Husband, William (DNB00)

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HUSBAND, WILLIAM (1823–1887), civil engineer and inventor, born at Mylor, Cornwall, on 13 Oct. 1822, was eldest son of James Husband, surveyor for Lloyd's Register at Falmouth, who died in 1857. He was educated first by Edgcombe Rimell, curate of Mabe, and afterwards at Bellevue Academy, Penryn. Declining to be either a sailor or a ship-builder, as his father desired, he ran away at the age of sixteen to Hayle, where at his earnest solicitation he was in 1839 received as an apprentice for four years by Harvey & Company, engineers and iron-founders. His steadiness and ability soon won for him the esteem of his employers, and in 1843, when they had built the Leigh water engine for the drainage of Haarlem Lake, he was sent to Holland to superintend its erection. As the machinery could not be landed for some time on account of the ice, he went to the village school at Sassenheym to learn Dutch. In six months he wrote and spoke it with fluency. On the death of the mechanical engineer in charge of the steam machinery on the drainage works in 1845, he succeeded to that post, when he planned and erected the half-weg engine. The lake when drained added forty-seven thousand acres of rich alluvial soil to the country, and being situated in the midst of populous provinces proved of material importance. King William expressed his satisfaction, and on 13 March 1848 Husband was elected a member of the Koninklijk Instituut van Ingenieurs. In 1849 he suffered so severely from ague, from the effects of which he never fully recovered, that he resigned his situation and returned to England. While in Holland, in conjunction with his friends Colonel Wiebeking and Professor Munnich, he invented a plan for drying and warehousing grain at a small cost, and preserving it in good condition for years. On 2 May 1851 he submitted to Sir George Grey a plan for a powder magazine in the Mersey, on the recommendation of the Liverpool town council. At the invitation of T. E. Blackwell, C.E., he went to Clifton to assist in some works in the Bristol docks, when he planned a bridge for the Cumberland basin. In September 1852 he undertook the management of the London business of the firm of Harvey & Company; in June 1854 he returned to Hayle to take the charge of the engineering department, and in 1863 became managing partner. He resumed the management of the business in London in October 1855, where he remained until his death.

In practical knowledge of hydraulic and mining machinery Husband was surpassed by few. In June 1859 he submitted to the admiralty a plan for a floating battery, and patented the following inventions: the balance valve for water-work purposes (this superseded the costly stand-pipe), the four-beat pump-valve, a safety plug for the prevention of boiler explosions, and a safety equilibrium cataract, used with the Cornish pumping engine for the prevention of accidents. He also effected many improvements in pneumatic ore stamps, finally perfecting and patenting those now known as Husband's oscillating cylinder stamps. During the last two years of his life he was employed in carrying out contracts for the pumping machinery at the Severn tunnel, and at the time of his death was planning further improvements in Cornish pumping engines. On 1 May 1866 he was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and during 1881 and 1882 served as president of the Mining Association and Institute of Cornwall. He actively supported the Royal Cornwall Polytechnic Society. In 1855 he planned and superintended the erection of a breakwater at Porthleven in Mounts Bay, thereby making it a safe harbour. He helped to secure a water supply for Hayle and a system of drainage. He originated and became first captain of the 8th Cornwall artillery volunteers in April 1860, a post which he held till 1865. He established science classes at Hayle in connection with South Kensington. In spectrum analysis and astronomy he took a great interest, and made observations with a 10¼-inch telescope. On 28 and 29 March 1887, in company with Sir John Hawkshaw and Mr. Hayter, C.E., he was employed in inspecting nine pumping engines which his firm had erected in the Severn tunnel for keeping down the water. He died on 10 April of an attack of gall stones at his lodgings, 26 Sion Hill, Clifton, Bristol, and was buried at St. Erth, Cornwall, 16 April. On 20 June 1850 he married Anne, fifth daughter of Edward Nanney, by whom he had a family of four children. In 1890 a sum of 800l. was raised to establish a Husband scholarship for the technical education of miners.

[Times, 3 May 1887, p.11; Minutes of Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers, 1887, lxxxix. 470-3; Gevers D'Endegeest's Du Dessechement du Lac de Harlem, 1849-61, pt. ii. p.1 2, &c.; Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornub. i. 260, iii. 1239; A. Huet's Stoombemaling van Polders en Boezems, 1885, pp.108, 116, &c.; Iron, 6 May 1887, p.384; Engineer, 6 May 1887, p.361; information from Mrs. Husband, of "West Bournemouth, Hampshire.]

G. C. B.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.163
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

Page Col. Line  
319 ii 37 Husband, William: after Husband, insert shipbuilder and
38  for 1857 read 1859
42-43  omit he ran away .... to Hayle, where
14f.e.  after founders insert at Hayle
320 i 29  for 1855 read 1885