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GEORGE PARKER BIDDER (1806-1878)

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Originally appearing in Volume V03, Page 918 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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GEORGE PARKER BIDDER (1806-1878), English engineer, was born at Moreton Hampstead, in Devonshire, on the 14th of June 1806. From a very early age he manifested an extraordinary natural aptitude for calculation, which induced his father, who was a stone-mason, to exhibit him as a " calculating boy." In this way his talent was turned to profitable account, but his general education was in danger of being completely neglected. Interest, however, was taken in him by some of those who happened to witness his performances, among them being Sir John Herschel, and it was arranged that he should be sent to school in Camberwell. There he did not remain long, being removed by his father, who wished to exhibit him again, but he was saved from this misfortune and enabled to attend classes at Edinburgh University, largely through the kindness of Sir Henry Jardine, to whom he subsequently showed his gratitude by founding a " Jardine Bursary " at the university. On leaving college in 1 824 he received a post in the ordnance survey, but gradually drifted into engineering work. In 1834 Robert Stephenson, whose acquaintance he had made in Edinburgh, offered him an appointment on the London & Birmingham railway, and in the succeeding year or two he began to assist George Stephenson in his parliamentary work, which at that time included schemes for railways between London and Brighton and between Manchester and Rugby via the Potteries. In this way he was introduced to engineering and parliamentary practice at a period of great activity which saw the establishment of the main features and principles that have since governed English railway construction. He is said to have been the best witness that ever entered a committee-room. He was quick to discover and take advantage of the weak points in an opponent's case, and his powers of mental calculation frequently stood him in good stead, as when, for example, an apparently casual glance at the plans of a railway enabled him to point out errors in the engineering data that were sufficient to secure rejection of the scheme to which he was opposed. In consequence there was scarcely an engineering proposal of any importance brought before parliament in connexion with which his services were not secured by one party or the other. On the constructive side of his profession he was also busily occupied. In 1837 he was engaged with R. Stephenson in building the Blackwall railway, and it was he who designed the peculiar method of disconnecting a carriage at each station while the rest of the train went on without stopping, which was employed in the early days of that line when it was worked by means of a cable. Another series of railways with which he had much to do were those in the eastern counties which afterwards became the Great Eastern system. He also advised on the construction of the Belgian railways; with R. Stephenson he made the first railway in Norway, from Christiania to Eidsvold; he was engineer-in-chief of the Danish railways; and he was largely concerned with railways in India, where he strongly and successfully opposed break of gauge on through-routes. But though he sometimes spoke of himself as a mere " railway-engineer," he was in reality very much more; there was indeed no branch of engineering in which he did not take an interest, as was shown by the assiduity with which for half a century he attended the weekly meetings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, of which he was elected president in r86o. He was one of the first to recognize the value of the electric telegraph. That invention was in its infancy when, in 1837, jointly with R. Stephenson he recommended its introduction on a portion of the London & Birmingham and on the Blackwall lines, while three years later he advised that it should be adopted to facilitate the working of the single line between Norwich and Yarmouth. He was also one of the founders of the Electric Telegraph Company, which enabled the public generally to enjoy the benefits of telegraphic communication. In hydraulic engineering, he was the designer of the Victoria Docks (London), being responsible not only for their construction, but also for what was regarded by some people at the time as the foolish idea of utilizing the Essex marshes for dock accommodation on a large scale. His advice was frequently sought by the government on points both of naval and military engineering. He died at Dartmouth on the 28th of September 1878. His son, GEORGE PARKER BIDDER, Junr. (1836-1896), who inherited much of his father's calculating power, was a successful parliamentary counsel and an authority on cryptography.
End of Article: GEORGE PARKER BIDDER (1806-1878)
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