S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science




Charters, Prof Robert Hearn (civil engineering)

Born: 1866, Leicester, United Kingdom.
Died: 13 July 1925, Leicester, United Kingdom.

Robert H. Charters, civil engineer, was educated at a private school in Leicester, England. In 1882 he was apprenticed to the firm Dubs & Co., locomotive engineers at Glasgow, and four years later was employed by James Mansergh. In 1890 he became resident engineer at the sewerage works of the Barry and Cadoxton Local Board in Glamorganshire, Wales, and in 1893 an assistant resident engineer on the water scheme, designed by Mansergh, of the Birmingham Corporation. Towards the end of 1896 he visited Colombo, Ceylon, to investigate the sanitary conditions of that city for Mansergh.

Charters came to the Cape Colony in February 1898 as resident engineer of the Hely-Hutchinson Reservoir on Table Mountain. Towards the end of 1902, after a brief spell in England, he started in private practice in Cape Town. Among others he carried out some surveys for railways and other purposes in the Cape and Orange River Colony, and reported on water supplies for several towns. He also became a member of the Joint Water Committee of Cape Town, which investigated ten proposed schemes to augment the water supply of the city and its suburbs. The other members were R.O. Wynne-Roberts* and R.W. Menmuir. Their Final report on investigations, dated 15 December 1904, was published in Cape Town (28p, with plans and tables) under Wynne-Roberts's name. Anong others Charters drew up a plan and section of a proposed water scheme from the Berg River to Saldanha Bay (1903). Around 1910 he moved to Johannesburg.

Charters was elected an associate member of the (British) Institution of Civil Engineers in 1892 and became a member in December 1903. He was a member also of the Cape Society of Civil Engineers (founded in 1902), serving as its honorary secretary from 1906 to 1909, and as joint vice-president for 1910. At that time he moved to Johannesburg and contributed a paper on "Water supply scheme, Waterkloof township, Pretoria" to the Minutes of Proceedings (1910, Vol. 8). He remained a member when the society became the South African Society of Civil Engineers around this time. In 1913 he joined the South African Association for the Advancement of Science. That same year he was appointed as the first professor of civil engineering at the South African School of Mines and Technology (from 1922 the University of the Witwatersrand) in Johannesburg, even though he did not have a university degree, He died suddenly in 1925 and was survived by his wife, Priscilla Annie Charters, born Gibson, and two children.


List of sources:

Cape Society of Civil Engineers. Minutes of Proceedings, 1903-1907, Vol. 1-5; 1909-1910, Vol. 7-8.

Men of the times: Old colonists of the Cape Colony and Orange River Colony. Johannesburg: Transvaal Publishing Co., 1906.

Murray, B.K. Wits, the early years. Johannesburg: Witwatersrand University Press, 1982.

National Archives Repository, Pretoria (TAB). Source MHG, Reference 57894. Estate documents, Robert Hearn Charters.

National Automated Archival Information Retrieval System (NAAIRS). http://www.national.archives.gov.za/naairs.htm Documents relating to Charters, Robert Hearn / Charters, R.H.

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

South African bibliography to the year 1925. London: Mansell, 1979.

South African Society of Civil Engineers. Minutes of Proceedings, 1913, Vol. 11, Members.

University of the Cape of Good Hope. Calendar, 1913-1914 and 1914-1915, Colleges.


Compiled by: C. Plug


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