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Biographies

BAKER, Alfred James, (1881 - 1943)

Alfred Baker was born in Dunedin on August 7th, 1881, and was educated at primary schools in Christchurch and at Christchurch Boys' High School. He joined the Public Service of this Dominion in March, 1898, serving as a clerical cadet in the Defence Department, Wellington, until June, i904, when he was appointed to an engineering cadetship in the Head Office of the Public Works Department. A year afterwards he was transferred to the southern end of the North Island Main Trunk Railway Construction Works, with headquarters for most of the time at Taihape, and in 1907 to the King Country and the Stratford Main Trunk Railway Survey. While located there he was promoted to Assistant Engineer in June, 1908.

In August 1908, Mr. Baker was transferred to the Whangarei District where he was, engaged on the construction of the Whangarei-Opua line and the survey of the Kawakawa-Hokianga Railway until 1911, when he returned to the Stratford Main Trunk Railway Survey, subsequently taking charge of the construction in the King Country end of that line.

In February 1914, he assumed control of a Public Works district, being appointed Resident Engineer at Taumarunui at that date. He remained there until May 1919, when he was transferred on promotion to Dunedin as the District Engineer.

In January 1921, he became District Engineer at Auckland, and in October 1924, he was transferred to Head Office, and appointed Inspecting Engineer. He served in that capacity for over 11 years, and in July 1936, was appointed Assistant Engineer-in-Chief of the Department, holding that position until he retired.

Mr Baker was appointed member of the Main Highways Board in 1932, and Deputy Chairman of the Board when that was created in 1936, holding it until his ret1rement. He took a great interest in the affairs of the Board, and many of its activities were carried out under his personal direction.

Town planning was another of his interests. He was greatly concerned with the lack of planning apparent all over New Zealand, and was enthusiastic in his support of proper town and regional planing. He was an early supporter of the: Town Planning Institute, was a member of the Council for many years, and President of the Institute at the time of his death.

Mr Baker sat for the Associate Membership examination of the Institution of Civil Engineers (London) in 1911, and secured first place out of 156 British Empire candidates who presented themselves for examination that year. As he was not a Student of the Institution, he was not eligible for the Bayliss Prize. He was elected an Associate Member in 1912, and was transferred to full membership of the Institution in 1936.

He was practically a Foundation Member of the New Zealand Institution of Engineers. He was elected Member of the New Zealand Society of Civil Engineers, as it then was, in September 1914 and was elected to the Council in 1916, serving until 1919. He was re-elected in 1922, serving continuously for 15 years, becoming Vice-President in 1937, and President in 1939, and officiated in that capacity during the Centennial Meeting of 1940. Members will remember with what great dignity and distinction he conducted that meeting.

After Mr Marchbanks' retirement from the position in 1941, Mr. Baker was elected Hon. Treasurer. Consequent on the retirement of Mr F W MacLean, Mr. Baker was recommended by the 'Institution for appointment as a member of the Board of Health, and was so appointed, although he never actually attended a meeting of the Board.

Soon after his retirement from the Public Works Department, Mr Baker took up war emergency work and was appointed a Technical Officer to the National Service Department, serving in that capacity until his death.

He contributed several Papers to the Proceedings of the Institution, but his outstanding effort .was his Presidential Address of 1940, in which he gave a review of engineering accomplishments in New Zealand during the previous 100 years.

Mr Baker's outstanding characteristics were his honesty, integrity, and high standard of professional conduct. The Institution has suffered a great loss in his passing, and his place will be hard to fill.

Mr Baker died 16 Feb 1943.

Extract from The Proceedings of NZ Institution of Engineers, Vol. 29, No 1 (April 1943), p 12