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Robert Sinclair

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1864. Engine for the Great Eastern Railway.

Robert Sinclair (1817-1898) was Chief Mechanical Engineer of the Caledonian Railway from 1847-1856 and of the Great Eastern Railway from 1862-1866.

1840 Robert Sinclair of Greenock, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1864 Sinclair designed a 2-4-2 tank engine (see picture), of which twenty were built by Neilson and Co. for the Great Eastern Railway to work local trains in the London area and country branches. They differed from the "White Raven" in that the leading axle formed part of a Bissell truck, but the trailing axle was rigid. In this and other respects their design followed that of the 2-4-2 tender engine, built by Messrs. Stephenson for the Luxembourg Railway in 1860 to Sinclair's general instructions.[2]

1899 Obituary [3]

ROBERT SINCLAIR, who died at Florence on the 20th October, 1898, was one of the engineers prominently connected with early railway history, of whom few are now left. Mr. Sinclair had so long retired from the active practice of the profession, that he was little known to the present generation of engineers, but he was one who in his time took a most prominent part in the development of locomotive practice and in railway affairs generally.

Robert Sinclair was the son of the late Mr. Alexander Sinclair, a prominent London merchant trading to the Cape of Good Hope and the founder of the present firm of Sinclair, Hamilton and Co.

He was born on the 1st July, 1817, and was thus in his eighty-second year at the time of his death. After being educated at Charterhouse under Dr. Russell, he decided on following the profession of an engineer, and served an apprenticeship with Scott, Sinclair and Co, of Greenock, his uncle, Robert Sinclair, being a member of that firm.

On the completion of his apprenticeship he obtained employment in the office of W. B. Buddicom, who was Locomotive Superintendent of the Grand Junction Railway, and afterwards at Crewe, to which place the locomotive shops of that Company were removed. This association with Mr. Buddicom materially influenced his future career.

At that time Mr. Locke was the engineer of the Paris and Rouen Railway, and in 1841 he invited Mr. Buddicom to erect works at Rouen for the construction of rolling stock for that line. This invitation was accepted, and the firm of Allcard, Buddicom and Co was formed and constructed extensive works at Sotteville. Pending their completion smaller works were established at Les Chartreux, a suburb of Rouen, and to these Mr. Sinclair was appointed as Manager, he leaving Crewe shortly after Mr. Buddicom.

This position at Rouen Mr. Sinclair held for some time, but, in 1844, John Errington, of Locke and Errington, offered him, on the death of Mr. Ilbery, the position of Locomotive Superintendent of the Glasgow, Paisley and Greenock Railway, and this offer he accepted.

A year or two later that line was taken over by the Caledonian Railway Company, and Mr. Sinclair was appointed Locomotive Superintendent of the whole Caledonian system, to the duties of which post were added in 1852 those of General Manager. His success on the Caledonian Railway was remarkable, and the manner in which the financial position of the company improved under his care was in itself sufficient to establish his reputation.

In 1856 Mr. Sinclair left the Caledonian Railway to become Locomotive Superintendent of the then Eastern Counties Railway, a line which afterwards, by fusion with the Eastern Union and East Anglian Railways, &C., formed the Great Eastern system.

About a year after his joining the Eastern Counties Railway, Mr. Sinclair, on the retirement of Peter Bruff, was appointed Chief Engineer, as well as Locomotive Superintendent, and these two offices he held until he resigned in 1866.

During the latter part of that time Mr. Sinclair also acted as Engineer of certain new lines connected with the Great Eastern Railway system, for which powers were being sought in Parliament, amongst them being the East London line to Liverpool Street. At the London Exhibition of 1862 one of his engines, constructed by Robert Stephenson and Co for the Eastern Counties Railway.

After leaving the Great Eastern Railways, Mr. Sinclair established himself in independent practice in Westminster, but, unfortunately, delicate health necessitated his leaving London, and after residing some time in Devonshire, he retired to Italy, living first for some years in Rome, and subsequently at Florence.

Owing to his early training at Crewe, Mr. Sinclair’s, locomotive practice was naturally founded on that of Buddicom and Allan, and he was, so long as he was in practice, a strong advocate for the outside-cylinder type of engine. He was, however, no mere copyist, but had abundant originality and a strong sense of the mechanical fitness of things, qualities which put their impress on his designs.

For instance, he designed in 1859 for the Great Luxemburg Railway, a class of eight-wheeled passenger engines (of which the first was built by Messrs. Robert Stephenson & Co., of Newcastle), with small leading and trailing wheels, and four-coupled wheels between - a type of locomotive which has since become an established feature in Belgian practice. This engine was provided with a two-wheeled Bissel truck at the leading end, and was, it is believed, the first locomotive to which this form of truck was applied, at all events, in Europe. Mr. Sinclair subsequently adopted a similar arrangement for some eight-wheeled tank engines built for the Great Eastern Railway.

It is only those familiar with locomotive details some forty years ago who can fully appreciate the influence of Mr. Sinclair’s work on modern practice. In those days locomotive engineers generally were far more afraid of a little weight in their engines than they now are, and there was hence a tendency towards excessive lightness. Mr. Sinclair did not share these views. He was an advocate for large wearing surfaces and ample strength, and did not fear a little extra weight if he thought it necessary to give efficiency and durability. Nowadays the proportions of valve gear, &C., which Mr. Sinclair used, would not appear unusual, but forty years ago they provided areas of bearing surfaces far in excess of general practice.

A noticeable feature introduced by Mr. Sinclair, which has now been generally accepted, is the well-known conical chimney, a design he brought out when on the Caledonian Railway. Mr. Sinclair also took a prominent part in the provision of efficient shelter for engine-drivers. Forty years ago the so-called 'weatherplates' or 'weather-boards' in use provided very poor protection for the men, and many engines were even without these. Mr. Sinclair first enlarged the weather-plates, fitting them with lookout glasses, and bending them over at the top, so as to afford shelter when the engine was standing, while shortly afterwards he commenced fitting his engines with regular 'cabs,' more or less following American practice.

Mr. Sinclair was one of the pioneers in the use of steel for locomotive details ; and he was one of the first to use steel freely in this country for tires and axles. Mr. Sinclair was also one of the first regular users of the injector in locomotives, and he did not hesitate to abolish pumps entirely on engines fitted with them, a policy which had most satisfactory results, and convinced the drivers of the reliability of the new appliance.

Nowadays, when the system of working to standard patterns and gauges is so firmly established on railways, it is difficult to understand how any other system could be endured. But forty years ago matters were in a very different state, and every railway had in use an almost endless variety of engine and rolling stock details, introduced from time to time by different builders.

The Great Eastern Railway was no exception to the general rule, and the task of remedying this state of affairs and establishing certain standards was an exceedingly difficult one which Mr. Sinclair carried out with great judgment and success. For his own engines he insisted on rigorous working to gauges and thorough interchangeability of parts, and he certainly is entitled to share with the late Mr. Ramsbottom and others the credit of the introduction of the modern system.

Mr. Sinclair was an admirable leader of men. Absolutely straightforward in all his dealings, possessed of great firmness and kindness of heart, and with a strong sense of justice, he was sincerely beloved and respected by all who served under him. Apart from his professional attainments, he was a man of great culture, and during the latter years of his life devoted himself much to the study of Italian literature. To those who had the privilege of his friendship, his death will create a blank which will not be easily filled. He married Miss Jean Campbell, a daughter of the late Mr. John Campbell, of H.M. Customs, Greenock.

Mr. Sinclair was elected a Member of the Institution on the 13th April, 1858.

1898 Obituary [4]

ROBERT SINCLAIR was born in London on let July 1817, being the son of Mr. Alexander Sinclair, a merchant trading to the Cape of Good Hope, and the founder of the present firm of Sinclair, Hamilton, and Co.

After being educated at Charterhouse School, London, he served his apprenticeship with the firm of Scott, Sinclair, and Co., engineers and shipbuilders, Greenock, of which his uncle, Mr. Robert Sinclair, was a member.

He then obtained employment, first on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway at Edgehill, Liverpool, and afterwards on the Grand Junction Railway at Crewe, where he was associated with Mr. W. B. Buddicom, both serving under Mr. Joseph Locke.

In 1841, Mr. Buddicom being invited by Mr. Locke, who was then engineer of the Paris and Rouen Railway, to erect works for the construction of rolling stock for this line, the firm of Allcard, Buddicom, and Co. was formed, who proceeded to erect extensive works at Sotteville near Rouen. Pending their completion, smaller works were established at Les Chartreux, a suburb of Rouen, of which Mr. Sinclair, leaving Crewe shortly after Mr. Buddicom, was appointed manager.

In 1844, on the death of Mr. Ilbery, the locomotive superintendent of the Glasgow, Paisley, and Greenock Railway, the post was offered to him by Mr. John Errington, the partner of Mr. Locke in the firm of Locke and Errington, and was accepted.

When shortly afterwards this line was taken over by the Caledonian Railway, he was appointed locomotive superintendent of the whole Caledonian system; and in 1851 he was made resident engineer in addition.

In 1856 he became locomotive superintendent of the Eastern Counties Railway; and about a year later, on the retirement of Mr. Peter Bruff, he was appointed chief engineer also.

When in 1862 the Great Eastern Railway was formed by the fusion of the Eastern Counties, Norfolk, Eastern Union, East Anglian, East Suffolk, and other lines, he continued to hold the two offices until 1866, when he relinquished that of locomotive superintendent; and in 1869 he resigned also that of chief engineer, having acted in this capacity for various new lines connected with the Great Eastern Railway,including the East London line into the Liverpool Street terminus, London.

During the same period be acted also as consulting engineer to the East Indian Railway and the Great Luxembourg Railway of Belgium, for both of which he designed engines and rolling stock.

Two of his locomotives, one built for the East Indian Railway by Sir W. G, Armstrong and Co., and the other built for the Great Eastern Railway by Messrs. Robert Stephenson and Co., were shown at the London Exhibition of 1862.

From 1870 he was in independent practice as a consulting engineer in Westminster until 1874, when failing health led him to retire to Paignton, South Devon; and in 1877 he went to Italy, and resided first for some years in Rome, and afterwards in Florence, where his death took place on 20th October 1898, in the eighty-second year of his age.

Owing to his early training at Crewe, his locomotive practice was naturally founded on that of Mr. Buddicom and Mr. Allan, and he was throughout in favour of outside-cylinder engines. An eight-wheel passenger engine, which he designed in 1859 for the Great Luxembourg Railway, with small leading and trailing wheels and four-coupled wheels between, became an established pattern in Belgium; it was probably the first locomotive in Europe provided with a two-wheel Bissell truck or pony at the leading end; and a similar arrangement was subsequently adopted by him in some eight-wheel tank engines built for the Great Eastern Railway.

He advocated large wearing surfaces and ample strength, and did not object to the extra weight necessary for ensuring efficiency and durability. In the proportions of valve-gear &c. which he used, the areas of bearing surfaces that ho provided were far in excess of the general practice of the time, but have since been reached in modern usage.

He took a leading part in providing better protection for engine-drivers, first by enlarging the weather-boards, fitting them with look-out glasses, and bending them over backwards at the top, and afterwards by introducing regular cabs, more or less following American practice. He was among the pioneers in the use of steel for locomotive details; and was one of the first in this country to use steel freely for tires and axles at a time when its cost was over £130 per ton, finding it even at so high a price more economical than iron. He was also one of the first to make regular use of the injector on locomotives, abolishing pumps entirely on engines fitted with this instrument.

On the Great Eastern Railway ho gradually replaced the perplexing variety of dimensions by standard patterns and gauges, insisting on rigorous uniformity and thorough interchangeability of parts in the engines and rolling stock under his charge. More than thirty years ago he attempted the introduction of roller-bearings for the axles of passenger carriages, and gave them a trial for some months; but finding they could not be made sufficiently trustworthy for extended use, he ultimately abandoned them.

He became a Member of this Institution in October 1847, the year of its establishment, and was a Member of Council in 1849-52. He was also a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers from 1858.

1898 Obituary [5]

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