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British Industrial History

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Thomas Ennis Steele

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Thomas Ennis Steele (c1800-1848)

1827 Thomas Steele, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1849 Obituary [2]

Mr. Thomas Ennis Steele was the descendant of an ancient and honourable family in the County Clare, where he inherited a beautiful estate, and few men have commenced their career with brighter prospects.

He graduated and took his degrees at Trinity College, Dublin, about the year 1817; he then removed to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1820, and obtained the degree of Master of Arts in that University, on the books of which his name was always retained, and he regularly appeared at the elections.

He was an elegant classical scholar, but more particularly directed his attention to Mathematics, Mechanics, and the application of Chemistry to the Arts; he also, at one period, directed much of his time to the study of Geology, with the avowed object of preparing himself for travelling in the East; a project which was probably prevented by his entanglement in politics.

The bad state of the navigation of the river Shannon being very prejudicial to the interests of his favourite country, he determined to make a personal survey of the bed of the river, which he did in the most complete manner, employing sometimes very original means; such, for instance, as stepping along the line of a reef, or shoal, supporting himself with one hand upon the stern of a boat, whilst he measured and recorded all the inequalities of the surface, and ascertained the nature of the rocks, or ground. An account of this survey was published by him, and no greater proof of its utility can be given, than the fact of the greater portion of his suggestions having been followed, in the works that have been since executed.

His attention being thus directed to the diving-bell, he devised several alterations in its construction and application; particularly a method of lighting the divers, during their submarine labours.

All these, with many similar subjects, were published in the current periodicals of the day, and some of them were communicated to this Institution.

At a later period a favourite theme, upon which he repeatedly addressed the Institution, was the purchase of the birth-place of Sir Isaac Newton and the preservation by the scientific world, in the same manner that Shakespeare's’s house has since been obtained by the exertions of literary and dramatic men.

He embarked deeply in Irish politics, and became the devoted follower of O’Connell, about the year 1825; hut upon that portion of his career, the incumbrance of his fortune, and the melancholy termination of the life of a man who might have been an invaluable member of society, this memoir cannot dwell.

His political opponents, however, all acknowledged his honourable feelings, and the entire absence of selfishness in his actions, and in his last hours he had the satisfaction of seeing the bitterest among them, vying with each other, in their anxiety to serve honest Tom Steele.

He was the most chivalrously-minded of men, the most affectionate of friends, and the most devoted of followers, still preserving his independence of mind. He entertained no private resentments, which might not be instantly extinguished, by the slightest approach to conciliation, even on the part of one who might have deeply injured him; and it may with truth be said, that he never deliberately committed an act by which he thought he should lose a friend, create an enemy, or injure a fellow-creature.

After the decease of his chosen leader, Mr. Steele abandoned politics, and though visibly declining in health and spirits, h e steadfastly rejected all offers of assistance from his friends, who desired to cheer the evening of his days, and on the 15th of June, 1848, he expired, a man of fallen fortune, a crushed spirit and a broken heart, but universally beloved by all who knew and could estimate the man apart from the politician.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution in 1827, and contributed several notices to its proceedings.

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