1922: Dr Henry Selby Hele-Shaw

1922: Dr Henry Selby Hele-Shaw


Dr Henry Selby Hele-Shaw (1854-1941)

Hele-Shaw was born in Billericay, Essex, England in 1854. He was educated privately, and at the age of 17 he was articled to firm of Roach and Leaker at the Mardyke Engineering Works, Bristol. After completing his apprenticeship in 1876 he gained the Senior Whitworth Scholarship, which enabled him to study at the University of Bristol. He also gained various Whitworth Prizes during the course of his study, which helped him become appointed Assistant to the Professor of Mathematics and engineering.

He was promoted to be first professor of engineering at the University of Bristol in 1880, but left four years later to take up the Harrison Chair as first professor of engineering at Liverpool University College. He worked hard to set up the engineering faculty on a more permanent basis and was instrumental in setting up and equipping the Walker Engineering Laboratories.

It was in Liverpool that he carried out his famous experiments in the streamline flow of liquids, based on investigations of liquid flow between parallel glass plates. In 1899 he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society for this work.

Shortly after relinquishing his position at the University of Liverpool in order to spend more time on consulting work, and the development of his own inventions, he began to devote his attention to mechanically propelled vehicles. In 1897 he organized a series of trials for heavy commercial vehicles for the Liverpool Automobile Club. He was a founding member of the Royal Automobile Club.

In 1903, Hele-Shaw was appointed the first Professor of Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering at the Transvaal Technical Institute. He became the Principal of the Institute the following year. In 1905, he was appointed Organizer of Technical Education. Two years later he returned to England to return to consultancy work.

He was elected President of the IMechE in 1922. One of the most important events during his Presidency was the establishment of the Student class of members, and the foundation of the Whitworth Society, of which Hele-Shaw became the first President. He considered that his most important service was the establishment of the National Certificates in Mechanical Engineering, in conjunction with the Board of Education. These National Certificates became a pattern for similar schemes in other branches of technology and commerce, and in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Hele-Shaw became the first chairman of the Joint Committee appointed by the Board and the Institution to administer the scheme and held this position until 1937.

Hele-Shaw continued to work on his own inventions almost to the end of his life. One of the most significant was the variable-pitch airscrew, in which the inclination of the blades could be varied to assist an aeroplane when quick starting and climbing in needed. The inclination of the blades can be reduced for economical cruising at high speed. This invention was acquired by the Government, and in October 1940, after the Battle of Britain, Dr. Hele-Shaw received commendation on the material way in which his variable-pitch airscrew had contributed to the British success in the aerial war.

Dr Hele-Shaw died on 30 January 1941.

Image Details