Sir John Hawkshaw (1811–91)

Sir John Hawkshaw was one of a generation of British civil engineers whose expertise contributed to the development of railways and ports in many overseas countries.

He was born in Leeds and worked in his teens on roads and railways in Yorkshire, before, at the age of 21, travelling to Venezuela. He found the climate intolerable and returned to England, working at first with Jesse Hartley (1780-1860) on the building of docks in Liverpool. In 1845 he became chief engineer to the Manchester & Leeds Railway, and the worked for the Lancashire & Yorkshire Railway with which he retained connections for more than 40years.

He moved to London to work as a consulting civil engineer in 1856, and was involved with many projects in the city. He built the bridges carrying railway tracks into Charing Cross and Cannon Street stations, laid the East London Railway through Sir Marc Brunel’s (1769-1849) Thames Tunnel and completed the Inner Circle underground line between Aldgate and Mansion House. He took issue with his contemporary railway engineers, considering that steam locomotives could handle steeper gradients that those on the lines built by Robert Stephenson (1803-59), and fiercely opposing Isambard Brunel’s (1806-59) broad gauge.

He was involved with the building of railways in Germany, the Russian Empire and Mauritius, and provided advice during the long-sustained construction of the Great Western Railway’s Severn Tunnel. He was consulted on the foundations of the island forts built in Spithead to protect the naval base at Portsmouth, was involved with the construction of docks at Holyhead, Hull and Penarth, and converted the canal at the West India Docks in London into a third dock.

In 1862 he was engineer for the canal that links Amsterdam to the North Sea, and the following gave significant advice on the construction of the Suez Canal. He also designed Puerto Madera, the port of Buenos Aires, and the 1.6 km long bridge across the Marmada River in India.