If you discover a civil engineer amongst your ancestors, prepare to embark on a voyage of discovery.
Coined in the 1770s by John Smeaton, the term ‘civil engineer’ was used to differentiate from military engineers.
In 1818, the ICE was founded primarily as a way for young engineers to meet and discuss engineering at a time when the only way to train was through an apprenticeship although established engineers were soon allowed to join. Prior to election, members had to complete an application form which included details of their training and engineering positions held.
From early on our membership was of an international nature with Captain Gustof Lagerheim, engineer of the Gotha Canal joining in 1820. Although the majority of members were involved in civil projects many military engineers also joined, particularly from the colonies such as Lieut. William Nairn Forbes, Bengal Engineer (joined 1820) and Captain John Hawkins of the Bombay Engineers (1822).
From about 1830 onwards British engineers travelled across the globe building railways, dams, harbours and lighthouses as well as reporting back on overseas projects. By 1890, 20 per cent of ICE Members had addresses outside the UK, of these about 40 per cent were in Asia, 40 per cent in the rest of the British Empire and 20 per cent in South America.
Members were encouraged to submit reports of projects they had seen or been involved in at meetings, and subjects include the monument to Peter the Great at St Petersberg (A Wilson, 1834), embankments made with seaweed in Holland (J Macneill, 1841), the waterworks at Victoria, Hong Kong (W Wilson, 1864), the Southern railway of Chile (William Cross Buchanan, 1866), the Rangitata Bridge, Canterbury, New Zealand (William Newshom Blair, 1873) and the Darjeeling and Himalayan Railway (S B Cary, 1883). These papers and more are listed on the Access to Archive website.
Of course our membership records include the `greats` – Robert Stephenson, I K Brunel, Joseph Bazalgette – but they were supported by great swathes of lesser known engineers. So why not see if you have any civil engineers in your family tree, you never know where your search may take you.
Click here for more information about the ICE archives.
Images are reproduced by courtesy of The Institution of Civil Engineers.
Authored by Carol Morgan – Archivist at the Institution of Civil Engineers.
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