Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in Britain. This web publication contains 147,170 pages of information and 233,417 images on early companies, their products and the people who designed and built them.
Sir Benjamin Baker KCB KCMG FRS FRSE, (31 March 1840 - 19 May 1907), was an eminent English civil engineer who worked in mid to late Victorian era.
He was born in 1840, the son of Benjamin Baker Senior and his mother Sarah (née Hollis), who had recently moved to Keyford, Frome. One source states that this followed Benjamin Sr. being appointed foreman [manager?] at the Butts Hill Iron Works.. However, this has not been confirmed. In fact the 1841 census records him as a 'Gentleman'. Baptism records show Benjamin Baker Sr. as a Gentleman at the time Fanny Maria (young Benjamin's sister) was baptised on 8 November 1838, and when Benjamin was baptised in 21 April 1840, no occupation was given for his father.
A plaque on Frome Fire Station commemorates Benjamin Baker, presumably marking the site of his birthplace.
He made many other notable contributions to civil engineering, including his work as an expert witness at the public inquiry into the Tay Rail Bridge disaster. Later, he helped design and build the Aswan Low Dam.
Baker was also the author of many papers on engineering subjects. In 1872 Baker wrote a series of articles titled, 'The Strength of Brickwork'. In these articles Baker argued that the tensile strength of cement should not be neglected in calculating the strength of brickwork. He wrote that if the cement was neglected then several structures of his time should have collapsed.
1907 Obituary 
Sir BENJAMIN BAKER, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., LL.D, D.Sc., F.R.S., was born at Tondu, Glamorganshire, [Not so - see above] on 31st March 1840.
At the age of sixteen he was apprenticed to Messrs. Price and Fox, of the Neath Abbey Iron Works, South Wales, with whom he remained till 1860, gaining a practical knowledge of the properties of steel and iron.
In 1862 he began the association with the late Sir John Fowler which lasted till the death of the latter in 1898. Sir (then Mr.) John Fowler was at that time - 1862 — engaged in the construction of the first of the urban railways, namely the St. John's Wood and Metropolitan lines, and Mr. Baker spent the seven years from 1862-1869 in Mr. Fowler's office, his leisure time being employed in a careful study of theoretical mechanics.
In the latter year he was entrusted by Mr. Fowler with the construction of the District line from Westminster to the City — a particularly difficult and expensive piece of work.
At the conclusion of this he went, for Mr. Fowler, to Egypt, when the Khedive was contemplating the construction of a combined irrigation and ship canal between Alexandria and Cairo. Complete preliminary plans were prepared for this project, the magnitude of which greatly exceeded that of the Suez Canal, but as steamers specially designed for the transit of the latter were then beginning to be built, the new scheme was not proceeded with. His connection with the public works of Egypt thus commenced was maintained by him up to the time of his death.
Though his abilities were widely recognised by engineers at home and abroad, his name first became familiar to the general public on the transport of Cleopatra's Needle to England in 1878. The contractor for the transport of the obelisk was Mr. John Dixon, who suggested the idea of enclosing it in a cylindrical vessel and towing it to London by tugs. The vessel was built at the Thames Ironworks, its design being prepared by Mr. Dixon in conjunction with Mr. Baker. Several accidents happened to the vessel, culminating in its abandonment in the Bay of Biscay owing to a storm of exceptional severity. Salved and carried into Ferrol it ultimately reached the Thames, and the obelisk was then successfully placed on its pedestal on the Thames Embankment. All the details of this operation were devised by Mr. Baker.
The inauguration of the great Forth Bridge undertaking in 1881 brought him still more into public prominence. Designs for this structure had been originally got out by Sir Thomas Bouch; but on the disastrous failure of the Tay Bridge, it was decided to have fresh plans prepared, and as a result the present design was adopted. The Act was applied for in 1881, and the carrying out of the work entrusted to Mr. Fowler and Mr. Baker, who were then in partnership.
For the next few years the latter practically lived on the works, and began in connection with them a series of experiments on the mechanical properties of structural steel, the results of which were partially embodied in an Address he delivered as President of the Mechanical Science Section of the British Association in 1885.
On the opening of the Forth Bridge he was made a Knight of the Order of St. Michael and St. George, his colleague at the same time being created a Baronet.
Subsequently to the successful completion of this work there were few important undertakings, either here or in America, on which the opinion of the firm was not sought.
All the earlier tube railways had the benefit of their services. He was joint engineer with Sir John Fowler for the Central London Railway, and the City and South London Railway, and he was consulting engineer for the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway. The successful results obtained with the shield system of tunnel-driving through doubtful strata led to its general adoption, and Sir Benjamin devised for Messrs. Pearson, when completing the Hudson River Tunnel, a special form of shield fitted wills diaphragms, dividing the whole up into compartments, each of which could be used in the same way as a diving-bell.
The greatest work with which Sir Benjamin had been associated in recent years was the Aswan Dam. The proposal to erect a dam at this site, which was originated by Mr. (afterwards Sir William) Willcocks, met with the strongest opposition. The Egyptian Government accordingly sought the advice of an International Commission, consisting of a French, an Italian, and an English engineer. Sir Benjamin Baker was the English representative, and he and his Italian colleague agreed with the proposal of Mr. Willcocks. For its safety and efficiency, however, Sir Benjamin took the complete responsibility, and with full success — a success which was recognised by his being created a Knight Commander of the Bath on the completion of the structure. He was also honoured by the Khedive on that occasion.
Subsequently he developed a system of reinforcements and additions which will enable the capacity of the reservoir to be doubled.
His services were also sought by the Soudan authorities on the proposed construction of a railway bridge across the Blue Nile into Khartoum, and by the Egyptian Public Works Department on the construction of a bridge across the Nile at Boulac (the port of Cairo).
He was also consulting engineer to the Public Works Department of Cape Colony.
On the collapse of the Charing Cross Station roof he personally examined the structure, and on his advice the railway company decided to replace the entire roof with one of another design.
In conjunction with Mr. F. Stileman, he was, at the time of his death, engaged on the operation of widening from 80 feet to 100 feet the Buccleuch Dock entrance at Barrow-in-Furness; and with Mr. James Otway as his colleague, he was engineer to the Rosslare and Waterford Railway, opening up the new route to the South of Ireland.
Throughout his career Sir Benjamin took a great interest is scientific societies. He joined the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1867, and was successively a Member of Council, Vice-President, and President. He became a Member of this Institution in 1890, and served continuously as a Member of Council from 1899, being still in office at the time of his decease. He was also a Fellow of the Royal Society, a Member of the Royal Institution, and an honorary Member of the American Society of Civil Engineers, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, and the Canadian Society of Engineers, and honorary degrees were conferred upon him by the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh. He was appointed to succeed Mr. Barlow on the Ordnance Committee, and was the senior civil member of that body. He early advocated the adoption of standard specifications, and was an original member of the Engineering Standards Committee.
His death took place suddenly at his residence, Bowden Green, Pangbourne, on 19th May 1907, at the age of sixty-seven.
1907 Obituary 
SIR BENJAMIN BAKER, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., D.Sc., LL.D., M.A.I., F.R.S., was born at Keyford, Frome, Somerset, on the 31st March, 1840, and died suddenly, from heart-failure, on the 19th May, 1907. His family were descendants of British settlers in Ireland, from whom have sprung many men eminent in science, industry, and the public service.
He was apprenticed to Messrs. Price and Fox of the Neath Abbey Ironworks at the age of 16, and remained with them until 1860. During the next 2 years he was engaged, under Mr. William Wilson, on works in connection with the Victoria Station and the Grosvenor Road railway-bridge, then recently opened.
In 1862 Mr. Baker joined the staff of the late Sir John Fowler, Past-President Inst. C.E., with whom he remained associated until the death of the latter in 1898, rising from the position of junior assistant to that of partner. When Mr. Baker entered the office, Sir John Fowler was engaged on the construction of the Metropolitan and St. John’s Wood Railways ; and in 1869 he appointed Mr. Baker Chief Assistant Engineer on the construction of the District Railway from Westminster to the City, a work involving unusual difficulties. Before receiving this appointment Mr. Baker had established his reputation as an authority on both the theory and practice of engineering, having published important and original Papers dealing with Strength of Beams, Bridge Construction, Urban Railways and other subjects.
In these Papers was displayed that remarkable combination of practical knowledge with scientific method which marked all Sir Benjamin Baker’s work. In his career private study was the only possible means of supplementing practical knowledge gained during apprenticeship and service as an assistant: but hearty support and sympathy were always given by Sir Benjamin Baker to movements for improvement in engineering education; and the absolute necessity for thorough practical training was equally enforced by him. This union of scientific and practical knowledge continued to be illustrated and successfully applied by Sir Benjamin Baker in dealing with problems of the greatest difficulty. In this respect the engineering profession owes much to his influence and example. It has been well said that he was one of the first to bridge the gulf which had long separated theory from practice in engineering. He gained the respect of those whose devotion to scientific methods made them liable to under-estimate the value of accumulated experience : while his practical knowledge, breadth of view, and dispassionate advocacy commanded the confidence of engineers of the older school, who were inclined to distrust the application of mathematical and scientific processes to works of construction.
During his long period of association with Sir John Fowler, Sir Benjamin.Baker was concerned with works of great importance and variety. Urban railways naturally engaged much of his attention : the principles of their construction and working were already laid down in Papers published in 1874. His work on the District Railway in 1869 has been mentioned: Sir Benjamin Baker and Sir John Fowler were consulting engineers for the earliest "tube" railway (the City and South London), Mr. Greathead being the engineer: Sir Benjamin Baker was, with Messrs. B. Mott and D. Hay, engineer for all subsequent extensions of that line, as also for the Central London Railway, and jointly with Mr. Galbraith (after Mr. Greathead’s death) for the Baker Street and Waterloo Railway. He acted as Consulting Engineer for similar works abroad, including the Hudson River Tunnel. As an assistant to Sir John Fowler, Sir Benjamin Baker began that connection with great engineering works in Egypt which lasted until his death. One of the earliest schemes on which he was engaged (about 35 years ago) was for the construction of a combined irrigation- and ship-canal between Alexandria and Cairo, which, however, was not executed. His final visit to Egypt was made early in 1907.
During that visit he personally examined the’ valley of the Nile between Assuan and Khartum in order to ascertain the possibility or otherwise of erecting another dam instead of raising the dam at Assuan: he dealt with the latter problem, and was consulted in regard to the construction of bridges crossing the Nile near Khartum and at Cairo. In the modern development of Egypt Sir Benjamin Baker played a great part. His connection with the British Colonies and Dependencies was long and distinguished, and was recognized officially by the bestowal of the K.C.M.G. In conjunction with Sir John Fowler he acted as Consulting Engineer to the New South Wales Government, and for many years advised in matters of railway construction. He was Consulting Engineer to the Public Works Department of the Cape Colony.
For many years before his death Sir Benjamin Baker was in partnership with Mr. A. C. Hurtzig. Upon the retirement of the late Sir William Shelford he became a partner with Mr. F. Shelford, and advised in the design and construction of important railways and engineering works in West Africa, Cyprus and elsewhere, acting as joint Consulting Engineer to the Crown Agents for the Colonies and other authorities. Amongst recent works for which Sir Benjamin Baker was responsible, or in which he acted as Consulting Engineer, may be mentioned the Avonmouth Docks and the Hull Joint Dock (in both cases being associated with Sir John Wolfe Barry, and Mr. C. A. Brereton, as well as Mr. Hurtzig), the Rosslare and Waterford Railway, the widening of the Buccleuch Dock Entrance, and the construction of the Walney Bridge at Barrow-in-Furness. At the time of his death he was acting as Consulting Engineer to several important railways.
Outside his own practice Sir Benjamin Baker attained an eminent position as a Consulting Engineer, to whom professional colleagues at home and abroad turned with confidence when they had to face conditions of unusual difficulty, or needed advice in the design of works of an unprecedented nature. Captain Eads corresponded with him in connection with the design of the St. Louis bridge across the Mississippi. When Cleopatra’s Needle was to be transported from Alexandria to this country (in 1878), Mr. John Dixon, who had undertaken the work, consulted him as to the design of the vessel which was to convey the obelisk. In later years more striking instances occurred of the confidence felt in his opinion and advice by fellow engineers. Sir Benjamin Baker never failed to answer the appeal of those who sought his aid in circumstances of difficulty; and rendered valuable assistance even though (as was ordinarily the case) he had to bear simultaneously immense responsibilities in the execution of works which had been originated and designed by himself.
A very large number of engineers, many of whom now hold important positions, received their training under Sir Benjamin Baker, who maintained an active interest in the careers of his old pupils and assistants ; being always ready to give them friendly assistance when they encountered difficulties in their work, or sought his advice.
His long service as a Civil Member of the Ordnance Committee must also be mentioned. Sir Benjamin Baker was appointed to succeed Mr. Barlow in that position, and became the colleague of the late Sir Frederick Bramwell in 1890. On the death of the latter, in 1903, Sir Benjamin Baker became Senior Civil Member of the Ordnance Committee, Mr. Mallock being appointed as his colleague. During his life and since his death there has been ample recognition of the valuable services which he rendered. In the selection of the best materials for gun-construction; in the conduct of experiments to determine causes of failure and the means of avoiding their recurrence; in the design of guns and gun-mountings, and other important branches of the work of the Ordnance Committee, Sir Benjamin Baker took a prominent part. Again, in connection with the recent difficulty as to possible interference with the work of the Observatory at Greenwich in consequence of the construction of an electric generating-station in the neighbourhood, Sir Benjamin Baker was called upon to serve as a member of a Special Committee appointed to deal with the subject, and to make recommendations. His influence is clearly to be traced in the Report, which has commanded the acquiescence of all concerned. From the first he took an active part in the work of the Engineering Standards Committee, and was Chairman of the Sectional Committee on Bridges and Building Construction.
The great variety and the magnitude of the engineering works for which Sir Benjamin Baker was primarily responsible are indicated to some extent by the number of Papers contributed by him or by his assistants or resident engineers to the Proceedings. A list of those of which he was himself the Author is appended to this notice. No comment thereon is necessary. His name, however, will always remain most closely associated in the public mind with two of these works, namely, the Forth Bridge and the Assuan Dam. The Forth Bridge undoubtedly owes its inception in its present form to Sir Benjamin Baker, although he was at the time of the design a partner with the late Sir John Fowler, and was always desirous of acknowledging the valuable assistance which Sir John Fowler had rendered both in the design and in the construction of that grand structure. Like all great men, Sir Benjamin Baker was ever ready to recognize and acknowledge his indebtedness to those who worked with or under him; and to Sir William Arrol and others who did much to realize his design for the Forth Bridge, or to overcome the enormous difficulties that occurred in its erection, full honour was done in recording its history. But behind it all stands the original and daring conception, based upon scientific principles, and worked out with the greatest care.
Again, as regards the Nile Dam, while recognizing the great services rendered by Sir William Garstin, Sir William Willcocks, the late Mr. W. J. Wilson, Mr. A. L. Webb, Mr. M. Fitzmaurice and other engineers, it is only just to give first place to the work done and the responsibility assumed by Sir Benjamin Baker. Upon him as Consulting Engineer rested the final responsibility for advising as to the increased height to which it has been decided to carry the dam. Lord Cromer in his report referred especially to this circumstance, and stated that the solution of the problem of reinforcement and addition, which would practically double the storage of water and yet secure safety and strength in the structure, was due to Sir Benjamin Baker. In this case, too, the remarkable qualities possessed by Sir Benjamin Baker were illustrated afresh.
Attention had been drawn by eminent mathematicians to possible causes of failure in dams, which had not been previously taken into account by engineers in their designs; and particular reference was made to the Assuan Dam. Quietly and deliberately the problem was studied by Sir Benjamin Baker, and when his decision was reached definite advice was given; which advice, we may be confident, will lead to satisfactory results, and prove an immense benefit to Egypt.
Cool, quiet judgment and restrained strength were his marked characteristics. His friends will not forget that, when the accident occurred to the roof of Charing Cross Station, Sir Benjamin Baker took the risk of personal inspection of the weakened structure in order to advise as to the best means of temporarily strengthening it; and upon him also rested the primary responsibility for recommending the ultimate removal of the roof. These are but instances of what happened again and again. In the hour of trouble Sir Benjamin Baker was a tower of strength on which men rested with confidence. His powers remained unabated to the end. During his recent visit to Egypt and the Sudan he suffered from illness, but he seemed to have regained health and to be as energetic as ever in mental processes. The end came suddenly, and those who knew him could believe that he would have wished it to be so. He worked to the end, and his last works were amongst his best.
Sir Benjamin Baker's connection with The Institution of Civil Engineers commenced in 1867. During his year of office as President in 1895-1896 the existing buildings were completed and the Institution was reinstated in its own home. He was the prime mover in carrying out important changes in the constitution of the Institution, which resulted in the election of the Council by a postal ballot and the provision of a larger and more representative membership of the Council. He had much to do also with the rearrangement and development of the system of working out the detailed business of the Institution by means of Committees; which system previously existed in outline, but necessarily required great extensions as the Institution grew in membership and in the scope of its work. On various occasions he served as representative of the Institution at important gatherings of Engineers; in this capacity he attended the Conference at the Chicago International Exhibition in 1893, his popularity with American Engineers making him a peculiarly fitting representative at that notable gathering. His devotion to the interests of the Institution was marked in many ways; by close attendance at the meetings of the Council and Committees, by readiness to serve as referee for Papers presented for reading or publication and by practical interest in other matters which, while domestic in character, have a great influence upon the well-being of the Institution. One of the last of his appearances at these Committees had to do with the important question of the site for the new home of the Institution, a matter on which his advice and assistance have proved of the greatest value.
Other learned and scientific societies showed their appreciation of his character and ability. He became a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1890 and served on the Council. Honorary Degrees were bestowed upon him by the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh and by other bodies. In the work of the Royal Institution he was deeply interested. He was a recognized leader in the work of the British Association and served as President of the Mechanical Science Section in 1885. He was made an Honorary Member of the American and Canadian Societies of Civil Engineers and of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. He was a Member of Council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for some years before his death. Amongst British and foreign civil engineers his name will always stand high, and his memory will be cherished by his friends and fellow-members as a loyal and devoted servant of The Institution.
His name and fame were universally known. Throughout the British Empire may be found monuments of his genius and professional ability in the form of great works designed, supervised, or participated in by him. Outside the Empire the same thing is true, and on the American and African continents will be found evidence of his skill as an engineer.
Sir Benjamin Baker was elected an Associate of The Institution on the 3rd December, 1867, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 29th May, 1877. He was elected a member of Council in 1882;Vice-President in 1891, and President in 1895, and he continued to serve on the Council until his death.
At the Council Meeting held on the 12th June,1 907, the following Resolution was unanimously adopted:- "That the Council on their own behalf and on that of The Institution record very deep regret at the death of their esteemed Past-President and colleague, Sir Benjamin Baker, whose intimate and continuous association with the work of the Council for a period of 25 years has been of the utmost value to this Institution as his engineering achievements have been of utility and benefit to the world."
1907 Obituary 
Long, detailed and illustrated obituary
1907 Obituary 
Sir BENJAMIN BARER, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., F.R.S., died suddenly on May 19, 1907, at his residence, Bowden Green, Pangbourne. He was born in 1840, and was the son of Mr. Benjamin Baker of Carlow.
As a civil engineer, his name is inseparably connected with two of the most important engineering feats of modern times—the building of the Forth Bridge, and the construction of the Great Dam at Assouan. The Forth Bridge was the first of its kind, for although the principle of the cantilever was not new, it had never previously been applied to a structure of such magnitude, the two main spans of which were 1710 feet. The bridge took seven years to build, and required 51,000 tons of steel. On the opening of this bridge, in 1890, his partner, Sir John Fowler, was made a baronet, while he was made a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George, and the contractor, Sir William Arrol, was knighted. The completion of the Assouan Dam gained for Sir Benjamin Baker a Knight Commandership of the Bath, as well as a decoration from the Khedive. As an exponent of modern methods Sir Benjamin Baker united scientific knowledge with practical training and experience, and on both sides his attainments received ample recognition. The Royal Society made him a Fellow in 1890; honorary degrees were bestowed upon him by the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, honorary membership by the Irish Academy, and other bodies, and he was a recognised leader in the work of the British Association. Engineering societies honoured his work no less.
In 1895 he was elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Up to his death he remained an active and influential member of the council of that institution, and of the council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was made an honorary member of many engineering societies, including the American and Canadian Societies of Civil Engineers, and the American Society of Mechanical Engineers. In the work of the Royal Institution he was deeply interested, and attended the Friday evening meeting the week before his death. When the accident in 1905 occurred to the roof of Charing Cross Station, Sir Benjamin Baker took the risk of personal inspection of the weakened structure in order to advise as to the best means of temporarily strengthening it; and upon him also rested the primary responsibility for recommending the ultimate removal of the roof. Although only elected a member of the Iron and Steel Institute in 1900, he had previously shown deep interest in its work, and attended many of its meetings, while, in 1885, he read a paper to the members on the subject of the Forth Bridge.
1907 Obituary 
SIR BENJAMIN BAKER, K.C.B., K.C.M.G., F.R.S., died suddenly on May 19, 1907, at his residence, Bowdon Green, Pangbourne.
Sir Benjamin Baker was the son of Mr. Benjamin Baker, of Co. Carlow, and at the time of his death was in his 67th year.
In his early years he was apprenticed to Mr. H. H. Price, a civil engineer in a large practice.
He afterwards entered the service of the late Sir John Fowler, with whom he afterwards went into partnership,
Among the many important engineering undertakings designed and carried out by Sir Benjamin Baker, the two great works with which his name will always be associated are the Forth Bridge and the Assouan Dam across the Nile. The Forth Bridge was the first structure of any magnitude to which the principle of the cantilever was applied, the two large spans measuring 1,710 feet. The work of building it occupied seven years, and at the opening in 1890 he was made a Knight Commander of St. Michael and St. George. On the completion of the Assouan Dam the honour of Knight Commandership of the Bath was conferred upon him, as well as a decoration by the Khedive.
The full list of engineering works with which Sir Benjamin Baker was prominently connected would be too long to enumerate, though it would indicate the great variety and importance of his practice, as well as the remarkable success achieved in dealing with problems of novel character and difficulty. He was an adviser on the design of the Thames Tunnel at Blackwall; he repaired several historical bridges built by Telford. The vessel in which Cleopatra's Needle was conveyed from Egypt to this country was also designed by him. His connection with electrical engineering was chiefly in his capacity as Consulting Engineer for the tunnel of the Central London and other tube railways.
The Royal Society elected him a Fellow in 1890, honorary degrees were bestowed upon him by the Universities of Cambridge and Edinburgh, and honorary membership by the Irish Academy, and other bodies. He took a leading part in the work of the British Association, and in 1895 he attained the honour of election as President of the Institution of Civil Engineers. Up to his death he remained an active and influential member of the Council of that Institution and of the Council of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. He was also made an honorary member of many colonial and foreign engineering societies.
He was elected a Member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers in 1894.
1907 Obituary