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Hamilton Tovey

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Colonel Hamilton Tovey RE (1841-1889)


1889 Obituary [1]

COLONEL HAMILTON TOVEY, R.E., Commanding Royal Engineer of the Home District, was born at Stoke, Devonport, on the 16th of July, 1841, being the youngest son of Captain Alexander Tovey, of H.M. 24th Regiment, and of Elmsleigh, near Paignton, South Devon.

After being educated at the Ordnance School, Carshalton, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, he was commissioned a Lieutenant of Royal Engineers on the 22nd of June, 1858, and passed through the usual year’s course of instruction at the Royal Engineers Establishment, Chatham. He was then quartered at Portsmouth for more than two years, and had the honour, in 1860, of turning the first sod of the great fortifications of Portsdown Hill, where his smart little camp of sappers was always an object of much interest to the neighbourhood.

In December 1861, on the outbreak of the “Trent” affair, Lieutenant Tovey was suddenly ordered to Canada in Captain (now Colonel) E. O. Hewett’s 18th Company Royal Engineers, who, after an effort to land with their comrades the Scots Guards, at Rivihre du Loup-defeated on account of the rapidly accumulating ice - had to steam away to Sydney, Cape Breton, thence to Halifax, and finally to St. John, New Brunswick, where they disembarked after a voyage of some thirty-five days. They crossed New Brunswick in sleighs to Rivihre du Loup, the Canadian Railway terminus, and thence to London, Ontario, a land journey of over 1,100 miles; but to their chagrin they never saw the active service they had all anticipated.

At London Lieutenant Tovey was employed chiefly in surveying for military positions and in providing temporary barrack-accommodation for an unusually large force, numbering ten times the normal garrison. In June, 1863, he left with his company for Pictou, Nova Scotia,, and thence by road-march to Halifax, At the end of his tour of foreign service he was quartered at Bermuda for five months. Downloaded by [] on [04/09/17]. Copyright © ICE Publishing, all rights reserved

On returning home in 1867 he served five years at Plymouth (where he built Picklecombe Fort), Chatham, and Aldershot, between July, 1867, and May, 1872. During this period he was employed, in 1871, upon the buildings of the Annual International Exhibitions at South Eensington. After leaving Aldershot, in May, 1872, Captain H. Tovey, R.E., renewed his acquaintance with the fortress of Portsmouth for some four years, broken only by the episode of his being ordered abroad on active service in March 1874, with the result (so painful to a soldier) that he had merely to come home again after a two months’ absence, for, when he arrived at the Gold Coast, the Ashantee War was over.

Taking part in the autumn manoeuvres at Dartmoor, in 1873, as Commanding Royal Engineer in the 1st Division, he headed the list of officers specially thanked by Major-General Sir Charles Staveley, K.C.B., commanding the Army Corps, “for the assistance rendered to me . . . in laying out the encampment of brigades, in the absence of divisional and brigade staffs, when the troops were first assembling.”

From Portsmouth he was moved, in October, 1876, for five years to the Army Manufacturing District, his particular duty being the charge of the engineer works of the Royal Gunpowder Factory at Waltham Abbey, and the Royal Small-Arms Factory at Enfield. Then, after spending more than a year at Chatham and Aldershot, Major Tovey was appointed, in December, 1882, “Instructor in Strategy, Military History, and Law” at the School of Military Engineering at Chatham. In that appointment, which he held for nearly three years, he wrote two valuable books, "The Elements of Strategy,” and "Martial Law and the Custom of War, 1886.” The former gained from the Commander-in-Chief the honour of an official “ expression of His Royal Highness’s satisfaction with the careful and diligent research which he has taken in the compilation of his work ” ; and the latter has been stated by some experts to be the best work on Military Law published in this country since the passing of the Army Act of 1881.

Lieutenant-Colonel Tovey served again in the Southern District from September, 1885, as Commanding Royal Engineer of the Gosport Sub-District, and he was, in that capacity, reported to headquarters by the general of the district for his valuable services as Secretary to the Committee on the Defences of Portsmouth and Weymouth. On the 30th of June, 1888, he came to London as Commanding Royal Engineer of the Home District, and in that command he died, at his house, 39, Nevern Square, South Kensington, on the 5th of August, 1889, after more than thirty-one years’ service in the Army. He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 5th of February, 1578.

Colonel Tovey never had the chance to achieve any great distinction, nor the good luck to see a shot fired in anger, but he was a sterling engineer, never sparing himself in carrying out thoroughly any work confided to him. He had the shy, reserved manners so often noticeable in military men, and by some termed "stoicism,” but he was truly a warm-hearted benevolent, beneficent man and an earnest soldier. Perhaps the most notable part of his life was its close. He had been ailing for some months, and merely attributed his state of health to the change from his ordinary open-air life to a sedentary life in London; but he took good medical advice. At last, however, it was thought desirable to supplement that advice by the opinion of a specially-eminent physician, who diagnosed the subtle malady to be one of fatal character, which would terminate life in about a week, and he broke the news to his patient, who received it with characteristic coolness. Colonel Tovey busied himself during his few remaining days on earth-to the astonished admiration of his doctors (men well accustomed to see death)-in calmly settling details of business, official and private, so as to save trouble or inconvenience to others. He arranged, for example, as to the disposal of his accoutrements, the sale of his charger at Tattersall’s, and so on. It seemed that he had truly thought out his family motto, ccln Deo conjido.” He acted as if he were merely preparing to go on parade. He wrote to his major (G. R. Savage, R.E.) a letter, forwarding his office keys, and giving minute instructions on business matters, and bidding farewell to his officers and subordinates, saying, cc My days are numbered, and I am daily getting weaker. Bid good-bye to . . . ’’ and his pencil-written letter ended with an apology, in curiously punctilious courtesy: “Excuse pencil, for I am in bed. Good-bye.” In the Army they often have to say Good-bye,” but it may be doubted if a soldier’s last Good-bye’’ was ever more bravely expressed.


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