Civil engineering: the pier at Madras, India, built using screw piles (helical piles). Wood engraving, 1863.

February 28 1863
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Civil engineering: the pier at Madras, India, built using screw piles (helical piles). Wood engraving, 1863. Wellcome Collection. Public Domain Mark. Source: Wellcome Collection.

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"Screw-pile pier, Madras. This work, commenced by order of the Indian Government in September, 1859, has now nearly arrived at completion. It confers a great benefit on the inhabitants of the city and the entire Presidency, there being no safe landing from the west mouth of the Ganges to the harbour of Trincomalee, a distance of nearly a thousand miles, and, hitherto, at Madras all goods and passengers had to be landed on the open beach or taken off in the rude native Musulah boats and catamarans, through a high and over-rolling surf, with much inconvenience and some risk These boats afforded the only means of communication between the shore and ships lying at a considerable distance in the offing, and the loss and expense occasioned by this mode of carriage were severely felt by the people of the town, now numbering above 700,000 inhabitants. More than twenty years ago some influential merchants of Madras, anxious to discover if anything could be done to improve the mode of communicating with their ships, consulted engineers of eminence, who referred them (through General Menteith, acting for them in this country) to Mr. Alexander Mitchell, C.E., inventor and patentee of screw-piles and moorings. He, with the assistance of his son, prepared the plan of a pier, as shown in our illustration, and submitted it to the gentlemen above referred to. Colonels Montgomery and Underwood, of the engineering department of Madras, gave it their approval; but, as a pier on screw-piles was an entirely new feature in engineering, and was also the project of a gentleman who, though possessed of great mechanical skill and knowledge, had been for many years deprived of sight, they thought it necessary to have this approval confirmed by the best engineering authorities in England before proceeding with the undertaking. Mr. James Walker, president (at the time) of the Institution of Civil Engineers, was consulted, and, after due consideration, gave the plan of Messrs. Mitchell and Son his unqualified approval. The permission of the East India Company for erecting the pier was at length obtained, but at a time when some persons most interested in the project had left the country. This, together with considerable commercial distress prevailing at the time, caused the undertaking to be laid aside for fifteen years, when the new Government of India coming into power determined on constructing the screw-pile pier at its own expense. The first pile was screwed into the ground in September, 1859, under the direction of Mr. J. Gibson, resident superintendent of the work; and the site selected for the pier was admirably chosen, both as regards the local traffic and easy communication with the railway to the interior, being directly in front of the Custom House. The pier, before reaching the water, a distance of 280 ft., is constructed of brickwork; the portion on screw-piles then commences, and is carried to a distance of 1090 ft., where the depth at low water is 25 ft.; it is here terminated by a cross head 160 ft. in length. The breadth of the pier and pier head is 40 ft. and on it have been laid four lines of railway, which, with properly-constructed cranes, &c., will render loading and discharging vessels, and landing passengers, at Madras as easy as it has hitherto been difficult. The piles of the pier are of solid forged wrought iron, 8 in. in diameter, with a screw of 3 ft. diameter at foot of each. They are placed 10 ft. apart in the direction of the pier, 12 ft. apart transversely, and are screwed into the ground to a depth of about 13 ft. The bottom is of sand overlying tenacious clay, into which the piles have penetrated a considerable depth. The platform or roadway on the top of these piles is of wood, and of the ordinary construction. The cost of this pier when completed will not exceed £120,000. It may be interesting to our readers to learn something of the other works of Mr. Mitchell, who from the time of commencing his engineering labours has been suffering under a total deprivation of sight. The first application of his invention was as stationary moorings, which are now very generally used in the ports and harbours of this and foreign countries under the name of Mitchell's screw-moorings. His next application of the principle was to screw-piles, which, meeting with the approval of Mr. Walker, engineer to the Trinity Corporation, that body engaged Mr. Mitchell to lay the foundation of the Maplin Lighthouse, on a sandbank of that name, about ten miles below the well-known Nore light-ship. The placing this foundation he accomplished, with the assistance of his son, in the incredibly short time of nine consecutive days, having sunk nine piles of wrought iron, with a screw of 4 ft. diameter at foot of each 22 ft. into the ground, in a depth of water varying from 4 ft. to 20 ft. between high and low water. In the following autumn we find Messrs. Mitchell building the Fleetwood Lighthouse, also on a sandbank far from land. After thus proving the efficiency of Mr. Mitchell's plan of erecting lighthouses on banks covered by the sea, many others of the same description followed on the coasts of England and Ireland, and on the seaboard of America by the United States' Government. In the summer of 1847 the Irish Board of Works engaged Messrs. Mitchell to erect a screw-pile pier on the coast of Wexford. This they completed in the course of the summer, and it is, in most essential respects, a miniature of the one at Madras. It may here be observed that, owing to the novelty of these works, and lest any of them should fail in other hands, Messrs. Mitchell thought it advisable to undertake the work themselves, though contrary to the practice of the profession. These works becoming known through a paper prepared by Mr. Mitchell for the Institution of Civil Engineers, that body elected him a member and presented him with the Telford medal. The late Mr. Rendell, who was then present, declared his intention of adopting the screw-pile principle in the construction of the Portland Breakwater, which he was then about to commence; and Messrs. Mitchell prepared for him a plan of the form and size of the screw, which was adopted throughout the entire work. The next and greatest undertaking in which we find the screw-piles employed is in the construction of a number of bridges of great length on the Bombay and Baroda Railway, an engraving of one of which we gave lately in this journal. To Colonel Pitt Kennedy is due the credit of this extensive and bold use of the screw-pile, so highly gratifying to its venerable inventor, who now, though in his eighty-third year, retains all his faculties, save that of sight." --Illustrated London news, loc. cit.


[London] : Illustrated London news, February 28 1863.

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1 print : wood engraving


Madras pier, on screw-piles, the invention of Mr. Alexander Mitchell, C.E.


Wellcome Collection 44532i



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