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Biographies

NEWNHAM, William Langston, CBE, FICE, FRSA, FNZIE. (1888 - 1974)

W.L Newnham

W. L. Newnham (1888-1974). IPENZ, Past Presidents Album, 1914-1966

The death was announced on 14 March 1974 of W L Newnham, a former President of the Institution, in his 86th year.

Mr Newnham spent a total of 41 years in the Public Works Department, progressing from cadet in 1908, through posts as assistant engineer, design engineer, public works inspecting engineer to Engineer-in-Chief and Under-Secretary in 1941. He retired in 1946 but continued to hold a number of Government appointments, including chairman of the Soil Conservation and Rivers Control Council for some years after. He was made a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1952.

W. L. Newnham was remarkable for the wide range of his engineering interests and activities. Elected to corporate membership of the Institution in 1920 he was a founder of the Wellington branch and became its chairman in 1935. He served on the education, examination and awards committees, both as member and, in the case of the two first named, as chairman for long periods. In 1925 he was appointed the first registrar of the newly formed Engineers Registration Board. He held that office until 1940 when he was appointed a member of the board, ultimately becoming its chairman from 1943 until 1965.

Mr Newnham was elected to the NZIE Council in 1936, became a Vice-President in 1943, and President in 1945. In 1949 he accepted nomination to the Council of the Standards Institute and became its chairman from 1953 - 1957. He also served as the Institution's representative on the Board of Health from 1952-57.

Shortly after the death in 1949 of F. W. Furkert, the Council invited Mr Newnham to undertake the editing of the manuscript of Furkert's projected book, Early New Zealand Engineers. This was no easy task, and it was not until mid - 1952 that the book was ready for publication. Mr Newnham records some of his difficulties in the preface to the book.

In 1957 the Council recognised Mr Newnham's services by awarding him the F W MacLean Citation for exceptional and distinguished service to the profession of engineering, an award which had been made only once before since its inception in 1952.

The following year, Mr Newnham moved his home to Rotorua and consequently relinquished his membership of the N.Z.I.E. committees of which he had been such an active member. However, in 1963, the preparations for the NZIE jubilee conference, to be held the following February, gave him the idea of compiling a history of the Institution from its formation in 1914 up to 1964. His offer to undertake the task was accepted with alacrity by the Council and the end result was the book Learning, Service, Achievement - Fifty Years of Engineering in New Zealand, published in 1971.

In 1970, after Mr Newnham had completed his work on the book, the Council decided to commemorate his efforts by naming after him an address or lecture to be delivered at the annual conference of the Institution. The W L Newnham Lecture has now been given on five occasions and in February 1974 was given by his son, John Newnham, a well-known Wellington architect.

The writer did not meet W. L. Newnham until 1963, but from then on he had many contacts with him. He was a kindly, courteous gentleman who will be remembered with admiration, respect and affection by those who worked with and for him.

(Notes by R W K Stevens).

Extract from New Zealand Engineering April 1974, p 126

See also

Lowe, Peter; "Newnham, William Langston, 1888 - 1974", Essay N8, Dictionary of New Zealand Biography Vol 5 ,

p 370 (www.dnzb.govt.nz)