‘A Most Important Trespass’: Lewis Gordon and the Glasgow Chair of Civil Engineering and Mechanics, 1840–55

  • Ben Marsden
Part of the Science, Technology and Medicine in Modern History book series (STMMH)


In this chapter I show how Lewis Dunbar Brodie Gordon worked to make space for engineering as academic practice in the cramped medieval buildings of the Old College of Glasgow (Constable, 1877: esp. 1–45). In the autumn of 1840 Gordon was appointed as the University’s founding regius professor of civil engineering and mechanics. Historians have pondered Glasgow’s claim to have the oldest engineering professorship in Britain but they have paid surprisingly little attention to the in situ career of the chair’s first occupant (Oakley, 1973: 2–8; Channell, 1982: 43–4; Marsden, 1992: 323–6). Gordon’s portfolio of cameo roles in the history of science includes the hapless or ineffectual precursor to Macquorn Rankine (professor from 1855 to 1872); the sounding board for William Thomson’s cogitations on the mechanical action of heat; the catapult sending the fledgling Henry Dyer to the Principalship of an experimental Imperial College of Engineering in Tokyo; or the heroic telegraphic explorer, shipwrecked and tragically disabled in 1859 (all without poetic licence) (Constable, 1877: 91; Brock, 1981: 231; Smith and Wise, 1989: passim; Pacey, 1992: 226).


Civil Engineering Engineering Pedagogy Royal Greenwich Observatory Glasgow College Public Record Office 
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© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 1998

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  • Ben Marsden

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