Spring, Sir Francis Joseph (1849–1933), civil engineer, was born 20 January 1849, most likely in Magourney, Co. Cork, son of the Rev. Edward Spring, rector of Magourney; his mother's name is not known. After receiving his early education at Midleton School, Co. Cork, Spring went on to study engineering at TCD, serving his one-year apprenticeship under Alexander McDonnell (qv), locomotive superintendent of the Great Southern & Western Railway, and graduating with his licence in 1870 (TCD did not offer a degree in engineering till 1871/2). Also in 1870, he entered the Indian public works department, where for nearly fifty years he played a major role in the development and administration of India's major railways and ports.
He began work in India by surveying and overseeing canal construction for the Punjab irrigation department (1870–73), but in 1873 he turned to his railway engineering training and joined the Punjab Northern State Railway, surveying and directing construction of its various branches and of the Chenab bridge (1873–8). In 1878 he was promoted to executive engineer and was put in charge of a portion of the Bhavnagar–Gondal line (1878–80). After two years spent in England (1880–82), he returned to India to resume his role as executive engineer, surveying the Bengal–Nagapur line and overseeing the construction of the branch from Benares to Cuttack (1882–4). As his experience mounted and his reputation for excellence increased, he rose to prominence in the Indian civil service: he was under-secretary for railways and chief engineer to the government of Bengal (1884–8), secretary for railways in Bombay (1888), consulting engineer to the government of Assam (1888–91), and secretary for railways to the government of Madras (1891–6). He was made a Companion of the Indian Empire (1894).
After briefly serving as deputy secretary of the railway department of the government of India (1896), he received his highest honour when he was appointed secretary (1897–1904). Part of the reason for his steady promotion was the innovative manner in which he managed his workers and the resultant high quality and efficient completion of the works. He was engineer-in-chief in the construction of the Sher Shar (March 1888–December 1889) and Kistna (September 1890–March 1893) bridges, and the successful completion of both was due in part to his treatment of his workforce: he attempted to keep them happy by building a flour mill on the work site, shipping high-quality wheat from Calcutta, and paying close attention to sanitation, water supply, food, and safety. These actions kept his workers content, well fed, and almost completely free of cholera, enteric diseases, and serious accidents, a condition almost unheard of in nineteenth-century India.
In 1904 he retired with the rank of chief engineer, first class, but his retirement proved short-lived. In that same year he assumed the chairmanship of the Madras Port Trust (1904–19) and a year later also became its chief engineer (1905–19). For fifteen years he dedicated himself to constructing a modern port at Madras, and by the time he retired in May 1919 it was an efficiently equipped harbour with a sheltered entrance, extensive wharves, boat-basin, and ample sheds and warehouses.
Throughout his life he was affiliated with many clubs and professional associations in India and abroad. He was founder and president of the South Indian Motor Union, vice-commodore of the Madras Sailing Club, honorary member of the Madras Chamber of Commerce, and honorary major in the South Indian Railway Volunteer Rifles. Within the academic community, he was a member of the syndicate of Madras University, fellow of Madras and Calcutta universities, president of the Madras faculty of engineering, and member of the Indian Institute of Science. With regards to engineering, he was a member of London's Institution of Engineers (elected full member 1885), representative member of its council in India (1910–13), member of the Institutions of Mechanical and Transport Engineers and of the American Society of Engineers, honorary life member of the Indian Institution of Engineers, and honorary fellow of the Society of Engineers of London. In 1911 he was knighted for his continued contribution to India's progress. Despite a lifetime spent in India, he never lost touch with his alma mater: in 1901 he was granted an honorary MAI by TCD, and on his death he bequeathed a large amount of money to the university to found a prize in engineering. In his younger years he enjoyed small yachting and motor driving, but in retirement he preferred model engineering. He left India in 1919 to settle at Maison du Coin, St Aubin, Jersey, where he died on 25 August 1933.
He married (1873) Charlotte Becher (d. 1930), daughter of S. Townsend, JP. Throughout his life Spring published many papers on technical education, light railways, and the training and control of rivers.