150 years ago - March 1868


Some 150 years ago, The Engineer reported on a new locomotive designed by John Hawkshaw for the Madras Railway. We thought it might inspire a model subject of relative simplicity.

Sir John Hawkshaw was a civil engineer born in Leeds in 1811 and educated at Leeds Grammar School. Before he was 21 he had been engaged in railway engineering for more than six years before being appointed as engineer to the Bolivar Mining Association in Venezuela. On his return he worked under Jesse Hartley at the Liverpool Docks, and subsequently was made engineer in charge of the railway and navigation works of the Manchester, Bolton and Bury Canal Co. In 1845 he became chief engineer to the Manchester and Leeds Railway, and in 1847 to its successor, the Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway for which he constructed a large number of branch lines.

In 1850 he removed to London to practise as a consulting engineer, at first alone, and later in partnership with Harrison Hayter embracing almost every branch of engineering. He retained his connection with the Lancashire and Yorkshire Company until his retirement in 1888, and was consulted on all important engineering points.

In London he was responsible for the Charing Cross and Cannon Street railways, together with the two bridges which carried them over the Thames; he was engineer of the East London railway, which passes under the Thames through Sir Marc Brunel's well-known tunnel; and jointly with Sir John Wolfe Barry he constructed the section of the Underground railway which completed the inner circle between the Aldgate and Mansion House stations.

He also worked in Germany, Russia, India, Mauritius, etc. He strongly advocaed, in opposition to Robert Stephenson, steeper gradients than had previously been thought desirable or possible. In 1838 he disapproved maintenance of the broad gauge on the Great Western, because of the troubles he foresaw in connection with future railway extension, and breaks of gauge in the lines generally.

The construction of canals was another branch of engineering in which he was actively engaged. In 1862 he became engineer of the Amsterdam ship-canal, and in the succeeding year he was effectively the saviour of the Suez Canal. About that time the scheme was not popular, and the Khedive determined to get the opinion of an English engineer, and would stop work if that opinion was unfavourable. Hawkshaw was chosen to make the inquiry, and it was because his report was entirely favourable that Ferdinand de Lesseps was able to say at the opening ceremony that he owed the canal to him.

As a member of the International Congress which considered the construction of an inter-ocean canal across central America, he thought best of the Nicaragua route, and privately he regarded the Panama scheme as impracticable at a reasonable cost, although publicly he expressed no opinion on the matter and left the Congress without voting.

Sir John Hawkshaw also had a wide experience in constructing harbours (e.g. Holyhead) and docks (e.g. Penarth, the Albert Dock at Hull, and South Dock (formerly the City Canal) of the West India Docks in London), in river-engineering, in drainage and sewerage, in water-supply, etc.

He was engineer, with Sir James Brunlees, of the original Channel Tunnel Co from 1872, but many years previously he had investigated for himself the question of a tunnel under the Strait of Dover from an engineering point of view, and had come to a belief in its feasibility, so far as that could be determined from borings and surveys. Subsequently, however, he became convinced that the tunnel would not be to the advantage of Great Britain, and would have nothing to do with the project.

He was also consulting engineer to the Severn Tunnel, which, from its magnitude and the difficulties encountered in its construction, was one of the most notable engineering undertakings of the 19th century. Following the inundation of the tunnel working in 1879, he employed Thomas A. Walker as lead contractor to complete the work.

He also designed the famous Puerto Madero, the port of Buenos Aires, collaborating with Thomas A. Walker and James Murray Dobson. The works started its construction in 1885 and was finished in 1898.

1836 John Hawkshaw of Manchester / Liverpool, a Civil Engineer, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[3]

He was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in June 1855.

He served as president of the Institution of Civil Engineers between December 1861 and December 1863 and was knighted in 1873.

He died in London on 2 June 1891. His son, John Clarke Hawkshaw was born in 1841 and was also a civil engineer.

These were wonderful times in engineering. They were also troubled and dangerous times. Here are just a few notes from The Engineer the same week.


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Drawing courtesy of Grace's Guide to British Industrial History.

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