Turtle Bunbury

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'Dublin Docklands - An Urban Voyageis a work in progress, commissioned by the Dublin Docklands Development Authority, and due to be completed in the autumn of 2008. The following tale represents research I have undertaken for the project which may or may not be used in the final book.

Bindon Blood Stoney (1828 – 1909) - The Father of Irish Concrete

Walking the Docklands today, many newcomers find themselves looking twice at the name of a street called 'BLOOD STONEY ROAD'. It all sounds rather grim. However, the road is in fact dedicated to one of the most remarkable civil engineers to emerge in Ireland during the late 19th century. Bindon Blood Stoney was effectively the main engineer working on Dublin Port and Docks for nearly forty years from 1859 to 1898. This impressively bearded inventor is perhaps best remembered for building the North Wall Extension, and the Alexandra Basin, using a revolutionary notion of pre-cast concrete blocks. It was this resourcefulness that led a recent scholar to christen Bindon Blood Stoney ‘the father of Irish cement’. Of equal importance was his brother, Dr George Stoney, who invented the word ‘electron’ and worked out a good deal about the planet Mars using a giant telescope located near the Stoney’s childhood home in County Offaly.[1]

Family Background

The Stoney family came to Ireland from Yorkshire shortly after the Glorious Revolution of 1688. Thomas Stoney, the first of the line to settle in the country, acquired considerable estates in Tipperary. In 1712, Thomas married Sarah, sister of General Andrew Robinson, Equerry to HRH Augusta, Princess-Dowager of Wales and mother of George III. Thomas and Sarah’s grandson James Johnston Stoney (1759 – 18254) purchased Oakley Park near Birr, Co Offaly, setting in motion a long and fruitful friendship with the Parsons family of the Earl of Rosse. He married Catherine, second daughter of William Baker of Lismacue, Co. Tipperary. Their eldest son George Stoney settled at Oakley Park, King’s County (Offaly) and was married in 1821 to Anne, daughter of Bindon Blood of Cranagher and Rockforrest, Co. Clare. They had two sons, George Johnstone Stoney and Bindon Blood Stoney, and two daughters, Anne Stoney (who married the Right Rev William FitzGerald) and Catherine Stoney (who died unmarried). During the economic recession that set in after the Napoleonic wars, Oakley Park greatly depreciated in value. By the time of the Irish Famine, it had to be sold and the family moved to Dublin. Both George and Bindon entered Trinity College, earning their fees by coaching other students. Both graduated with distinction, George in 1848 and Bindon in 1850. The Attenboroughs of their day, the two brothers would go on to become highly distinguished in Victorian society by their considerable intellectual and scientific achievements.

Scientific Genes

Bindon was much inspired by his uncle, Professor William Blood, a native of County Clare who obtained the Trinity College Gold Medal in Mathematics and Physics before working under Brunel on the railways in Britain. Indeed it was his analysis of bridge technology that paved the way for the building of the Boyne Viaduct, upon which Bindon worked, which had the longest span in the world when constructed in 1857. Among his cousins were General Sir Bindon Blood and Edward Stoney, CIE. The scientific gene also passed to their sister Anne who married the Right Rev William FitzGerald, later Bishop of Cork and Killaloe. Their sons, Professor Maurice FitzGerald of Belfast and Professor George Francis FitzGerald (1851 – 1901), were amongst the most distinguished and far-seeing scientists of their day. George FitzGerald, a physics professor at Trinity College Dublin, was the first person to suggest the possibility of producing radio waves in laboratory conditions - his theory was successfully tested in 1888 by Heinrich. Indeed, a passion for engineering ran so deeply in the blood that in 1863, Mr Theodore Stoney of Charleston, a descendent of the same branch, is credited with building the world’s ‘first cigar-shaped torpedo boat’.


For the purposes of the Docklands book, we begin with the magnificently bearded younger brother - Bindon Blood Stoney, LLD, FRS, EC. Born in County Offaly on 13th June 1828, Bindon was the first Irish engineer to understand the immense possibilities of using concrete as a structural material. De Coucy goes so far as to call him ‘the father of Irish concrete’. He also invented the diving bell and the lifting shears. For 35 years he was Chief Engineer to the Dublin Port and Docks Board.

From Birr to the Boyne

After graduating with distinction from his engineering studies at Trinity College Dublin in 1850, Stoney was invited by the 3rd Earl of Rosse to succeed his brother George as first mathematical assistant at the Parsonstown Observatory in Birr. His astronomical observations included the most accurate delineations of nebulae then known, including a remarkably accurate sketch of the spiral character of the great nebula in Andromeda. In 1852 he went to Spain for a year or so to work as an engineer on a railway construction. He later returned to Ireland and, from 1854 – 1855, worked a Resident Engineer under James Barton on the building of the Boyne Railway Viaduct. This viaduct boasted the longest span in the world when constructed in 1857 and was probably the earliest instance of the use of metal girders of any considerable span. The study of stress in girders greatly interested young Bindon. He later published a two-volume theory on the subject.

Chief Engineers of the Port & Docks

In 1856, he was appointed Assistant Engineer to George Halpin, Jnr, at the Ballast Board. By 1859, with Halpin dogged by ill-health, 31-year-old Stoney was acting as executive engineer. A rift soon emerged between Halpin and Stoney. Halpin was frequently out of Dublin on lighthouse duties. The travel and long absences did his health no good. While away, his ambitious assistant submitted a proposal to the Port and Dock Board advocating the extension of the North Wall Quay by using 350 ton super-blocks, to be put in position by means of a special floating crane and diving bell. Halpin was furious Stoney had gone to the Board without first consulting him. He argued that the size of the proposed blocks was unfeasible. Stoney begged to differ, pointing out that blocks of that size had been successfully used in the port of London for many years and were also being used at Southampton. The Board were eager to act on Stoney’s cost-effective proposals but did not wish to offend Halpin. As it happened, Halpin saved their embarrassment when he retired in March 1862 and Stoney became the new Inspector of Works. In 1868, he became the first chief engineer of the newly constituted Dublin Port and Docks Board. In this capacity, he improved the channel between Dublin Bay and the City with a specially designed dredging plant. He rebuilt nearly 7,000ft of quay walls along both north and south banks of the River Liffey, replacing the tidal berths by deepwater berths for overseas vessels. In addition to this, the northern quays were extended eastward and the formation of Alexandra Basin commenced in 1871 and partially completed by 1885.

The North Wall Extension

In 1864, Stoney was given the go ahead to proceed with the North Wall Extension. In October he accepted a tender from Harland and Wolff, the Belfast firm, for the shear float, and that of Grendon & Co of Drogheda for the diving bell. Between 1871 and 1885, he oversaw the construction of the Extension towards the Poolbeg Lighthouse. The 700-metre long deep-water quay that brought him to international attention for his pioneering technique of building the quay wall from pre-cast concrete blocks of a then unprecedented weight of 360 tons. These extremely cost-effective blocks of granite and concrete were made at a wharf on the north side of Alexandra Basin and are composed Portland cement and gravel from the riverbed. Each huge block was then lifted across the water by an enormous iron floating crane, or shears, specially invented by Stoney, then dropped into position on the riverbed at low tide. Those pyramid-building ancient Egyptians would have killed for such a gadget. The bottom of the basin was prepared for each block by men working from a huge diving bell, also designed by Mr Stoney. While building the North Wall Extension, Stoney simultaneously created a new 70-acre basin which had an average depth of 38 feet at high tide and 26 feet at low tide. This allowed ships of the largest class to dock. At his side was his assistant, John Purser Griffith, later a pioneering force in the Irish peat industry. On the morning of 14th February 1884, the 'Red Earl' of Spencer, the Lord Lieutenant, rode down to the North Wall accompanied by an aide-de-camp and a small escort of Lancer. It was a strictly private visit; Bindon greeted the Earl, took him on board the floating shears - onto which a 350 ton block was attached – and explained the whole process.[2]

Royal Blessings at the Alexandra Basin

On Sunday April 12th 1885, the Prince and Princess of Wales (later Edward VII and Queen Alexandra) visited the North Wall Extension to christen the Alexandra Basin. They had been dancing quadrilles with the Anglo-Irish elite at the State Ball in Dublin Castle into the small hours the night before. The Times rather drolly noted that, ‘after the protracted labours of the day, their Royal Highnesses did not appear at their usually early hour’. The Royal couple slowly made their way down the Quays from Carlisle Bridge where the crowds ‘cheered lustily … waving handkerchiefs from the windows’ to a marquee pitched on the North Wall Dock. Here the Royals received the members of the Port and Docks Board, including Bindon Stoney, while the Highland Light Infantry band provided entertainment. Bindon then explained his system to the couple. It was widely rumoured he was in for a knighthood but nothing came of it. At the designated moment, HRH Princess Alexandra yanked on a crimson rope attached to a bottle of champagne suspended to a pole placed horizontally and jutting out of the water. The bottle broke against the basin wall and Her Royal Highness pronounced the name ‘Alexandra’. A crimson flag was raised and a 21-gun salute boomed out from the Pigeon House fort. The party ‘terminated amid great enthusiasm’. It was noted that the Viceroy, Earl Spencer, did not accompany the Royal party; he’d gone off hunting with the Ward Union instead. It is likely that the Red Earl's support of Home Rule for Ireland was another reason he did not make the party. [3]

Fortifying the Poolbeg Lighthouse

Between 1875 and 1877 Bindon Stoney employed the same strategy at the Poolbeg lighthouse, using the shears to deposit large concrete rubble blocks, each weighing around one hundred tons, around its base to give added protection against winter storms.

Day to Day Chores

As chief engineer to the Board, it was Stoney’s job to look after and improve everything the Halpins had either built or maintained. From his office on the North Wall, he poured over charts and drawings, examined tenders and specifications, considered the implications of ‘three screw iron hopper barges’ and ‘double steam dredgers’, the rebuilding of river walls, fog sirens and bells for lighthouses the widening of bridges. He oversaw the renewal of two major Liffey brides - Grattan Bridge (then Essex) in 1872-75 and O’Connell Bridge (then Carlisle) in 1877-1880. He also designed the short-lived Beresford Swivel Bridge (where Butt Bridge runs today) in 1877-1879, being the most easterly bridge on the Liffey at the time. He continued an extensive dredging programme and improved and maintained the quay walls east of the Custom House. In addition, he was consultant engineer on the harbours of Drogheda, Bray, Wicklow, Arklow, Wexford, Waterford, Kilmore, Queenstown, Cork, Galway, Westport, Ballina, and Sligo.

Honours & Medals

In June 1881, Dublin University conferred upon him the honorary degree of LL.D in recognition of his high professional attainments. For many years he was a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers of Ireland and in 1871 he was elected its President. He was a Fellow of the Royal Society and, in 1874, was awarded the Telford medal and Telford premium of the Institute of Civil Engineers for a paper documenting his work on the northern quays.

Family Life

In 1879, Bindon married Frances, daughter of John Francis Walker, QC. They had a son and three daughters. Their son George Bindon Stoney died young on 22nd January 1909. Bindon, who retired in 1898, died just over three months later at his Elgin Road residence on 5th May 1909. He was buried in Mount Jerome Cemetery. His widow subsequently lived at Mervyn, Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow. [4]

The Much Married Lilla Stoney

Their daughter Lilla (Priscilla Louisa Frances Stoney) was married three times. Her first husband was William Chatterton-Adams of the Egyptian Civil Service. After his death, Lila was married secondly at Powerscourt Church, Enniskerry, on 27th September 1919 to (John) Reginald Hare Duke, later OBE and then of the Egyptian State Railways. He was the eldest son of Canon John Hare Duke, DD, of Craigavad, Co. Down. Lila and Reginald had two daughters. On 9th June 1859 she was married thirdly (as his second wife) to Colonel Aleyn Whitely Stokes, Royal Engineers, MC, DSO. He was a son of Sir William Stokes, Fellow, Royal College of Surgeons of Ireland. Colonel Stokes died on 20 February 1965.

Anne Tudor-Hart

Bindon and France’s second daughter Anne Cecilia Stoney was married in 1911 to Owen Tudor-Hart. They were divorced circa 1920. He moved to Montreal, Canada. She died on 17 February 1971.[5]

Laura & Major George Ormonde Stoney

Bindon and Frances’s youngest daughter Laura Kathleen Stoney was born on 25th August 1894. She was married at Powerscourt on June 12th 1917 to her cousin Colonel Henry Howard Stoney (1886 – 1955). He was the youngest son of Major George Ormonde Stoney, KSOB. He was educated at Wellington College, Wellington, Berkshire, England, then educated at Royal Military College, Sandhurst, He fought in the First World War with the 64th Staffordshire Regiment and was decorated with the Distinguished Service Order (D.S.O) and Order of the British Empire (O.B.E.).They settled at Chelworth Farmhouse, Malmesbury, Wiltshire, where Laura died on 26 May 1970 at age 75. In April 1943, their only son, Captain Bowes Bindon Stoney (b. 1918), Royal Artillery, married Joy Angela Berry, only daughter of Mr and Mrs FRW Berry, Bourne Lodge, Bridge, Canterbury. He later served with the Ministry of Defence in 1968, retiring from the army two years later with the rank of Major. They had two children - Patrick Richard Wade Stoney (b. 8 Jul 1947) and Bridget Jennifer Stoney (b. 14 May 1949). Bowes’s younger sister Amber Meylia Donaldina Stoney was born on 2 September 1920 and married Anton Ledewyk Aberson, son of Dr. Antony Adriaan Aberson, on 25 March 1955.


Bindon’s elder brother Dr. George. Johnstone Stoney, FRS, was born in Ireland in February 1826. Although his career was principally dedicated to university administration, he became one of the most eminent physicists and astronomers of his day - and one whose ideas and conceptions were far ahead of his time. When he left Trinity College Dublin, George became the first mathematical assistant to Lord Rosse, spending 2 ½ years at the Parsonstown Observatory in Birr. As well as observing distant galaxies with the famous 6-foot reflector, George was also tutor to Lord Rosse’s children. When he left Birr in December 1852, his younger brother Bindon succeeded him in the post.

Professor of Natural Philosophy

While with Lord Rosse, he competed for the Fellowship of Trinity, winning second place and the £300 Madden Prize. As The Times noted, ‘in those days, examinations were conducted in Latin – a great drawback to a purely scientific student’.[6] George was examined in Hebrew, chronology, metaphysics and classics, as well as his own subjects, mathematics and physics. He could not afford to compete for the Fellowship a second time around. However, through Lord Rosse’s influence, he was appointed Professor of Natural Philosophy at Queen’s University, Galway; John Tyndall was one of his unsuccessful rivals.

Secretary to the Queen’s University

After five years in Galway, he returned to Dublin as Secretary to the Queen’s University with its provincial colleges in Belfast, Cork and Galway. He held the post from 1857 until its dissolution in 1882. A man of high moral standing, he took his job as Secretary so seriously that he refused to compete for a vacant astronomical professorship at Oxford and turned down a chance to head up the Meteorological Office in London. When the Conservative Lord Mayo approached him about the notion of succeeding Sir Thomas Larcom as Under-Secretary of State for Ireland, this affable genius made known his support of Gladstone’s Liberal disestablishment policy and so deliberately scuppered the offer. He later took over as Superintendant of Civil Service Examinations in Ireland which placed extreme workload on his shoulders and allowed little time for his scientific pursuits. He was much saddened by the dissolution of the university in 1882.

The Father of the Electron

His scientific reputation was legendary in Victorian circles from the Royal Society in London to the Academy of Science in Washington. Trivia boffins might enjoy the fact it was he who first suggested the name ‘electron’ (from Greek for amber) for the scientific vocabulary. Indeed, his most important scientific work was arguably the conception and calculation of the magnitude of the atom or particle of electricity, for which he coined the aforesaid term 'electron'. He also estimated the number of molecules in a cubic millimetre of gas, at room temperature and pressure, from data obtained from the kinetic theory of gases. He was the man who worked out that helium is constantly escaping he earth. He deduced that the planet Mars was too small to retain water and its temperature too low for the presence of water in liquid or vapour form. He also correctly reasoned that the polar caps of Mars were composed of carbon dioxide.

Vice-President of the Royal Dublin Society

He also played a very active part in the affairs of the Royal Dublin Society, serving as Honorary Secretary from 1871 to 1881 and as Vice-President from 1881 to 1911. During his tenure, the Society underwent profound changes: it handed over its great collections to the government and received capital to pursue its scientific functions and to improve Irish agriculture. His own research work was usually communicated first to the Society and was then reported in its publications and the Royal Society publications. George Stoney and his gifted nephew, George Francis FitzGerald, played central roles in the Society's scientific meetings and discussions. Of the many distinctions he received during his long and laborious life, the one he valued most highly was probably the award of the first Boyle Medal from the Royal Dublin Society in 1899. The Medal was instituted to commemorate Robert Boyle, the remarkable Irishman who played a large part in setting up the Royal Society of London.’[7]

Musical Mind

George Stoney was keenly interested in music both scientifically and artistically. The titles of some of his papers include: 'On musical shorthand', 'On modes of dealing with echoes in rooms' as well as papers on equal temperament and the possibility of prolonging the tones of a piano. By persuading the Royal Dublin Society to hold chamber music concerts by leading artists, musical culture in Dublin was much enhanced. These concerts continued until quite recent times.

Family Life

In 1863 he married his cousin Margaret, sister of Canon Stoney and second daughter of Robert J Stoney of Parsonstown. They had two sons and three daughters before her premature death in 1872. George himself was much enfeebled by severe bouts of smallpox in 1875 and typhoid in 1877. The family lived between Ballsbridge, Dundrum and Rathmines at this time. He died on 5th July 1911 at his house in Chepstow Crescent, Notting Hill, London, after a ten month illness, and was buried in Dundrum.[8]

Of Sons & Women

His eldest son, Dr. Gerald Stoney, FRS, CE, (1863-1942) was one of Bindon Stoney’s apprentices at the Docklands during the 1880s. He subsequently became intimately involved with the development of steam turbine, both land and marine, and was director of research for Sir Charles Parsons turbine works in Newcastle-on-Tyne from 1926 – 1930.[9] His second son was Robert Bindon Stoney, MD, who settled in Australia. Of his three daughters, one was a lecturer in Physics at the London School of Medicine for Women and another was an MD of the University of London in practice on Harley Street. This fitted with George’s lifelong support of ‘women in their hard struggle to obtain a higher and wider education’. It was mainly through his exertions that women obtained legal medical qualifications in Ireland before they were available in England or Scotland.


[1] Cox, Ronald C. Bindon Blood Stoney : biography of a port engineer. Dublin: Institution of Engineers of Ireland, 1990. 48 p.

[2] News – Ireland, The Times, Thursday, Feb 14, 1884; pg. 10; Issue 31056; col B

[3] Court and Social: Royal Visit to Ireland, The Times, Monday, Apr 13, 1885; pg. 6; Issue 31419; col D

[4] Dictionary of National Biography, 2nd Supplement, .edited by Sidney Lee (Elibron Classics),

[5] Hugh Montgomery-Massingberd, editor, Burke's Irish Family Records (London, U.K.: Burkes Peerage Ltd, 1976), Stoney, page 1058. Hereinafter cited as Burke's Irish Family Records.

[6] Obituaries: Dr. G. J. Stoney, The Times, Thursday, Jul 06, 1911; pg. 11; Issue 39630; col E

[7] This information came from George Johnstone Stoney, an essay by Ian Elliot from 2004 based on his entry in the Dictionary of National Biography.

[8] Joly, John. 'George Johnstone Stoney, 1826-1911.' Obituary Notices of Fellows deceased. Proceedings of the Royal Society, Series A 86 (1912): xx-xxxv.

[9] Obituary: Dr GG Stoney, FRS, The Times, Saturday, May 16, 1942; pg. 6; Issue 49237; col F




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