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 9 of 13)
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Now it is not exactly clear from the pamphlet and its asso-
ciated documents what Major Jervis proposes ; for in one part he
leaves us to infer that the work is to be accomplished by means
of Natives, and in another, by the agency of three Captains, five
Subalterns, seventy Engineer Soldiers, and thirty Civilians ;
wherefore we will in this state of doubt investigate the conse-
quences and progress of each.

If Natives are to be employed as the prime agents, either their
language and written character must be used, or they must
learn English. If the seventy Sappers and thirty Civilians are to
be the chief agents, either the English must be that of registry,
or they must, as a preliminary step, acquire an accurate knowledge
of one at least of the many dialects of India Urdu for example,
which, as I said before, overspreads the surface of the rest, like
the slimy deposit of the Nile.

The first of these modes would tend to remove India still
further from connexion with and access to European civiliza-
tion and science ; and as none but a person very far gone in
pure higgledy-piggledy philanthropy (a failing of which the
Royal Society certainly are least of all liable to be accused)
would entertain it, as I judge, therefore it may be dismissed
from our discussion as burdensome, and left for the well-mean-
ing controversialists of the press in India to pine over, and found
an accusation against me whereon, as an enemy to the improve-
ment of the Hindus and the perpetuation of the divine language
of the Shastras.

Now an acquaintance with the English language is daily
gaining ground amongst the Natives of India, but a fundamental
knowledge of it is confined almost entirely to the immediate



vicinity of Calcutta, Madras, and Bombay. It is a fundamental
knowledge, however, which alone suffices to change the moral
code, and substitute English principles of rectitude, honesty,
and a love of truth, for the low habit of trickery, chicanery, and
attempt to deceive, which, like a deadly parasite, clings round
the social system of India.

When Natives can be met with who come under the influence
of this fair change, I really must assure your Royal Highness
that, proud as I am of being an Englishman, (and no man is
prouder,) yet I have never seen persons more amiable, who have
a more strict regard to the truth, greater sobriety, more amenity
of manners, and more general intelligence combined with mo-
desty, than they seem to be possessed withal. Of all that I
have seen, the youths educated at the Hindu College stand
proudly preeminent in these respects ; and I am forced to concede
(which I should not do hastily, for it is contrary to my first
impressions, formed prior to the irresistible proof furnished by that
Institution), that such persons have a purity of heart and a
soundness of understanding which I have never seen surpassed,
and rarely equalled.

But the Government of India are not so shallow-sighted as
to be insensible to the worth of persons of this class. I never
succeed in training half a dozen of these College eleves in my
Computing Office, but a sudden call comes, and they are all
drained off in a body to fill high and responsible situations in the
Revenue Branch, on salaries exceeding those which I give in
the ratio of 9 to 1, thus crippling my operations for the time
being, and leaving me, as a sole consolation, the barren compli-
ment that the preference has been given to them because they
have been brought up under my system.

Besides this, though I do not know what may be the exact
state of feeling at the other Presidencies, yet at Calcutta the
Bengali eleves of this class have an almost insuperable dislike to
quit their homes and their native province ; wherefore to employ
them to any extent in the present circumstances, would be by


tar too costly to be thought of; and if it were otherwise, they
are far too high-spirited and independent to be prepared to
cringe and bow and play the obsequious before raw Englishmen
of the class from which the seventy Sappers and thirty Civilians
would in all probability be drawn.

Therefore we come to the conclusion that all the inferior parts
of the drama must be enacted by genuine Natives, or, as the
Americans significantly call them, Niggers; persons who may
speak in a half-smattering of broken English perhaps, but whose
ideas, habits, and language of common parlance amongst them-
selves are exactly what they have derived from the unadulterated
impressions of their early youth. Of these, few can write or read
any language at all perhaps one in a thousand may be able to
read what he has himself written, in the Nagri or other vernacular
character, which is considered a very great attainment, a thing
to be proud of, and looked up to for ; but there still are more
than enough to meet the demand, and consequently writers of
the Hindi, Persian, Telinga, Tamul, Canara, Mahratta, &c.,
are to be met with at sufficiently cheap rates ; but then I pray
the result may be marked : such people are mere writers, and
are rarely, most rarely, fit for any thing else but writing and

It behoves us next to consider the intermediate class which
is found in India, who, after making it a long subject of
testy discussion and choleric objurgation as to what name they
should be called withal, have at last come to the conclusion,
that the designation of East Indians is best suited to them to

The White population floats like oil over a surface of water,
but the fluid beneath still contains a solvent, whereby the
lower particles of the upper stratum which come into contact
with it, are gradually but surely taken up, thereby softening
off the original hard outline of separation, and, without destroy-
ing the individuality of either stratum, making it difficult to
decide the precise point where the one begins and the other


The transition portions are the East Indians of whom I
speak ; and finer, better materials wherewith to form an establish-
ment for the purposes of surveying I do not think will be found
in any country.

It will have easily been drawn by your Royal Highness from
what I have above stated that there is nothing really and
radically corrupt about the native character ; their indigenous
and untutored vices, as they meet our eye, are all those arising
from a bad system of early education ; change that, and they
are as susceptible of virtuous impressions and probity as any
people on earth. Now if this conclusion be not the result of
mere blind enthusiasm on my part, and that of those who think
with me, and who are not few, ti fortiori, when we come to super-
add thereto a portion of English sternness, manhood, resolution,
and vigour, there is no reason to suppose but that we rather im-
prove than deteriorate, and do not generate, by the communi-
cation, vices and defects which are not intrinsically interwoven
with either stock ; an argument which your Royal Highness will
immediately see is analogous to that whereon M. La Grange
has founded the proof of his Theoriede Fonctions Analytiques,
in extricating the values of the coefficients, or derived functions
p, q, r, &c.

I have an establishment of twenty sub-assistants, besides one
chief civil-assistant and two principal sub-assistants, under my
orders, of whom about eighteen are East Indians trained en-
tirely by myself; two are natives (one a Bengali Brahmin, the
other a native of Arcot) ; and the remaining three are Euro-
peans, genuine importations from England and Ireland.

I allow no distinction of birth or religion, faith or complexion,
to operate, but it is my effort to leave a fair field to all, and
show favour to none : all rank, take precedence, and exercise
authority according to their seniority ; and it is a spectacle
, calculated to gratify any but those wedded to a particular
notion, to observe how well all parts of this diversified machinery
harmonize with each other; for there seems to be but one


common feeling actuating every member of the Great Trigono-
metrical Survey of India, which is, to gain the approbation of
their superiors by meriting it.

Such, please your Royal Highness, are the elements of the
transition-stratum of my metaphor, or East Indians hardy,
honourable, active, enterprising, energetic, sober, and intelligent ;
possessed withal of constitutions suited to the climate (under the
influence of which the uninured European sinks and withers as a
blighted leaf) ; and habituated to speak home to the hearts, feel-
ings and understandings of the inhabitants in that language
which, to the untaught Englishman's ear, is unmeaning and out-
landish gibberish. Such are the elements from which I have suc-
ceeded in forming the nucleus of an establishment which your
Royal Highness has been led to suppose impracticable. Such are
the elements which the thirty-eight learned Fellows have done
their utmost to set aside, and cast into contemptuous obscurity,
that there might be a clear field for Major Jervis to initiate his
aerial and imaginary schemes whereon.

Those who have been trained under my system would never
submit to the indignity of being superseded by the fiat of the
Royal Society, nor would the Government of India ever be so
blind to justice as to give their sanction to such a procedure. It
is impossible it is inconsistent with all the precedents we have
to guide our judgment regarding their actions and the princi-
ples which regulate the conduct of the Court of Directors
towards those who have served them faithfully, to suppose that
such an enormity could ever be tolerated by that Court one
instant after its practical effects were brought home to their

It is not, please your Royal Highness, that the members of
this establishment of whom I speak are dependent on their
situations : most of them are sufficiently well connected with
relations who are able to maintain them decently until they
can suit themselves with better employment, if that which they
hold should become irksome to them; and, talented as they are,


and backed as one and all should be by all the force which my
poor recommendation and my small influence may carry with
them, they would not long have to search for a respectable
livelihood in a transition state of society like that of India,
where useful energy and acquirements of the kind they possess
are in so great request, especially when it were generally known
that they were victimised solely to make room for the experi-
ments of the protege of the thirty-eight learned Fellows.

This is, however, to argue on an hypothesis which it is very
certain the Court will never allow to come to pass : the proba-
bilities are that I should be consulted before any irremediable
steps were taken ; and then and then those who have put their
fortunes in my keeping should not want an advocate.

It will, however, I doubt not, be gratifying to your Royal
Highness to know that no harm can eventually happen, and
some good will perhaps result, though hardly commensurate
with the expense incurred by the Court, from the transmission
to India of the seventy Sappers and thirty Civilians. Men of that
class, that is, intelligent Englishmen, are naturally in request, and
they will most probably be absorbed, sooner or later, into other
departments, where they are greatly needed, and where higher
wages and better prospects will be held out to them than the
Survey Department can afford. For the rest I shall confine
myself to saying,

" In apricum proferet aetas."

The next point of radical difference is, that the Irish Survey is
carried on in a country within a few hours' steam of the most
civilized nation of the world, between which packets daily ply ;
whilst the Indian Survey is carried on in a land little short of
barbarous. It is no part, as I understand, of Colonel Colby's
system to repair mathematical instruments ; but that necessity
has been forced on me, and I have trained an establishment of
native artificers, who, if they proceed at their present rate of
improvement for two years longer, bid fair to make us inde-


pendent of Europe, in all but glasses and levels. It is necessary
to see the facts in order to believe them ; and it would look like
boasting if I were to describe the real state of things in this
point. But as it will follow, on the introduction of the aerial
wonder-working scheme, that either these elements must be
swept away or retained, I have only to hope that your Royal
Highness will show how reluctantly and unconsciously your
concurrence has been so publicly given to this Address, by
taking measures to prevent the merit of any part of my labours
being appropriated by my successor.

There follows in order the immense distinction, that in Ireland,
if I understand it rightly, all large instruments are carried on
a march in spring carts, whilst those of all sorts and sizes of
the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India are conveyed on
the shoulders or heads of men. The carriers so employed
cannot be procured at call : it would be the idlest speculation
on earth to look for hired men in sufficient numbers in any part
of India, equal to execute this office with safety nay, equal to
any other task, even that of transposing stones from one spot to

From these people are taken those who build our piles, pitch
our tents, manage our heliotropes sight-vanes and lamps, cut
our rays through forests and groves, dig our roads of ascent
to hill stations, tend our instruments and their reading lamps,
make our tapers, and perform in general all secondary offices,
for which they receive each from five to nine rupees (ten to eighteen
shillings) per month ; and surely I need not inform the thirty-
eight learned Fellows that these duties cannot be performed
without some previous training. Yet how are the persons whom
I have taken from the plough-tail and loom and other such
primitive occupations, and succeeded in instructing and sys-
tematizing with so much painful toil, and after so many failures,
to amalgamate with the wonder-working scheme ? They must
either be swept away also, or Major Jervis, when he succeeds to
me, must avail himself of the elements of my machinery a


result to which I can have no objection, provided the exact
amount of my labours which he should thus appropriate, be
duly acknowledged.

Most of the angles of principal triangles in the Great Trigo-
nometrical Survey of India are observed by night, and by means
of lamps which consist of a paraboloidal reflector of twelve
inches diameter applied to an Argand's burner. The intro-
duction of night lights into this department, as a general prac-
tice, is entirely due to me: in the time of my predecessor it was
unknown, for though blue lights had been used in one or two
instances by Colonel Lambton in years far back, yet I never saw
it done under him, nor did any party, taking the field, ever go
equipped for night observation.

The practice was first attempted in 1822-3 by myself, and
since that time has been universal ; the result of which is that
the whole constitution of the departmental duties has been
changed, and instead of taking the field at the commencement
of the rainy season, and remaining under canvas during the
whole of the most unhealthy period of the year, which was the
ruinous usage, we bore a passage through the dense mists of
other seasons, which, though less favourable, as far as the
limpidness of the medium is concerned, make ample amends in
their greater salubrity.

The lamps- I speak of, with paraboloidal reflectors, were
constructed to my order for the E. I. Company by Mr. Simms,
in 1830; for the implements which I originally used were by far
too rude, primitive, and wasteful of oil. But it is well known
that an Argand's burner is unavailable in an agitated medium ;
wherefore, after many failures I have hit on the expedient of
enclosing the whole in a wooden shed with a glass window,
which serves as a packing case in travelling.

Now the means of centering and adjusting this shed, so that
the axis of the emergent rays shall pass over the centre of the
station, have all been supplied, and the remedy is so effectual, that
in the heaviest storms of wind the light emitted is as bright, at


thirty miles off as a star of the third magnitude ; nor even from
heavy showers of rain, provided the aperture or tin chimney at
top be sheltered, need any interruption be apprehended.

This then, I submit to your Royal Highness, is another
feature of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, of which,
when I was in Ireland, I could find no traces in Colonel Colby's
system ; and if to ensure a conformity, which cannot otherwise
exist, my lamps and system of observing terrestrial angles by
night be to be swept off the boards at my departure, it will
certainly not become me to repine over the return to the olden
system because of its being a retrograde process ; but at the
same time, if, as I expect, Major Jervis should find it impos-
sible to dispense with my apparatus and arrangements, I must
protest against its being left to his option to do so, and arro-
gate any merit to himself for my improvements or any portion
of them.

I never use masts or piles but for secondary stations. A sight-
vane, of an isosceles-triangular form, eight feet high, perforated
with an aperture of two inches diameter, which serves as a
diaphragm for the rays of a heliotrope to pass through, is the
only day-signal.

The top of the sight-vane is formed like the kalas or spire
of a Hindu temple or Mohammedan mosque, and a plumb-line
suspended therefrom, and passing through the centre of the two-
inch aperture, furnishes the means of adjustment; in all which
my Natives have been instructed, as well as in the management
of the reverberatory lamps, which latter are put up at sunset,
and taken down at sunrise to make room for the former.

Experience has taught me that the mode adopted in former
years of building the platforms all of one body is objectionable ;
and though the old instruments were not sufficiently delicate to
make this perceptible, yet those which have been constructed
under my superintendence point to the absolute necessity, where
extreme accuracy is sought, of separating the central pillar, by
an annular space, from the part on which the observers tread,
another precaution which is now always attended to.


These are all, more or less, I apprehend, features which my
department has not in common with Colonel Colby's system. It
may be, certainly, that two persons whose minds are intently
bent on the same pursuit have arrived at the same result in
different ways ; and as the question is not with Colonel Colby,
but with the thirty-eight learned Fellows, I must disclaim all
desire to interfere with any pretensions to which he may have a
prior claim. But I must decidedly say that I noted nothing
akin to them when I was in Ireland, and have never copied
from his system in any respect, except, to use my former me-
taphor, that of giving a particular application to a general
equation, founded on principles open to all mankind, with co-
efficients drawn from local causes.

Herein I have certainly sought to follow his example, for I have
made it the rule of my whole life to cull excellencies wherever
I chanced to meet them ; and as it is impossible that, under the
constant operation of this maxim, I could have associated for
upwards of a month on terms of daily intimacy with gentlemen
so able as Col. Colby and his Officers, without learning much,
acquiring many new and valuable hints, and improving what my
own experience had taught me so, when my work comes to be
given to the world, I shall not fail to make my acknowledgments
in form for benefits so received.

" For mine own part,
I shall be glad to learn of noble men."

Ireland is a healthy congenial country, the land of hospitality
to a proverb ; and when sickness attacks parties engaged in sur-
veying, it affects individuals only who may be easily removed to
the shelter of some habitable and friendly roof not far distant.
In India, ofttimes the jungle fever rises as by enchantment in a
night, and sweeps over the camp like an avenging angel, laying
prostrate beneath its fury every human being without distinction
of complexion, country, or faith. What are the seventy Sappers
and thirty Civilians to do under such an unsparing visitation ;
perhaps hundreds of miles from home, in a country where there


are no roads, no medical assistance at hand, no one to sympathise
with their miseries, and amidst a population who deem their very
touch impure and unholy ? They must die by the road-side, as
many of the Natives of the Great Trigonometrical Survey have
done without my being able to help it ; as I myself have often
narrowly escaped doing ; and their carcases will remain to rot and
putrify, whilst the vultures crows and dogs fight in clamorous
and discordant chorus for the choicest morsels of their booty.
But I shall probably be consulted before this happens, provided
I have not previously made way for my successor and his pro-

I have spoken hitherto of the seventy Sappers and thirty Ci-
vilians only ; but in relation to the Officers, namely three Captains
and five Subalterns, a few words may not be amiss. Those gen-
tlemen will soon find out that the Great Trigonometrical Survey
of Ireland and the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India are
two distinct affairs, though the two names do both begin with an
I ; and that what they may have learned in the former will not
apply without modification to the latter. They will soon com-
pare notes with their brother Officers ; and it will be manifest on a
week's trial that only persons of a particular taste, combined with
peculiar habits of endurance and suitability to an eastern climate,
can accommodate themselves to the duties, privations, and modes
of life, which are inseparable from the career marked out for
them ; wherefore, without meaning at all to damp their ardour,
it would be but an act of common kindness to warn them of the
expediency of not committing themselves by any irrevocable step.

That, however, is their own look out, not mine ; but as it will
be clearly seen that I look upon the whole project as fraught with
the seeds of self-destruction and failure, it will be advisable to
examine into another feature of discrepancy which Col. Colby's
system presents, irreconcileable in toto, as I conceive, with the
circumstances of India and with the plan developed in Major
Jervis's pamphlet, which the thirty-eight learned Fellows have
bound themselves to make common cause withal.


Though there are, doubtless, many talented Officers in India,
yet the main impulse which prompts Englishmen to submit to
expatriation to that alien clime is to seek wealth, that they may
return with the means of sharing in its delights and comforts to
their native land. Compared to this, science is, and most proba-
bly ever will be, a secondary consideration ; and though there is
no want of candidates to enact the primary parts of the drama,
for which ample salaries are allowed, yet the subordinate parts
are rarely sought for or occupied but as a temporary expedient ;
as a stepping-stone in fact whereon to poise one's self, or gain a
vantage ground to collect strength for springing to some more
profitable height.

The Honourable E. I. Company have three distinct armies,
one at each of the Presidencies of Calcutta, Madras, and Bom-
bay; and it needs but a slight examination of their army-list to
show, that in each of the corps composing either of the three, the
proportion which the number of European Officers holding com-
missions bears to the numerical strength or rank and file of each
regiment, falls far below that of any European army whatever,
whilst the portion of that portion absent on account of sickness
or furlough is much greater. Yet from this comparatively small
residue all military and staff situations are filled, the occupants
being nevertheless borne on the effective strength of the regiments
to which they belong as if actually present and doing regimental

From this cause it is impossible for the Government to attend
to scientific pursuits, sine limite ; and even if the balance of the
revenue, afterpayment of the expenses necessary to the tenure of
the country, admitted of that procedure, gentlemen of the Council
might probably think that there were objects of more vital im-
portance to be provided for first, such as the more complete offi-

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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 9 of 13)