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The Scottish Nation

NIMMO, ALEXANDER, F.R.S.E., M.R.I.A., an eminent civil engineer, was born at Kirkcaldy, in Fifeshire, in 1783. His father was originally a watchmaker, but latterly kept a hardware shop. From the Grammar school of his native town, Alexander was sent for two years to the college of St. Andrews, and finally completed his education at the university of Edinburgh. He was an excellent Greek and Latin scholar, and the bent of his mind was early directed towards the higher branches of mathematics and algebra. At the age of nineteen he was appointed rector of the Inverness academy by the unanimous vote of the proprietors, after a severe competition with other candidates, during an examination which lasted three days. Whilst in this situation he was, at the recommendation of Mr. Telford, first employed in a public capacity by the parliamentary commissioners for fixing and determining the boundaries of the Scottish counties; and his services in this undertaking, which were performed during the vacations, gave great satisfaction to his employers. His report on the occasion, which is of considerable length, is one of the most interesting documents of the kind ever published. Soon after he was again recommended by Mr. Telford to the commissioners for reclaiming the bogs of Ireland. In this situation he became well acquainted with the habits and wants of the Irish peasantry; and his reports and maps of the Irish bogs were in the highest degree creditable to him.

After completing the bog surveys, Mr. Nimmo visited France, Germany, and Holland, and personally inspected the great public works of those nations. On his return he was employed in the construction of Dunmore harbour – a work of immense magnitude and utility, on a shore much exposed to the roll of the Atlantic, and where the depth of water at the extremity of the pier exceeds that of the Plymouth breakwater. He was also engaged by the Fishery Board in making surveys of the harbours of Ireland, and constructing harbours and piers; and by the Ballast Board to make a chart of the whole coast, which was executed with great skill and accuracy. Besides these labours he compiled a book of sailing directions of St. George’s Channel and the Irish coast.

During the great distress of 1822, he was appointed engineer to the western district of Ireland; and, between that year and 1830, he caused, by the improvement of land and the formation of what may be termed new settlements, an increase of revenue in that district to the amount of not less than £106,000 per annum. Mr. Nimmo’s engagements, in extent and variety, were surprisingly great. Upwards of thirty piers or harbours on the Irish coast were built under his direction; also Perth Cawl in South Wales. He designed the Wellesley bridge and docks at Limerick; and in his latter years, was engaged in Lancashire, projecting a railway from Liverpool to Leeds, and also the Manchester, Bolton, and Bury railway. He was consulting engineer to the duchy of Lancaster, the Mersey and Irwell navigation, the St. Helen’s and Runcorn Gap railway, the Preston and Wigan railway, and the Birkenhead and Chester railway. In addition to his classical and mathematical attainments, he was well versed in modern languages, particularly French, German, Dutch, and Italian. He was also thoroughly acquainted with practical astronomy, chemistry, and geology. To the latter science, in particular, he was much attached, and wrote an excellent paper, showing how it might become available in navigation, which was published in the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy, of which he was a member. He was likewise a fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Mr. Nimmo was the author of the article on Inland Navigation in Dr. Brewster’s Encyclopaedia; also, in conjunction with Mr. Telford, of that on Bridges, and, with Mr. Peter Nicholson, of that on Carpentry. Besides these, he wrote several papers for various periodicals. His evidence on the trial between the Corporation of Liverpool and the Mersey Company is highly interesting to engineers and practical mathematicians. On this occasion he was cross-examined by Mr. afterwards Lord Brougham, and he was undoubtedly the only engineer of the age who could at all have competed with the learned counsel’s knowledge of the higher mathematics and natural philosophy, on which the whole subject in dispute depended. Mr. Nimmo died at Dublin, January 20, 1832, aged 49.

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