1st Edition

A Victorian Scientist and Engineer Fleeming Jenkin and the Birth of Electrical Engineering

By Gillian Cookson, Colin Hempstead Copyright 2000

    This title was first published in 2000:  In a life of only 52 years, Fleeming Jenkin established his reputation as a pioneer in the new world of electrical engineering, known for his work on undersea telegraphs and later on the electrical transportation system known as telpherage. Equally at ease in the realms of theory and practice, from 1850 until his death in 1885 Jenkin engaged in every field of Victorian engineering. As a young adult he worked on intercontinental submarine telegraphy, the cutting edge technology of its day which was inextricably bound to the new science of electricity. Jenkin was both a scientist and an engineer, a prototype of the modern experimental research engineer. He was also a distinguished academic, professor of engineering in the University of Edinburgh, admired as an inspired and innovative teacher, and for his interest in the philosophical tenets underpinning his subject. Yet in spite of his influence as an early electrical engineer and his other intellectual achievements, despite the celebrity of his associates - Robert Louis Stevenson, Mrs Gaskell and leading engineers of the day were among his close friends - and the way that submarine telegraphs seized the Victorian popular imagination, Jenkin himself has remained an obscure figure. He deserves to be better known. The story of Jenkin is of a life lived to the full. It illuminates many aspects of Victorian intellectual society, and of the organisation of science and engineering in his time. The central purpose of this biography is to show Jenkin’s achievements in engineering and in other fields, and to judge his significance in these diverse activities.

    Contents: Foreword; Introduction; A young man of remarkable ability; Employed about the Ocean Cables: Appendix: Thomson’s Mirror Galvanometer; An electrical engineer of high standing; A philosophic electrician: Appendix: Jenkin on truth; Untiring zest for life; The soul of the enterprise; Bibliographical notes on the history of submarine telegraphy; Bibliography; Index.


    Cookson, Gillian; Hempstead, Colin

    '...both specialist and general readers will find much of interest and value in the life of this "Philosophic Electrician"' Notes and Records of the Royal Society '... fills a definite gap in our knowledge of Victorian engineers.' The Flying Lady 'Writing a good technical history for the general public is challenging. Writing a technical history on a subject difficult to describe in a clear and succinct manner without losing its essence is even more challenging. Cookson and Hempstead have produced a fine biography within both constraints...' Victorian Studies 'We must welcome, then, this path breaking life of Fleeming Jenkin... this deft and engaging account of 'a life lived to the full' takes its place as the industry standard and a valuable resource for those seeking to understand the socio-technical complexitiies of nineteenth century engineering science.' Ambix 'Cookson and Hempstead are to be thanked for giving us a glimpse back at one of the last great polymaths.' Annals of Science