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Henry Hyde

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Major-General Henry Hyde (1824-1887)

1865 Captain Henry Hyde R.E., Master of the Mint, Calcutta.[1]


1888 Obituary [2]

MAJOR-GENERAL HENRY HYDE, RE., was the descendant of one of the oldest families in England, his ancestors having been the owners of Hyde Manor, North Denchworth, Berkshire, in the 12th century, and of the whole of the parish of Denchworth for eight generations. The old family house, now the property of Worcester College, is still standing, and one of the roads leading to it is still called “Hyde Way.”

He was the son of the Rev. Henry Wooddcock Hyde, Curate of St. Giles, Camberwell, where he was born in the year 1824.

General Hyde’s education commenced at the Collegiate School, Camberwell. He next went to Lewisham Grammar School, at that time conducted by Dr. Prendergast. From Lewisham he went to Mr. Statono’s school at Wimbledon, in order to prepare for Addiscombe. He left Addiscombe at the age of twenty, coming out second in the list of engineers for his term.

Having spent two years at the depot of the Royal Engineers, Chatham, he was posted to the corps of Sappers, and ordered to India ; but being entitled to two months’ leave before his departure, he took the first opportunity available for receiving practical instruction in civil engineering by spending the interval in working on the Trent Valley Railway. It may here be noted that civil engineering was the line in which his tastes and the bent of his mind lay, although discharging military duties when called upon with zeal and ability.

General Hyde’s Indian career had in it even more than the usual variety that falls to the lot of officers of the distinguished corps to which he belonged. He commenced it in the iron bridge yard in Calcutta, an establishment then kept up by the Indian Government for the purpose of building iron bridges for the use of the Public Works Department. After a few months’ service. in the yard he was transferred to the Military Department, though his duties partook more of a civil than of a military character, road-making on the Indian frontier being his principal occupation.

There was, however, enough military element in it to keep him on the alert, for he was attacked and wounded while defending himself in the discharge of his civil duties.

In 1849 he was posted to the army of the Punjab, where he did excellent service, being present, amongst other engagements, at the siege of Mooltan. Soon afterwards he was placed in charge of the Peshawur forts, where he showed remarkable powers of directing and managing men. The wild hill tribes, with whom he carried out extensive works, were so satisfied with his fairness, firmness and friendly treatment, that they willingly worked for him when nothing could be done by other authorities on the Peshawur station.

He often interested the writer of this notice with stories of his troubles and his triumphs in the management of these tribe-men, and to be successful he had, he said, frequently to 'work in defiance of all red tape rules.' As showing the peculiar character of these men, he mentioned that it was not unusual for one of them to ask for a few days’ leave in order to punish some member of another tribe who had done his people an injury, the punishment being to take his life. This being done, the man would return punctually to work at the expiration of his leave, having regarded the occurrence as one of the most ordinary kind.

Hyde was Commanding Engineer under Sir Sydney Cotton in 1854, then was appointed Executive Engineer of the Peshawur division, a charge which included both civil and military engineering works of an important character, all of which he did with great credit to himself; though here, too, he went far in setting aside red tape rules, incurring thereby the serious displeasure of his superintending engineer.

In 1858 he was again on military duty in an expedition against the Sitana fanatics. During his employment in connection with this expedition he raised the 'Pathan Companies of the Sappers,' again showing remarkable power in the organization and management of men. He got the Frontier Medal for his services in this campaign, and here ended his military career.

In 1859 he entered on much more congenial work,,when appointed Consulting Engineer in the Indian Railway Department. This appointment, which requires a practical knowledge of railway construction, was at that time frequently filled by officers of the Royal Engineer corps who had no previous training or experience in such work, and some of whom were not well suited to the duties they were called on to perform ; the fact being that at that period of Indian railway enterprise there were few if any opportunities of acquiring the necessary knowledge. In this respect General Hyde formed no exception to the rule ; but his natural strong taste for civil engineering was speedily developed, and he soon mastered all the details connected with the work. The writer has heard several railway engineers declare that he was the best consulting engineer they had ever had work to do with.

In 1860 he was transferred to the appointment of Inspector- General of Public Works Accounts, a post not at all suited to his tastes and requirements, and no one was more sensible than General Hyde himself of the disadvantages to the public services involved in such appointments; but it was only another instance of the various and incongruous duties which had to be undertaken at that time by the Royal Engineers in India.

Soon, however, he returned to his favourite work, having been again appointed Consulting Engineer for Railways to the Government of Bengal, an appointment which he filled with great credit until the year 1861, when he was made Master of the Calcutta Mint. Probably no man was ever better suited for an appointment than General Hyde was for this. Mechanical engineering and metallurgy having been his favourite study all through his career, he soon mastered the whole details of mint work, and having done so he lost no time in carrying out improvements and reforms. The changes which he made in the equipment of the mint during his services there were most extensive, - buildings, machinery and furnaces were all improved, enlarged, or entirely reconstructed, his most prominent and important change for the better being the substitution of Siemens's gas-furnaces for the old-fashioned smelting ones in use when he became Master. His knowledge of every detail of the working was complete and thorough; the writer had frequent opportunities of going over the works with him, and could not then, and cannot now, refrain from expressing admiration of the ability and zeal with which he supervised the whole of the working of this great establishment, and when General Hyde made over charge of it, it is no exaggeration to say that it was second to no mint in Europe.

In addition to the purely mechanical and chemical duties connected with the working of the mint, he took great interest in, and collected a vast store of information on the coins and coinage of India, both native and English, his collection being of great interest in some branches of the subject. He frequently talked of putting his store of knowledge, and the results of his intimate acquaintance with the subject, into print, and it. is much to be regretted that his numerous occupations prevented him from carrying out his intention. His collection of books on the subject of coins, and the prices which they brought at the sale of his library by Messrs. Puttuck and Simpson, showed the great interest which he took in the question, and the attention which he bestowed on it. During his services as Mint-Master at Calcutta he was appointed head Commissioner of Paper-Currency, holding the appointment from 1862 to 1870, and so successfully did he conduct it, that on resigning the office he received the thanks of the Governor-General in Council for his services.

In addition to his purely official duties as Mint-Master, he was frequently called on to report on practical and scientific subjects ; being a willing and able worker, Government were never backward in availing themselves of his services ; indeed, he might be called referee-general on all questions having a scientific side to them. He was President of the Torpedo Committee for the defence of the River Hooghly, and arrived at some practical conclusions 011 the subject, but the Government of India could not, or would not, supply funds to carry out the proposals. He was President of the Committee for the Inspection of Steam-Boilers, but resigned in consequence of what he considered useful suggestions being ignored. He conducted an exhaustive series of experiments on Indian coal as adapted for steam purposes. He was President of the Asiatic Society, a member of the Calcutta Municipal Corporation, in which capacity he rendered most valuable aid to the town on many occasions by his sound advice on the numerous questions which were discussed in committee and public meetings connected with the great works of drainage and water-supply (carried out by Messrs. Clark and Smith) which were then in progress, involving an ultimate expenditure of more than one and a half million sterling. He was also Fellow of the University of Calcutta, and member of its senate, and he was onc of the British Commissioners to the Paris Exhibition of 1867. The following notice of him by the leading Calcutta daily paper, expresses very fairly some of the traits of his character, and the esteem in which he was held by all the sound thinking members of the community.

'His advice was always against the makeshifts too commonly recommended in India by narrow-minded men, which he regarded as wasteful and extravagant in the extreme. And his loss to the community would be very serious in this matter alone, that he stemmed, in some measure, the tide of vague criticisms with which the 'idle and irresponsible reviewers,’ too much encouraged by the Financial Department, endeavour to swamp every new proposal, however beneficial, or cramp every scheme, however well worked.'

In 1876 he resigned his appointment as Master of the Calcutta Mint to take up the duties of Inspector-General of materials for Indian railways at the India Office, another appointment for which he was eminently qualified. During his tenure of the office he devoted himself to the practical part of the duties with the zeal of one who was at his favourite employment. He was thoroughly acquainted with the whole of the details of t,he work which he had to control, even to the analyzing and testing of the materials.

He took a sound, business -like view of his dealings with contractors, considerate to those whom he considered honest and straightforward, and alive to the practical difficulties which contractors sometimes have in carrying out contracts to the letter - apart from the spirit of an engagement. All straightforward, business-like men thoroughly appreciated him, while with those who wished to be more clever than honest, he was no favourite. He could ill brook the amount of red tape control which the routine of the India Office sometimes imposed upon him; but he had ample opportunities of employing his special qualifications in supervising the practical part of the work committed to his care, always advocating the procuring of the best materials and workmanship, and putting down as far as he could, the issue of anything inferior, or even second class in either workmanship or material. In his death the railway department of the Government in India, and its officers who had to rely on their wants being properly attended to at the India Office, have suffered a real loss, which they will certainly feel when the work falls into less practical and weaker hands.

The writer of this notice had the pleasure and the advantage of General Hyde’s acquaintance for many years - the years when he had attained to ripe knowledge and great experience, and desires to take this opportunity of bearing testimony to his high qualifications asa mechanical engineer, a man of sound scientific knowledge, a considerate yet firm and determined head of his department, and a valuable, kind, and never-varying friend.

General Hyde was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 3rd December, 1861, and served as an Associate Member of Council in the year 1578.

He died at his residence at Burntwood, Caterham, on the 33rd September, 1887.


1887 Obituary [3]

MAJOR-GENERAL HENRY HYDE, Inspector-General of railway stores at the India Office, and formerly of the Bengal Engineers, was born at Camberwell, London, on 8th November 1824.

He entered the service in 1844, and after remaining at the Chatham depot far two years proceeded to India, arriving at Calcutta in June 1846. His active service commenced in the following year, when, in the execution of his duty in connection with the frontier roads in the Cis-Sutlej states, ho was attacked and wounded.

In 1849 and 1850 he was engaged in the campaign that commenced with the siege of Moultan, at which he was present and for which he received the medal and clasp; the campaign ended with the battle of Goozerat, in which he also took part. After performing various services as a military engineer, including the charge of the frontier forts in Peshawur, and the expeditions against the Momaunds and the Sitana Fanatics, under General Sir Sydney Cotton, he was selected for various appointments of a civil nature.

He was deputy consulting engineer in the railway departments of the North-West Provinces and of Bengal respectively in 1859 and 1860: inspector-general of Public Works accounts and officiating secretary to the government of Bengal in 1861.

In the same year he was appointed to officiate as master of the Calcutta Mint, and in the following year, on the death of Colonel Baird Smith, was confirmed in the appointment.

He also organised and superintended the paper currency department from 1862 to 1870, for which he received the thanks of the Governor-General in Council. During his time the Mint was raised to a state of high efficiency, and was considered in some respects to be in advance of that in London.

He was president of the committee for the defence of the River Hooghly by torpedoes, and government director of the Bank of Bengal from 1870 to 1876.

He was a fellow of the University of Calcutta and a member of the senate; also President of the Asiatic Society there.

He continued to be master of the Mint till 1876, when he left India.

On his return to England he was selected, on account of his peculiar qualifications, to be Inspector-General of railway stores at the India Office, and held that appointment at the time of his death, which took place on 23rd September 1887, in the sixty-third year of his age.

He became a Member of this Institution in 1865.


1888 Obituary [4]

Major-General HENRY HYDE, Inspector-General of Railway Stores for the Indian Government, was born in 1824, and died on the 23d September 1887.

General Hyde had had a long and honourable career in connection with the Indian army, and Indian administration. In 1844, lie joined the Chatham Depot, and in 1846 he arrived at Calcutta. In the following year he was made assistant executive engineer, with the charge of the frontier roads in the Cis-Sutlej States, in which capacity he was attacked and wounded. In 1849-50 be served with the army of the Punjab, and was present at the siege of Mooltan, for which he received a medal and clasp. In 1853 he was appointed to take the charge of the frontier forts at Peshawur, and was commanding engineer under General Sir Sydney Cotton. Between 1856 and 1858 he commanded the frontier detachment of sappers, and raised the Pathan companies at Peshawur.

In 1859, General Hyde became directly connected with that which was afterwards to provide him with a vocation—namely, railway development. His first office was that of deputy consulting engineer in the railway department of the North-West provinces, whence he was transferred in the following year to Bengal. After serving for a short time as inspector-general of public works accounts, he became in 1861 officiating consulting engineer and secretary in the railway department to the Government of Bengal. In 1862, he was appointed Master of the Mint in Calcutta, and for his services in this capacity and in the organisation and superintendence of the paper currency department, between 1862 and 1870, he received the thanks of the Governor-General. In 1876, General Hyde gave up his connection with the mint, and was appointed Inspector-General of Railway Stores at the Indian Office, an appointment which he continued to hold until the time of his decease.

General Hyde was an original member of the Iron and Steel Institute, and frequently attended the meetings in London, as well as occasionally in the provinces. He was at one time President of the Asiatic Society, and was a fellow of the University of Calcutta, and a member of the Senate.


See Also

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Sources of Information

  1. 1865 Institution of Mechanical Engineers
  2. 1888 Institution of Civil Engineers: Obituaries
  3. 1887 Institution of Mechanical Engineers: Obituaries
  4. 1888 Iron and Steel Institute: Obituaries