Death of John Hartley of Letrualt





‘Died at Letrualt, Shandon, NB, 14th December, 1869, John Bernard Hartley, Esq., aged 54.’ This brief announcement tells to the ‘merchant princes’ and general public of Liverpool that the son of their great engineer, the late Jesse Hartley, has prematurely departed this life. We hope the town-hall flag was hoisted ‘half-mast’; and every vessel in port had also shown similar respect it would have been no more than the memory of the man deserved. In the year 1831 the writer of this short memorial first knew the late J B Hartley, and little did he then think that it would be his fate to survive both father and son.

The father, Jesse Hartley, then in the prime and vigour of manhood, was devising and constructing the finest (that is, most appropriate and enduring) dock works the world had ever seen. The Liverpool docks were the task and labour of his life – or, rather, the duty of his life – for, with singleness of purpose, the father worked to do his duty; and what does this word mean? It means diligence, perseverance, and honesty, bound up by courage with honour. Self-glorification did not in any degree stir the mind either of father or son. Popularity they shrank from, contented to be diligent learners, earnest workers, and faithful stewards. They fulfilled the text, ‘Whatever thy hand findeth to do, do it with all thy might’. So worked both father, and so worked son; and the Liverpool Dock Trustees have hitherto left the to their reward: a conscience void of offence.

Their works are, however, their monument; and it is one which willlast perfect so long as Liverpool endures; and when civilisation shall have traveled westward and northward, and the tall masts and tapering spars of the ships of all nations no longer grace the Mersey, but sand-dunes cover the shores, and wild rabbits again abound, the highly civilised residents from new empires, on their travels – sojourning for a time amidst the desolate wastes of what once was England, and digging and grubbing (as the citizens of western nations now dig and grub in the sands of Upper Egypt), in the blown sands on the shores of the almost forgotten River Mersey, – will find, not mummies, but ‘coping-stones’ of dock walls, ‘hollow quoins, gate-heels, sills and entrance-inverts’, so admirable in design, and so perfect in workmanship, that they will make sketches and read papers before wondering and admiring audiences in new academies, until the imaginations of listening students become excited at the marvelous statements they hear, and they determine, in emulation of the pilgrims of old, to visit these distant and desolate lands they are being told about, and further lay bare the then long-buried wonders of masonry construction, once forming the historically renowned, ship-crowded, Liverpool docks.

Look at them now, you men of Liverpool, as you will find no flaw or weakness in them, and then contemplate the Wallasey deep water entrance and Great Float works opposite, and ask if Liverpool has been all luck. Luck may win a Derby. But can luck, for more than thirty continuously, build appropriate, sound, and enduring dock and river walls? If so, Liverpool has been extremely lucky, and poor Birkenhead very unlucky. This world is moved, however, only by persevering hard work; and so the great engineer who has just died has paid his share, by the penalty of a young life, and is carried to a premature grave.

The late John Bernard Hartley was his father’s son in the love of duty, truth and honour; and, so long as health would permit, he emulated the example that father set him, and worked for the benefit of Liverpool. Peace be with him. He was a gentleman in the best sense of that word. Refined, sensitive, kind, truthful, industrious, and gentle. Amidst the groaning, grinding,turmoil, bustle and selfishness of Liverpool he may be forgotten, but in the affectionate remembrance of his friends he will live to the end of their respective lives. John Bernard Hartley, at one time engineer to the Liverpool docks, is now at rest – Farewell.

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