Thomas Bingley Fuller Benson
Thomas Bingley Fuller Benson. 1876 to 1941. The bare facts are there, in an obit and certainly in the Benson Collection at the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes. In the collection there is a letterbook, accounts and expenditures, notebooks and a range of photographs. But best of all, there is almost eighty drawings, many in his own hand that vividly demonstrate the range of his work. There are secondary sources among them the Annals of the Royal Canadian Yacht Club by Jerry Snider, Club Archivist. Snider admired his work and you will find fulsome praise for a design or races won in his weekly Schooner Days that appeared in the Toronto Telegram between Another admirer was Leroy F. Grant who often complimented Benson in his history of the Lake Yacht Racing Association. Benson was a brilliant man, like yacht designers in general.
Thomas Bingley Fuller Benson’s great great grandfather and mother were both born in County Tyrone, Northern Ireland. They settled in Kingston. Their only child, Bingley’s grandfather practised law in Port Hope. He married Alicia Maria, a United Empire Loyalist. They had nine children, one of them, Thomas Moor Benson, to be a County Court Judge was the father of Bingley. T B F was named after his father (T), an uncle (B) , and his mothers’ father, Archdeacon Thomas Brock Fuller of Toronto.
T B F, born in October, 1876, was a well-connected young man. They were comfortable but not wealthy. It was a solid middle class family where the daughters were expected to make good marriages and the son to work hard and to make his own way after getting the best schooling they could afford. One of Bingley’s sister’s , Clara Cynthia Benson, was the first woman to get a bachelor’s degree in chemistry at the U of Toronto. Later she earned a doctorate. Her papers are at the University of Toronto.
At school he excelled in advanced mathematical calculations and sportsmanship. But – is it possible to be a proper schoolboy without this – “Progress and Conduct for the Form ending Christmas 1892 – “all he needs is a little more devotion to study””. The history marks were not as good nor was English Literature but algebra, Euclid, especially Euclid was much better. Scripture in his Anglican school, just fair. Two years later at eighteen years of age and now in the 6th form Bingley was a star student. He was not required to write his arithmetic, algebra and Euclid in-school examinations – This was a special concession by his teacher simply because, “he has done a good years’ work and should get safely through his Matriculation examinations”.
And from the Principal, “I must speak in praise of his devotion to cricket and the good effect of his example in this respect”. Bingley exemplified the Christian precepts of sound mind and body, This was in the English public school tradition. The objective of Bishop Ridley College (estab 1889), St. Catharines, Ontario was to prepare boys for university, their motto, “may I be consumed in service”, remains aspirational but now since 1973, for boys and girls.
He moved on to study engineering at the The School of Practical Science, the same school that George Herrick Duggan, a mentor had attended in 1883. Established in 1873 it did not become part of the University of Toronto until 1906.
He was an ideal candidate to work at Collingwood Shipyards at structural engineering. The ships were made of steel and riveted. Strength was the prime component. Being young and smart he could move easily between the drafting office and into the shipyard. Crawling through the hull to ensure construction integrity was dangerous work but it was bread and butter employment to him. It was in fact very good training for the designer of yachts, particularly in the early 20th. He had to be intimately aware of scanting rules, the regulations that determined the physical dimensions of steel used in the construction of a ship and working with a Classification Society, Lloyds being a good example.
His passion was the design of yachts and for this he spent a short time exposed to the talent of George Herrick Duggan in Montreal.
His mentor, Duggan first achieved fame in a series
And yes he was a member of the prestigious Royal Canadian Yacht Club that overlooked Toronto harbour and The National Yacht Club, commanding the view to the westerly approach to the harbour.
Looking for Work
The dinghy incidents
“I have the pleasure of placing an order with you for a 14 ft. sailing dinghy to be built from the accompanying design and furnished with spars, oars and rudder for $50.00” Benson was careful about this by giving the builder some flexability, at least on paper. “Should you wish to make any additions in the construction or specification, if you will advise me first of them, I will be pleased to them my consideration and let you know whether they are acceptable”. The letter sent near the end of February , 1903 to James Knapp & Sons of Barriefield, Ontario. The village, on the east side of the Cataraqui River is now part of Kingston. Initially it was the early 19th century bed room community for the Royal Navy Dock Yard workers. Benson dutifully sent his down payment of $15.00. Delivery date, May 1st. Blueprints were sent and a laying-off table.
In the midst of all this he paid his fees for the year 1903/04 to the Royal Canadian Yacht Club and asked in return for the roster of 14s. So, very ambitious.
On the 17th he asked the builder to reduce the size of the mast from 3 ¾ inches to 3 ½ and from 2 ½ to 2 ¼.
A few days laster, April 22, he was having 2nd if not third or fourth thoughts he asked the builder, “in looking over the distribution of weights and relative positions of the centre of effort of the sail and the center of lateral resistance of my dinghy I am inclined to think that the boat wants to be improved if the centre board case and after thwart were moved one frame space further aft”. He had invested his intellectual capacity and reputation into the final result. Although the modern designer has more sophisticated tools methinks the degree of commitment is the same. There are so many design and on the race course variables, not to mention the crew, is it no wonder he is showing a certain temperament.
There is more to this story but we will end with this. “
Now the rules of the 14s were very stringent, he was demanding, pricing every component that went into the boat and very much at a disadvantage unable to visit the builder himself. He asked a friend at the Royal Military College to inspect the work at Knapps.
It was a very important commission, the client if any is not identified
The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes has extensive artefact, bibliographic and archival collections. Go to http://www.marmuseum.ca and follow the Research links.