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British Industrial History

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Robert Webb Pearce

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Robert Webb Pearce (1831-1890) of the Howrah Works

1831 November 11th. Born at Macclesfield

1851 Living at Coventry Road, Aston: Richard Pearce (age 55 born London), Merchant's Clerk. With his wife Ann Pearce (age 47 born Wolverhampton) and their four children; Robert W. Pearce (age 19 born Macclesfield), Carriage Builder; Mary A. Pearce (age 17 born Macclesfield); George W. Pearce (age 14 born Macclesfield); Richard Pearce (age 8 born Macclesfield).[1]

1877 Marriage of his daughter Anne L.[2]

1881 Living at 34 Russell Road, Kensington, London: Robert W. Pearce (age 49 born Macclesfield), Railway engineer. With his wife Euphema Pearce (age 46 born Calcutta, India). One servant.[3]

1886 August 6th. Euphemia Pearce his wife died and buried at Coonoor, Madras.

1889 July 26th. Robert Webb Pearce died at Kensington.

1896 March 24th. Robert M'Lardy Pearce his eldest son died at Hyde Park Mansions, London. [4]

1899 February 7th. His son Charles Marshall Pearce was married at Calcutta to Emily Holt. [5][6]


1890 Obituary [7]

ROBERT WEBB PEARCE was born in Macclesfield, Cheshire, on 11th November 1831, and was educated at the grammar school in that town. Removing to Birmingham, he became apprenticed to Messrs. Brown Marshals and Co., at their old works then in New Canal Street, and afterwards at their new Britannia Carriage Works, Saltley. Passing through the shops he became confidential assistant and chief of the drawing office.

In 1855 he was offered and accepted the post of carriage and wagon superintendent of the East Indian Railway, and left England in December 1855; but finding his position not what he expected, he would have left the railway and started wagon-building works in India. He was persuaded however to remain, and afterwards had independent charge of the carriage and wagon department from Howrah to Delhi and Jubbulpore, about 1,500 miles of line.

The large works at Howrah were designed and built under his superintendence, employing at the busiest time from three to four thousand native workmen, all trained under him. The whole of the East Indian Railway stock has been built or erected at the Howrah works, together with a great portion of the stock in use by the metre-gauge railways.

His designs have been copied throughout India, and he was the first to introduce iron instead of wood for the panels and framing of carriages and wagons; and the results have fully proved he was right.

He was also the first to recognise the valise of oil as a lubricant for railway vehicles, instead of grease; and his design of an axle-box for oil and cotton waste has become almost universally adopted in India.

He nearly doubled the carrying power of the old wagon stock, by increasing the size of axle and journal; and, had he lived, would shortly have completed his design of 18 feet by 9 feet iron covered goods wagon, weighing 7 tons and carrying 15 tons, a gross load of 22 tons on two axles with 4.5 inch journals; paying load more than 2 to 1.

The improvements he introduced into railway carriages and wagons were so numerous and so important that he has been called the father of carriage and wagon building in India, and is looked upon in this light by the natives. His long residence in the tropical climate of Bengal, and his disinclination to take leave of absence during thirteen years with scarcely a day's holiday, and his constant application to work, eventually told on a fine constitution.

A few years ago be was attacked with malarious fever, from which he never quite recovered; and in April 1888 he took furlough to England, but too late to shake off the effects of climate; and he died at West Kensington, London, on 26th July 1889, at the age of nearly fifty-eight.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1867.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1851 Census
  2. Pall Mall Gazette - Tuesday 23 October 1877
  3. 1881 Census
  4. Dundee Advertiser - Friday 06 March 1896
  5. London Standard - Tuesday 28 February 1899
  6. London Standard - Wednesday 01 March 1899
  7. 1890 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries