Biography of Latimer Clark

[Trade Journal]

Publication: The Telegraphic Journal and Electrical Review

London, England
vol. 4, no. 84, p. 205-207, col. 1-2





Past President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers.

MR. LATIMER CLARK, whose photograph by Messrs. Mayall we herewith present to our readers, was born at Great Marlow in 1822. In early life he studied chemistry, and for some time practiced as a scientific and manufacturing chemist, in which capacity he had entire charge of an extensive business in Dublin. The railway mania of 1845 induced him to engage in railway surveys, and in 1848 he was engaged under the late Robert Stephenson at the Britannia Bridge, as assistant resident-engineer; his brother, Mr. Edwin Clark, being resident-engineer. This position he filled until 1851, having during the time very responsible duties to perform. In the course of this work he narrowly escaped losing his life by the bursting of an hydraulic press, under which he was standing.

During the construction of the bridge the works were frequently visited by men interested in science, and amongst others by Mr. S. L. Ricardo, the founder of the Electric Telegraph Company. The Messrs. Clark, always fond of scientific recreations, had established an eight-o'clock time-gun, fired by voltaic electricity; and to this apparently trivial circumstance may be traced their more intimate acquaintance with Mr. Ricardo, who, in 1850, appointed Mr. Edwin Clark engineer-in-chief, and Mr. Latimer Clark assistant-engineer to the Electric Telegraph Company. In 1854, Mr. Edwin Clark resigned, and Mr. Latimer Clark became engineer-in-chief—a position which he held until 1861; from which time until the transfer of the telegraphs to the Post-office he had a retaining fee from the Electric Telegraph Company as consulting engineer. During this period he was enabled to render much assistance to the Astronomer-Royal in the electrical arrangements for the determination of the longitudes of various places and the distribution of Greenwich time.

In 1853 he made many original researches on the subject of electric currents through underground telegraph wires laid between London, Leeds, and Liverpool. In the course of these experiments he was the first to witness experimentally the retardation of the electric current in subterranean lines, and, at the request of the Astronomer Royal, Professor Faraday, and Professor Melloni, he showed experimentally "that currents of low tension traveled with the same velocity as currents of high tension." His experiments were repeated before Professor Faraday, and formed the subject of a lecture at the Royal Institution in January, 1854. From this circumstance these researches are generally supposed to be Faraday's experiments on subterranean lines.

In 1854 he introduced the pneumatic system for the transmission of messages now extensively employed; and in 1857 he became engineer, in conjunction with Mr. Rammell, to the Pneumatic Dispatch Company, who laid down a system of lines from Euston Station to Holborn and the General Post-office. In 1856 he patented the double-cup insulator which is extensively used; and in 1858 he patented the now well-known method of preserving submarine cables from rust, by a covering of asphalte hemp and silica.

In 1859, after the failure of the 1858 Atlantic Cable, Mr. Clark was appointed engineer to the Atlantic-Telegraph Company, but no practical steps were taken by this Company for several years, owing to the want of confidence in submarine cables caused by the failure of the cable of 1858.

In 1860 he was appointed a member of the "Joint Committee appointed by the Board of Trade and the Atlantic-Telegraph Company to inquire into the construction of submarine cables," and he had the management of many of the investigations. In 1861 he resigned his position as engineer to the Electric-Telegraph Company, and entered into a partnership with Sir C. Bright; and in that year he drew attention to the necessity of adopting fixed standards of electrical quantity, tension, &c., in a paper read at the British Association, in which he proposed the well-known names "Ohm," "Farad," "Volt," &c., since adopted, and afterwards became a member of the Committee on Electrical Standards. In 1862 Messrs. Bright & Clark were entrusted by the Indian Government with the engineering supervision of the construction and laying of the Persian Gulf Cable; and, amongst other work for these operations, a careful series of experiments were made by the Firm on the effect of temperature on the conductive resistance of gutta percha. These experiments, which are described in a paper read by Sir C. Bright before the Institution of Civil Engineers on "The Telegraph to India," form the basis of the tables employed by electricians up to the present day.

After the cessation of the partnership with Sir C. Bright, in 1866, Mr. Clark was engaged as engineer for several Submarine Telegraph Companies, sometimes in conjunction with other engineers—as in the French Atlantic—and sometimes alone, as in the second Persian Gulf Cable. When going out to India on this expedition in 1869, he was on board the steamship Carnatic when she was wrecked on the island of Shadwan, in the Red Sea, when thirty lives were lost, and Mr. Clark had his collar-bone broken, and narrowly escaped being drowned.

He has been for some years now associated with Mr. Forde, and later with Mr. Hockin and Mr. Herbert Taylor; and, under the title of Clark & Forde, this firm—of which Mr. Clark is the head—has superintended, on the part of the Telegraph Companies, the manufacture and laying of nearly all the long lines laid by the Telegraph Construction Company, including the 1873 and 1874 Atlantic cables, the Eastern Telegraph Company's cables between England, Portugal, Egypt, and India; the Eastern Extension Company's cables between India, China, Australia, and New Zealand, and the cables of the Brazilian Submarine Telegraph Company between Portugal and Brazil. He is also a member of the well-known firm of Warden, Muirhead, and Clark, electric telegraph engineers.

Mr. Clark has not confined his labours to telegraph engineering, but has of late years been connected with several patented inventions of considerable importance, the chief being a new form of floating-dock, and is at the present time constructing, in partnership with Mr. Standfield, for the Russian Government, one of these docks for the special accommodation of the circular ironclads of the Russian Navy.

Mr. Clark's literary labours date from 1849, in which year he published a small book entitled, "Description of the Con way and Britannia Tubular Bridges," which went through several editions ; and Mr. Edwin Clark's well-known large work on the Britannia Bridge contains an interesting chapter on the tides of the Menai Straits by Mr. L. Clark. In the Appendix to the Report of the Joint Committee of the Board of Trade and Atlantic-Telegraph Company, published in 1861, is a separate Report by Mr. Clark on the subject of Telegraph Cables, &c., and the retardation of signals in long submarine cables. In 1867 he read a paper before the British Association, on "the Birmingham Wire Gauge." In 1868 he published a work on "Electrical Measurements," which has been translated both into French and Italian ; and in 1871, in conjunction with Mr. R. Sabine, he published the larger and well-known work entitled "Electrical Tables and Formulas," which is so extensively employed by electricians. In 1873 he read a paper before the Royal Society, on "A Standard Battery of Constant Electro-motive Force," describing a constant battery which had been the work of many years' experiments under his supervision; and he has read various papers before the Society of Telegraph Engineers.

In 1858 he joined the Institution of Civil Engineers as an Associate, and in 1861 he was created a Member. In 1862 he became a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. In 1874 he became a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and an original member of the Physical Society of London ; and in the same year he was elected the fourth President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, a post which, from his long and successful career as a telegraph engineer, Mr. Clark was justly entitled to, and during the holding of which he displayed the same assiduity, energy, and talent which have hitherto marked his character throughout, and which we trust may lead him to yet other positions of distinction and honour.


Keywords:Latimer Clark : Foreign
Researcher notes:Brother Edwin Clark was also interested in telegraphy. Latimer Clark's name was actually Josiah Latimer Clark although the 1856 patent listed his first name as Joseph.
Supplemental information:(see patents gb1850-0013336; gb1856-0002831; gb1858-0001449; gb1859-0000181; gb1866-0003038)
Researcher:Elton Gish
Date completed:October 19, 2009 by: Elton Gish;