to the Galizzi Sulphur-Mines in Sicily, and was also just before his death made Engineer of the Giona Sulphur-Mines in the same island. These offices necessitated his travelling to the Mediterranean once and sometimes twice a year, and it was on his return from Sicily that he was seized with aneurism of the heart, and expired at Marseilles on the 20th of July, 1882.

Mr. May was elected an Associate on the 5th of March, 1861, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 16th of February, 1864. He was a regular attendant at the meetings, and also on several occasions took the chair at the supplemental gatherings of students, with whom he was very popular. Generous, true-hearted, earnest and thorough, he had a perfect abhorrence of anything approaching to deceit or underhand dealing; and from his unselfish nature and genial disposition he was a general favourite.


1883 Obituary [4]

ROBERT CHARLES MAY, who died at Marseilles on 20th July 1882, from aneurism of the heart, was the son of Charles May, and was born in April 1829 at Ampthill in Bedfordshire: he was thus fifty-three years of age at his death.

Charles May was a man of remarkable ingenuity, and was a partner in the firm of Ransomes and May, Ipswich, to whom Robert Charles May was apprenticed. After he had become an outdoor manager there, he left Ipswich for an appointment on the South Eastern Railway as resident engineer.

In 1854, about three years after his father had left Ipswich and settled in London as a consulting engineer, he followed his example, and soon acquired a very considerable practice in gas, mill, and railway engineering. He was largely employed as superintending engineer in the construction of fixed and moving railway plant for home and foreign railways.

He constructed in 1853 the outfall of the Wallands and Denge marshes at "Jury's Gut" in Kent, and placed there a reservoir or tidal pen, at the sea end of which were draw-gates, and at the land end self- acting tidal doors. The tidal water was thus penned in, and formed a sufficient scour to keep the outfall clear of the shingle and sand which travel west to east with the tide on that coast.

In later years he devoted some attention to mining work, and was also largely employed as an expert witness and arbitrator in patent infringement cases &e.

He became a Member of the Institution in 1863.



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