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Hawkshaw, Sir John

HAWKSHAW, SIR JOHN (1811-1891), English engineer, was born in Yorkshire in 1811, and was educated at Leeds grammar school. Before he was twenty-one he had been engaged for six or seven years in railway engineering and the construction of roads in his native county, and in the year of his majority he obtained an appointment as engineer to the Bolivar Mining Association in Venezuela. But the climate there was more than his health could stand, and in 1834 he was obliged to return to England. He soon obtained employment under Jesse Hartley at the Liverpool docks, and subsequently was made engineer in charge of the railway and navigation works of the Manchester, Bury and Bolton Canal Company. In 1845 he became chief engineer to the Manchester & Leeds railway, and in 1847 to its successor, the Lancashire & Yorkshire railway, for which he constructed a large number of branch lines. In 1850 he removed to London and began to practise as a consulting engineer, at first alone, but subsequently in partnership with Harrison Hayter. 'In that capacity his work was of an extremely varied nature, embracing almost every branch of engineering. He retained his connexion with the Lancashire & Yorkshire Company until his retirement from professional work in 1888, and was consulted on all the important engineering points that affected it in that long period. 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 M. I. Brunei's well-known tunnel; and jointly with Sir J. Wolfe Barry he constructed the section of the Underground railway which completed the " inner circle " between the Aldgate and Mansion House stations. In addition, many railway works claimed his attention in all parts of the world Germany, Russia, India, Mauritius, etc. One noteworthy point in his railway practice was his advocacy, in opposition to Robert Stephenson, of steeper gradients than had previously been thought desirable or possible, and so far back as 1838 he expressed decided disapproval of the maintenance of the broad gauge on the Great Western, because of the troubles he foresaw it would lead to in connexion with future railway extension, and because he objected in general to breaks of gauge in the lines of a country. 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 may fairly be said to have been the saviour of the Suez Canal. About that time the scheme was in very bad odour, and the khedive determined to get the opinion of an English engineer as to its practicability, having made up his mind to stop the works if that opinion was unfavourable. Hawkshaw was chosen to make the inquiry, and it was because his report was entirely favourable that M. de Lesseps was able to say at the opening ceremony that to him he owed the canal. As a member of the International Congress which considered the construction of an interoceanic canal across central America, he thought best of the Nicaraguan 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 the south dock of the East and 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 Company from 1872, but many years previously he had investigated for himsself 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 thereafter would have nothing to do with the project. He was also engineer of the Severn Tunnel, which, from its magnitude and the difficulties encountered in its construction, must rank as one of the most notable engineering undertakings of the 19th century. He died in Londojt on the 2nd of June 1891.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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