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David Thomson (1816-1886)

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David Thomson (1816-1886)

c.1817 Born in Scotland

1833-39 Apprentice at William Darling, millwright, Kelso, and Claud Girdwood and Co, engineers of Glasgow, and Nasmyth, Gaskell and Co, Patricroft; also studied at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow during this period.

Then worked at the London Works of the Oriental Steamship Co.

Worked at Fox, Henderson and Co, Smethwick

At Henderson, Coulborn and Co, Renfrew

At Messrs Bankeir (sic) and Co of Glasgow

1845 Started work at Simpson and Co Ltd, hydraulic engineers of Westminster.

1845 Joined Inst of Civil Engineers

With William Pole patented an improved pumping engine (Proc. Inst. Mech. Engineers, July 1862).

Worked at R. Moreland and Son, London

1871 David Thomson 54, mechanical engineer, lived in Clerkenwell, with Eliza B Thomson 47, Robert G Thomson 18, David B Thomson 15, Arthur H Thomson 13, Georgina B Thomson 6[1]

1877 Moved to R. Moreland and Son

1879 Joined I Mech E

1880 of Messrs. R. Moreland and Son, 3 Old Street, St. Luke's, London, E.C.

1885 of Craighead, West Heath, Belvedere, Kent.

1886 Died at Craighead, Belvedere[2]

1886 Obituary [3]

DAVID THOMSON was born on 15th November 1816, at Maxton Manse in Roxburghshire, being the son of the parish minister.

After receiving a good school education and passing through a scientific course at Glasgow University, he was apprenticed to Messrs. Claud Girdwood and Co., mechanical engineers, Glasgow; and on the closing of their establishment removed to that of Messrs. Nasmyth Gaskell and Co., Bridgewater Foundry, Patricroft, near Manchester.

He was then employed temporarily by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company and other firms, until in 1845, through his acquaintance with the late Mr. Archibald Slate, he was appointed manager of the engineering works of Messrs. William Simpson and Co., London, where he remained for twenty years.

When the intake for the supply of the Lambeth Water Works from the river Thames was removed about 1848 to a point near Thames Ditton, above the tide-way of the river, and the water had to be forced thence through a 30-inch main nine miles long to the reservoirs at Brixton and Streatham, the necessary investigations with respect to the pumping arrangements were entrusted to him, in conjunction with Mr. William Pole; and four large double-cylinder engines of 600 aggregate horse-power were designed and constructed in 1852, of which a description was subsequently given to this Institution (Proceedings 1862, pages 242, 259). In connection with these engines he introduced a double-acting bucket-and-plunger pump, the principle of which bad been previously indicated by Smeaton in 1759. He afterwards superintended the construction of the South Staffordshire Water Works, as resident engineer at Lichfield.

In July 1865 he became manager of the engineering works of Messrs. Richard Moreland and Son, Old Street, London, where he remained till 1877.

From 1867 to 1874 he constructed a large number of sluices and other mechanical appliances for the Metropolitan Main Drainage Works, in connection with which he also designed and constructed temporary plant of large capacity, including a lift-pump of 52 inches diameter for lifting the sewage from the low-level into the high-level sewer during the completion of the Abbey Mills pumping-station.

In conjunction with Mr. Porter he devised a new form of pump-valve having a free edge of india-rubber, which was first applied to the sewage primping engines at Crossness, and has since been extensively used for sewage and waterworks purposes.

In 1867 he designed and constructed the pumping machinery for the sewage farm of the Metropolitan Sewage Essex Reclamation Company at Barking Creek.

In 1869 he introduced the inverted-cylinder direct-acting rotative pumping engine at the Eastbourne Water Works, which was followed in 1876 by duplicate machinery, and in 1881 by large engines of the same type but with compound tandem cylinders.

Similar engines were constructed in 1874 for the Moulsey intake of the Lambeth Water Works; and in 1875 for the Bute docks, Cardiff. For these docks he also constructed the dock gates in 1877; and he applied the principles of Appold's pump to the centrifugal pumps there used, which were fitted with a cover for relieving the pressure from the top of the fan (see Proceedings 1884, pages 234-5).

In 1867 he designed and constructed a road-roller weighing 30 tons, having a roller 7 feet diameter and 6 feet wide, and with an arrangement for rendering the exhaust steam nearly noiseless.

In 1876 he constructed for the Leith docks two coal tips, in which the usual tipping cylinder was dispensed with, the tipping being effected by the motion of the main ram. He also designed and constructed a large number of hydraulic appliances, including capstans for Chatham dockyard extension works; and among miscellaneous works were dredgers for Barrow, tanks for submarine cables, power capstans for Devonport dockyard, and a pair of large horizontal engines for Woolwich gun factory.

In 1876 he became a director of the Crystal Palace, and devoted much attention to the numerous important engineering works in connection therewith.

In 1877 failing health led to his retiring from active duties at Messrs. Moreland's manufactory, although he continued to give occasional assistance there up to September 1881.

He died at his residence, Craighead, Belvedere, Kent, on 11th April 1886, at the age of sixty- nine.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1879.

1886 Obituary [4]

DAVID THOMSON was born on the 15th of November, 1816, at Naxton Manse in Roxburgshire, his father, the Rev. John Thomson, being the parish minister of that place. After receiving a good ordinary school education, as his abilities and inclinations appeared to tend towards a mechanical career, he passed through a suitable scientific curriculum at Glasgow University, and was afterwards apprenticed to the mechanical engineering firm of Messrs. Claud Girdwood and Co., of Glasgow, removing, on the closing of that establishment, to the well-known factory of Messrs. Nasmyth, Gaskell and Co., of Patricroft, Manchester.

He was afterwards employed temporarily by the Peninsular and Oriental Steam Navigation Company, and one or two other firms, when he made the acquaintance of the late Mr. Archibald Slate, M. Inst. C.E., who, discovering in him an extraordinary mechanical ability, induced him to come to London, and obtained for him in 1845 the important post of Manager of the large engineering works of Messrs. William Simpson and Co., then in the Belgrave Road, Pimlico. Here he remained for twenty years, during which time he had responsible charge of the design and construction of a very large quantity of engines, machinery, and iron structures of various kinds, which for correctness of principle and excellence of workmanship, obtained for the firm the highest character in the engineering profession.

In July 1865, he took a similar position with the old-established firm of Messrs. Richard Moreland and Son, mechanical engineers, in the Goswell Road, where he remained till 1877. For the first two years of this period he was also engineer in charge of the pumping arrangements, and the driving of an adit about 3 miles long, at Lichfield, for the South Staffordshire Waterworks. In 1877, finding his health giving way, he relinquished his active position at the manufactory, but still continued to give the firm the benefit of his occasional advice and assistance so far as he was able, until September 1881. He died at his residence, Craighead, Belvedere, Kent, on the 11th of April, 1886.

Mr. Thomson was a man of great intellectual capacity. He was well grounded in mathematical and physical science, and applied this knowledge with good judgment and common sense to practical engineering. This was shown by the satisfactory and successful results of the works designed and manufactured under his direction during his long term of practice, some of the most important of which may be mentioned here. About 1848 the first great step was made in the modern improvement of the London Water Supply, by the removal of the intake to a position above the tide-way of the River Thames. The pioneers in this were the Lambeth Water Company, under the guidance of their Engineer, Mr. James Simpson, Past-President Inst. C.E. The water was taken from the river at a point near Thames Ditton, and had to be conveyed along a large main 10 miles long, from thence to the company's reservoirs at Brixton and Streatham. This involved important considerations in regard to the pumping arrangements, and Mr. Simpson confided to Mr. David Thomson, in conjunction with Mr. William Pole (now Honorary Secretary of the Institution of Civil Engineers), the task of investigating the matter. After many enquiries and experiments, they recommended the use, for the purpose, of compound- cylinder engines. This form of engine, although an old invention, was at that time imperfectly understood, and the specimens of it in existence showed little trace of the advantages that have since been derived from it. Mr. Thomson and his coadjutor pointed out, however, that the principle was capable of highly beneficial use, and that it was, moreover, for many reasons, peculiarly applicable to the case in question. Their recommendation was adopted by Mr. Simpson, and Mr. Thomson undertook to design and manufacture engines for the purpose. There were two pairs of engines, giving a total of 600 HP.; they were set to work in 1852, and were successful in all points of view. They were afterwards copied for many other large waterworks, where circumstances were favourable for their use. In the course of this work Mr. Thomson introduced a new form of double-acting pump, called the “Bucket and Plunger Pump.” The principle of it had been indicated in a rough form by Smeaton in 1759, and Mr. Thomson, finding it offered special advantages for waterworks purposes, took it up and perfected its design in modern form. It has since been much used.

He made large numbers of steam engines for waterworks and other purposes, some of considerable magnitude, and he evinced great skill in adapting them, so as to produce the maximum efficiency for the work they had to do. For some special cases he designed an improved form of tubular boiler, for which he took out a patent in 1868. He was one of the best authorities on waterworks machinery, great quantities of which of all kinds were made under his direction, and all of a high degree of efficiency. He took great interest in the development, for useful practical purposes, of the centrifugal pump, in which he made and patented valuable improvements. Between 1867 and 1874 he constructed large hydraulic appliances of various kinds for the Metropolitan Main Drainage Works, and he introduced therein a new form of pump-valve of large dimensions, which has since been extensively used. Among the miscellaneous works designed by him may be mentioned an improved road roller of large size, built for H.M. Office of Works and elsewhere; power-capstans for Chatham Dockyard; coal-tips for Leith Docks; dredging engines; tanks for large submarine cables ; and new entrance-gates for the Bute Docks, Cardiff.

In 1876 he was made a Director of the Crystal Palace; he gave great attention to the many and important engineering work of the establishment, and during certain periods of anxious doubt as to the policy and management of that great undertaking, he exerted himself actively in the investigations that were made, and his judgment carried great weight with his colleagues. Mr. Thomson always maintained a high personal character, which commanded the respect of all who knew him. He was fully master of his business subjects, not only in their scientific and constructive aspects, but also in their commercial bearings; and his aid was often sought in arbitrations and disputes where high integrity and sound judgment were required. He never aspired to an ostentatious position, but he was one of those whose works have gained for Great Britain the character of the first mechanical nation in the world.

He was elected an Associate of this Institution in March 1845, and was transferred to the class of Member in January 1878. He presented an Original Communication to the Institution on "Centrifugal Pumps,” which was read on the 14th of February, 1871. He was a frequent attendant at the meetings, and often gave his professional brethren, in the discussions, the benefit of his ample store of knowledge. He married, in 1846, the daughter of the Rev. Archibald Bruce, of Stirling, and several of his sons hold appointments under Government.

See Also


Sources of Information

  • Mechanical Engineer records