S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Austin, Mr Kenneth (engineering, metrology)

Born: Date not known, Place not known.
Died: Date not known, Place not known.

Kenneth Austin published a paper entitled "The metrical standard of weights and measures" in the very first issue of the Journal of the Mechanical Engineers' Association of the Witwatersrand (Vol. 1(1), pp. 2-4) in 1902. (The association was founded in 1898, but started its own journal only four years later). The possible introduction of the metric system was considered by various local scientific societies at that time. Austin's paper led to considerable discussion by members of the association and resulted in a deputation to Lord Milner, Governor of the Transvaal Colony, requesting him to take steps to legalise the metric system as the only system of weights and measures in the colony. However, a commission chaired by R.T.A. Innes* recommended in 1906 that both the British and metric systems of weights and measures be recognised, mainly because it would have been impractical for the Transvaal Colony to adopt the metric system exculusively as long as Britain still used imperial weights and measures.

In 1905 the Mechanical Engineers' Association of the Witwatersrand was renamed the Transvaal Institute of Mechanical Engineers. Austin was an active member and contributed a paper entitled "Method for increasing efficiency of labour underground by mechanical means" to its Journal (1909/10, Vol. 8, p. 184-). In 1910 the institute became the South African Institution of Engineers. Three years later Austin read a paper before its members on "The combustion of coal", that was published in its Transactions (1913, Vol. 1, pp. 311-322). He took a leading role in planning another engineering society, the Association of Certificated Mechanical Engineers, which was founded in 1911. The object of the new association was to protect the professional standing of mechanical engineers, and its operations did not conflict with those of the South African Institution of Engineers. Austin was a foundation member and also the first secretary of this association. In 1916 he became a member of the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. At that time he still resided in Johannesburg.

In 1921 Austin, then a Council member of the South African Institution of Engineers, proposed legislation for the legal registration of engineers of the Union of South Africa. The Council agreed to his proposal and he produced his Engineers Private Bill 1922 which was referred to various interested parties as well as to the Civil, Electrical and Mechanical Institutions in England. These Institutions advised against registration and stated that it should be left to employers and not the public to decide whom they may engage as engineers. After further deliberations the South African Institution of Engineers arrived at the conclusion that no useful purpose would be served in carrying the matter further. Austin died at some time before 1938.


List of sources:

Gericke, M.R. History of Legislation for the Registration of Professional Engineers in the Republic of South Africa https://www.ecsa.co.za/about/pdfs/Period_1890_to_1968.pdf

Journal of the Mechanical Engineers' Association of the Witwatersrand, 1902-1903, Vol. 1.

Journal of the Transvaal Institute of Mechanical Engineers, 1905-1910, Vol. 4-8.

Orr, J. Presidential address. Annual Proceedings of the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa, 1938, pp. 15-86.

South African Association for the Advancement of Science. Report, 1918, list of members.

South African Institution of Engineers. Transactions, 1913, Vol. 1.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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