John Hopkinson

John Hopkinson born in 1849, was the eldest son of a Manchester engineer of the same name who had married the daughter of a prosperous cotton spinner. There were thirteen children by the marriage, of whom ten reached maturity (five sons and five daughters).

He won a mathematical scholarship to Trinity College, Cambridge and whilst studying for the mathematics tripos he worked concurrently for a BSc at London University. In Cambridge he was coached by E.J.Routh, emerging in 1871 as Senior Wrangler. He was captain of the boat club and also won the mile race in the athletics sports.

On leaving Cambridge he started work in his father's factory until he was appointed manager of the optical works of Chance Brothers, glass makers and lighthouse engineers of Birmingham in 1872. He married Evelyn Oldenburg, with whom he had been in love since his undergraduate days. He converted two of the rooms in his house into laboratories and there conducted experiments in electricity and magnetism for which he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1878.

In 1877 he moved to London as a consulting engineer. By this time there were three children, Bertram, the eldest, having been born in 1874. Money was short but he soon built up a lucrative practice in the law courts as an expert witness on patents and other scientific matters.

His work brought him into contact with most of the leaders of science and industry. Visitors to his house on Wimbledon Common included Lord and Lady Kelvin, Sir Benjamin Baker, builder of the Forth Bridge and the Assouan Dam and Sir William Crookes, the chemist.

When James Stuart, the first Professor of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics in Cambridge resigned, he tried to persuade Hopkinson to take his place, but he said he had too many commitments to take it on. Instead he became Professor of Electrical Engineering in King's College London.

However he continued to take an interest in Cambridge and accepted an invitation to become a member of the Enquiry Syndicate appointed to look into the crisis over the engineering workshop at Cambridge. He died in 1898 in a mountaineering accident in Switzerland, together with one of his sons and two of his three daughters.