(May 18, 1788-Oct. 1850). Born on his family’s ancestral estate in eastern England, Fordham was one of two sons and seven children of Elias and Mary Clapton Fordham. He trained as a civil engineer under George Stephenson, British inventor of the steam locomotive.

Elias Pym Fordam and Alexander Ralston surveyed the area that Ralston platted as “the Mile Square” in 1821. Credit: Bass Photo Co Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

In 1816, Fordham considered migrating to America. Morris Birkbeck, an English Quaker, planned to establish an English colony in the Illinois Territory, and Fordham’s uncle by marriage, George Flower, was involved in the venture. In 1817, Fordham and his sister Maria joined Birkbeck and his family on the trip to America and across the country to southern Illinois. He immediately acquired a plot of land in what became known as “the English Prairie,” surveyed the surrounding lands, and assisted Birkbeck in constructing buildings and mills for the settlers.

Between July 1817 and fall 1818, Fordham traveled through southern Indiana on business for Birkbeck. He passed through Salem, possibly meeting Alexander Ralston who resided there, and on one occasion stayed with Judge Christopher Harrison, later appointed a commissioner for the survey of the new state capital. In April 1821, Fordham and Ralston received joint appointments as surveyors of the capital city. After completing the survey in the fall of 1821, Fordham left Indianapolis, probably returning to his home in Illinois. 

Little else is known about Fordham. His writing, evidenced by his Personal Narrative Of Travels…1817-1818 (1906), reflects a man of superior education and keen intellect. Family members reported that Fordham eventually returned to England where he pursued a career in civil engineering and worked for Stephenson on assorted projects. British probate records reveal that he died in Dover, England.

Revised February 2021

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