Bald, William (1789?–1857), civil engineer and surveyor, was born and educated in Burntisland, Fife, Scotland. His mother's name was Grizel Bell; he had at least one sister, who inherited property in the town. He left school aged 12 and was apprenticed to John Ainslie in Edinburgh. After 1803, while still in his early teens, he mapped large areas in Scotland, especially in Argyll and the Hebrides. He was employed in 1809 by the grand jury of Mayo to survey and map that county, and while still engaged on this pioneering work was also employed by a royal commission on Irish bogs; his analysis and suggestions for improvements of bog land were published in 1811–13. His survey of Mayo, though completed in 1817, was not published until 1830, and, at a scale of 4 in. to the mile (1:15,840), was the most accurate map of an Irish county produced before the ordnance survey maps of the 1830s; like his maps of Scotland, it is still a valuable resource for geographers and Gaelic scholars. He afterwards worked on civil engineering projects all over Ireland, being especially noted for roads and bridges. In 1833 he produced designs for a bridge over the Kenmare river in Kerry, completed in 1841; it was the first suspension bridge in Ireland. Along with Sir Charles Lanyon (qv), he was responsible for the Antrim coast road, regarded as an extraordinary achievement when it opened (1837) and still impressive today. He published many papers on his work and was consulting engineer on projects in Ireland, Scotland, and France. In 1839 he moved to Glasgow to work for the Clyde River Trust, but was dismissed in 1845 after criticising his employers. He spent some time in France, but in 1851 was in London, working for the lords commissioners of the Admiralty. He died 26 March 1857 in London, and was buried in Highgate cemetery. Bald was elected fellow of the Geological Society of London (1816), MRIA (1822), and fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (1829). He had nine children from three marriages.
Obit., Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society of London, xiv (1859), 43–4 (incorrectly paginated); Boase; W. A. McCutcheon, ‘Roads and bridges’, Ulster Folklife, x (1964), 77; Margaret C. Storrie, ‘William Bald, F.R.S.E., c.1789–1857; surveyor, cartographer, and civil engineer’, Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, xlvii (1969), 205–31; DNB MP; Iain Sommerville, ‘William Bald (1789–1857)’, Burntisland Online (www.burntisland.net/bald.htm; accessed May 2005; filed in DIB office)