FOURTH son of Mr. John Copland, merchant tailor, Glasgow,
the late Chairman of Glasgow Technical College was born at Stirling in 1838, and
was educated at Stirling Burgh School, Glasgow High School, Anderson's College,
and Glasgow University. He carried off the first prizes in mathematics and civil
engineering, then taught by Professors Blackburn and Macquorn Rankine
respectively. After serving an apprenticeship in the office of Mr. David Smith,
C.E., he joined the staff of the Edinburgh and Glasgow Railway. From 1862 to
1866 he was Burgh Engineer for Paisley: then he began business in Glasgow as a
civil engineer on his own account. Here he made special study of drainage and
water supply, and designed and superintended the construction of water supply
and drainage schemes for many Scottish districts. Among his larger works was a
great water-supply system for the province of Tarapaca in Chile, which includes
the important town of Iquique. Upon these subjects he was a recognised
authority, and a frequent witness before Parliamentary Committees and Royal
Commissions. He also occupied a leading position as arbiter under the Lands
Clauses Act and otherwise.
In addition to the work of his own profession he did much active public service. He was Deacon-Convener of the Trades' House, and ex officio a member of the Town Council from 1891 to 1893. He was also a Governor of the Buchanan Institution, and a Director of the Merchants' House and of the Old Man's Friend Society, and during the last nine years of his life he was a member of Glasgow University Court. But his most notable work was done in connection with the Technical College. In 1887, when Anderson's College and the College of Science, formerly the Mechanics' Institution, were amalgamated, he was chosen to represent the Trades' House upon the board. The new institution was the first Technical College in the country, and Sir William, recognising the urgent necessity of making up the leeway then alarmingly evident in the work of such institutions, devoted himself with great energy to the re-organisation of the College. He became Chairman of the Governors in 1897, and, largely through his exertions, a fund of over £300,000 was subscribed to provide a new and much larger building. The foundation stone of the new college was laid by King Edward on 14th May, 1903, and the first section of the building was opened by the Secretary for Scotland at the end of 1905. It is the largest and most completely equipped college of the kind in the kingdom, and at the end of 1907 over £228,000 had been spent upon it. In every detail of the work Sir William took the closest personal interest; and he represented the College at the Board of the West of Scotland Agricultural College, of which he was Deputy-Chairman. His strenuous and successful labours in this connection were recognised in June, 1906, when the honour of knighthood was conferred upon him by the King.
In the University Court his practical knowledge and experience proved of the greatest service, and when the Prince of Wales opened the new Medical and Natural Philosophy Department at Gilmorehill in April, 1907, the University conferred upon him the degree of LL.D.
He was also for many years an elder and preses in Claremont U.F. Church, and acted as a member of the Assembly's Advisory Committee in the great Free Church case.
Sir William died at his residence, Sandyford Place, Glasgow, 19th August, 1907, and was survived by his wife, one daughter, and five sons.
Index of Glasgow Men (1909)