Josiah Clark Senior Partners
Portrait of Josiah Latimer Clark
1850 Britannia Conway Tubular Bridges
1850. Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges
Britannia Bridge - Land Towers
1850. Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges
Element von Latimer Clark
The Standard Voltaic Battery was communicated to the Royal Society (Ref.7), by Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin). This battery, known as the “Clark Cell”, has a constant electromotive force, and has proved of great value in promoting accurate measurements of electric potentials.
Josiah Latimer Clark
Portrait of Josiah Latimer Clark in 1850
Portrait of John Standfield in India, 1869-72.
Portrait of John Standfield in India, 1869-72.
Hydraulic Lift Floating Dock Hog Island
Hydraulic Lift Graving Dock, Hog Island
Hydraulic Canal Lifts Les Fontinettes
Hydraulic Canal-Lifts at Les Fontinettes, near St Omer, in France

Josiah Latimer Clark

1822 - 1898

Latimer Clark, whose name will remain associated with the history of the development of the electric telegraph and the construction of submarine cables, was born at Great Marlow on the 10th March, 1822. Like his elder brother, Edwin, he did not begin life as an engineer, for, having studied chemistry, he spent some time as a manufacturing chemist in a large works in Dublin. But influenced, no doubt, by the example of the elder brother, he determined to give up chemistry for engineering, and in 1848, at the age of 25, became an assistant on the construction of the Britannia Tubular Bridge, under his brother, whom Robert Stephenson had appointed Resident Engineer (Ref.1).

Latimer Clark was entrusted with considerable responsibility, having to a large extent practical charge of the building and floating of the tubes of the bridge, and of raising them in position by means of hydraulic power. In the course of that work he narrowly escaped losing his life by the bursting of a hydraulic press under which he was standing, and the consequent fall of one of the tubes. He rendered much assistance in the descriptive portions of the work, “The Britannia and Conway Tubular Bridges”, published by Edwin Clark in 1850, and wrote for it an interesting chapter on the tides of the Menai Straits.

About the year 1846 the Electric Telegraph Company had been incorporated for the development of electric telegraphs. This company afterwards became the Electric and International Telegraph Company, and provided telegraphic communication for almost every railway in the United Kingdom, as well as entering into other large applications of electricity in various ways. Those distinguished engineers and past-Presidents, Robert Stephenson, George Parker Bidder and Joseph Locke were Directors of the company.

Both Edwin and Latimer had been much interested in the subject of electricity generally, and at the Menai Bridge they had applied electricity for the purpose of firing a time-gun every evening at 8 o’clock. This circumstance led to their introduction to Mr. Lewis Ricardo, the Chairman of the Electric Telegraph Company, and in August 1850, they were appointed respectively Engineer and Assistant Engineer to that Company. Latimer subsequently succeeded his brother as Engineer-in-Chief, and his connection with the Company lasted until 1870, in which year the telegraph business of the country was taken over by the Government.

During that period Latimer Clark introduced many important improvements in the telegraph system, among which may be mentioned the insulation of underground wires by coating them with a solution outside the ghutta percha, with a view to obviate its decay in air. In 1854, he invented a system of transmitting messages by the pneumatic tube, now extensively used, and in 1857 he became Engineer, in conjunction with Mr. Rammell, to the Pneumatic Despatch Company, which laid down a system of lines from Euston Station to Holborn and the General Post Office. In 1856 he patented the form of insulator known as the “double-cap invert”, now in general use. During some experiments he carried out he was struck by the retardation of the electric current in subterranean lines, and finally was able to demonstrate that the rate of the flow was constant, irrespective of pressure.

These experiments were repeated before Faraday and formed the subject of a lecture at the Royal Institution in 1854 (Ref.2). In 1858 he invented a method of preserving submarine cables by a covering of asphalt, hemp and silica, known as “Clark’s compound”. Two years later, as a Member of the Joint Committee appointed by the Committee of Privy Council for Trade and the Atlantic Telegraph company to inquire into the construction of sub-marine cables, he conducted a series of experiments, the results of which, in addition to forming part of the official report, were published separately under the title “Experimental Investigation of the Laws which govern the Propagation of the Electric Current in long Submarine Telegraph Cables”, (Ref.3).

Conference of Engineers - 1848
Key to the subjects: (1) Admiral Moorsom; (2) Latimer Clark; (3) Edwin Clark; (4) Frank Forster; (5) George P. Bidder; (6) Hemmingway, master mason; (7) Captain Claxton, RN; (8) Alexander Ross; (9) Robert Stephenson, MP; (10) Charles H. Wild; (11) Joseph Locke, MP; (12) Isambard Kingdom Brunel

In 1861 Latimer Clark entered into partnership with Sir Charles Bright, and in the same year a joint Paper by them was read at the Manchester meeting of the British Association, entitled: “The Formation of Standards of Electrical Quantity and Resistance”, (Ref.4). The subject attracted considerable attention and a committee of the British Association was formed, of which Mr. Clark’s “Elementary Treatise on Electrical Measurement”, published in 1868, became a standard work.

In 1863 the partners carried out a careful series of experiments on the effect of temperature on the insulation of gutta percha described in Sir Charles Bright’s Paper “Telegraph to India, and its Extension to Australia and China”, read before this Institution in 1865 (Ref.5). For that work they acted as engineers and designed a cable of great strength and durability, personally superintending its laying in the Persian Gulf. Mr. Clark was subsequently engaged on similar work in various parts of the world; and in September 1869, while on one of these expeditions, he was wrecked in the Red Sea and narrowly escaped drowning.

At the meetings of the British Association in 1867 and 1869 Mr. Clark read Papers in which he dealt with the unsatisfactory nature of the Birmingham Wire Gauge (Ref.6), and on those Papers the present standard is practically based.

In 1871 appeared “Tables and Formulae for the Use of Telegraph Inspectors and Operators”, published by Mr. Clark in conjunction with the late Mr. Robert Sabine. Two years later his description of his Standard Voltaic Battery was communicated to the Royal Society (Ref.7), by Sir William Thomson (now Lord Kelvin). This battery, known as the “Clark Cell”, has a constant electromotive force, and has proved of great value in promoting accurate measurements of electric potentials.

About the year 1869 a partnership was formed between Mr. Clark, Mr. Henry Charles Forde and subsequently Mr. Herbert Taylor, and the firm of Clarke, Forde and Taylor may be said to be largely responsible for the carrying out of a great proportion of the cable extensions throughout the world since that date. After the present Eastern Telegraph company was formed, triplicate cables were laid from Suez to Aden and Bombay, and duplicate cables between Madras and Penang, Singapore and Nagasaki; England, Gibraltar, Malta and the Levant; Durban and Delagoa Bay (nearly 4,000 miles) during the Zulu War; five Atlantic cables, including that from Brest to Newfoundland in 1869, (2,584 nautical miles); the first South Atlantic cable, from Pernanbuco to St. Louis in Senegal, and many others (Ref.8).

In 1874 Latimer Clark entered into partnership with the late Mr. John Standfield, who acted as Resident Engineer on Edwin Clark’s hydraulic lift graving-dock at Hog Island, Bombay.

Messrs Clark & Standfield devoted themselves particularly to the study and improvement of floating-docks and hydraulic canal-lifts, and invented several novelties in connection with that branch of engineering. The most important of those inventions were: the gridiron depositing docks constructed for the Russian Government at Nicoliaeff, on the Black Sea, and at Vladivostok – a gridiron depositing-dock at Barrow-in-Furness – hydraulic canal-lifts at Les Fontinettes, near St Omer, in France, and at la Louviere, Belgium – and the off-shore dock, the first of which was built at Messrs Clark & Standfield’s works at Grays, Essex, and was launched and towed to Cardiff in 1887. An account of the Nicoliaeff Dock was presented by Mr. Clark to the Institution of Naval Architects in 1876 (Ref.9). Numerous examples of floating docks constructed by Messrs Clark & Standfield are now extant, notably those at Hamburg and North Shields, and the large floating docks, for Havana and Stettin, of 10,000 tons and 11,000 tons lifting power, the former of which was successfully towed over 6,000 miles across the Atlantic Ocean. He was also a partner in the firm of Warden, Clark and Muirhead, electrical engineers and contractors, afterwards known as Latimer Clark, Muirhead and Co.

Hydraulic Canal-Lifts at La Louviere, Belgium
Hydraulic Canal-Lifts at La Louviere, Belgium

Mr. Clark was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 13th April, 1858, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 19th November, 1861. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Royal Astronomical Society, an original member of the Physical Society, and in 1874 he was elected President of the Society of Telegraph Engineers and Electricians (now the Institution of Electrical Engineers), in the formation of which he had taken an active part. His inaugural address contained an interesting account of the early history of the electric telegraph (Ref.10). He was also a Chevalier of the Legion of Honour.

Latimer Clark’s recreations were his library, astronomy and horticulture. He was a great lover of books and spared neither trouble nor money in getting together a collection which, especially in relation to electrical works, is of exceptional interest and value. To the study of astronomy he devoted many of his leisure hours, and in 1882 introduced a transit instrument, which, by its simplicity and comparative cheapness, had done much to render the science popular among those who cannot afford to buy costly instruments. His love of horticulture was displayed in the rare and beautiful flowers and plants with which he filled the grounds of his residence, first at Sydenham, and subsequently at Maidenhead.

Some indication has been given of Latimer Clark’s many sidedness, both in his professional work and in his recreation. A list of the patents taken out by him during his long career would occupy to great a space here, but it is not too much to say that many of them were of great importance and value and that most of them were of practical utility. As another illustration of his versatility, it may be mentioned that he invented a single camera to take stereoscopic pictures, and that he is said to have introduced into England the method of vignetting photographs which was secretly pursued abroad. He suggested the affixing of stamps to telegrams as payment, and the registering of abbreviated addresses for cablegrams.

Mr. Clark died at his town residence, 3l The Grove, Boltons, on the 30th October, 1898, in the 77th year of his age.

Extract from “The Engineer”, 26th October, 1894, p. 367

  • Minutes of Proceedings Inst. C.E., vol. CXX
  • Proceedings of the Royal Institution, vol.I, p.345
  • This pamphlet is in the Library of the Institution
  • Report of the British Association, vol. XXXI, pt II p.37.
  • Minutes of Proceedings Inst. C.E., vol.XXV p. 1
  • Report of the British Association, vol.XXXVII, pt II p. 153, and vol. XXXIV pt. II, p. 209
  • Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, 1874 p. 1.
  • Minutes of Proceedings Inst.C.E., vol. CXXVIII, p. 346
  • Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects vol.XVII, p. 156.
  • Journal of the Society of Telegraph Engineers, vol. IV P.1.

Josiah Latimer Clark