Edward Snell (1820–1880), civil engineer and surveyor, responsible for the design of the Geelong and Melbourne Railway
1820 November 20th. Born at Barnstaple, Devon, the son of Edward Snell (1794-1827), a silversmith, jeweller, watch and clockmaker in High Street, Barnstaple, and his wife Elizabeth Stothert (1788-1867). He was the grandson of William Snell, a serge manufacturer of Crediton, Devon. He was the eldest of four children, having three sisters, Rose Emily (known as Emily), Emma and Elizabeth (known as Lizzie).
1827 His father died at age 33, leaving their mother to raise them in financial difficulty despite the ₤1,500 realized from the sale of the family business, High Street shop and house above it. It was bought by Samuel Gillard. Snell's maternal grandfather, Abel Stothert, was a cutler from Shaftesbury, whose brother was George Stothert, who established the Stothert ironmongery business in Bath around 1785, and his son George Stothert (1786-1858) who established the Horse Street Foundry in 1815, which subsequently grew into the important British engineering firm of Stothert and Pitt. George Stothert played an important role in encouraging and helping his young cousin Edward Snell in his engineering career.
1834 Apprenticed as an engineer and millwright at Stothert and Pitt under George's younger half-brother Henry Stothert, completing his indenture on 16 March 1842. Most of his work was on projects around Bath, but sometimes extending as far as Newbury.
1842 May. Henry arranged for him to take up a position at the Avonside Ironworks in Bristol, which had been established by Henry in 1837. He was not happy here, however, and gave notice after just three weeks, complaining of the low wages (20 shillings per week) and the tyrannical regime in the workshop.
1843 February. Despite the resulting animosity from both Henry and George Stothert, George used his influence with the Locomotive superintendent Daniel Gooch to gain a position for Snell at the Swindon Works. Here he had the position of head draughtsman and then rose to deputy works manager. He stayed at the GWR in Swindon for six years apart from a short stint in 1844 at John Penn and Sons in Greenwich.
A reduction in wages brought about by the post railway mania crash of 1848-9, caused him to decide to emigrate to Australia at the age of 29 with his friend Edward Prowse, having considered America. He arrived in Adelaide on the Bolton on 29 November 1849, recording in his diary: "When I was 21 I calculated on making a small fortune by the time I was 30 but have made little headway in that line as yet".
Snell spent some time in South Australia surveying and painting, spending three months on the Yorke Peninsula in 1850, then around Lake Alexandrina at the Murray River mouth. He produced a Plan for the Grand Junction Canal between Adelaide and the North Arm in August 1851.
On 4 March 1852 he arrived at the Castlemaine diggings where he amassed ₤341 worth of gold in five months.
1853 June 23rd. Married in Geelong to Charlotte Elizabeth Bayley and they had 9 children, the first of whom Emily Charlotte died as an infant, but the other eight survived to adulthood.
It was Snell's work as engineer for the Geelong and Melbourne Railway Company, from 1853 until he resigned in October 1857, that established his fortune, for which he had been paid more than £17,000. His designs included a substantial terminal station and workshops at Geelong (which were only partly realised).
His railway work was criticised for the inadequacy of the engineering, with light timber bridges requiring extra maintenance and having a short life span, and the decision to build only a single track leading to slow and infrequent trains, and travellers between Melbourne and Geelong continued to prefer the bay steamers across Port Phillip Bay leading to diminished profits for the company. Snell gave evidence at a number of railway commission enquiries, defending his approach as necessary to complete the work in time, with the expectation that the engineering works would be upgraded as traffic and revenue increased. In reply to the presentation and testimony given to him by the Company in March 1858, he again highlighted the problems of building "a new undertaking, in a new country, and surrounded by innumerable difficulties."
The railway also had the misfortune of a fatal accident on its first run. The company's superintendent – and a friend of Snell's – was struck when leaning out of the train's engine as it approached a tunnel. An inquiry cleared the company of any negligence.
Snell also undertook private work as a surveyor and engineer. He formed a partnership with Frederick (German Friedrich) Ferdinand Kawerau on 1 January 1853, which prospered for a time, but was dissolved in the 1854, and later a partnership with Edward Prowse, which was dissolved in 1855, both of whom became prominent architects in Geelong.
Snell was an avid reader and self educator, joining the Adelaide and Geelong Mechanics Institutes; he became a member of the Geelong Society of Architects, Engineers and Surveyors; and the Philosophical Institute of Victoria in 1857 (later the Royal Society of Victoria)
1858 Returned to England with his family on the Norfolk, to a life of retirement, having amassed the fortune that was his intention, and secured a considerable income of around ₤300 per annum. In retirement he undertook his own reading and invented a 'stockless' ship's anchor.
1861 Edward and Charlotte Snell and their children lived in Saltash
1871 Living at 7 Culver Road, Saltash, Cornwall: Edward Snell (age 50 born Barnstaple), Retired Civil Engineer - Landowner, 3 Persons. With his wife Charlotte E. Snell (age 46 born London) and their eight children; George S. Snell (age 15 born Geelong, Australia); Edward L. Snell (age 14 born Geelong, Australia); Henry B. Snell (age 12 born Richmond, Surrey); Arthur B. Snell (age 10 born Saltash); Charles S. Snell (age 9 born Saltash); Alfred C. Snell (age 8 born Saltash); Kate Emily Snell (age 6 born Saltash); and Frederick A. Snell (age 3 born Saltash). Three servants.
In the 1870s he converted to spiritualism, gaining some notoriety in Bath.
1880 March 15th. Died at his residence, Culver Park, Saltash, Cornwall.
1907 December 4th. Death of his wife Charlotte of Culver park, Saltash. probate to Arthur Bartram Snell, civil engineer, and Alfred cannam Snell, artist.
Sources of Information
- 1861 census
- 1871 Census