‘Twit­ters from the At­lantic’

Q Magazine - - Q Travel -

Barrie Mahoney was a head teacher and school in­spec­tor in the UK, as well as a re­porter in Spain, be­fore mov­ing to the Ca­nary Is­lands to launch and edit a new English lan­guage news­pa­per. He en­joys life in the sun as a colum­nist and au­thor, and con­tin­ues to write a se­ries of pop­u­lar nov­els and books for ex­pats.

The Rus­sia Con­nec­tion Dur­ing the time that I have lived in the Ca­nary Is­lands, I have come to un­der­stand, ap­pre­ci­ate and ad­mire the con­tri­bu­tion and in­flu­ence that these small is­lands have made over many years; an in­flu­ence that is far in ex­cess of the size of this unique ar­chi­pel­ago.

Any­one who has trav­elled across these is­lands and has driven through some of the older road tun­nels, care­fully crafted through the cen­tre of some of the vol­canic moun­tains, will ap­pre­ci­ate the im­pres­sive en­gi­neer­ing skills demon­strated by the tal­ented work­ers of ear­lier gen­er­a­tions.

I was re­minded of this once again when it was re­ported that the au­thor­i­ties in St Peters­burg, the sec­ond largest city in Rus­sia, an­nounced their de­ci­sion to ded­i­cate a bridge on the trib­u­tary of the Neva River in hon­our of the Ca­nary Is­lands en­gi­neer, Agustín de Be­tan­court, who worked for Tsar Alexan­der I.

This bridge will be in­au­gu­rated on the eve of the open­ing of the World Cup later this year, which links the is­lands of Petro­viski, Serni and Dekabris­tov through the Malaya Neva. The nam­ing of this bridge af­ter Agustín de Be­tan­court marks 260 years since the birth of this Tener­ife en­gi­neer. This bridge will help to re­duce the traf­fic con­ges­tion of St Peters­burg, which has traf­fic jams as big as Moscow, and has a sta­dium that will host one of the World Cup semi-fi­nals.

Agustín de Be­tan­court was born in 1758 in Puerto de la Cruz in Tener­ife and his roots can be traced back to Jean de Béthen­court who be­gan the coloni­sa­tion of the Ca­nary Is­lands in 1402, declar­ing him­self as King of Tener­ife in 1417. Agustin's fa­ther was a well-ed­u­cated busi­ness­man with com­mer­cial in­ter­ests in tex­tile ma­chin­ery, and his mother, Maria, was the first woman in Tener­ife to pub­lish a sci­en­tific ar­ti­cle about dyes used in tex­tiles. Agustin grad­u­ated in Madrid, and worked on canal build­ings and min­ing, be­fore trav­el­ling to Paris to study hy­draulics and me­chan­ics.

Be­tan­court had work pub­lished on en­gi­neer­ing within the coal in­dus­try, but his main role was to dis­cover new tech­nolo­gies that would ben­e­fit Spain. His work took him to Eng­land where he vis­ited James Watt and Matthew Boulton, who were pi­o­neers of the steam en­gine. Much of Be­tan­court's work ap­pears to be con­nected with in­tel­li­gence gath­er­ing from en­gi­neers work­ing in France, Eng­land and the Nether­lands, which would prob­a­bly be called com­mer­cial es­pi­onage nowa­days.

His in­ter­ests were wide and var­ied rang­ing from the op­ti­cal tele­graph, Spain's first hot air bal­loon, har­bour dredg­ing, gun bar­rels, build­ing a city jail, preser­va­tion of sev­eral an­cient churches, build­ing a cathe­dral and re­build­ing a fair­ground, which gives a flavour of the in­ter­ests and achieve­ments of this ded­i­cated en­gi­neer at work.

It was Be­tan­court who be­came the founder and di­rec­tor of the In­sti­tute of Com­mu­ni­ca­tion Route En­gi­neers, and, among other things, de­signed the first pa­per money print­ing ma­chine in Tsarist Rus­sia. He lived in Rus­sia for 16 years and was also in­volved in con­struc­tion projects in the Nizhny Nov­gorod main com­mer­cial precinct dur­ing the Nine­teenth Cen­tury, and the mod­erni­sa­tion of the Tula weapons fac­tory. Dur­ing his life, he also cre­ated the School of Civil En­gi­neers of Roads, Canals and Ports for Madrid and built the Dou­ble Ef­fect Steam Ma­chine.

Agustín de Be­tan­court died in 1824 in St Peters­burg. En­gi­neer, ar­chi­tect, builder and in­ven­tor, Agustin de Be­tan­court has a me­mo­rial in the form of a bust in the premises of the Univer­sity of Rail­way En­gi­neer­ing and is buried in the ceme­tery of Alexandr Nevsky Monastery in St Peters­burg. Once again, many will be sur­prised, as well as hum­bled, by the im­pres­sive achieve­ments of this son of the Ca­nary Is­lands.

If you en­joyed this ar­ti­cle, take a look at my web­sites: http://bar­riema­honey.com and http://theca­nary­is­lander.com or read my lat­est book, ‘Liv­ing in Spain and the Ca­nary Is­lands' (ISBN: 9780995602724). Avail­able in pa­per­back, as well as Kin­dle edi­tions.

Join Barrie on Face­book: www.face­book.com/barrie.mahoney

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