Sankey diagrams are named after Captain Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey.

Here is some biographical information on Mr. Sankey:

Matthew H. Sankey was an engineer from Ireland. He was born on November 9, 1853 in Nenagh, co. Tipperary (other sources have him being born in Modeshill, co. Tipperary or Bawnmore, co. Cork) to a family of military. His father, William, was a Lieut.-Col. in the 62nd regiment. Sankey joined the military as well and became an engineer in the Corps of Royal Engineers (R.E.) with the rank of a captain.

Later he quit military service and joined Willans works, where he continued to work on the improvement of the efficiency of steam engines.

He became am member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. From 1920 to 1921 he acted as president of the British Institution of Mechanical Engineers. (Read a biography on the IMechE website)

Sankey Captain H Riall

Sankey diagrams are named after him, because he was the first to use them in a publication: In an annex to the minutes for the Institution of Mechanical Engineers in 1898 he sketched the energy efficiency of a steam engine in comparison to an ideal steam engine without energy losses. Sankey diagrams show where material or energy flows with arrows with a width proportional to the flow quantity.

His publications include “The Maps of the Ordnance Survey” (1888), “The Thermal Efficiency of Steam Engines” (1895), “Governing of Steam Engines by Throttling and by Variable Expansion” (1895), “Interim Report of the Committee on tabulating the Results of Steam-Engine and Boiler Trials” (1902) and “The Energy Chart. Practical Applications to Reciprocal Steam-Engines” (1905)

On July 5, 1876 he married Elisabeth Pym, they had one child four children. Sankey died on October 3, 1925.

19 Responses to “Who is this Sankey guy?”

  1. Sankey Diagrams » Blog Archive » The first Sankey diagram Says:

    […] always wanted to get hold of a digital version of this this energy efficiency diagram published by Captain Henry R. Sankey in 1898 in the Minutes of Proceedings of The Institution of Civil Engineers. Vol. CXXXIV, Session […]

  2. Gordon Marshall Says:

    I was told by my great aunt, Sankey’s grand daughter, that Sankey’s childhood home was in Bawnmore–but that Bawnmore was in Tipperary, so I guess that doesn’t solve anything. Anyway, my great aunt Elizabeth Celia also told me that the manor in England where Sankey settled with Elizabeth Pym was called Bawnmore, after the ancestral home. By the way, Sankey did not have one child, he had four: Margaret, my great grandmother, Crofton, Celia, and Joyce. Also of interest, Elizbeth Pym’s great grandmother was Australian pioneer Mary Reiby, sent to Australia for stealing a horse.

  3. phineas Says:

    Thanks Gordon for this genealogical input on Mr. Sankey.

  4. Kevin Deegan-Krause Says:

    Thanks for this very interesting blog. I discovered recently that I accidentally “reinvented” the Sankey wheel quite awhile ago for a rather odd usage: political party ebb and flow in E. Europe. As with energy, the number of party seats in parliament is a closed system and there are flows from some to others. This is a highly modified usage, of course, as we do not know in a precise way “where” votes go from one election to the next, so we just fudge at the day of election and just start over (or have invisible reallocations). I’ve posted an example on my blog (for the moment at: ) and I’m wondering if we could be in contact. Have you seen anything that resembles an on-line option, anything like Google’s chart API or some kind of java app that would allow this (I’ve spoken to the guys at Weimar and they are not quite ready for online prime-time yet). What I would like to do is find an easy (free) app that a bunch of us studying different countries could use to coordinate our efforts and ultimately include in, say, wikipedia. You can find my email address in the comment section or go to
    I look forward to hearing from you.

  5. phineas Says:

    Hi Kevin,

    thanks for your interesting comment! I like your idea very much, and have dedicated my latest post to it:

    As for your question regarding the API: I am not aware of any application available for such a purpose. However, this sounds like a good idea, and I would like to discuss with you further the potential uses and benefits of such an app.


  6. Jole Sankey Says:

    interesting to hear about distant relatives 🙂 All i know for fact is my family came from Tipperary Co. In Coolmore 🙂 And that the Sankeys in Ireland got there from a man named Jerome Sankey who was a Officer in the english army and was knighted while in Ireland and ended up staying in Ireland.
    This website has alot of the Ireland sankeys history 🙂

  7. chris sankey Says:

    cool! how do i find out if he is related to me though!?

  8. phineas Says:

    Jole and Chris,

    thanks for visiting. has a list of the Sankey from Tipperary Co., and that branch of the family is where Cpt. Riall Sankey belongs to (find him under 5-I-(1)-i). You might want to contact John Sankey the owner of the website.

    Also there is a Sankey family board at rootsweb: where you can post a query. Another, similar family board, mainly used by people in the U.S. is at

    Enjoy researching you family roots!


  9. Ian Says:

    Interesting that he joined a dead body of military engineers. Did his activities revive the corpse, I wonder?

  10. phineas Says:

    @Ian: thanks for your very subtle hint. I removed the typo.

  11. What are Sankey Diagrams? Says:

    […] Diagrams site contains additional definitions, a discussion of Sankey diagram software, and a biography of Sandkey. I particularly like the blog posts on […]

  12. John Sankey Says:

    please replace all links referring to “” by “”

    ( was stolen by a dishonest registrar)

  13. Kevin Deegan-Krause Says:

    Quick but (I hope) answerable question: We are looking for a method of rendering Sankey diagrams on the fly for a website from a relational database with a ttable on all losses and gains among categories (i.e. all losses from source A1 to B1, C1, D1, and the same for B1, C1, D1, etc. Is there /anybody/ who might know anything about how to do that?

  14. Chetna Maloo Says:


    Would like to introduce myself as product manager of Decisive Analytical Solutions

    We found your sankey diagram and would like to use this diagram in one of our reports

    We are looking at some customization to suit our requirement. Was interested in knowing if this was feasible and if yes, what would it cost to work with you

    Will wait for your reply before i make further evaluation with other sankey scripts

    Await your response

    Thanks And Regards
    Chetna Maloo
    Product Manager
    Decisive Analytical Solutions

  15. Aaron Says:


    There isnt enough information out there on Sankey Diagrams I have found your site very helpful for a school project Im doing.

    Are the photos of Sankey copyrighted?

  16. Don Bushell Says:


    I work for Boeing and run a project called iRoadmap which is a visualization generating system It does it’s visualizations in Metis, PowerPoint, Kendo, and dynamic SVG. It uses SQL extensively.

    My new task is to find cool, informative visualizations to implement in iRoadmap and to make them available for the company’s benefit.

    If anyone has cool visualizations, please send a link.



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  18. Sankey Flow Diagrams | Pearltrees Says:

    […] Who is this Sankey guy? Sankey diagrams are named after Captain Matthew Henry Phineas Riall Sankey. […]

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