Francis Spring

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Sir Francis Spring

Member of the Imperial Legislative Council
In office
Member of the Madras Legislative Council
In office
Personal details
Francis Joseph Edward Spring

(1849-01-20)20 January 1849
County Cork,
United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland
Died25 August 1933(1933-08-25) (aged 84)
Saint Aubin, Jersey,
United Kingdom
Alma materTrinity College, Dublin

Sir Francis Joseph Edward Spring KCIE FIMechE (20 January 1849 – 25 August 1933) was an Anglo-Irish civil engineer and member of the Imperial Legislative Council[1] who played a pioneering role in development of the Indian Railways. Spring is largely remembered today for championing the cause of the Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan.

Early life and education[edit]

Spring was born in Baltimore, County Cork, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 20 January 1849[2] to Rev. Edward Spring and his wife Matilda.[3] He was a descendant of the Spring family of County Kerry and a relation of Baron Monteagle of Brandon. Spring was educated at Midleton College and Trinity College, Dublin.[3][4]


Upon graduating from Trinity College Dublin Spring entered the Indian Imperial Civil Service's engineering section in 1870. He served as Consulting Engineer to the Government of India and played a pivotal role in the development of railways in East India.[3] He is credited with the construction of an acclaimed railway bridge across the Godavari River.[5] He served as the Deputy Secretary to the Government of India, Under Secretary to the Government of Bengal and as the manager of the extensive East Coast Railway. He was also Secretary to the Government of Madras with responsibility for railways in the region. Spring was a regular contributor to engineering and India-focused journals throughout his career.[6]

Upon leaving the civil service in 1904, Spring was appointed Chairman of the Madras Port Trust and served in that position until 1919.[3] In this role, Spring redesigned and modernised the harbour at Madras, greatly increasing its capacity and improving the port's defences against cyclone damage.[7] He was a member of the Madras Legislative Council between 1900 and 1901, and was a fellow of the University of Madras and the University of Calcutta.[1] Between 1910 and 1913, he was a member of the Imperial Legislative Council of India.

Mentorship of Ramanujan[edit]

Indian mathematician Srinivasa Ramanujan worked as a Grade III Class IV clerk from 1912 to 1914 at the Madras Port Trust under Spring's chairmanship. Ramanujan's mathematical talents were brought to the notice of Francis Spring by his chief accountant S. Narayana Iyer. Soon, Spring developed an interest in him and lobbied for government support and sponsorship of his research studies in England. In part, this was achieved through regular correspondence with Sir Alfred Bourne.[3]

Personal life and later years[edit]

In 1873, Spring married Charlotte, the daughter of Mr Samuel Townsend JP. She died in 1930.[7] Spring founded the Royal Madras Yacht Club in 1911, which still exists as the premier sailing club in India. He retired in 1919, shortly after his seventieth birthday. He left India and moved to Jersey in the Channel Islands, where he lived for the last fourteen years of his life. With a considerable personal fortune, he gave a large amount of money for restoration work on St Peter and St Paul's Church, Lavenham, his family's ancestral church, where he has a memorial.[8] Spring died at Saint Aubin on 25 August 1933 at the age of 84.[9][10]


For his accomplishments, Spring was made a Companion of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1894[11] and appointed Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire in 1911.[3] He was a member of the Institute of Civil Engineers, Institute of Mechanical Engineers and American Society of Civil Engineers.[11] In December 1901 he received the honorary degree Master of Engineering from Dublin University.[12] Spring was also the first person in Madras city to own a registered automobile. He was an honorary major in the South India Railway Volunteer Rifles.[1][13]

A tug boat operating in Madras harbour is named Sir Francis Spring, as is the main road leading to the port, and the marina of the Royal Madras Yacht Club is called Springhaven.

Cultural references[edit]

Spring was portrayed by Stephen Fry in the 2015 British biographical film The Man Who Knew Infinity, which recounts the story of Ramanujan's early life and education at Cambridge University.[14] Spring was portrayed by Richard Walsh in the 2014 film Ramanujan.


  1. ^ a b c Douglas Brooke, Wheelton Sladen (1914). Who's who, Volume 60. A. C. Black. p. 1968.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  2. ^ "Transactions of American Society of Civil Engineers: Volume 99" (1934), p. 1523.
  3. ^ a b c d e f Bruce C. Berndt, Robert Alexander Rankin (1995). Ramanujan: letters and commentary. American Mathematical Society. p. 13. ISBN 0821804707, ISBN 978-0-8218-0470-4.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  4. ^ Denis Larionov; Alexander Zhulin (1919). Read the eBook The county families of the United Kingdom; or, Royal manual of the titled and untitled aristocracy of England, Wales, Scotland, and Ireland . 59. p. 336. Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  5. ^ Robert Kanigel (1991). The Man Who Knew Infinity: a Life of the Genius Ramanujan. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons. p. 95. ISBN 0-684-19259-4.
  6. ^ Ponnuswamy, Bridge Engineering (Tata McGraw-Hill Education, 2008), 354.
  7. ^ a b [1][dead link]
  8. ^ "Sir Francis Spring Bequest (£1000 to the church, the first £100 to be spent on a memorial tablet) | The National Archives". Retrieved 1 July 2017.
  9. ^ "Civil Engineer Obituaries - S". New Zealand Society of Genealogists-Hamilton Branch. Archived from the original on 26 February 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
  10. ^ Journal - Society of Engineers. Society of Engineers. 1933. p. 99.
  11. ^ a b Douglas Brooke, Wheelton Sladen (1908). Who's who, Volume 60. A. C. Black. p. 1725.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
  12. ^ "University intelligence". The Times (36643). London. 20 December 1901. p. 8.
  13. ^ "City from the sea". The Times of India. Chennai: The Times Group. 5 September 2011. Retrieved 24 November 2011.
  14. ^ Allan Hunter (15 September 2015). "`The Man Who Knew Infinity': Review". Screen Daily. Retrieved 26 February 2016.