George Everest.

A series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. online

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 11 of 13)
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and him to whom the paragraph applies ; and as, after what I
have said of the former in my last letter, it will be needless to
say more, it only remains to the completion of the contrast,
that an adequate analysis should be entered into in reference to
the latter a task which I sincerely wish had fallen into abler
hands than mine, for I freely confess my inability to do justice
to it, and must beg Colonel Pasley, to the honour of whose
acquaintance 1 may barely aspire, to pardon at the same time
the lameness of my attempt, and the liberty which I take in
so freely using his name without asking his consent.

Your Royal Highness will recollect the state of public feeling
in 1808-9, when, bowed down under the weight of accumulated
disasters and failures, a general despondency, not far re-
moved from that which historians describe to have taken pos-
session of old Rome after the battle of Cannae, seemed to
pervade our native land. Wellington had not then taught us
how to chain victory to our chariot. People in general seemed
to have yielded to sullen conviction, that though our forefathers
had taught us to believe that one Englishman was always a
match for three Frenchmen, yet there was now no longer a
foundation for such an aphorism, eren though for three we
should substitute one. Even in our House of Commons there
were not wanting orators who proclaimed that, in as far as land
operations were concerned, the sun of British glory had for ever
set; and the persuasion seemed daily and hourly gaining strength
in the minds of all men, that though on the sea, which was the
natural element of Englishmen, we were indisputably masters,
yet as a military nation our land forces could never hold aught
but a secondary or tertiary rank.

If there be any who doubt the fact of what I here aver, I
must refer them to the writings of Mr. Cobbett of that period ;
but I need not refer your Royal Highness to that source, because
your own recollections of those bygone days are doubtless as
strong as mine are ; and I presume it is barely necessary to
establish the fact, in order to establish the conclusion also, that


if such an impression had continued to gain ground uninter-
ruptedly, the result could have been no other than a disgraceful
peace, humbling Great Britain to the dust, and placing her at
the tender mercy of the triumphant Napoleon, arrayed in the
spoils and glittering in the untarnished glory of the vanquished

What saith the proverb ? " A friend in need is a friend indeed."
In that critical time came forth a work entitled, " The Military
Policy of Great Britain," which, like the glimmer of daylight
peering through the vista of a tortuous cavern, showed that the
dark passage was not interminable. The effect was like that of
enchantment: the magical spell was broken by the wand of the
good genius; the film seemed to be suddenly removed from
men's eyes, and henceforward they bound round them anew the
girdle of resolution and constancy, preparatory to the death
struggle, which was to end only with the confusion of our

Have we forgotten all these things, your Royal Highness?
Have we forgotten that this valuable national work was written
by Colonel Pasley ? It may be so : and yet I am so simple as to
imagine that there were periods since Noah's time when to such
men statues would have been erected, and divine honours paid.
I at least must beg to be excluded, right or wrong, from the
number of the forgetful, for I was then in the heyday of youth,
and the circumstances I speak of made a deep impression on
me ; then indeed I groaned, and doubly groaned, to think that
my lot was cast in inglorious India.

It is possible that though the witty Author of the " Sayings
and Doings" may have taught the English public to believe that
there is nothing in India worth noticing but the absurdities and
eccentricities of our countrymen in that funny land, yet some
even of the thirty-eight learned Fellows may know there is a
fortified town named Bhurtpore or Bhartpur, in lat. 27 14',
and long. 77 32'. I do at least, for it is but a few miles from
my principal station of the Great Arc Series called Madhoni,
which commands a fine view of its citadel ; and to this said


Bhartpur siege was laid by Lord Lake in vain in the early part
of this century.

There were, on the occasion I speak of, no less than four
successive storming parties ordered out against Bhartpur, all
and each of which failed in turn ; and the little historical
account extant leads to the supposition that at the first of
these, but for a mistake in the routes of the different columns,
the fortress would have had British colours flying on its walls,
without the necessity of further strife, since most of the defenders
of the breach had actually scampered away.

Such was the influence of the long course of victories of Lord
Lake : but when the first assault had ended in failure, the effect
upon a race peculiarly addicted to fatalism may be easily con-
ceived; and hence each resistance exceeded in obstinacy that
which had preceded it, until at last it seemed as hopeless a case
for the English army to obtain possession of Bhartpur, as it had
been for their enemies to force a passage into Gibraltar, and the
long siege was terminated by an inglorious and humiliating

Bhartpur was now looked up to as the national champion, the
great stronghold of Indian valour. It was perpetually held up
and appealed to as a proof that the English career of conquest
was not so irresistible or interminable as had heretofore been
supposed ; and henceforth every holder of a small mud fort, who
had any pretension to pluck, seemed to think himself bound in
honour to try a fall with the E. I. Company.

Let us look at such places as Komona ; what are they ? A
miserable mud wall with a ditch before it, and flanked by
round towers such as used to be the order of the day before the
introduction of gunpowder, constitute the chief defence : but
then these were sufficient for men determined to fight stoutly,
against those who did not know how to equalize the vantage

Even so late as 1817, when the fortress of Hatras succumbed,
it is generally believed (though such matters are not publicly


announced) that though there was sufficient provocation for
the measure, the gentlemen of the Council of Calcutta feared to
undertake the siege, lest it should bring on a general war; and
their consent was at last only obtained by the assurance of the
Marquis of Hastings, that he would answer for the place being
theirs in a stipulated period (ten days, if I rightly remember,
from the time of breaking ground).

The Marquis's word was in the result made good ; but the
effect was brought to pass by a train of mortars and rockets
(immensely numerous for those days) which kept the besieged
perpetually on the qui vive, and ultimately blew up the powder
magazine, so that the place was literally too hot to hold the
garrison ; and the Chieftain Daiaram, with fifty of his followers,
clad in chain armour and laden with jewels and other valuables
of easy transport, cut their passage through the besieging troops
in the dead of night.

Hatras was a fort of small area, and just the sort of place
where a hot bombardment is most likely to be successful. The
English force does not appear to have stormed it : if the
attempt had been made, there is no saying but it might have
proved a second edition of Lord Lake's affair at Bhartpur ; and
moreover, as there was room for an improvement in the mode of
defence, such a disaster as that of the explosion of the prin-
cipal powder magazine need not be looked for in future, or
calculated on as an every-day occurrence. This result therefore
decided nothing, and proved nothing, for Bhartpur covers a
very large area ; and how often in face of the fall of Hatras,
whilst engaged in the dominions of the Nizam in the operations
of the Great Trigonometrical Survey, have I in conversation
with natives been doomed to hear a speech, not intended to be
particularly uncivil, terminated with such expressions as the
English never can take Bhartpur, it is too strong for them ;
yet these declaimers and asserters were not*aware that the
ground which formed the basis of their impressions was gra-
dually crumbling away beneath their feet, and that the time was


to come, and not far distant, when, by a process as irresistible
as certain, the strongest fortress with a mud rampart must yield,
and afford a practicable passage to British troops to fight hand
to hand on equal ground with the besieged.

I need not take up further time with narrating particulars of
sieges, which would be foreign to my purpose for there are mul-
titudes of others far more able to deal with such a subject than I
am; but I believe there are few who will dispute the point with
me, that it is to Col. Pasley and his admirable system of arrange-
ments and instructions, that we owe not only the process of
which I here speak, but the present efficiency and respectability
of our military Engineers. We hear no longer of futile attempts
to blow open gates; of mutual recriminations between those who
storm breaches and those who construct batteries : no reproach
is now vented on the latter for precipitancy in reporting the
entrance practicable, when it was not so in reality ; nor is blame
imputed to the former for not achieving impossibilities. All seem
to proceed about their business in the fullest harmony and confi-
dence, each on the skill and courage of the other.

And what is the result of this, please your Royal Highness?
Have we not within this last month seen an army of 35,000
Sindis and Belochis which covered Hyderabad and Bakkur,
after threatening to eat the English army of the Indus, quietly
accede to all our terms without striking a blow ? The prestige of
the national invincibility has recovered from the blow which it
received at Bhartpur ; and now, if it be still coupled in native
imagination with the decrees of a capricious destiny, yet is it
generally acknowledged by them to be irresistibly and irretriev-
ably linked with Fate itself.

There can, I submit, be but one point in all this which is open
to question, namely, how far I am entitled to conclude that Col.
Pasley has been the Prospero whose wand has worked this
change; and though I have never yet heard this fact doubted,
yet it would not be consistent with sound logic to assume that it
admits of no dispute. Granting, however, my premises, what


must we think of the paragraph which I have above cited,
wherein an English Officer, the most remarkable in his day for
his practical arrangements, the soundness and clearness of his
judgment, and the service he has rendered to his country, both
at home and in her colonies, is told almost in so many words to
keep his advice to himself?

That India would owe Col. Pasley much more than she can
ever repay, in the event of my view being correct, is quite plain ;
and it might be well worth the while of gentlemen who so libe-
rally combine to raise statues and testimonials in cases of at least
dubious import, to consider whether their spare cash might not
be more respectably expended in rendering like offices of homage
to merit which, granting my premises, would stand so proudly
preeminent. That is, however, another question ; but how Major
Jervis, who has had the honour of being instructed under this
pride of our country, could, after inditing such a paragraph, con-
sent so far to forget what is due to himself, his profession, and
his brother Officers, as to allow it to be proclaimed to the world
that he is in his capacity, as provisional successor to the Surveyor-
General of India, about to undergo a course of advice and aid
from the learned quartette enumerated in the Address, is, to my
poor comprehension, quite irreconcileable.

Granting those gentlemen to be each and all a modern miracle
of originality and acquirement ; supposing that they all knew in-
dividually more than ever man knew before of modern analysis,
and that it was not Newton who was required to discover the law
of gravity, not Clairaut first to investigate the ellipsoid of
variable density, but that the component elements of this quar-
tetto would have been quite equal to lead in these untrodden
paths if they had not been anticipated,

All these points, though they certainly make a great call on
my acquiescence, I am willing to concede. Still in a case purely
practical there is nothing to set the validity of Col. Pasley's
opinion aside; nothing, in my opinion, to warrant a gentleman
holding the commission of Major humbling himself in the dust
before them.


I judge, from the few rays which break through the smoky
medium interposed between Col. Pasley's decision and the
reader's gaze, that there must have been something in it akin to
my own opinions. I fancy him telling the Court and Major
Jervis that the instruction which he could impart was not likely
to be applicable to the purposes of a Topographical Survey in
India ; and reminding the latter gentleman that he who in a
complicated undertaking desires to have an efficient and obedi-
ent establishment subordinate to him, must be himself the
instructor, the leader, and the companion of their labours, and
make himself the patriarch and founder of his own system.

Though it would be an unnecessary expenditure of time to
follow Major Jervis through all the ramblings of his pamphlet, in
order to prove how utterly erroneous it is, and how thoroughly he
is liable to mislead his readers, yet it maybe as well to cite a few
instances in point which, upon the principle of ex uno disce om-
nes, will serve as a guide.

In pp. 6, 7 of the letter to the Court, dated 6th August,
Major Jervis states as follows :

" Every attempt at forming such establishments by individual
Officers has invariably terminated in disappointment; their phy-
sical strength, their very lives are unequal to such an attempt:
Col. Valentine Blacker and Col. Mackenzie fell a sacrifice to
such endeavours ; and Col. Everest has lately declared the futi-
lity of training any persons at a reasonable charge, or with any
prospect of advantage, so long as there are any divided interests
to thwart such measures."

In reference to which my counter-statement is as follows :
First : Col. Mackenzie died from pure old age, having lived (so
at least we all considered who knew him) to the full period
allotted by nature to man : for at least three years prior to his
death, I can vouch for the fact, and I am inclined to believe a
much longer period, that he had no more to do with forming
and training establishments than your Royal Highness's august


Second : Col. Valentine Blacker fell a victim to fever contracted,
as was supposed, from the noisome vapours generated by the
cleaning of an old tank in the grounds attached to the Surveyor-
General's Office, in Park-street, Chaoringi. He had no more to
do with training and forming establishments than Col. Mackenzie
had ; and neither of these two gentlemen, after entering on their
situation as Surveyor-General, ever left Calcutta, or took the
field, or was under canvas, or suffered exposure to the climate :
they were both stationary in a substantial house at the Presi-
dency, and were quite free from all connexion with the Great
Trigonometrical Survey the life led in which is in truth an ap-
proximation to that of the Bohemian or Gipsy.

Third : My own objections are nothing to the purpose, and as
they are in keeping with all that I have advanced in this correspon-
dence, if there be any points in which I desire amelioration, I
think the best way to ensure success is, after stating pros and
cons, to leave them to the mature consideration of the Court,
who, though they may have learned caution in taking any de-
cisive step, are in the end sufficiently desirous to do what is

I have the honour to be, &c. &c.




*' Who proudly seized of learning's throne,
Now damns all learning but his own."



AMONGST the thirty-eight learned Fellows whose signatures are
appended to the Address, I note the name of Sir John Herschell ;
and as the learned Baronet has not only made himself conspi-
cuous as one of the Quartette of proposed tutelage, but has also
come more prominently forward than any other party in the
body of the Address itself, I deem it but proper to devote this
my last letter chiefly to his service.

The name of Herschell is a great name, long dear to science
and our country : in my infancy it was lisped by children in
their nursery; and it is always cheering to see such a name
perpetuated from sire to son.

Men of science particularly hailed the early promise of the
present bearer of that name with delight, and with less of envy
than generally attends the admission of a new aspirant to their
ranks ; and as the learned Baronet was already acknowledged
as one of the most erudite men of his day, if not the very chief
of the scientific clan, it is not to be wondered at that, on my
return to England in 1826, I, who had passed so many years of
my life in jungles and wildernesses, far from the haunts of civili-
zation, should have looked up to such a person with admiration,
and all but reverence.



With such sentiments I eagerly sought the acquaintance of
the learned Baronet ; and as I could not suppose that the great
national work in which I had succeeded to Lieut. -Col. Lambton
would be either unknown or uninteresting to him, or even that
there was any portion of that work, except what concerned the
practical details of its application to the local circumstances
of India, on which he would not be infinitely better calculated
to instruct than learn from me, therefore in these latter respects,
and indeed in all others, I was perpetually prepared to enter
into a discussion, and should have been proud to afford the man
who ranked so high in my esteem all the information he might
desire to seek, or that it was in my power to offer. But though
I met Sir John Herschell in private and in public on many
occasions both before and after my return from the Continent,
I cannot remember that he ever evinced the slightest interest in
the operations of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, or
expressed the most distant wish for any information regarding it ;
and as I at least, having been sufficiently warned by Mr. Theo-
dore Hooke (many thanks to his high wittiness !) to steer clear
of the ridiculous, was sensibly alive to the absurdity of volun-
teering what was not sought, and therefore not wanted, I
naturally enough arrived at the conclusion, which I shall now
find some difficulty in relinquishing, that at the period I speak
of neither Geodesy, in its bearing on the figure of the Earth, nor
Geography, nor Topography, nor any of the subjects now so
clamoured about, were subjects which had entered into the
learned Baronet's studies, or which he deemed deserving of his

The advent of the learned Baronet into our demesnes might,
therefore, now be hailed as a happy event; and I should be the
first to take off my hat and bid him welcome, as indeed I was
prepared to do at my mountain home in Hatipaon, when
rumour spread abroad that he was about to honour India with a
visit; but there are certain forms prescribed by convention,
which no person, however great may be his learning, his rank,


his wealth, or however excellent the name he bears, is autho-
rised to neglect; and these, I contend that in the present in-
stance, Sir John Herschell has totally overlooked, even if it be
not imputable to him that he has intentionally violated them.

We will proceed to particulars presently, but first it is neces-
sary that I should explain what I mean by these forms of
convention ; to the understanding of which I must remark, that
when a certain class of persons is engaged in any occupation
whatever, and a stranger desires to enter amongst them, it is
incumbent on them before proceeding to dictate, to ascertain
what has already been accomplished, and how; for he who,
without taking such a precaution, begins with laying down the
law and issuing directions, is not only very apt to call for that to
be done which has been satisfactorily completed before his
entrance, but is likely to give great and uncalled-for offence.

But now to show that the learned Baronet has acted in this
wise, I will take the liberty of citing his own words, as delivered
to the world in the printed copy of the Address to the Court of
Directors, signed by the thirty-eight learned Fellows, which are
as follow :

Sir John Herschell recommends, " that no pains or expense
should be spared in procuring as perfect a unit of measure as pos-
sible, comparable with the British measures : that is, in obtaining
a fac-simile of the standard of the Royal Astronomical Society,
and comparing it, when in India, with all Lambton's and
Everest's units, by which the value of the Indian arc will become
known in recognized units."

Sir John Herschell recommends, " that the standard used by
Lambton and Everest should hereafter, at some convenient
opportunity, be sent to London for verification ;" and further
advises, if it has not already been done, " that an arc of longi-
tude, comparable in extent to Lambton's meridional arc, should
be measured trigonometrically, and the difference in longitude
between the extremities ascertained by a chain or chains of rocket
signals, and their latitudes per sector."


He further recommends, " that the utmost possible care
should be taken to fix the zero errors of division of all the
thermometers used in every part of the process under Major
Jervis's direction, as much inconvenience and mischief has re-
sulted and daily results from neglect of this precaution." Sir
John Herschell refers to Colonel Colby as the best authority
with whom to communicate.

Now I submit to your Royal Highness, that except in the
one point of an arc of longitude, wherein the learned Baronet
speaks doubtingly, there is a general tone of absolute assumption
throughout, that the E. I. Company and their agent have omitted
each and all of the precautions enumerated ; that such is the
impression calculated to be conveyed ; and that no other con-
clusion can be come to by those who read the learned Baronet's
dictum. It will be soon seen how far that is fact, and how far
the imputation is merited; but in order to make that clear, I
must anticipate on my work now in preparation, which I really
think is what the learned Baronet can have no right to expect.

I should prefer that, however, to repeating my own words, for
that would be exceedingly wearisome, and if my book printed
in 1830 be not deserving of Sir John Herschell's notice, would
be time thrown away; for what hope could I have that what
passed unheeded then would now meet with more attention ?

If the learned Baronet do not conceive it too great an act of
condescension to refer to that book, pp. 50, 51, 52, he will find
that for many years the only standard used by Colonel Lambton
was a standard chain, set off by Ramsden from his bar, at the
temperature of 50 Fahrenheit ; that in the course of the opera-
tions the joints of this standard had become oxidated, and that
in cleaning them the length became altered, subsequent whereto
it could no longer be relied on as an invariable standard.

To my poor comprehension it seems, that the unit of measure in
all operations prior to this, namely, those ending with the Gooty
base, was irretrievably lost; however, there is no saying what
expedients genius may devise, because that would be tantamount


to proving a negative ; but in the present case, as it is con-
fessedly beyond my skill to devise any remedy, save that of
assuming the perfect accordance with Ramsden's bar, I shall be
happy to receive any suggestions from the learned Quartetto,
who in that point shall find me quite as placid and docile as
they assume Major Jervis to be ; and I will then venture to hint
at an extension of the principle, by restoring the identical Parlia-
mentary standard, though it was burned in the conflagration of
the Houses.

After the disaster of the rust and consequent cleaning, Colonel
Lambton struck out a method of comparing the chain with our
three feet standard scale of brass, by Gary ; but the experiments
were always very wild, and in my opinion, as I give the readers
of that book to understand, never proved any thing. It is

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Online LibraryGeorge EverestA series of letters : addressed to His Royal Highness the Duke of Sussex, as president of the Royal Society, remonstrating against the conduct of that learned body. → online text (page 11 of 13)