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Wyndham Harding

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Wyndham Harding (1817-1855)

1847 Secretary of the London and South Western Railway

1856 Obituary [1]

MR. WYNDHAM HARDING, F.R.S., second son of the Rev. J. Harding, rector of Coyty, Glamorganshire, was born in 1817.

He was educated at Rugby, under the late Dr. Arnold, of whom he has left a graphic and interesting notice in Mr. Sidney’s ‘Rides on Railways,’ and to whom he has justly attributed 'a change in the very spirit of education, reaching beyond the years of boyhood, or the limits of school walls.' Of this, indeed, Mr. Warding was a rare instance, being one of the very few Civil Engineers, who early attained distinction and success in the profession, with no other preparation than a strictly classical education at an English public school.

After leaving Rugby, he served an apprenticeship of one year with Mr. Nicholas Wood, (M. Inst. C. E.,) the celebrated Mining Engineer, under whom he had an opportunity of studying mining practically, near Newcastle.

He then became a pupil of Mr. T. L. Gooch, (M. Inst. C. E.,) at that time one of the Assistant Engineers, under Mr. Robert Stephenson, (V. P.,) on the Coventry division of the London and Birmingham Railway. Towards the close of 1836, Mr. Gooch having been appointed, in conjunction with Mr. George Stephenson, Engineer of the Manchester and Leeds Railway, Mr. Harding was employed, with Mr. Scott, one of the Assistant Engineers, to aid first in the survey, and then in the construction of the railway. The character of the works on this line was very varied, embracing almost every department in the science of Engineering, and consequently, presenting peculiar attractions for an ardent and inquiring mind, like that of Mr. Harding, who was more particularly engaged in that portion of the works in the neighbourhood of Todmorden, and in the construction, in 1837 and 1838, of what was then regarded as a considerable undertaking, the Summit Tunnel, near Rochdale.

On the completion of these works, he came to London, and devoted his attention to the organization of railway business, by performing the duties of some of the departments of the Euston Square Station of the London and Birmingham Railway. For this new branch of official duty, he evinced so much aptitude, that, in 1839, he was strongly recommended as successor to Captain Mark Huish, then Secretary to the Glasgow, Greenock and Paisley Railway.

From Secretary, he soon afterwards became the Acting General Manager; in which capacity, his acquaintance with mechanics and general engineering, enabled him to render very great service to that undertaking, which had the reputation of being one of the best organised railways in Scotland.

He left Greenock in 1844, to undertake the management of the Bristol and Gloucester line, then about to be opened, and of which he conducted the affairs as General Superintendent, with the greatest satisfaction to all, until the year 1845, when, at his own recommendation, and owing chiefly to his own good management, it was leased to the Midland Railway Company, on very advantageous terms, and his connection with it terminated. On this occasion, he declined to receive any testimonial, or extra remuneration ; honourably conceiving, that he had merely performed his simple duty, in securing the permanent interests of the Company, without reference to his own private advantage.

Mr. Harding acted as Secretary to the Buckinghamshire Railway, from 1845 to 1847, and, in September, 1848, became Secretary to the London and South Western Railway, which post, he was compelled, from illness, to resign in October, 1852. His strenuous exertions to meet the increased traffic occasioned by the Great Exhibition of 1851, were so fully appreciated by the Directors, that they presented him with a valuable gold medal and a letter of thanks, on the occasion.

In the autumn of 1853, he took an engineering tour through the United States and Canada. On his return, his health gradually declined, and, after a lingering illness, he died near Cheltenham on the 15th of April, 1855, at the early age of thirty-eight, deservedly regretted by his numerous private and professional friends, and leaving a widow and two children to lament their premature loss.

During his connection with the Bristol and Gloucester Railway, having constantly before him the evils arising from the break of gauge, he carefully thought over the question, and in 1845, he published a pamphlet on the subject, which went through several editions, and in which he advocated the general adoption of the narrow gauge : with his usual energy, he took an active part in the proceedings relative to this question, which occupied the attention of Parliament in 1845-6. It was also on that railway, that he made the valuable experiments relative to the resistances of locomotives at high velocities, the results of which he communicated in a Paper read before the Institution of Civil Engineers, of which he had been previously elected an Associate in March, 1846.

For this Paper hew as awarded a Telford Medal and premium: and it is still regarded as an authority, in questions of railway resistance. He frequently took part in the discussions at the Institution, and his remarks were always distinguished for their originality, candour and courtesy. He served on the Council with great assiduity, and was always ready to undertake any duty, and to contribute tu any project for the benefit of the Society.

At the Meeting of the British Association at Swansea, in 1848, he read a Paper on ‘the Statistics of the Railway System of Great Britain,’ which was characterised by Colonel Sykes, F.R.S., as being the basis and model of all future statistical calculations on this subject. This Paper was afterwards published in the Journal of the Statistical Society.

In 1851, he delivered before the Government School of Design, a remarkable lecture on ‘Geometry applied to the Arts of Design.’ His short, but highly original and ingenious ‘Alphabet of Colour’ was printed for private circulation, in 1853.

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society, on the recommendation of the most distinguished members of his profession,- and the Society of Arts, in which he took a lively interest, and in whose discussions he frequently joined, elected him a Member of Council.

But Mr. Harding did not confine his energies to professional studies and sympathies : he was unwearied in his efforts to assist and benefit the working classes. He was an active supporter of Mechanics’ Institutes, Benefit Societies, and all similar institutions ; and expended a large portion of Eis private means in promoting systematic emigration. As a philanthropist, he has earned the well-merited gratitude of hundreds, whom he assisted in procuring a free passage to Australia, or to whom he advanced loans for that purpose. The inhabitants of Southampton will long remember the day when Mrs. Chisholm and Mr. Harding met, to witness the departure of the first Australian emigrant-ship which sailed from that port, freighted, under her superintendence, at his expense and risk.

An excellent man of business, practical and indefatigable in application, he was a faithful servant and a considerate master: unswerving in his ideas of honour and duty, he cared little, as an Engineer, for the praise, or blame of any, but those whose professional knowledge and experience gave authority to their judgment. Possessed of an original, vigorous and highly-cultivated mind, fond of the arts, with strong literary tastes and habits, founded upon a strictly classical education, his general acquirements were remarkable, and would have insured distinction in any of the learned professions. It is mwh to be regretted that he so entirely gave himself up, body and mind, to the engagements which he undertook, as not to allow himself necessary relaxation, and thus prematurely closed a career, which gave so much promise for the future.

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