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William Handyside

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William Handyside (1793-1850)

1793 Born in Edinburgh the son of Hugh Handyside, a merchant, and his wife Margaret Baird. Brother to Andrew Handyside. Nephew of Charles Baird.

1822 Joined Inst of Civil Eng., as a corresponding member

1829 Married in St. Petersburg to Sophia Gordon Busch

1838 William Handyside of Edinburgh, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

Worked at Baird's Works in St Petersburg. Handyside took the lead in the firm's work with Montferrand.[2]

Other Handyside brothers also went to work in Russia, including Andrew Handyside.

1850 Died in Edinburgh; buried in New Calton Cemetery.


1851 Obituary [3]

Mr. William Handyside was born at Edinburgh, in the year 1793.

At the age of fifteen he was placed under the tuition of Mr. White, to study practical construction, with the intention of eventually becoming, an Architect; but his uncle, the late Mr. Baird, of St. Petersburgh (M.Inst.C.E.), visiting Scotland in the course of the year 1810, he was induced to return with him to Russia, where he was placed in the large establishment of that gentleman, under whose superintendence and direction he soon displayed great mechanical skill.

Among the earliest of his works may be enumerated the machinery at the Imperial Arsenal, and that for the Imperial Glass Works.

In 1815 he assisted in the building of the first steam vessel which navigated the Neva. This rude commencement was followed up by better machines, all constructed under the direction of Mr. Handyside, and by the year 1820, there were four other steam-vessels on that river, and the impulse thus given has, eventually, induced the purchase of the large number of marine engines which have proceeded to Russia, from this and other countries.

In the year 1820, he also built the first Gas establishment for lighting Mr. Baird's fitting shops, &c.

In 1824 he erected four Suspension Bridges, two of which were from designs by General Betancourt, and he contrived an excellent machine for proving the links of the chains.

The construction of a Slip for hauling up vessels, at a spot where there was no tide, was an undertaking of some difficulty, which he accomplished with great credit.

His attention had been for some time, and was then, so devoted to the construction of steam-engines, that, in 1825, there had proceeded from the works, eleven steam-vessels, and about one hundred and thirty steam-engines of all kinds, destined to give motion to various manufactories, saw and flour mills, wool, cotton, and flax mills, rope-works, &C., &C., for all of which he also made the machinery.

All this was in a great degree accomplished with native workmen, whose mechanical education had first to be imparted to them; but his energy was so great, that no difficulty arrested his progress, in fact, any impediment rather appeared to increase his mental resources, and difficulties disappeared before him.

The process of boiling sugar 'in vacuo', next attracted his attention, and the system was introduced in the works of Charles Baird.

The extensive army contracts taken by Mr. Baird, for the supply of military stores and accoutrements, induced the designing of ingenious machinery for making helmets, breastplates, buttons, &C., and even the silver trumpets for the Imperial Guards, were made by him.

About the year 1824, in conjunction with Monsieur Monferrand, the architect, he undertook portions of the stone and metal works for the Cathedral of St. Isaac, at St. Petersburgh. There works have scarcely been equalled in any country. The soft nature of the foundation, required the whole space to be piled, which was accomplished by improved machines, designed for the purpose. The colonnade was composed of forty-eight granite pillars, each 8 feet in diameter and 56 feet long, with Corinthian capitals and bases of bronze. The machinery used for raising and placing them was so complete, that three of these immense columns were fixed in one day.

Around the base of the dome were thirty-six monolythic pillars, also of granite, with metal capitals and bases; they were 4 feet 6 inches in diameter, and 42 long, and as they were to be placed at a height of 200 feet from the ground, considerable skill was required for their elevation, which was effected by ingenious machinery at the rate of three each day. His knowledge of metal casting was also used, by the architect, in designing the dome, of 130 feet diameter, of cast and wrought iron, covered with plates of polished copper, for the gilding of which he contrived the masks and air tubes, which were essential, for preventing the pernicious effects, on the workmen, of the mercury used in the process.

This induced his attention to an apparatus connected with gas burners, which proved very successful, carrying off the foul air from the rooms of dwellings, all of which were unhealthy, from being heated by stoves, instead of by open fireplaces.

The work at the Cathedral having directed his attention to casting figures, &C., in bronze, he continued to practise that art extensively, during the remainder of his career. Among his great works of this class, may be mentioned the alto-relievos for the base of the Alexander column; each of these, 20 feet square, with many figures, twice the size of life, were cast in one piece, and the weight was upwards of 20 tons. The capital for the pillar, with an angel on the top, with extended wings, and holding a cross upwards of 20 feet in height, was also cast in one piece.

He then undertook the alto-relievos, for the four pediments of St. Isaac Church. These were each 105 feet 1ong, and 14 feet high in the centre; they were each cast in six parts, and some of the figures stood out 6 feet from the surface.

The system of moulding these difficult works was devised by Mr. Handyside, and they were executed entirely by native workmen, instructed by him, but who had for the most part never been previously in any foundry.

Perhaps one of the most striking of his late works, was, in conjunction with Monsieur Monferrand, the elevation of the largest granite column in the world, dedicated to the memory of the Emperor Alexander. The shaft, which was a monolyth of 84 feet in length and 12 feet in diameter, required to be raised on to a basement of 30 feet in height. By the aid of simple machinery and the simultaneous application of great power, this was accomplished in twenty-five minutes, in the presence of the Emperor Nicholas, one hundred thousand military, and a multitude of spectators.

The constant exertion demanded for these various and great works, at length overcame his strength, and Mr. Handyside returned to his native country for repose, and to recruit his health; but his powers had been overtaxed, and he died at Edinburgh, on the 26th of May, 1850, at the age of fifty-seven years, universally esteemed and regretted, by all who had known him.

Mr. Handyside joined the Institution as a Corresponding Member, in June 1822, and was transferred to Member in December 1837.

During the latter part of his career, he attended the meetings frequently, and took part in the discussions.


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