Education of Frederick Lewis Dibblee

See King's College early engineering lectures
Institution of Civil Engineers Obituary

Frederick Lewis Dibblee was born in 1837, at Queen's Street, Frederickton, New Brunswick, Canada. The Institution of Civil Engineers obituary for Frederick Dibblee for Frederick Dibblee says that he was educated at McGill University, Montreal, and began his apprenticeship to the profession of Civil Engineering in 1856 as a pupil under Mr. Alexander Luders Light, at that time Chief Engineer of the European and North American Railway in New Brunswick.

There are a few problems with this. In 1856, he would be about 19 years old, and it would be hard for him to have got a serious education at McGill before then. There is also the problem of what he would have studied. The McGill website says that while lectures in Applied Sciences were set up in 1855, these were offered within the Faculty of Arts. Civil Engineering was offered in 1856, but only to 3rd- or 4th-year Arts students. The Civil Engineering History of McGill says: In 1858 John Gooding became the first engineer to graduate from McGill. The India Office in London recognized the diploma as acceptable.

I asked McGill University who said: I have consulted our student directories, but have been unable to locate any information about Frederick Lewis Dibblee, which verifies that he was not a graduate of McGill. The fact that we do not have a student record in this name also indicates that he did not attend McGill (or that he was registered under a different name). There is no reason for him to use a different name, so I must conclude that either Institution of Civil Engineers had made a false assumption that all Canadian engineers went to McGill (since the Indian Office recognised the McGill qualification) or that Frederick Dibblee fibbed on his CV!

Better documented is his education at King's College, Fredericton, which later became the University of New Brunswick. He attended the first regular course of instruction in engineering in British North America there in 1854, when he was about 17 years old. He was a non-residential student. This course lasted only two terms. It was given by a working railway engineer and must have been a practical and useful course.

Another participant of this course was Henry George Clopper Ketchum (see biography from the Dictionary of Canadian Biographies, and virtual exhibition from University of New Brunswick). The Ketchums and Dibblees were both loyalist families who had lived in the same town in the United States before the American War of Independence and had intermarried. Later both families moved to Canada. Henry George Clopper Ketchum also worked on the European and North American Railway, the Intercolonnial, and the São Paulo Railway in Brazil, like Frederick Dibblee. Ketchum was born in 1839, so was two years younger than Dibblee, but it seems likely their families knew each other, and the two boys attended these King's College lectures together.

There were further contacts between the Ketchums and the Dibblees. Emily Dibblee, Frederick's wife, came from Canada. Ketchum married Sarah Milner, and a letter from Emily Dibblee's mother talks about Mrs Ketchum seeing Emily Dibblee's children. Sarah's sister, Lucy, married Emily Dibblee's brother, Irwine Binney. Sarah Ketchum sent a letter to George Binney Dibblee when Irwine Binney died.

Kings College became the University of New Brunswick in 1859. I wrote to them asking if they had any record of Frederick Dibblee attending Kings College. They replied saying Yes, he got a degree in 1855, and that the register says: Dibblee, Frederick L. Entered from Fredericton, N.B., 1852. B.A. 1855. This is intriguing. He was born in October 1837, so he must have started this degree course when he was only 15 years old, and got a degree when he was 18. He attended the engineering course described above in the middle of his degree course. He is described as a non-residential student, since he presumably was still living at home, at Fredericton. In 1856, he became an apprentice (see early career). I wonder why the obituary got his education wrong!

I would like to thank both McGill University and University of New Brunswick for being so kind as to answer my questions.

A separate question is why Frederick Lewis Dibblee was interested in railways as a career. I suspect that Henry George Clopper Ketchum was a freind of his, since the Ketchums were neighbours of the Dibblees in Woodstock, so perhaps they decided on this career together. But why?

Railways were very the 'latest thing' at this time. A branch line to Woodstock was being built. Woodstock is where Frederick's grandfather, Rev. Frederick Dibblee lived, and several of his uncles continued to live there. One of the stations on the new Woodstock line as called Dibblee station, and it was on the land of Rev. Frederick Dibblee. So the Dibblee family must have been very interested in the new railways, and this might have sparked young Frederick's interest. Click here and here for more information on the Woodstock branch.