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Kernot, William Charles (1845–1909)

William Charles Kernot, by Alice Mills, n.d.

William Charles Kernot, by Alice Mills, n.d.

University of Melbourne Archives, UMA/I/1252

Widespread regret will be felt at the death of Professor Kernot, which occurred at his residence “Firenze,” Royal Parade, Parkville, yesterday morning. His illness was of brief duration. About a fortnight ago Professor Kernot complained of feeling unwell, but his illness was not regarded as serious. Two days later he worked at some University examination papers, but on the following day he was confined to his bed. His medical advisor (Dr Hobill Cole) attended him regularly, and last week, on his suggestion, Dr Stawell was called into consultation. The patient was advised not to start work with the University term, but to take six month’s rest. On Saturday afternoon Professor Kernot had a slight paralytic stroke. This seizure, supervening upon internal troubles was the cause of death at 20 minutes to 1 o'clock on Sunday morning. Mr W. N. Kernot who was with his brother at the last, mentions, as a coincidence, that the tramway cables which run past the door of Professor Kernot's residence, stopped just us the end came.

With the death of Professor William Charles Kernot, who for the past 20 years has been professor of engineering at the Melbourne University, a remarkable and distinguished career his closed. He was born it Rochford, Essex, in 1845, and when six years of age he was brought by his parents to Australia. His father, the late Charles Kernot, practised as a pharmaceutical chemist at Geelong, and was afterwards in Parliament. Professor Kernot’s early education was received at the National Grammar School in Geelong. He matriculated at the Melbourne University in 1861, obtained the degree of master of arts in 1864, and received his certificate in civil engineering two years later. After being engaged in connection with the Geelong and Coliban waterworks, he entered the Victorian Mining department in 1865, Two years later he became associated with the Water Supply department in which he remained until 1875. While in that position, however, he succeeded Mr. James Griffith as lecturer on engineering at the Melbourne University. In 1869 he began lecturing on engineering at the University, and in January, 1883, was appointed professor of engineering - a position he held until his death.

In 1874 he was chief of the photo-heliograph party which made investigations from the Melbourne University in connection with the transit of Venus. In 1876 he was associated with Mr. Louis Brennan in the work of developing the Brennan fish torpedo which was afterwards purchased by the British Government for over £100,000. In addition, he was chairman of the two principal juries on machinery at the Melbourne International Exhibition in 1881, and was a member of the Royal Commission on Bridges in New South Wales in 1886. Subsequently he reported on the Derwent Valley railway bridges in Tasmania, and on a proposed underground telephone wire service for Melbourne.

Amongst the papers most prized by the late Professor Kernot was a letter which he received from His Majesty the King (then Prince of Wales) in 1881. The manuscript, now faded and worn at the folds, bears the signature of His Majesty.

As a jubilee gift Professor Kernot presented to the University, in 1887, the sum of £2,000 to endow scholarships in physics and chemistry. With Mr. Francis Ormond he assisted in the development of the Working Men's College, and made various gifts to the institution. He was president of the Institute of Engineers for six years, including the term 1906-7. For some time he occupied the position of chairman of directors of the new Australia Electric Company, which supplied electric light in Melbourne from 1882 until 1890. An interesting incident in his career was his experience on the occasion of the railway strike. At that time he voluntarily undertook the task of instructing new drivers in the use of locomotives. His services were recognised by the Railway department, whose commissioners presented him with a gold medal set with diamonds. Last year, when the circumstances of the Sunshine railway disaster were being investigated he rendered valuable assistance by superintending the brake tests. In addition to being a member of the Royal Geographical Society and the Royal Society he was a prominent member and office bearer of the Albert Street Baptist Church, and officiated at the ceremonies of laying the foundation stones of the Elsternwick and Camberwell churches.

On one of his trips abroad Professor Kernot happened to reach South Africa at the time of the Boer war, and while travelling through the country was for a while held as prisoner of war. His best known publication was Some Common Errors in Bridge Building. Professor Kernot who was 63 years of age, was unmarried. His four brothers are Mr. Maurice E. Kernot, engineer in chief of the railway construction branch of the Board of Land and Works; Mr F. A. Kernot, dentist, Mr P. W. Kernot (Messrs. Campbell and Kernot), architects, and Mr W. N. Kernot, who is in charge of the engineering department of the Working Men's College. One sister resided with Professor Kernot, another is married to Mr C. E. Oliver, engineer-in-chief of the Metropolitan Board of Works, while a third sister is the wife of Mr E. Cooke.

The funeral will take place at 11 o’clock on Tuesday morning. It will be attended by University students, who will march from Kew to the Boorondara Cemetery.

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'Kernot, William Charles (1845–1909)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://oa.anu.edu.au/obituary/kernot-william-charles-556/text557, accessed 25 November 2017.

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