S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Reveley, Mr Henry Willey (civil engineering)

Born: 1788, London, England.
Died: 27 January 1875, Reading, England.

Henry W. Reveley, British engineer, was the only son of the British architect Willey Reveley and his wife Maria James. Henry moved to Livorno, Italy, with his mother and step-father and studied engineering at the University of Pisa. After returning to England he worked in London under the civil engineer John Rennie, the designer of Waterloo Bridge. He moved in artistic circles and married Amelia Fielding, daughter of a landscape artist.

In 1826 Rennie was appointed as the first civil engineer and superintendent of works and buildings at the Cape of Good Hope, arriving with his wife on the ship Susanna on 19 November 1826. His instructions were to report on, and provide plans and cost estimates for, a proposed stone pier and breakwater in Table Bay, to design and plan all new government buildings and supervise the repair of existing buildings. In 1827 he drew up a plan for St Andrew's Presbyterian Church in Cape Town. He also participated in the design of St George's Church, Cape Town, and modified the design of a church at Simonstown. In June 1827 he was promoted to civil architect and surveyor-general of the colony, with an increase in salary. He was further asked to become superintendent of the Cape Town waterworks (with no extra pay), but annoyed the government by declining the appointment. After being charged with misdemeanours such as misappropriating government timber he was dismissed from his post in November 1827. An official described him at that time, perhaps unfairly, as careless in making decisions and lacking practical knowledge of building. However, it is clear that he was impatient with government regulations and control procedures. He denied the charges and requested an official enquiry, but to no avail. By May 1829 he had given up hope of regaining his post and accepted an appointment as civil engineer with a party of British settlers, led by Captain John Stirling, on their way to Western Australia to found a settlement at the Swan River.

In Western Australia Reveley supervised the erection of some of the earliest buildings in Perth and Freemantle. In 1833 he also erected the first water mill in Perth as a private venture. Returning to England in 1838 he settled in Parkstone, Dorset, and later in Reading, Berkshire.

List of sources:
Dictionary of South African biography, Vol. 5, 1987.

Snape, A.E. Pioneer engineers of the Cape. Architect, Builder and Engineer, September 1928, Vol. 12(2), pp. 21-22.

Varley, DH. Henry Willey Reveley - first colonial civil engineer at the Cape. Quarterly Bulletin of the South African Library, 1958, Vol. 12(3), pp. 118-121.

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