James was born on 11th May 1831 and entered the world of engineering at a very early age when he was taken to see a large cotton mill, his particular interest being the giant steam engine that drove the mill's machinery. He attended school in Preston and by the age of ten he had become a proficient draughtsman. At the age of fifteen he started work in the railway workshops of the Caledonian Railway in Glasgow where he was under the care of Mr. Isaac Dodds, one of Stephenson's engineers. He remained at these works for two years, and to get a more varied experience he started a four year apprenticeship at Musgrave & Sons at Bolton. He gained experience in many departments including the pattern, finishing, erecting and boiler shops, the foundry and the smithy. All this experience gave him a sound base for his engineering career ahead.
He was in his mid twenties when his father asked him to address a problem with his newspaper company which was the hand folding of the papers, so he designed and produced a folding machine which was installed in his father's printing works. This was followed by a second order, which was from the Manchester Guardian. A third machine was produced and exhibited at the Great Exhibition in Hyde Park in 1851 in connection with The Illustrated London News. The folding machine became widely known throughout the newspaper industry all over the country and was a lucrative venture which was to continue.
James's years of training ended at the railway works of Beyer & Peacock in Manchester, who sent him to Belgium to erect and commission two railway engines. After leaving Beyer & Peacock he was employed by an M. Mould who had a contract for a section of The Caledonian Railway and also a contract for the Santander and Altar Railway in Spain, where he was appointed Chief Mechanical Engineer for the construction of the railway. Once the line was completed and the Spanish railway engineers took over, James returned to England to get married to Sarah Ford Whittle (1839-1903) in 1858. Two or three days after the ceremony, he received a telegram from Spain to say that the railways Chief Engineer had been killed, and would he please accept the post and return to Spain as soon as possible. He returned with his wife and set up house. His first project for the Railway Company was to adapt an old tobacco factory to build carriages and locomotives. The works had four rail lines for assembly work and a start was made to train local workers. Whilst in Spain, his first son was born. His full name was Fernando Harry Whitehead Livesey because he was born on St Fernando's day, and the Spanish workers asked for him to be named Fernando. However, he was always known as Harry.
After two years in Spain, James and his wife returned to England. Whilst he had been in Spain his folding machine sales had prospered and he made the decision to move the manufacture from an outside contractor and set up his own factory. About that time, James was sent for by Mr. W. H. Smith, the publisher and newspaper agent who gave him an order to furnish a very large room with seven or eight folding machines and a steam engine to drive them. He was not satisfied with either the engines or boilers then available so he designed his own improved machines. He also set up business in Manchester as "James Livesey, Engineer and General Agent". As yet he had no agency, this, however, was soon rectified when he obtained the agency from "The Imperial Tube Company" in Manchester. The agency progressed well and with outside encouragement James set up a London office, and through contacts that he made his business designed a cast iron rail sleeper, which after a series of tests proved so successful that he was given an order for nine thousand tons, this by no means being the last. James continued experimenting and testing tracks and sleepers, gradually refining his design until he achieved the results that he required.
Among the people to whom James was introduced was a Mr. Barker, the Secretary of the Great Southern Railway of Buenos Aires and he was eventually appointed Consulting Engineer to the Railway, at this time only seventy miles long but was to extend to three thousand miles. At about this time the railway expressed interest in changing the current iron rails for steel rails. After an extensive costing exercise, whilst the steel rails were about three times the cost of the iron version, due to the extended life of the steel rails, they were adopted. At about this time James met Mr. Andrew Carnegie, who was interested in steel manufacture at his works in Pittsburg, which resulted in close co-operation between the two in both the production of steel and the building of railways over a period of many years. James Livesey sent a copy of the report on the steel rails to Mr. Fleming who was the Canadian Government railway engineer. This resulted in considerable work for James who assisted in the construction of new lines and many extensions to existing lines. Mr. Fleming suggested that James should carry out wide ranging visits to the principal rail companies in the United States and take note of their best features. This tour was made possible with letters of introduction from Andrew Carnegie and Mr. Fleming, and provided James with a huge amount of information which was to prove invaluable for his future work in railway construction.
His next major project was away from railways. James received instructions from Mr. Thomas of Buenos Aires to design a very large grain elevator and store to have a capacity of 2,000 tons of grain. The silos were to be 12.5 metres (40ft) high and 3 metres (10ft) in diameter. Using James's own words, he described the project as "an altogether interesting and instructive piece of work and in practice gave great satisfaction". Soon James was back with railways and was appointed to build the Brazilian rail system. This was the first of many appointments which included not just the tracks but the design of locomotives and rolling stock. The work continued in Brazil and spread to Venezuela, Peru and Chile.
The high spot of James Livesey's work in South America was the planning and construction of a railway running from Buenos Aires on the Atlantic coast to Valparaiso on the Pacific coast. The major obstacle was the crossing of the Andes, where the line passed through a tunnel at an altitude of 3,000 metres (10,000ft). This project had defeated many companies prior to this successful venture.
James and his wife had a second child in 1862. He was named Frederick William and in 1898 he was married to Nadine Baird. At about this time James became very concerned with the high level of disease and subsequent deaths in London. In 1875, James wrote in The Engineer newspaper, the theme of which was "Relating to the sanitary conditions of our houses in relation to the preservation of health, and the individual comfort and well-being of the community". This related to the supply of water and the disposal of sewage. The Times newspaper and others drew the situation to the public attention, and by the time James's recommendations had become standard for all household sanitation, the death rate had been reduced to 30%.
It was not long before James was called in to assist with a railway problem, this time in Costa Rica where the Company was in serious financial trouble with the existing line and their plans for expansion, all of which were due to the gross underestimation of costs and engineering difficulties (see GSSR History, all of which James managed to solve. The level of railway work reached a volume that made it necessary to form a separate company with his son Harry and a Mr. Henderson joining as partners. This left James with time to attend to other projects, a very major project being the result of Mr. Carnegie recommending that a Mr. Wright, who was the owner of a large iron works in Pennsylvania who wished to go into steel production, should approach James Livesey with a view for him to design and build a new works as an extension to his existing iron works for the production of steel products. Following a tour of the main steel producers in England, and lengthy discussions, Mr. Wright placed the business for the design and supply for all of the machinery and the factory layout with James.
Soon the call of the railways had James back in Spain with the expansion of the West Galician Railway. It was soon realized that this system needed to be linked to the other Spanish railways. For this purpose a company was formed.
In around 1888 James Livesey provided plans for a number of the stations on The GSSR line as well as the first Gor viaduct which was never built. It is rumoured that he was heavily involved with the design and construction of El Hornillo.
The last information that we have was that James formed a limited company for the mining of iron ore called The Triano Ore Company.
James Livesey died on the 3rd February 1925 at the age of 94.
See also Livesey & Son.
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