Main author

The Institution of Civil Engineers Institute / association Website
Last edited 04 Jul 2016

James Davidson civil engineer

This article is part of ICE's Engineer biographies series.

DAVIDSON, James (1798-1877), civil engineer, was born in 1798, the youngest of three sons of Matthew Davidson (q.v.), master mason of Langholm. Matthew Davidson's three sons were all born in Wales and were welcomed as apprentices of Telford in London, but in the end Thomas and John gave up engineering and became surgeons.

James, however, was already sufficiently experienced and well thought of by Telford to be appointed to succeed his father on his death in 1819. He was elected a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1820.

He described the works carried out at Clacknaharry under his father's superintendence, where the ground for the lock was preloaded, a notable case study in the early development of practical soil mechanics. The Caledonian Canal was opened to shipping in October 1822, but for many years afterwards it was necessary to carry out major repairs and improvements.

James succeeded Alexander Easton (q.v.) in 1823 as resident engineer for the whole canal, at a salary of £300 p.a., but in 1829 he was advised for the sake of his health to seek a warmer climate, and he remitted his responsibilities to George May, the toll collector at Clacknaharry; when it became clear that he would be unable to return for some time, May became resident engineer.

George May died in August 1867 and was succeeded by James Davidson once more. He had returned to live with his wife, Eliza Green, at Burnfoot, near Inverness. After his death at Inverness on 30 September 1877 his estate was recorded as £990.


  • 1819-1823. Caledonian Canal, eastern section Resident Engineer
  • 1823-1829- Caledonian Canal, Resident Engineer 1867-1877. Caledonian Canal, Resident Engineer

This text is an extract from A Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland, published by ICE in 2002. Beginning with what little is known of the lives of engineers such as John Trew who practised in the Tudor period, the background, training and achievements of engineers over the following 250 years are described by specialist authors, many of whom have spent a lifetime researching the history of civil engineering.

--The Institution of Civil Engineers