English engineer

Born: June 09, 1797

Died: June 20, 1856

Engineer for the Box Tunnel

His son, William Glennie, was an engineer on the Eastern Bengal Railway, and died in India.


William Glennie (1797-1856) was a lieutenant in the Royal Navy and was also an engineer. In 1824, and when on half-pay, he undertook on behalf of the British United Mining Company to head an expedition to Mexico to rework the Real del Monte silver mine. The expedition was made up of a large contingent of Cornish miners, some who brought their families, and whose descendants remain in Mexico to this day. Loaded with 1500 tons of mining equipment the expedition, accommodated in two ships, had a difficult passage. One account says the ship carrying William Glennie and two of his younger brothers, Frederick then aged 15 and Robert, aged 19 was wrecked off Cuba, however the expedition finally landed men and equipment in Mexico safely. There followed a difficult journey from the coast to the mountains and a number of the expedition succumbed to yellow fever.

William Glennie may have been employed by the British Foreign Office as a spy to report on the emergent Mexico’s attitude to Britain (Mexico had gained independence from Spain in 1821) or he decided to act in an unofficial capacity to protect British mining interests. He made a number of expeditions around the country during his years in Mexico and some of these may have formed the basis of his later report delivered personally to Lord Palmerston. One such trip took place in 1827 when William and Frederick Glennie climbed the volcano Popocatepetl and kept a journal of their journey.

William passed his responsibilities as agent for the mining company on to his brother Robert when he left Mexico in 1834. That December, at the request of the directors of the British United Mining Association he delivered by hand a report of his spying activities to the Foreign Office in London for the personal attention of Lord Palmerston. What Glennie claimed Palmerston wanted was information on the best way to respond in the event of the new Mexican government being unfavorable to Britain. As a naval officer, Glennie’s report was full of practical options for the British government to consider, from the blockading of ports to seizing assets as well as advice on an outright military assault. Glennie even included a sketch of the strategic fort of St Juan de Ulua, which commanded the entrance to Veracruz. He recommended seizing Yucatan with its valuable products of dyes and wax, noting that the geography of Yucatan meant it could easily be seized from the sea.

Glennie said “In the event of the obstinacy or folly of the Mexican Government rendering the above measures (military action) unavoidable and keeping in mind the general unhealthy climate of the coast of Mexico, the Directors feel it their duty to submit to Lord Palmerston’s consideration, whether the black troops in the West Indies might not be employed to advantage….if such a measure should be found necessary.”

The British government may well have rewarded the Glennie brothers in Mexico – by retaining William on naval half-pay for years and rewarding Frederick with the role of the office of British Consul in Mexico City.

By 1841 William Glennie was listed in the census as a civil engineer living in Gloucestershire with his wife Elizabeth and their four children. In 1845 he became the resident engineer of the South Devon Railway. He worked briefly with Brunel in the construction on the line from Exeter to Plymouth where he was a specialist on bridge-building. In 1851 he and his family were living in Plymouth and he was still listed as a RN lieutenant on half pay. He died in Stoke Damerell in 1856.

Source: Dulwich Grove and the 12 Sons of Dr William Glennie by Brian Green

Associated With

Isambard Kingdom Brunel

Known For

Box Tunnel

Mentioned In

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