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William Scarth Moorsom

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William Scarth Moorsom (1804-1863)

1804 July 4th. Born in Whitby the son of Robert Moorsom and his wife Eleanor Scarth. His brother Constantine Richard Moorsom became the Chairman of the London and North Western Railway

1831 Married to Isabella Ann Morris Wilkins

1835 Birth of son Lewis Henry Moorsom

First survey for the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway

1835 Captain W. S. Moorsom, of Casgrove Priory bear Stony Stratford, a topographical engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

Married Isabella Wilkins


1864 Obituary [2]

Captain William Scarth Moorsom, the third son of the late Sir Robert Moorsom, was born, in the year 1804, at Upper Stakesby, the residence of his father, near Whitby, in Yorkshire.

Being intended for the army, young Moorsom entered the Royal Military College, at Sandhurst, in 1819, and quickly rose to a high position among the cadets of that establishment, chiefly in consequence of his attainments in fortification and military surveying.

On the 14th of June, 1822, he was presented with a sword by the gentlemen cadets of his (C) Company, as a token of their sincere regard and esteem. After passing examinations in double courses of the highest classes, he joined, in the following year, the 79th Regiment, then stationed in Ireland; and, while pursuing the ordinary duties of the garrison in Dublin, he found time make a trigonometrical survey of the whole of that city and neighbourhood, extending over an area of about 130 square miles.

This survey was the one used in the Quartermaster-General's office, at the Horse Guards, until it was superseded by the large Ordnance Survey of Ireland. Having, through this work, been brought under the notice of the Adjutant-General (Sir H. Torrens), a lieutenancy, by purchase, in the 7th Fusiliers, was soon offered to him.

Shortly after he joined that regiment, he was ordered to the Mediterranean, and four companies were formed into a reserve, the adjutancy of which was given to Lieutenant Moorsom. On the promotion of its Colonel, Sir Edward Blakeney, to be Major- General, the 7th Fusiliers were placed under the command of Lord Frederick Fitz-Clarence, who, upon Lieutenant Moorsom quitting the regiment on promotion to an unattached company, issued a regimental order highly complimentary of his services as adjutant.

Captain Moorsom was almost immediately brought on full pay in the 69th Regiment, and within a few weeks exchanged into the 52nd Light Infantry, then stationed in Nova Scotia. There his industry was again conspicuous by his exploration of the province, which became better known to the public by his publication of 'Letters from Nova Scotia,' in 1868.

His survey of the harbour and environs of Halifax still remains in the Quartermaster- General’s office, at the Horse Guards, as the best plan to which reference is made for that locality. His well-known ability in this branch, and his local knowledge, led to his appointment, by Major-General Sir Peregrine Maitland, to be Deputy Quartermaster- General to the division, upon the retirement of Lieutenant- Colonel Beresford, until a successor to that office should come out from England. Captain Moorsom’s ability again displayed itself in this capacity, by the office being soon supplied with routes and copious notes of the capability for supply and maintenance of troops, over every part of the provinces of Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. For this information, and for the general state of efficiency in which the department was placed, he received a complimentary letter of thanks from his successor, Lieutenant-Colonel Broke.

On returning to England it was found desirable, from domestic circumstances, that Captain Moorsom should reside with his father, and finding that promotion to an unattached majority by purchase was denied him, notwithstanding that he had been selected by the General commanding his division to fill a post involving the duties of Lieutenant-Colonel, he quitted the army and resided with his father until the death of the latter in 1834.

The previous year had witnessed the incorporation, by Act of Parliament, of the London and Birmingham Railway Company, of which his brother, the late Admiral Moorsom, was then secretary, and with whom he was associated in promoting the early stages of that great undertaking.

The residence of Sir Robert Moorsom was situated very near this line of railway, in one of the most difficult portions, and the survey by Captain Moorsom of a section across the valley of the Ouse, by which the original line might be straightened, and a large amount of embankment dispensed with, attracted the attention of the late Robert Stephenson, then chief engineer of the railway, who kindly gave Captain Moorsom every facility for making himself master of the practical details of that great work.

During the years 1835 and 1836, Captain Moorsom visited almost every railway and canal work of importance then going on in England, thus making himself acquainted with the different methods pursued in the execution of such works during their daily progress, and in the management of those that had been recently finished.

Thus, in the autumn of 1836, when applied to by the Messrs. Sturge, of Birmingham, to undertake a survey of the country between Birmingham and Gloucester, in order to connect those towns by railway, he felt enabled to meet the difficulties of the task, by the experience which such extensive inquiries and observations had given. This work severely tested the judgment and skill of the Engineer, inasmuch as the great table lands of Staffordshire were to be ascended from one of the lowest valleys of England - that of the Severn. To accomplish this, the severest inclined plane, then known in the world, was proposed by Captain Moorsom to form part of his line; the table land being ascended in one continuous plane, rising upwards of 300 feet in little more than two miles, or at the rate of l in 37.

An opposition to this plan was brought forward by George Stephenson, then in the zenith of his reputation, who proposed to avoid the incline of the Lickey by a detour of seven miles. Mr. I. K. Brunel (M.Inst.C.E.) had also proposed to avoid the same incline by a detour of three miles; but the opposition was negatived in Parliament, and Captain Moorsom’s original plans were carried out. The experience acquired by Captain Moorsom in his numerous military surveys did him good service on this his debut in civil practice, for the country was so thoroughly examined between Birmingham and Gloucester, and the general line for the railway so carefully selected, that no competing line has ever been projected to interfere with it.

The completion of the Birmingham and Gloucester Railway, at the same cost per mile as the Grand Junction Railway, by Joseph Locke (M.Inst.C.E.), was conclusive evidence of the careful control over the expenditure exercised by the Engineer; but although completed, the work was not yet concluded. To work the incline of the Lickey, thus rising for two miles at the rate of nearly an inch in a yard, was a subject of no small anxiety, seeing that all the trade between the Midland and the western counties of England would pass over it. After visiting the various inclines then at work, chiefly in the coal districts, with trains of minerals, without passengers, Captain Moorsom decided to recommend that the Lickey should be worked by locomotive engines. The Directors at the Birmingham board were alarmed at the idea of doing that which had no precedent, and advertised for tenders to erect stationary engines to work the incline.

Fortunately, the heavy amounts of the tenders again frightened them, and (always backed by the Deputy Chairman, Mr. Samuel Baker, then of Higham Court, near Gloucester), Captain Moorsom was allowed to go on with his plans. But then arose the question, who was to make the locomotive which should drag a passenger train, at the rate of twenty or even of fifteen miles an hour, up two miles of an incline of 1 in 37? Upon applying to the first makers of the day, Robert Stephenson and Co, of Newcastle-on-Tyne, Mr. Bury, of Liverpool, and others, every one declined the task.

In this dilemma, Captain Moorsom conferred with Mr. Norris, of Philadelphia, with the performance of whose engines upon American railways he had become acquainted, and, again backed in his efforts by the firmness of Mr. Baker, he procured a small locomotive engine of Mr. Norris’s manufacture, and practically demonstrated the feasibility of working the Lickey by that class of engine. It may surprise those who are accustomed to the present system of locomotives to learn, that the first engine which took a train up the Lickey incline had cylinders of only 10 1/4 inches diameter, with a length of stroke of 18 inches, and with driving wheels 4 feet diameter, the engine, when in working order, weighing rather less than 10 tons.

The practical working by this system, thus established has never been disturbed, and the Lickey continues to hold its place in the first rank of inclined planes worked by locomotive engines.

The mode of constructing the foundations of an iron viaduct of three arches, crossing the river Avon, near Tewkesbury, on this railway, was brought before the notice of the Institution of Civil Engineers: and the Telford Medal was awarded to Captain Moorsom for the first practical example of iron caissons sunk into the bed of the river by their own weight, thus forming a chamber, from which, by the aid of powerful pumps, the water was cleared out, and the iron casing when sunk down to a solid bed, was afterwards tilled with concrete and masonry to support the superstructure. Captain Moorsom’s success led to his being employed by the Cornish committee, of which the Earl of Falmouth was chairman, to lay out their lines from Exeter and Plymouth to Falmouth, upon which a full report was printed and published in 1841. The line of the West Cornwall Railway, from Truro to Penzance, was also laid out by Captain Moorsom about the same period.

The railway fever of 1844-5 called into requisition the services of Captain Moorsom to lay our several extensive systems of railway, viz.:- The Shropshire system, from Birmingham to Wolverhampton, Shrewsbury, Newton, and Chester, nearly 100 miles; the Yarmouth Junction, from Diss and Beccles, 50 miles; the Irish Great Western, from Naas, by Tullamore, to Galway, 120 miles; the Metropolitan Counties Junction, from Gravesend, by Reigate, Dorking, Weybridge, Staines, Rickmansworth, St. Albans, Chelmsford, and Billericay to Tilbury, 120 miles; the London, Hammersmith, Staines, and Windsor, 25 miles, and several smaller lines; and of these the Southampton and Dorchester, and the Waterford and Kilkenny were executed, the former wholly, and the latter principally, by him.

The Southampton and Dorchester Railway has been made the subject of a contest which has clearly proved the sound judgment with which that line was laid out and constructed as a commercial undertaking. The principle adopted was to approach every town on the line, throughout this agricultural district, so closely as to secure the short local trade as well as the 'through traffic,' and by laying out what its adversaries have facetiously called a 'corkscrew' line Captain Moorsom attained this object in a manner so complete that not even a van, and hardly a carrier‘s cart, now runs on the adjacent roads, owing to the better accommodation afforded by the railway.

Subsequently his efforts mere directed to establish a south-west coast line of railway, in extension of the Southampton and Dorchester Railway, from Dorchester through Bridport, Axminster, and Honiton, to Exeter; but the South Western Railway Company eventually procured the incorporation of the rival line through Yeovil.

The Waterford and Kilkenny Railway presents only two features of interest, one being a station at Kilkenny, laid out to accommodate the interchange of four different lines of traffic from Dublin, Waterford, Wexford, and Caghel; and the other a viaduct over the River Nore, 285 feet in height and of 200 feet span, constructed in timber, on the lattice principle, the abutments being built of limestone. The cost of the whole was under £10,000, and the work was the largest of the kind in the three kingdoms at the time of its erection.

In 1850, the Prussian Government issued proposals to the engineers and architects of all nations, to send to Berlin designs for a great bridge to be erected over the Rhine, at Cologne. This bridge was required to give passage to a railway, a carriage-road, and foot-passengers. The most celebrated Engineers of Europe and America sent in designs to the number of sixty-one, and among them was one by Captain Moorsom, to which the Prussian Government awarded the Engineering Prize, while the Architectural Prize for the same work was carried off by Mr. Swedler, an architect of Berlin. Captain Moorsom’s design embraced spans of 600 feet, in wrought iron, while the piers and abutments were so arranged as to form casemated batteries for the protection of the town from an advance up the river.

The temporary cessation of the great railway undertakings in the three kingdoms about this period-l852 to 1856-was felt by Captain Moorsom, in common with many others of his professional brethren. His attention was then directed to projects for extracting gold from the ores of Great Britain. His reports to the Britannia and Poltimore Mining Companies, in 1852, fairly brought the subject, for the first time, in a practical shape, on a large scale, before the public. The machinery erected by those companies, under his direction, was so far successful as to produce gold from the ores; but the quantities were not sufficient to pay for the cost of production, and the undertakings were abandoned perhaps somewhat hastily, as in other quarters of Great Britain success has attended perseverance.

In the winter of 1856, Captain Moorsom was selected by the Colonial Minister, Mr. Labouchere, to visit Ceylon on behalf of the Government, in order to determine whether a railway could be profitably constructed between Colombo, the principa1 port, and Kandy, the ancient capital of that island, and the centre of a very productive district for the growth of coffee. Receiving his instructions on the 24th December, and pressed by the Colonial Office to complete his work before the ensuing rainy season in May should oblige a cessation of operations, Captain Moorsom sent off his first division of surveyors early in January, a second division on the 20th of that month, and followed himself on the 4th February, 1857. On the 12th May, Captain Moorsom presented his report to the Governor of Ceylon, and received the thanks of that functionary, afterwards confirmed in gratifying terms by letter of the Colonial Minister, dated the 23rd of July.

Captain Moorsom was elected an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers, on the 24th of March, 1835, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 20th of February, 1849. He became a Member of the Society of Arts on the 31st of January, 1843. He presented several Original Communications to the Institution and there were many subjects connected with Civil and Military Engineering, upon which he frequently spoke at the Meetings; and it has been observed that he not only spoke well, but always to the point, and was invariably listened to with attention. He never shrank from speaking even an unpleasant truth, yet those who knew him bear testimony to his extremely courteous manner.

Concerning the social character of Captain Moorsom, it may be said that his life was one of constant energy and activity, both of mind and body. Habitually an early riser, his day began while the world still slept; nor did office hours close his daily labour. As in all his public actions integrity and honour were the most visible features, so those who witnessed his more private career could not fail to observe in him all the attributes of a true and earnest Christian gentleman. This it was that supported him through much domestic affliction; this it was that taught him to bear with patient resignation a long and painful illness; and this it was that, at the last, enabled him to meet death calmly and undismayed.

Captain Moorsom died in London, on the 3rd of June, 1863, in the 61st year of his age, leaving a large family, of whom one only has adopted his father’s late profession, and four others are emulating the military career of their eldest brother, who fell at Lucknow in 1858.


1863 Obituary [3]



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