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Letters to William Clark

William Clark (1821-1880): Obituary

Institution of Civil Engineers: Proceedings Vol. 63 (1880-1881)

Mr. WILLIAM CLARK was born at Colchester, on the 17 th of March, 1821. His education was obtained principally at King's College, London, which he entered in 1842, and where he was so distinguished for industry and diligence, that, on the termination of his three years' course, he was made an Associate of the College. Soon afterwards he became a pupil of, and subsequently an assistant to, Mr Birkinshaw, M. Inst. C.E., under whom, first as assistant and afterwards as resident engineer, he was employed for a period of three or four years on the works of the York and North Midland railway system. In 1850 he was connected with the late Sir Goldsworthy Gurney, who at that time had charge of the warming and ventilating of the Houses of Parliament. In 1851 he entered into partnership with Mr. A. W. Makinson, M. Inst. C.E., the firm devoting special attention to the warming and ventilating of public buildings. He was shortly afterwards offered and accepted the appointment of surveyor to the Local Board of Health of Kingston-upon-Hull, and devised a complete system of drainage for that town, the works of which were commenced by him. In 1854 he entered the service of the East Indian Railway Company as a second-class engineer. After acting for upwards of a year as resident engineer on a portion of the East Indian railway, forming part of the district under Mr. Sibley, M. Inst. C.E., he became the secretary, and subsequently the engineer, to the Municipality of Calcutta, who were considering what could be done to improve the sanitary condition of that city, then in a very unsatisfactory condition. Mr. Clark devoted himself with characteristic zeal and ability to this work, and after a comparatively short interval, spent in making the necessary surveys and inquiries into the local circumstances, was enabled to propose a complete scheme for the drainage of Calcutta.1 In preparing this he found the great advantage of his previous acquaintance with drainage work, especially as required for low-lying towns, built on the alluvial soil, on the shores of navigable rivers. His scheme for the drainage of Calcutta was much in advance of the views of the Municipal Council, who were not only incredulous as to the improvement in public health which might be expected from such a thorough drainage as Mr. Clark proposed, but were also startled by the suggestion to lay out a sum of money much larger than had previously been contemplated for such improvements. The scheme was, therefore, warmly opposed: in Calcutta he had to live down prejudice and misrepresentation. He felt that he was capable of doing the city justice if only its citizens would believe in him, and see for themselves what well-directed energy could achieve. But the President of the Municipality regarded him with jealousy; several of the native Justices of the Peace opposed a stolid resistance; and even newspapers ceased not for years to speak of him with scurrility. Ultimately, owing to the steadfastness and ability with which Mr. Clark supported his views, the Council were won over to allow a portion of the plan, devised as an experiment, to be carried into effect. Under Mr. Clark, as engineer, the drainage was successfully carried out, without the aid or assistance of any contractor, native labour being employed departmentally. This was the first instance in which the improved drainage system of England had been initiated and adopted in the populous cities of India. The success of this work, and its marked influence on the state of the public health in Calcutta, were most complete.

In addition to the drainage, Mr. Clark devised a complete system of waterworks for Calcutta, comprising three large pumping stations with their filter beds and settling tanks, all of which were executed under his charge and personal supervision. Mr. Clark continued to act as engineer-in-chief to the Municipality of Calcutta until the commencement of 1874, when he returned to England and entered into partnership with Mr. W. F. Batho, M. Inst. C.E. In the same year Mr. Clark received the appointment of consulting engineer to the Oudh and Rohilkund Railway Company. In December, 1874, Mr. Clark visited Madras, where he remained for four months planning a system of drainage for that city: he submitted to Government an able report thereon,2 but the work was not carried out for want of funds.

In 1876, at the recommendation of Mr. G. R. Stephenson, Past President, Inst. C.E., Mr. Clark was selected by the Colonial Office and appointed by the Government of New South Wales, to advise and report upon the water supply and drainage of Sydney. During a residence of two gears in the Australasian colonies, he prepared several schemes of a like description, embracing the towns of Port Adelaide, Newcastle, Bathurst, Goulbourn, Orange, Maitland, Brisbane,3 and subsequently Wellington4 and

Christchurch in New Zealand. Mr. Clark's plan for the drainage of Christchurch was commenced in 1879, the sewage pumping: machinery having been designed and erected under his supervision, and dispatched with a considerable quantity of pipes.

Among Mr. Clark's inventions may be mentioned his "tied brick arch," of which fine constructive examples exist in Calcutta and other places in India; he was also joint patentee with Mr. W. F. F. Batho of the now well-known steam road-roller. Among his schemes may be mentioned the proposal for reclaiming the salt water lakes in the neighbourhood of Calcutta.

Having suffered for about six months from a liver affection, the germs of which were doubtless laid in the country to which he had devoted the best of his life, Mr. Clark died at Surbiton, on the 22nd of January, 1880. Mr. Clark was elected a Member of the Institution on the 2nd of February, 1864: he was also a Member of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

By sterling integrity and honourable conduct as an engineer, by a generous and kindly disposition in private life, together with his manly influence and example, Mr. Clark will long be favourably remembered.

1 Vide "Letter from the Municipal Commissioners to the Government of Bengal, forwarding a report on the drainage of Calcutta, by W. Clark, dated the 29 th December, 1855".

2 Vide "Report on the Drainage of Madras." Folio. Madras, 1875.

3 Vide State Papers. New South Wales and South Australia, 1877, 1878.

4 Vide "Report on the Drainage of the City of Wellington, and disposal of the Sewage.'' Folio. Wellington, 1878.

Additional Resources

Information on Madras, India