Biles, Sir John Harvard

SUBJECT AREA: Ports and shipping
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b. 1854 Portsmouth, England
d. 27 October 1933 Scotland (?)
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English naval architect, academic and successful consultant in the years when British shipbuilding was at its peak.
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At the conclusion of his apprenticeship at the Royal Dockyard, Portsmouth, Biles entered the Royal School of Naval Architecture, South Kensington, London; as it was absorbed by the Royal Naval College, he graduated from Greenwich to the Naval Construction Branch, first at Pembroke and later at the Admiralty. From the outset of his professional career it was apparent that he had the intellectual qualities that would enable him to oversee the greatest changes in ship design of all time. He was one of the earliest proponents of the revolutionary work of the hydrodynamicist William Froude.
In 1880 Biles turned to the merchant sector, taking the post of Naval Architect to J. \& G. Thomson (later John Brown \& Co.). Using Froude's Law of Comparisons he was able to design the record-breaking City of Paris of 1887, the ship that started the fabled succession of fast and safe Clyde bank-built North Atlantic liners. For a short spell, before returning to Scotland, Biles worked in Southampton. In 1891 Biles accepted the Chair of Naval Architecture at the University of Glasgow. Working from the campus at Gilmorehill, he was to make the University (the oldest school of engineering in the English-speaking world) renowned in naval architecture. His workload was legendary, but despite this he was admired as an excellent lecturer with cheerful ways which inspired devotion to the Department and the University. During the thirty years of his incumbency of the Chair, he served on most of the important government and international shipping committees, including those that recommended the design of HMS Dreadnought, the ordering of the Cunarders Lusitania and Mauretania and the lifesaving improvements following the Titanic disaster. An enquiry into the strength of destroyer hulls followed the loss of HMS Cobra and Viper, and he published the report on advanced experimental work carried out on HMS Wolf by his undergraduates.
In 1906 he became Consultant Naval Architect to the India Office, having already set up his own consultancy organization, which exists today as Sir J.H.Biles and Partners. His writing was prolific, with over twenty-five papers to professional institutions, sundry articles and a two-volume textbook.
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Principal Honours and Distinctions
Knighted 1913. Knight Commander of the Indian Empire 1922. Master of the Worshipful Company of Shipwrights 1904.
Bibliography
1905, "The strength of ships with special reference to experiments and calculations made upon HMS Wolf", Transactions of the Institution of Naval Architects.
1911, The Design and Construction of Ships, London: Griffin.
Further Reading
C.A.Oakley, 1973, History of a Facuity, Glasgow University.
FMW

Biographical history of technology. - Taylor & Francis e-Librar. . 2005.

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