b. 12 December 1838 Coggeshall, near Colchester, Essex, England
Unwin made an important contribution to the establishment of engineering at the University of London. His family were of Huguenot stock, and his father was a Congregational minister. Unwin was educated at the City of London Corporation School and at New College, St John's Wood. At a time when the older universities were still effectively closed to Dissenters, he matriculated with Honours in Chemistry in the London University Matriculation Examination in 1858, and he subsequently graduated BSc from London in 1861. He served as Scientific Assistant to William Fairbairn in Manchester from 1856 to 1862, going on to manage engineering work of various sorts. He was appointed Instructor at the Royal School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering (1869-72), and then he became Professor of Hydraulics and Mechanical Engineering at the Royal Indian Engineering College (1872-84). From 1884 to 1904 he was Professor of Civil and Mechanical Engineering at the Central Institution of the City & Guilds of London, which was incorporated into the University of London in 1900. Unwin's research interests included hydraulics and water power, which led to him taking a leading part in the Niagara Falls hydroelectric scheme; the strength of materials, involving the stability of masonry dams; and the development of the internal combustion engine.