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Charles Fouracres

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Charles Fouracres (c1826-1884)


1884 Obituary [1]

CHARLES FOURACRES was a distinguished member of the Indian Public Works Department, and in all respects so remarkable a man that his career deserves more than a passing notice.

A native of Devonshire, in which county the name of Fouracres, spelt in various ways, is well known, and in which his family had long resided, he was in boyhood apprenticed to his father, a builder, and was brought up, and destined by his parents to earn his livelihood in, a carpenter’s shop; but from some cause or other he left that occupation and enlisted in one of the East India Company’s old European regiments, the 1st Madras Fusiliers, the present 102nd Regiment, a regiment which had the proud distinction of being the first to stem the tide of the Indian Mutiny under General Neill, and which obtained the soubriquet of “Keill‘s Lambs.”

Before being transferred to India he married, and, as he himself was wont to say, it showed much devotion in a respectable woman to marry a soldier in those days, for the hardships of a barrack life were far greater then than now. She, however, died after a few years, and at a later period of his life he married a second time.

Fouracres had not been long in the regiment before his superior intelligence brought him into notice, and his knowledge of carpentry stood him in good stead, for he was selected for the post of Instructor to the boys in the workshops of the Military Orphan Asylum at Madras, and there won the respect of the Chaplain, the Rev. Mr. Lugard, who proved a true friend, and on whom Mr. Fouracres always looked as the first who, holding out to him a helping hand, set him on the bottom round of the ladder, to the top of which he in time raised himself.

After serving a few years in the Orphan Asylum, he was selected by Sir Arthur Cotton as Foreman in the large workshops which had been erected in connection with the great Godavery Delta Irrigation projects. In those workshops Mr. Fouracres showed his special aptitude for training boys, and for communicating the knowledge not only of his own handicraft, but of mechanics in general, as it was not in the art of carpentry alone that he was thoroughly proficient, for he possessed a high order of mechanical genius. It was only necessary to give him a hint of any particular instrument or machine, or to explain to him the kind of work to be accomplished, and his fertile faculty of invention produced not only a machine suited for the work, but one which was generally perfect of its kind.

From being Foreman of the carpenters, he gradually came to have control over the whole workshops, under the Engineer-in-Chief, and he ultimately rose to the rank of Sub-Engineer, the highest obtainable in the subordinate grade of the Public Works Department. His devotion to work for twenty years in a trying climate told upon his health, and he became so ill that he was obliged to be sent on sick certificate to England. While at home he made the best use of his time in acquiring a knowledge of all the most recent improvements in machinery.

Meanwhile, the East India Irrigation Company had been formed, and the Chief Engineer, Colonel, now General Rundall, knowing the value of Mr. Fouracres’ mechanical talents, recommended the Directors of that company to secure his services as an Assistant Engineer for the large workshops which had to be erected at Cuttack, in connection with the great irrigation scheme for the Orissa Deltas. During the six years that the Company continued operations, he rendered invaluable aid. At the time when the Government of India took over the works of the East India Irrigation Company in January 1869, Mr. Fouracres was employed on the Midnapore Canal in the Burdwan district of Bengal; he was transferred from the service of the Company to that of the Government as an Assistant Engineer on those works ; but was shortly afterwards moved to the Sone Canals, in Behar, which were commenced by the Government in that year.

In September 1869, Mr. Fouracres was appointed Executive Engineer of the Dehree workshops; it was in this capacity that he chiefly rendered those services which have been recognized, by both the Governments of India and Bengal, and by the Secretary of State for India, as deserving of special mention and special remuneration. For ten years, from 1869 to 1879, Mr. Fouracres was actively engaged on the construction of all the mechanical appliances for the Sone Irrigation Works. He first constructed the workshops at Dehree, in which the machinery required for the erection of locomotive engines, railway-trucks, mortar-mills, and all the plant necessary for these extensive works, was placed. These workshops comprised steam saw-mills and shops for wood-working machinery, foundry, blacksmiths’ and fitters’ shops. To a great extent the men employed had to be trained to the work ; common coolies on 2 annas (3d.) a day had to be instructed to drive portable and fixed engines, and men for fitters’ and blacksmiths’ work had to be chosen from the supply which the neighbouring villages could offer. In training these men Mr. Fouracres was peculiarly successful ; so that in the course of three years a good staff of workmen had been collected and trained.

The Sone Canals command an area of more than 1,000,000 acres; the chief undertaking, in connection with these canals, is the anicut or weir across the river Sone. This weir is 12,500 feet between the abutments ; it is founded on hollow brick cylinders sunk 10 feet or so into the sandy bed of the river. One of the chief difficulties, at the time this weir was constructed in 1870-73, was to find means to sink the wells in any reasonable time ; for in those days the only appliances for well-sinking were of the most primitive description. To overcome this difficulty Mr. Fouracres invented an excavator. This clever invention wrought almost a revolution in the practice of well-sinking in India, ancl since that day many varieties, all more or less of the same type as that which Mr. Fouracres first used on the Sone weir, or modifications of the original American bucket, have been introduced. By the aid of “ Fouracres’ Excavator” many thousand wells were sunk in the bed of the Sone, and the weir was thus completed in fraction of the time that would have been occupied under the old methods. The value of Mr. Fouracres’ invention was fully recognized by the Government of India; a special bonus of 10,000 rupees was granted him on account of it.

In connection with the Sone weir are three sets of large scouring sluices, which consist of many consecutive openings 20 feet in width; these are only separated by piers with no bridge above them. Occasionally it is necessary to close the openings when the stream is running through the sluices 8 or 10 feet in depth ; at which times a velocity of 16 to 20 feet per second is not unusual. To close these openings Mr. Fouracres designed the hydraulic-brake shutter which forms the up-stream valve, and the tumbler shutter which stands on the down-stream side of each 0pening.l These shutters have now been in successful operation for some ten years, and are justly regarded in India as most effective ; they are believed to be unique.

Mr. Fouracres’ designs were accepted by Government for all the details of the sluices, valves and other appliances connected with the many locks, weirs, head-sluices, and escapes on the Son8 works. Several of them are of novel construction, more particularly an arrangement of rack-and-pinion for opening and closing lock-gates, an extremely simple and efficient means for effecting the purpose. Among the many mechanical appliances for which India has to thank Mr. Fouracres, is the vertical-action bucket steam-dredger.

A considerable number of which are now in use in India on canals ; those which Mr. Fouracres himself established were constructed with the aid of surplus engines from the plant. These dredgers work at particularly low rates, and have almost superseded the ladder-dredgers which were obtained from England for the Sone works. But while Mr. Fouracres’ attention was more particularly given to the mechanical branch of the profession, his abilities were frequently called into play in other directions. On more than one occasion he was specially deputed by the Government to different parts of India to advise on difficulties of various kinds ; and whenever the foundations of the many large masonry works on the Sone Canals gave trouble, it was always to Mr. Fouracres’ ingenuity and to his large practical experience that the Engineers of these works fell back for advice.

Mr. Fouracres’ name will long be remembered in India on grounds distinct from the operations of his purely professional career. He had from the earlier days of his employment in that country taken an active interest in the education of European and Eurasian boys in the mechanical arts ; natives also he had not forgotten. Shortly after the Dehree workshops had been placed in good working order, he established, under the sanction and with the cordial assistance of the Government, the Dehree Training SchoolIn this school lads of from thirteen to seventeen years of age were received and educated. The training given was both theoretical and practical; the boys spent part of their time in school and part in the workshops. The success of this school was very pronounced ; Mr. Fouracres’ share in contributing to this success was, 011 more than one occasion, acknowledged by the Indian Government in complimentary terms. A special increase of salary was given to him for his part in educating and training European and Eurasian mechanics. Shortly after the Dehree Training School was established he obtained the necessary sanction to fund a somewhat similar establishment for natives. In a few,months a number of little dusky scholars were to be seen seated on the floor of their school, in the morning repeating the Hindustanee multiplication table; while in the afternoon they spent their time in the workshops, where they chiefly distinguished themselves in the foundry. There these boys, many of them really children, were to be seen busy in the sand, happy and useful ; it was surprising how quickly some of them became efficient moulders. Now, many of these children have grown to be mechanics far superior to their fathers in practice and in learning.

In 1879, when the Sone works were approaching completion, it was determined to establish a large Government workshop in Calcutta, and to transfer the Training School to that city. About this time the Indian Government offered special bonuses and pensions to engineers in order to reduce the overgrown establishments. Mr. Fouracres took advantage of these terms and sent in his papers. His resignation was accepted, and he obtained the advantages then offered. But the Government were unwilling to lose his services, and although he nominally left the Department of Public Works he never actually did so ; for on the day following that on which his name was struck off the permanent list, it was placed on that of the Temporary Engineers. Mr. Fouracres was in fact immediately re-employed on special terms for the Calcutta workshops. .His health, however, again failing, he was obliged once more to visit England, but as soon as his strength was recruited he returned to his post.

In Calcutta, or rather at Seebpur on the right bank of the Hoogly opposite Calcutta, Mr. Fouracres again went through the labour of building new workshops, importing and erecting new machinery, collecting his staff of workmen, and generally superintending the arrangements of a new factory. The Dehree Training School was transferred to Seebpur, where it formed a section of a large college which was started mainly to give n superior engineering education. This college is a branch of thc Calcutta University, and the scholars see something of practical work in the shops. These new workshops at Seebpur were but just fully completed, equipped, and in working order, when, at the commencement of 1884, Mr. Fouracres was suddenly seized with a slight attack of paralysis, and was finally compelled to leave India. At this time the Government of India again recognised the exceptional nature of Mr. Fouracres’ services, by recommending to the Secretary of St.ate in Council that a special pension, in addition to that which was due under the terms of the concessions of 1879, should be granted to him. This request was acceded to, and in a form, which, as it occurred, was a peculiarly fortunate one. A bonus of 15,000 rupees was given to Mr. Fouracres on account of the great mechanical ingenuity which he applied unremittingly in the service of Government, and the saving effected by some of his inventions.” He, however, did not live to receive this bonus himself; he died suddenly at Bristol on the 14th of July, 1884, aged fifty-eight. Of these fifty-eight years over thirty-two were spent in active employment on the plains of India.

No Government was ever served more faithfully and profitably than was the Indian Government by Charles Fouracres, and while he was an example to all in the singleness of purpose and fidelity with which he discharged his public duties as a servant of the State, in private life he commended himself to, and won the respect of, his fellow-men, by the kindliness of his disposition, his readiness to oblige and assist all who asked his aid, and by the general geniality of his character.

To the youths under his own special care he proved a kind and considerate master, taking a personal interest in each individual boy, and winning their affection in return. By his brother engineers in India the name of "Old Fouracres" will long be held in kindly remembrance, while their warmest sympathies arc extended to the widow and family left to mourn his loss. The esteem in which he was held by all classes cannot be better expressed than in the following letter, from the Bishop of Calcutta:- Palace, Calcutta.

“May 20th, 1884. “MY DEAR FOURACRES, “I was very sorry not to see you again before you left the country, as I should have liked to have expressed to you more fully than I have done how much indebted I feel to you for all your good work done during your long period of service in India. Others can speak (and I have no doubt they have spoken) more fully as to your professional services, but it does not require an engineer to discover how much you have done to make the Eurasians and natives appreciate honest manual labour. Indeed the complete revolution produced in the minds of many of them on this subject has, so far as Bengal is concerned, been accomplished in a great measure through your exertions. You know horn interested I always have been in the lads under your charge iu the Seebpur College. But as Bishop of the Diocese I must also speak of the excellent moral and religious influence always exercised by you over the lads, and in this respect it is only simple truth to say that I miss you. I hope some one may soon be raised up to fill your place. Give my kind regards to Mrs. Fouracres. I hope you have recovered your health, and that you have found a comfortable sphere of dnty at home. Yours faithfully, (Signed) “EDWARD R. CALCUTTA."

Mr. Fouracres was elected a Member of the Institution on the 2nd of December, 1879.



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