Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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ROBERTSON , HENRY ( 1816 - 1888 ), civil engineer and railway pioneer ;

b. 11 Jan. 1816 at Banff , Scotland , the youngest of the eight children of Duncan Robertson , an Inland Revenue officer . Winning a scholarship, Henry Robertson went to Aberdeen University where he graduated M.A. His father d. about this time and the family moved to Glasgow . The son devoted himself to mining engineering , but afterwards decided to take up railway engineering . At a very early age he obtained a contract to build the overhead bridges on the Glasgow and Greenock Railway . Through the good offices of a Glasgow contractor, Robertson was sent to report on certain mineral properties at Brymbo, Denbs. , in respect of which one of the Scottish banks had advanced considerable capital; Robertson first saw Wales in 1842 , when he was 26 years of age. The bankers were so impressed by his report that they gave him support and so, in company with Robert Roy and other Scotsmen , he revived the Brymbo Iron Works and pits of John Wilkinson (q.v.) and gave new life to a decaying industrial area in Denbighshire . Robertson realised that if the iron-works and collieries were to be run successfully, a railway to the district was essential. He and his friends, therefore, promoted the North Wales Mineral Railway — the first of many measures which he was destined to pilot through Parliament ; David Davies of Llan-dinam ( 1818 - 1890 ) (q.v.) said Robertson was the best parliamentary witness of his day. Leaving the Brymbo iron-works and pits to the care of W. H. and Charles Darby , Robertson concentrated on building the railways , chiefly with Robert Brassey as contractor . Robertson was the engineer and designer of the railway from Chester to Shrewsbury with its viaducts over the Dee and the Ceiriog . Like George Stephenson in other areas, Robertson had to survey Welsh land for his railways by night owing to the hostility of the owners. Removing to Shrewsbury , he designed and made most of the railways radiating from the Shropshire capital, in addition to the line from Ruabon to Llan-gollen , Corwen , Bala , etc. Side by side with these activities Robertson maintained an active interest in numerous commercial enterprises . He was an original partner in Beyer, Peacock and Co. , owners of the largest locomotive works in the country, and he took a leading part in the conduct of several collieries and works in Denbighshire . He became the founder of the Brymbo Steel Works in 1884 . He was Member of Parliament for Shrewsbury from 1862 to 1865 , and again in 1874 and 1880 . In 1885 he resigned his seat and was then elected for Merioneth . Later he resigned and seceded from the Liberal party on the introduction of Gladstone 's Irish Home Rule Bill . He m., 1846 , Elizabeth , daughter of J. W. Dean , a London solicitor . There were four children of the marriage — one son and three daughters. Henry Robertson d. at Pale, Mer. , on 22 March 1888 . There is a very large group of the Robertson papers (including plans and maps) in the N.L.W.

Author:

George Geoffrey Lerry, Wrexham

Published date: 1959