14 March 2015

James Wylde (1824–1908)

  • Wilson, Joseph Lowthian, 1846-1926. Artist unknown: Kaiapoi. 1864. Ref: A-447-009. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand.

James Wylde was born into a well-known musical family in Bushey, Hertfordshire, England, on 29 November 1824. They subsequently moved to London and he attended the Public school of Westminster. His older brother Henry became a founder and director of the London Academy of Music, a composer and long-time conductor of the New Philharmonic concerts and important in the history of English music.

Early career

Wylde was articled to Mr Fox, an eminent engineer and then moved to the London Works in Birmingham. At the end of two years he was appointed Resident Engineer on railway works at Derby. Subsequently he was engaged on railway works in Scotland, including the building of an early Tay Bridge

He married Catherine Brookhouse, Mr Fox’s sister-in-law and was made manager of a large engineering works, Fox, Henderson and Company, at Renfrew on the Clyde River. There he oversaw works such as the ironwork for the Kiel Suspension Bridge over the Dnieper River and buildings for the 1851 Great London Exhibition.

Wylde was made redundant at the dissolution of the partnership and became resident engineer at the Great Western Railway’s station at Paddington. He worked under famous engineer, Isambard Kingdom Brunel. Shortly after this his wife died leaving two children, Harry and Lucy. Wylde moved to Denmark, becoming engineer to the water and gas works in Odense.

Engineering in New Zealand

It was in Demark that Wylde read an article with glowing accounts of life in the British colonies and left for New Zealand in mid-1853. He landed at Lyttelton, Canterbury, on 18 October.

The Canterbury settlement was still very young – the first immigrants had only arrived three years before. Wylde found there was little opportunity for engineering enterprise, so he began farming instead. However, in 1856 he is recorded as being an engineer and surveyor and was for a time engaged on the construction of New Zealand’s first railway tunnel.

On 31 January 1862, Wylde was appointed Assistant Engineer for Christchurch and Canterbury’s northern districts. He was resident in Kaiapoi with responsibility for roads, railways, bridges and swamp drainage.

He became a Provincial Council Member and chaired several committees. Wylde was also active in the formation of a Philharmonic Society. He was described at this time as young and well proportioned, with a pleasant round face, broad forehead and brown curly hair.

He resigned from the Provincial Council’s staff on 28 May 1864 to carry on private works. He took up employment with the Public Works Department on the 7 March 1871 and was stationed at Greymouth as District Inspector of Works. He then accepted an appointment as engineer and secretary to a tramway company.

In 1877 he became the Kumara Town Board’s Clerk and Engineer. He continued in this position until he retired in 1900. He continued to live in Kumara until his death in 1908.


Find out more

Further reading

James Wylde - 1825–1908”, Waimakariri Libraries, accessed 24 August 2015.

Frederick Furkert, Early New Zealand Engineers (Wellington: Reed, 1953) p.300.

Janet Holm, Caught Mapping: The Life and Times of New Zealand’s Early Surveyors (Christchurch: Hazard Press, 2005).