Robert William Chapman (engineer)

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Sir Robert William Chapman CMG MICE MIEAust (27 December 1866 – 27 February 1942) was an Australian mathematician and engineer.


Chapman was born in Stony Stratford in Buckinghamshire, England, eldest son of Charles Chapman (c. 1838 – 14 September 1921), a currier from Melbourne, Australia, and his wife Matilda, née Harrison (c. 1840 – 23 October 1933). His parents returned to Melbourne in 1876, where he was educated at Wesley College[1] and the University of Melbourne, graduating MA and BCE with first class honours in Physics and Mathematics.[2]

In 1888, at the recommendation of Professor William Bragg, he was appointed a Lecturer in Mathematics and Physics at Adelaide University. He was appointed Professor of Engineering in 1907 and served as (Sir Thomas) Elder Professor of Mathematics and Mechanics from 1910 when Professor Bragg was appointed to the Cavendish chair of physics in the University of Leeds, then returned to his previous post in 1919. He served as Vice-Chancellor during the absence of Sir William Mitchell[3] and retiring in 1937.[4] He was appointed president of the School of Mines council in 1939 on the death of Sir Langdon Bonython.[5]

His research work included:

  • (With Thomas Roberts (1845–1920)) Breakage of locomotive and other railway axles
  • Established a laboratory where local stone and timber could be tested
  • Distribution of stress in steel reinforcing rods in concrete
  • Effects of building a dam on the Mundoo Channel, Lake Alexandrina
  • Use of brown coal from Leigh Creek, including briquettes

Recognition and memberships[edit]

He was elected to the Royal Society of South Australia in 1888 and to the Australian Association for the Advancement of Science.

He was a founding member of the South Australian Institute of Engineers and a foundation member of the Institution of Engineers Australia in 1921, in 1918 the first chairman of its South Australian division and the third Federal President. He was awarded their Peter Nicol Russell Memorial Medal in 1928[6] and made honorary life member in 1932.

He was awarded Melbourne University's Kernot Medal in 1927.

He was president of the Astronomical Society of South Australia for a record 32 years[7] and elected a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1902? 1909?.[7]

He was a member of the council of the Australasian Institute of Mining Engineers and in 1920 president of the Australian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.

He was a member of the South Australian Institute of Surveyors from 1912[8] and president 1917–1929[7]

He was a member of the councils of both the University of Adelaide and the School of Mines.

On his retirement from the University of Adelaide in 1937 he was made Emeritus Professor; his portrait, by Ivor Hele hangs in the School of Engineering's Chapman Lecture Theatre, which was named for him.[7]

He was appointed CMG in 1927[3] and knighted in 1938.[7]


On 14 February 1889 he married Eva Maud Hall, who survived him; they had six sons and two daughters:

  • eldest son Robert Hall Chapman (6 January 1890 – ) engaged to Florence Muriel Day, but she married footballer Charlie Perry. He was chief engineer with the South Australian Railways
  • second son C. G. Chapman (19 November 1891 – April 1916), who as a lieutenant with the Royal Engineers was killed in Mesapotamia during World War I.[9]
  • Eva Florence Chapman (5 December 1893 – ) married Essington Day on 19 March 1919, lived at Burnside
  • Lilian Eleanor Chapman ( – ) married Edgar Bills of Orroroo on 4 October 1922, lived at Peterborough
  • W. H. Chapman ( – ) of Bulolo, New Guinea
  • fourth son James Douglas Chapman ( – ) married Gwendolen Ruth Johnston on 7 January 1929. He was an engineer with the Adelaide City Council
  • E. S. Chapman ( – ), dentist in Clare
  • youngest son Leslie Drake Chapman ( – ) engaged to Ellen Rose McBeath. He was engineer associated with the Goolwa barrage


  1. ^ Chapman, Sir Robert William (1866–1942)
  2. ^ D. A. Cumming and G. Moxham They Built South Australia published by the authors 1986 ISBN 0 9589111 0 X
  3. ^ a b "Death of Sir Robert Chapman". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 28 February 1942. p. 6. Retrieved 1 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  4. ^ Chapman, Robert William (1866–1942)
  5. ^ "Sir Robert Chapman Dead". The Chronicle. Adelaide. 5 March 1942. p. 22. Retrieved 1 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  6. ^ "Peter Russell Nicol Medal recipients". Engineers Australia. Retrieved 1 December 2015. 
  7. ^ a b c d e "Adelaidia:Sir Robert Chapman". Retrieved 1 December 2015. 
  8. ^ "Institute of Surveyors". Daily Herald. Adelaide. 24 October 1912. p. 3. Retrieved 1 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia. 
  9. ^ "The Late Lieutenant C. G. Chapman". The Advertiser. Adelaide. 26 April 1916. p. 9. Retrieved 1 December 2015 – via National Library of Australia.