S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Price, Mr Bernard (electrical engineering, advancement of science)

Born: 1 July 1877, London, United Kingdom.
Died: 9 July 1948, Johannesburg, South Africa.

Bernard Price, electrical engineer, was the son of Edward Ebeneser Price and his wife Annie Stubbings. He was educated at St Dunstan's College, London, and continued his studies in engineering at the Central Technical College in the same city. On completion of his studies he was appointed chief electrical assistant to Merz and McClellan, consultant electrical engineers of London and Newcastle-on-Tyne, a position he held for eight years. During this period he served as chief technical officer in the development of the Tyne power scheme. He was a gifted electrical engineer and became widely known as the inventor of the Merz-Price system of automatic cut-outs to protect high-voltage electrical equipment against faults. The system was patented and used all over the world. He was elected a member of the Institution of Electrical Engineers, London, in 1909.

Price came to South Africa in 1909 to take up an appointment as chief engineer of the Victoria Falls and Transvaal Power Company, which generated electricity for the Witwatersrand (though not at the Victoria Falls). His technical expertise and management skills contributed much to the success of this venture. From 1928 he was also general manager of the company. He held this joint position until December 1936, when he relinquished them to become resident director of the company in South Africa, holding the latter position until the time of his death.

A paper by him on 'Electrical system of the Rand Power Companies, with special reference to methods of operation and experience' (Transactions of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1916, Vol. 7(11), p. 258) was awarded the Institute's gold medal. Price was a member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers. He became a member of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers in June 1910, was elected its president in 1915, and was elected an honorary member in 1940. He was actively involved in the formation of the Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa and served as its president in 1945; was an honorary life member and president in 1916 of the South African Institution of Engineers; and a member of the Royal Society of South Africa, the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa (from 1929), and (from 1916) the South African Association for the Advancement of Science.

Price's many scientific and social services to South Africa and particularly to the University of the Witwatersrand, and his generous support to scientific and humanistic research, contributed much to the advancement of science in this country. Among others he was the chairman of the government's Advisory Committee on Science and Technology during World War 1 (1914-1918); later in his career he served on the South African Standards Institution; he was a member of the council of the University College, Johannesburg, and of its successor in 1922, the University of the Witwatersrand, until at least 1936; served on the Social and Economic Planning Council; the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (from 1947); and the management committee of the Government Metallurgical Laboratory. However, he is perhaps best remembered for his generous donations which led to the establishment of the Bernard Price Institute for Geophysical Research (1936) and the Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research (1949) at the University of the Witwatersrand. Among his other legacies were a smaller amount left to the Botanical Society of South Africa and a contribution towards the publication of The flowering plants of South Africa. He was honoured as an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1920, and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science in Engineering (DSc-Eng) degree by the University of the Witwatersrand in 1935.

Price was married to Nora Waldegrave Alexander, with whom he had three sons and a daughter.


List of sources:

Associated Scientific and Technical Societies of South Africa, Annual Proceedings, 1971/2, p. 5, Past Presidents.

Bozzoli, G.R. Forging ahead; South Africa's pioneering engineers. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1997.

Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 4, 1981.

Murray, B.K. Wits, the early years; a history of the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg, and its precursors, 1896-1939. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1982.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS), at http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Bernard Price.

Nicolaysen, L. & Jones, M. Bernard Price Institute for Geophysical Research and the Department of Geophysics, University of the Witwatersrand. In C.R. Anhaeusser (ed.) A century of geological endeavour in southern Africa (pp. 273-285). Johannesburg: Geological Society of South Africa, 1997.

Obituary: Bernard Price. South African Archaeological Bulletin, 1948, Vol. 3, p. 74.

Obituary: Bernard Price. Transactions of the South African Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1948, Vol. 39(7), p. 213.

Obituary: Dr Bernard Price. Journal of the Chemical, Metallurgical and Mining Society of South Africa, 1948, Vol. 49(2), p. 34.

Obituary: Dr Bernard Price, OBE. South African Science, September 1948, Vol. 2, pp. 49-50.

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

Rendell, E.F. Rand power. Scientific South Africa, 1966, Vol. 3(3), pp. 7-11.

Royal Society of South Africa. Transactions, 1917, Vol. 6, list of members.

Rubidge, B.S. Bernard Price Institute for Palaeontological Research, University of the Witwatersrand. In C.R. Anhaeusser (ed.) A century of geological endeavour in southern Africa (pp. 286-294). Johannesburg: Geological Society of South Africa, 1997.

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

South African Institute of Electrical Engineers. Index of SAIEE Transactions, 1909-2007. Electronic file received from SAIEE.

South African who's who, 1923/4, 1927/8, 1931/2, 1936, 1939, 1945.

Standard Encyclopaedia of Southern Africa (SESA). Cape Town: NASOU, 1970-1976.

University of the Witwatersrand. Honorary Graduates. http://www.wits.ac.za/alumni/alumnirecognition/3600/honorary_degrees.html


Compiled by: C. Plug


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