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Michael Andrews Borthwick

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Michael Andrews Borthwick (1810-1857)


1857 Obituary [1]

MR. MICHAEL ANDREWS BORTHWICK was born at Dunbar, in East Lothian, on the 30th of October, 1810.

He received the rudiments of his education under Mr. White, of Dunbar, then a man of considerable reputation as a country teacher, and under whom he made rapid progress.

He afterwards completed his studies at the Academy of the ancient burgh of Ayr, at that time, and still, one of the most famous provincial seminaries of Scotland. The Rev. Dr. Memes, a well-known scholar, author, and man of science, was Rector, and took a deep interest in his young pupil, whose constant and indefatigable exertions for learning very soon eclipsed all the other scholars, many of them of a much greater age. Dr. Memes recently assured an old and intimate friend, with pride, that he was astonished at the perfection his former pupil had attained in so short a period. He devoted much attention to mathematics, but he was chiefly distinguished in English composition, and in his knowledge of History and Geography. His memory on almost all subjects was most minute and comprehensive.......

.....Mr. Borthwick came to London in the beginning of October 1827, where, after a short interval, he was engaged as an assistant by Mr. Walker (M. Inst. C.E.), then residing at Limehouse, and in his employment he continued for a period of eleven years.

During that time he had an opportunity of seeing, and of being engaged in a great variety of important works. Among others may be mentioned : the Lighthouse at the Needles, the renovation of Blackfriars and the alteration of Westminster Bridges, the completion of Plymouth Breakwater, the embankment of the Thames at the Houses of Parliament, the construction of the Hull Docks, and the important works in the Harbours of Glasgow, Belfast, Dover, and Leith.....

.....When railways were becoming the leading engineering feature of the day, Mr. Borthwick naturally turned his attention in that direction ; and in the year 1837, Mr.Walker becoming the Engineer-in- chief of the Northern and Eastern Railway, Mr. Borthwick was appointed the Resident Engineer, and afterwards the Manager, of the line. It was opened at first as a single line for a distance of twenty-two miles ; and, notwithstanding the numerous stations and the comparatively great passenger traffic, the working was conducted without a single accident. At that time the opening and management of a single passenger line was comparatively a novelty in this country, and the electric telegraph, now so essential in the working of railways, had not then been introduced.

Owing to a change of policy in the direction, Mr. Walker resigned his office as Engineer of the line, and it was confided to the charge of Mr. Robert Stephenson, M.P., President, by whom Mr. Borthwick was continued in his position as Resident Engineer.

Since that time (1839) Mr. Borthwick was constantly engaged along with Mr. Stephenson, in the construction of extensive railway and other works, including the completion of the Northern and Eastern Line to Cambridge, and its extension to Brandon, with branches to Peterborough, St. Ives, and Wisbeach ; also to Enfield and Edmonton, Maldon, Witham, and Braintree, Shelford, and Shepreth, with the Newmarket and other Railways. Some idea of the extent of his labours may be formed, from the fact of no less than twenty-two sets of plans and sections of several hundred miles of railway and other works being got up and deposited under his direction, in the memorable year 1845-6.

In all these cases he was constantly engaged, during the progress of the Bills through Parliament; and he took a leading part in the opposition to the London and York and Great Northern Railways (which afterwards merged under the latter title), the proceedings in which continued for two sessions, and occupied the unprecedented period of more than seventy-five days, during which the greatest efforts of labour, skill, and judgement were constantly in requisition.

Mr. Borthwick was afterwards engaged along with Mr. Stephenson in carrying out the Egyptian Railway between Alexandria and Cairo, the first of those undertakings which are likely to be of so much benefit, in facilitating the intercourse between Europe and our Eastern possessions. In the progress of the work he made many visits to Egypt, some of them with Mr. Stephenson, during which he conducted, and assisted in conducting, complicated negotiations with great tact and ability. In these visits he acquired the respect of the authorities, and the friendship of many gentlemen of rank and distinction, whom he accidentally met on his journeys in the East.

For some years Mr. Borthwick was associated with Mr. Stephenson, the late Mr. Tycho Wing, and Mr. Robert Mein, in improvements connected with the drainage works of the Fens, and his management of those complicated and difficult matters, which had been previously in the hands of various Engineers of high standing, gained him the approbation and confidence of the Duke of Bedford and other noblemen and gentlemen interested. He was also associated with Sir John Rennie and Mr. Stephenson in carrying out the Norfolk Estuary Scheme, combining drainage and navigation with the reclamation of land from the sea, a work of great importance; and he was, to some extent, connected with the Netherlands’ Land Inclosure Works, which he inspected along with his friend Mr. Bidder, V.P., with whom he was concerned in several other considerable works.

In 1853, Mr. Borthwick went out as Engineer-in-Chief to the Brazils, to report upon and fix the course of a proposed line of Railway from Pernambuco to Paulo Affonso, on the river San Francisco, on which he wrote a very able Report; and it was on his again visiting Brazil, in connection with this undertaking, that he was carried off in the prime of life, in the midst of his professional career.

He left London on the 9th May, 1856, and shortly afterwards, during the passage, was seized with illness of a typhoid character, which continued until his arrival at Pernambuco on the 27th of the same month.

His death occurred on the 3rd June following, in the house of his friend, Mr. J. Scott Tucker, the Resident Engineer of the Railway by whom, as by his faithful and long-attached servant, everything was done, that devotion could prompt, to soothe his last moments......



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