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METHVEN, Cathcart William

Born: 1849 09 24
Died: 1925 08 30


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Harbour Engineer, architect, gifted landscape artist and able musician

Cathcart William Methven, born in Scotland, served his articles with John Sang of Kirkcaldy from 1866 to 1871. He then worked for Paley & Austin of Lancaster as clerk of works on their complete reconstruction of St John's Episcopal Church in Greenock, before joining Walter Robert Kinipple, a civil engineer and architect with offices in Westminster Chambers, London, as assistant. He was elected an associate of the Institute of Civil Engineers in 1875, becoming a full member in 1882 and succeeding Kinipple as engineer in chief of the Greenock Harbour Works in 1886.

After only two years in the latter post he emigrated to South Africa to take up a similar post in Durban, carrying out some £600,000-worth of work on the harbour there. When appointed Durban's harbour engineer in 1888, his orders were to remove a sandbar obstructing shipping at the harbour entrance, forcing passengers and cargo to be moved by lighter vessels. Methven planned to get rid of the bar by extending the North Pier and using the scouring action of tidal currents. This brought him into conflict with a prominent lawyer, Attorney General and politician, Harry Escombe, who advocated dredging alone. Consequently Methven was dismissed on 11 July 1894. This led to a tremendous uproar ending in Escombe's resignation. Much later, in 1918, the South African government granted him £500 in recognition of his services with development of the harbour.

In 1895 Methven resigned the Durban Harbour post to commence independent practice. The following year he took on James Buchanan PENTLAND-SMITH as an assistant. For a short period he was in partnership with AM RITCHIE (cf. METHVEN & RITCHIE). Sometime before he was admitted FRIBA on 9 June 1902 on the proposal of the RIBA Council, Methven was appointed Government Surveyor of Natal. In 1902 PENTLAND-SMITH married Methven's eldest daughter. He took PENTLAND-SMITH into partnership in 1908 but the partnership was short-lived as PENTLAND-SMITH withdrew in 1909 to become a salaried assistant in the Pretoria PUBLIC WORKS DEPARTMENT.

Methven surveyed all harbours on the south-east and southern coastline, ranging from Port St Johns (1897) to Port Alfred, Kalk Bay and Mossel Bay (1901), Richards Bay and Cape Town (1902), East London (1901 and 1910), Maputo (1909/10) and Beira and Port Elizabeth (1911). His other recommendation that the Umhlatuzi Lagoon be developed as a second harbour for Natal, was also followed in the 1970s and is now known as Richards Bay.

Methven's musical capabilities led to his drawing up of up specifications for the building of the organs in the Durban and Pietermaritzburg Town Halls.

Methven's involvement in the art world led to his being President of the Natal Society of Artists in 1908, 1912 and 1915. Methven's first solo exhibition as landscape artist took place in Johannesburg in 1921. His work may be seen in the Africana Museum, Durban Art Gallery, Local History Museums, Tatham Art Gallery and the Killie Campbell Collections.

Extracted and expanded from the Dictionary of Scottish Architects, and further augmented [2015 03 28] from Wikipedia.