Froude, William (DNB00)

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FROUDE, WILLIAM (1810–1879), engineer and naval architect, fourth son of the Venerable Robert Hurrell Froude, archdeacon of Totnes and rector of Dartington and Denbury in Devonshire, was born at Dartington parsonage, 28 Nov. 1810. He was educated at Westminster School, and then matriculated from Oriel College, Oxford, on 23 Oct. 1828, being for some time a pupil of his elder brother, Richard Hurrell Froude [q. v.] Here, although devoting much leisure to chemistry and mechanics, he took a first class in mathematical honours in 1832, his B.A. in the same year, and his M.A. in 1837. In the beginning of 1833 he became a pupil of Henry Robinson Palmer, vice-president of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and was by him employed on some of the surveys of the South-Eastern railway. In 1837 he joined the engineering staff of Isambard K. Brunel upon the Bristol and Exeter railway, where he had charge of the construction of the line between the Whiteball tunnel and Exeter. He evinced great attention to details, and in two elliptical skew-bridges introduced taper bricks so arranged as to make correct spiral courses, and it was while employed on this line that he propounded the ‘curve of adjustment.’ In the autumn of 1844 he was engaged on the survey of the Wilts, Somerset, and Weymouth railway, but shortly afterwards gave up the active pursuit of his profession in order to live at Dartington with his father, who was then in failing health. On the death of his father, in 1859, Froude left Dartington, and went to reside at Torbay, where in 1867 he built a house near Torquay, which he named Chelston Cross. As early as 1856 he had, at the request of Brunel, commenced an investigation into the laws of the motion of a ship among waves, which he continued at Torquay, and upon which he read a series of papers at the Institution of Naval Architects. He proved the mechanical possibility of that form of motion known as the trochoidal sea-wave. He also came to the conclusion that slow rolling ships are less likely to meet with waves which will cause them to roll, and that the rolling of a ship can be reduced by the means of a deep bilge-keel. The armour-clad and other ships of war of the British navy have been designed in accordance with this theory, so as to have steadiness at sea. In 1871 he demonstrated the effect of bilge-keels with a model of the Devastation, and in 1872 these keels were further tested by trials of the Greyhound and Perseus off Plymouth. At the suggestion of Edward James Reed, he proposed to the admiralty to conduct a series of experiments on the resistance of models. This offer was accepted in 1870, and from that time he devoted his energies to the conducting of experiments for the government on the resistance of ships, and on the cognate subject of their propulsion. The admiralty establishment at Torquay erected for carrying out these experiments contained a covered tank, 250 feet long, 33 feet wide, and 10 feet deep. Above the tank was suspended a railway, on which ran a truck drawn at any given speed, and beneath this truck the model was drawn through the water, and its resistance was measured by a self-acting dynamometer on the truck. His researches into the expenditure of power in screw-ships, the proportions of screw-propellers, and the information to be deduced from the speed-trials of ships, have been of immense importance to the royal navy and to the mercantile marine. His value as an adviser was recognised by his appointment as a member of the committee on design in 1870, and on the Inflexible committee in 1877, and by the confidence afforded to him by the successive heads of the admiralty. He became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers 7 April 1846, and in 1877 was named a member of the council. On 2 June 1870 he was elected a fellow of the Royal Society, and on 27 April 1876 he received the degree of LL.D. from the university of Glasgow. In the same year he was given the royal medal of the Royal Society. He gave evidence before the royal commission on scientific research 29 May 1872, which contains details of the experiments which he undertook for the admiralty (Report of Royal Commission, 1874, ii. 147–52, in Parliamentary Papers, 1874, vol. xxiii.) His last work was the construction of a dynamometer capable of determining the power of large marine engines. This machine, which he did not live to see experimented on, was afterwards tried with complete success. In the winter of 1878 he went on a cruise to the Cape of Good Hope in H.M.S. Boadicea, and was about to return to England when he was seized with an attack of dysentery, and died at Admiralty House, Simon's Town, on 4 May 1879, and was buried in the Naval cemetery on 12 May. He was the author of papers in ‘Minutes of Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers,’ ‘Journal of Bath and West of England Society,’ ‘Proceedings of Institution of Mechanical Engineers,’ ‘Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects,’ ‘Reports of the British Association,’ ‘Naval Science,’ ‘Nature,’ and other publications, most of them referring to his experiments in connection with ships.

[Minutes of Proceedings of Institution of Civil Engineers (1880), lx. 395–404; Proceedings of Royal Society of London (1879), xxix. pp. ii–vi; Nature (1879), xx. 148–50, 169–73; Times, 27 May 1879, p. 7, 3 June, p. 12, 7 June, p. 7; Mozley's Reminiscences (1882), ii. 14–17.]

G. C. B.