Grace's Guide

British Industrial History

Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 135,180 pages of information and 215,290 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.

William Husband

From Graces Guide

Jump to: navigation, search

William Husband (1822–1887), of Harvey and Co, civil and mechanical engineer


1887 Obituary [1]

WILLIAM HUSBAND, born at Mylor, Cornwall, on the 12th of October 1822, was the eldest son of the late Mr. James Husband, Surveyor for Lloyd’s Register at Mylor and Falmouth.

William Husband was educated, first, by the Rev. Mr. Rymell, and afterwards at the Belle Vue Academy, Penryn. He was intended by his father for the navy, but his tastes lay towards engineering.

When quite a youth he went to Hayle alone, and saw the late Henry Harvey, the founder of the firm now known as Harvey and Co. There was no opening for him at that time, but a future visit, in 1839, was more successful, Mr. Harvey being then induced to accept him as an apprentice for four years, his father’s objections being overcome.

The late Nicholas O. Harvey, M.Inst.C.E., was then the manager of the works; and a friendship began between the two which continued to the end of Mr. N. O. Harvey’s life. By his steady earnestness, integrity of character, cleverness and ability, young Husband won the respect of all with whom he came in contact, so that when Messrs. Harvey and Co. were dispatching the engine they had been making for the Haarlemer Meer, he was chosen to go to Holland to take charge of the work. This was in 1843. As the machinery could not be landed for some time, on account of the ice, he went to the village school at Sassen-heym to learn Dutch. He acquired the language with such rapidity that in less than six months he wrote and spoke it with fluency, being able to correspond with the Commissioners of the Lake drainage, make contracts and tenders, using all technical terms correctly.

Many years afterwards he has been heard to say, that he often thought in Dutch. When the mechanical engineer to the Dutch Government died, Mr. Husband was offered and accepted the post, becoming 'Mechanical Engineer in charge of Steam-Machinery belonging to the Drainage-Work at the Lake;' he was thus intimately acquainted with all the works, both during the construction of the machinery and its subsequent trial. Though at the time only twenty-three years of age, and having to contend with national prejudices and very conservative opinions, he yet won the confidence of all concerned in the work, the late King William creating him with the most urbane consideration, and the President and members of the Commission reposing the utmost confidence in him. The lake when drained added 47,000 acres of rich alluvial soil to the country, and being situated in the midst of populous provinces was of course a work of great national importance.

On the 13th of March, 1848, Mr. Husband was elected a Member of the Koninklijk Instituut van Ingenieurs, his card of admission bearing the signature of the present King of Holland, then Prince of Orange.

Late in 1848 he had a severe attack of ague, and was compelled to take leave of absence for several months, which were spent in England. He seemed to recover, and resumed his duties in the spring of 1849. The drainage-works were completed, but the Commissioners wished him to remain permanently in Holland. Owing, however, to repeated attacks of ague, he felt it necessary to send in his resignation, and return to England. In accepting this resignation, the Commissioners stated that they did so 'with sorrow that his health compelled him to that course'; and expressing 'their sense of the zeal and ability shown by Mr. Husband in various ways,' giving him honourable discharge with thanks for past services. His health was much shaken, and indeed the effects of the ague were never eradicated from his system, rendering him most susceptible to chill and colds.

Whilst in Holland he, with his friends Colonel Wiebeking and Professor Munnich, invented a plan for drying and warehousing grain, at a small cost, and preserving it in good condition for years. It was highly approved by many competent judges ; but as the Authors did not patent it, they received no benefit from their invention, though it is believed to have subsequently come into use, in America especially.

Mr. Husband, on 2nd of May, 1861, submitted to Sir George Grey a plan for a powder-magazine on the Mersey, being recommended thereto by a resolution of the Finance Committee of the Liverpool Town Council.

At the invitation of his old friend the late T. E. Blackwell, M.Inst.C.E., he went to Clifton to assist him in some interesting work in the Bristol Docks, planning a bridge for the Cumberland Basin, and also advising about the contemplated Docks at Avonmouth, and other engineering matters.

In September 1852, by request of the late Mr. N. 0. Harvey, managing partner for Harvey and Co., he undertook the management of the London business of that firm, and secured many large orders from the various Metropolitan Waterworks companies for Cornish Pumping Engines.

In June, 1854, at the request of the firm, he returned to Hayle, to take the entire charge of the engineering department, and in 1863 became managing partner. In October 1885 he resumed the management of the business in the capital ; and here he remained until his death on the 10th of April, 1887.

In practical knowledge of hydraulic and mining machinery, Mr. Husband was surpassed, perhaps, by few. In June 1859 Mr. Husband submitted to the Admiralty a plan for a floating battery. The following inventions, which he patented, demonstrate the nature of the improvements he effected : the balance-valve for water-works purposes (this superseded the costly stand-pipe) ; the four-beat pump-valve, now so successfully used in connection with large pumping-machinery both at home and abroad ; a safety-plug for the prevention of boiler explosions ; and a safety equilibrium-oataract used with the Cornish pumping-engine for the prevention of accidents. He also effected many improvements in pneumatic ore-stamps, finally perfecting and patenting those now so generally known as Husband’s Oscillating Cylinder Stamps.

Many of these are in use in foreign countries, and abundant testimony has been borne to their value. To this invention Mr. Husband devoted many years of untiring thought. During the last two years of his life he was actively employed in carrying out contracts for the pumping-machinery at the Severn Tunnel.

Down to the day of his death, Mr. Husband was constantly engaged in various professional duties, and was in the act of patenting an invention in connection with the further improvement of the Cornish pumping-engine. So recently as Good Friday, 1887, he explained at length to his son his two latest inventions, one of which he wished to patent. The other for the ventilation of mines he did not intend to patent. 'I give it to the miners,' he said, with one of his bright looks.

In a word, it may be said that Mr. Husband’s life was unselfishly devoted to the welfare of others. He took a warm interest in the Mining Association and Institute of Cornwall (now known as the Miners’ Association of Cornwall and Devon), of which he was for two years in succession the President. The Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society also had in him a warm supporter, and he was a constant exhibitor at its annual meetings; in fact, he took a foremost part in every movement for the promotion of scientific knowledge among the community. He was largely instrumental in the construction of the harbour at Porthleven for the shelter of the fishing-boats, and he took an active part in everything affecting the welfare of Hayle. During the summer months the inhabitants suffered greatly from a scarcity of water, and Mr. Husband never rested until a sufficient supply had been obtained. He also took an interest in the general sanitary arrangements of the place, and was instrumental in causing a proper system of drainage to be carried out. He originated the Artillery Corps, and during his captaincy it attained such a high state of efficiency that he received the special thanks of the then Secretary of State for War. He was a frequent lecturer on scientific subjects, and established the existing science classes at Hayle in connection with South Kensington. The great success of the Hayle Industrial and Art Exhibition, held in April, 1884, of which he was the President, was largely due to his efforts, and those who had the privilege of being associated with him in the undertaking will not soon forget the warm interest he took in it, nor the weighty words contained in the admirable address he delivered at the opening ceremony.

Mr. Husband was a warm supporter of the work of the National Life-boat Institution, and twice received the thanks of that corporation for his exertions in saving life from shipwreck. The realization of one of his most cherished wishes he did not live to see, namely, the unveiling in Westminster Abbey of the Trevithick Memorial Window, of which Mr. Husband was one of the chief promoters.

Mr. Husband was elected a Member of the Institution on the 1st of May, 1866.


After his death Lord Robartes, Lord St. Levan, T. Bedford Bolitho, W. C. Pandarves and H. P. Vivian set up a scholarship in William Husband's name in honour of his achievements and efforts to advance the progress of the county of Cornwall. See The Engineer 1888/11/09 to read an account of its proposal. [2]

See Also

Loading...

Sources of Information