Thursday, November 30, 2017

[By Annalist.]
EDWARD DOBSON, 1816-1908. 

The settlers of Canterbury certainly found no Native trouble to contend with, but in the long distances of the plains, the many rivers, torrential in their freshes, and the steep hills separating the plains from the natural port of the settlement, they had need of bold and skilful engineers to advise them. This need was accentuated in the 'sixties, when the portion of the province across the high Alps suddenly became of the greatest importance through the discovery of gold and the inrush of population from all the colonies.

The man upon whom the young province chiefly relied for the solution of its engineering problems was Edward Dobson. Born in London in 1816, Dobson was the son of a Mediterranean merchant. He was educated in London and articled to a well-known architect and surveyor named Herring, from whom he learned the practical side of his profession as a civil engineer. He studied also at University College, London, under Professor Vignoles, and he spent several months in a tour of Belgium and other continental countries studying architecture. In the year 1842-43 he won his first certificate in architecture as a fine art, and in architecture as a science. For two years in succession his drawings were exhibited in the Royal Academy. In 1844 Dobson joined the firm of John Rastrick, railway engineers, and he had several years' valuable experience in the construction of railways throughout England. He had married in 1839.

When the Canterbury scheme was before the public, Dobson became interested in it, and he was one of the original purchasers of land under the Association. Accordingly he left for New Zealand bv the Cressy in 1850 with his two eldest sons. On their arrival he selected 50 acres of land at Sumner, and built there and in Christchurch. Mrs Dobson followed a year afterwards with the remainder of the family in the ship Fatima.

Dobson's engineering skill was of service to the colonists from the start, and in 1854, when the provincial government was fully established Fitzgerald appointed him provincial engineer. In that position, which he occupied for the next fourteen years, Dobson not only designed and carried out many of the more important public works in the province, but he undertook much of the practical work of exploration, especially in the effort to establish communications within the province with the western seaboard, where with the discovery of gold, ships commenced to arrive direct from oversea. First and foremost came the track from the plains to Purau, at the head of Akaroa harbour, a most important link in those days, when Akaroa's relative importance was greater than it is to-day. The tunnel through the hills, and the railway to Lyttelton were probably the boldest and most impressive work that any colony undertook at such a stage of its development, and the accuracy with which the tunnel was pierced bore testimony to the skill of the engineer. In developing the port of Lyttelton Dobson commenced with the breakwater from Officer's Point, which with subsequent works, made the inner harbour safe and convenient for shipping in all weathers.

The system of railways for the province was planned by Dobson, and before he retired from the post of provincial engineer, the Lyttelton line was completed, and the southern line had advanced its railhead 29 miles to the Selwyn river. Another important work Dobson carried through was the draining of the low-lying land about Rangiora. which resulted in about 10,000 acres of this great swamp being reclaimed. His advice was sought also by the neighbouring province of Otago, which in 1865 appointed him to make a report on the small harbours of Moeraki, Waikouaiti, and Oamaru.

Dobson's work hi opening up communications with the West Coast was of the utmost value to the province. In September, 1857, he investigated a Maori track, which had been supposed to exist through the pass of the Hurunui river at Mount Noble, near what was then Mason's Waitohi station. It was so precipitous that the Natives had rope ladders or vines to cross the gully. Assisted by Mason and some of his men, Dobson set out to rediscover the path, and working with pick and shovel they soon had opened out a track along which horses could pass to a higher plateau, where they found flat laud of superior quality with several small lakes through which the Hurunui river flowed. Thus for the first time white men reached the head waters of the river. Along this track, which was nowhere more than 1600 feet in height, Dobson laid out the road which eight years later was used as the first thoroughfare from east to west.

When the diggings broke out in 1865 it was imperative that the road should be opened up without delay and Dobson accompanied by Sir John Hall, the head of the executive, laid out the road through the Otira, setting gangs to work in the severest weather in order to make a passable way for the stream of diggers to get through. He gave it the name of Arthur's Pass after one of his sons, Arthur Dudley, who discovered the Pass in March, 1864. In later years he became City Engineer in Christchurch. He and another son did yeoman service in the investigation of routes to the West Coast. The other, George, was murdered by the Burgess and Kelly gang in 1866, under the impression that he was a gold buyer.

In 1869 Dobson resigned the position of provincial engineer, and went to Australia, where he had accepted the post of engineer to the Melbourne and Hobson's Bay United Railway Company, Two years later the Company's lines were purchased by the Victorian Government and Dobson took service under the Government. During the next few years, until 1876, he carried through the water supply scheme, and built the Anakies dam and the Malmesbury reservoir. He was also resident engineer at Geelong, and for a while acting chief engineer of the Department.

In 1876 Dobson returned to Canterbury and entered into private practice with his son Arthur. Amongst other jobs they constructed the Timaru waterworks; surveyed the railway line from Waikari through the Hurunui pass to Lake Brunner, erected many bridges, and constructed irrigation races and river protection works. Dobson, jun., retired from the firm in 1886, and went to Australia. During the next few years Edward Dobson was lecturer in engineering at Canterbury College (1887-92), and he was for some years on the Board of Governors of Christ's College. He was in 1887 one of the Electoral Boundaries Commissioners.

Dobson throughout his long, active life, never lost touch with the professional organisations. In 1842 he was elected a life member of the Oxford Architectural Society, and an associate member of the Institute of Civil Engineers (of which he became a full member in 1881). The Institute awarded him the Telford Medal for a paper on the engineering works of the Canterbury Provincial Government. In 1843 he was elected an A.R.I.B.A. He wrote many other professional papers, some of which had wide publicity, notably those on "Foundation and Concrete," "The Railways of Belgium," "Pioneer Engineering," "The Art of Building," "Museums and Stone-cutting," and "Bricks and Tiles." In the practice of his profession he showed great ability and a unique power of organisation. He was a member of the Canterbury Philosophical Institute, and was president in 1866.

Dobson was a keen volunteer. He was the first man enrolled in the Heathcote Company in 1861, and subsequently transferred to the engineers.

He died on April 19th. 1908, leaving a widow, four sons, and four daughters. Two sons predeceased him.

Press, Volume LXVI, Issue 19848, 8 February 1930

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