Pole, William

Pole, William
SUBJECT AREA: Civil engineering
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b. 22 April 1814 Birmingham, England
d. 1900
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English engineer and educator.
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Although primarily an engineer, William Pole was a man of many and varied talents, being amongst other things an accomplished musician (his doctorate was in music) and an authority on whist. He served an apprenticeship at the Horsley Company in Birmingham, and moved to London in 1836, when he was employed first as Manager to a gasworks. In 1844 he published a study of the Cornish pumping engine, and he also accepted an appointment as the first Professor of Engineering in the Elphinstone College at Bombay. He spent three pioneering years in this post, and undertook the survey work for the Great Indian Peninsular Railway. Before returning to London in 1848 he married Matilda Gauntlett, the daughter of a clergyman.
Back in Britain, Pole was employed by James Simpson, J.M.Rendel and Robert Stephenson, the latter engaging him to assist with calculations on the Britannia Bridge. In 1858 he set up his own practice. He kept a very small office, choosing not to delegate work to subordinates but taking on a bewildering variety of commissions for government and private companies. In the first category, he made calculations for government officials of the main drainage of the metropolis and for its water supply. He lectured on engineering to the Royal Engineers' institution at Chatham, and served on a Select Committee to enquire into the armour of warships and fortifications. He became a member of the Royal Commission on the Railways of Great Britain and Ireland (the Devonshire Commission, 1867) and reported to the War Office on the MartiniHenry rifle. He also advised the India Office about examinations for engineering students. The drafting and writing up of reports was frequently left to Pole, who also made distinguished contributions to the official Lives of Robert Stephenson (1864), I.K. Brunel (1870) and William Fairbairn (1877). For other bodies, he acted as Consulting Engineer in England to the Japanese government, and he assisted W.H.Barlow in calculations for a bridge at Queensferry on the Firth of Forth (1873). He was consulted about many urban water supplies.
Pole joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as an Associate in 1840 and became a Member in 1856. He became a Member of Council, Honorary Secretary (succeeding Manby in 1885–96) and Honorary Member of the Institution. He was interested in astronomy and photography, he was fluent in several languages, was an expert on music, and became the world authority on whist. In 1859 he was appointed Professor of Civil Engineering at University College London, serving in this office until 1867. Pole, whose dates coincided closely with those of Queen Victoria, was one of the great Victorian engineers: he was a polymath, able to apply his great abilities to an amazing range of different tasks. In engineering history, he deserves to be remembered as an outstanding communicator and popularizer.
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Bibliography
1843, "Comparative loss by friction in beam and direct-action engines", Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 2:69.
Further Reading
Dictionary of National Biography, London.
Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers 143:301–9.
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Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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