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WYLDE, James, (1824 - 1908)

James Wylde, civil engineer, was born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, England, on 29th November, 1824, of a well known musical family. They subsequently moved to London and he attended the Public school of Westminster. His older brother Henry became a founder and director of the London Academy of music, a composer and long time conductor of the New Philharmonic concerts and important in the history of English music.

He was articled to Mr Fox, an eminent engineer and then moved to the London Works in Birmingham. At the end of 2 years he was appointed Resident Engineer on railway works at Derby. Subsequently he was engaged on railway works in Scotland including the building of an early Tay bridge

He married Catherine Brookhouse, Mr Fox’s sister in law and was made manager of a large engineering works, Fox, Henderson and Company, at Renfrew on the river Clyde. There he oversaw such works as the ironwork for the Kiel suspension bridge over the Dnieper River and buildings for the Great London Exhibition of 1851.

After dissolution of a partnership Wylde was made redundant and became resident engineer at the Great western Railway station at Paddington and so worked under Brunel. Shortly after his wife died leaving two children, Harry and Lucy. He moved to Denmark becoming engineer to the water and gas works in Odense.

There he read an article giving glowing accounts of life in the colonies and left for New Zealand on the 10 July 1853, landing at Lyttelton, the Port of Christchurch, on 18 October . As the first immigrants had only arrived 3 years previously there was little opportunity for engineering enterprise and so he commenced farming. In 1855 he married Clara Rich. In 1856 he is recorded as being an engineer surveyor and was for a time engaged on the construction of the first railway tunnel in New Zealand which was opened in1864. On the 31 January, 1862, he was appointed Assistant Engineer for Christchurch and the northern districts of Canterbury, resident in Kaiapoi, with responsibility for roads, railways, bridges and swamp drainage. He had been elected to the Provincial Council and been Chairman of several committees. He was also active in the formation of a Philharmonic Society. He was described at this time as young and well proportioned, with a pleasant round face, broad forehead and brown curly hair. He resigned from the staff of the Provincial Council on the 28 may 1864 to carry on private works. He took up employment with the Government Public Works Department on the 7 March 1871 and was stationed at Greymouth as District Inspector of Works. He accepted an appointment as Engineer and secretary to a tramway company. In 1877 he took up an appointment as Town Clerk and Engineer for the Kumara Town Board. He continued in this position until he retired in 1900. His second wife died in 1902. He continued to live in Kumara until his death in 1908.

He had a further seven sons and six daughters. Two sons died in childhood and a daughter early in life. Two unmarried daughters cared for him in his old age. His estate was declared at £100. It is not clear whether that was in addition to his house. He was active in the Church of England. He also wrote probably the first school text book for New Zealand entitled " Geography and History of New Zealand." He was buried with his wife and children in the Greymouth cemetery.


  • F W Furkert, W L Newnham Ed (1953) Early New Zealand Engineers, p 300;
  • Janet Holm (2005) Caught Mapping - The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Early Surveyors.

Author: William H Pitt

This essay appears in the Biographic Dictionary of Civil Engineers, Vol 2. (ICE, London)