Born in Arnold, near Nottingham, Hawksley was largely self-taught from the age of 15 onwards, having at that point become articled to a local firm of architects that also undertook a variety of water-related engineering projects.
He remains particularly associated with schemes in his home county. He was engineer to the Nottingham gas and water companies for more than half a century, having, early in his career, completed the Trent Bridge waterworks (1831). This scheme delivered Britain’s first high pressure ‘constant supply’, preventing contamination entering the supply of clean water mains.
This achievement led him to be appointed to many major water supply projects across England, including schemes for Liverpool, Sheffield, Leicester, Leeds, Derby, Darlington, Oxford, Cambridge, Sunderland, Wakefield and Northampton. He also undertook drainage projects, including schemes for Birmingham, Worcester and Windsor.
In 1852 Hawksley set up his own engineering practice in Westminster, London. He was the first president of the Institution of Gas Engineers and Managers (serving for three years from 1863), a Fellow of the Royal Society, and was elected President of the Institution of Civil Engineers in 1872 (a post his son Charles later occupied in 1901).
He died in Kensington, London in 1893.