Sir Bernard De Gomme
This article is part of ICE's Engineer biographies series.
DE GOMME, Sir Bernard (1620 - 1685), military engineer, was born in 1620 at Terneuzen, Zeeland, son of Peter de Gomme. De Gomme was first brought to England by Prince Rupert at the start of the Civil War, eventually becoming the Royalists' chief engineer. He had been knighted by 1645 but little is known of his early life. He was certainly in the army of Fredrick Henry, Prince of Orange, as early as 1637 and there are signed and dated siege maps and plans of Netherlands fortifications, including a portrait miniature, in a large portfolio of his drawings in the British Library.
Returning to England and royal service in 1660, he lived for many years in Bury Street, Bevis Marks, and registered as a member of the Dutch Reformed Church; he obtained denization in 1667. He was married twice with a daughter, Katherine, and a stepson, Adrian Beverland, by his first wife.
A seventeenth-century military engineer had to be omni-competent in all branches of mathematics, land surveying, civil and military architecture and quantity surveying. De Gomme had experience in drainage and land reclamation besides and in 1636, a 'Bernhardt de Gomme' was commissioned as a surveyor in his native Zeeland.
De Gomme was ordered to Dover in 1661 to advise on repairs to the harbour pier and then, between fortification commissions in 1663, he was again appointed surveyor in his native Zeeland.
Two years later he was required to assist the commissioners responsible for making the river Cam navigable and establishing a communication with the Thames, but almost immediately he was sent to Plymouth to design the Royal Citadel. Subsequently, in 1670, lack of progress with the repairs at Dover and suspected misappropriation of funds led to a commission of inquiry being established, consisting of de Gomme, Christopher Wren, Jonas Moore and others. These civil engineering employments are brief and disappointingly poorly documented but, nevertheless, there are aspects in his work as a military engineer which have relevance to the field of civil engineering.
His detailed drawings specify the plans of the timber framework and piling for Charles Fort and James Fort in Portsmouth Harbour and earlier for the fortifications at Dunkirk. The pattern of piles for the abandoned water bastion at Tilbury Fort can still be seen at low water. His Dutch experience led to the adoption of double moats and schemes for inundations at Portsmouth and Tilbury. Perforce he dealt with problems of coastal erosion at Sheerness. Architectural skills were employed in designing barracks, magazines and storehouses at Plymouth, Tilbury, Sheerness and Portsmouth.
Ultimately, de Gomme became the leading influence in the building works of the Ordnance Office, particularly upon his promotion to Surveyor General in 1682, a post which he combined with Chief Engineer. De Gomme is best known for his surviving works: Plymouth Citadel and Tilbury Fort but as Chief Engineer at the Ordnance Office (1661 - 1685) he also designed fortifications at Portsmouth. Gosport, Sheerness and Harwich as well as working at Dunkirk and Tangier.
At his funeral in November 1685 his achievements were honoured by a sixty-gun salute and
he was buried in the Chapel of St. Peter ad Vincula, Tower of London.
- 1661 - 1662, 1670: Dover Pier, repairs.
- 1665 - 1666: River Cam, navigation.
- 1665 - 1683: Plymouth Citadel, etc.
Written by ANDREW SAUNDERS.
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.
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