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Henry Peveril Le Mesurier

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Henry Peveril Le Mesurier (1828-1889)

Brother of Charles Benjamin Le Mesurier

1889 Obituary [1]

HENRY PEVERIL LE MESURIER, eldest son of Mr. Benjamin Le Mesurier, of Wallington, Berks, and St. Martin’s, Guernsey, was born at Alderney on the 4th of November, 1828.

He was educated at the private school of the Rev. Philip Hayes, and subsequently at the well-known Elizabeth College.

In 1846 he was articled for five years to Mr. R. B. Grantham, and on the expiration of his pupilage went to Alderney as engineering assistant to Messrs. Jackson and Bean, the contractors for the breakwater and forts then under construction by the British Government. Here he came into intimate contact with the officers of the Royal Engineers in charge of the works of defence, and gained much varied experience which stood him in good stead during the rough experience of after-life.

In 1853 Mr. Le Mesurier was appointed an Assistant Engineer on the East Indian Railway, and left for Calcutta in December of that year, with a large party of engineers, under Mr. Edward Purser, and from February 1854 to November 1856 worked on the surveys and construction between Benares and Cawnpore.

In September 1854 he was promoted to the position of Resident Engineer. He ran the traverse of the original line between Futtehpore and Cawnpore, and set out the centre line from Mogul Serai to Allahabad station, including the site of the present bridge over the Jumna at Allahabad.

In November 1856, the work of construction being in a forward state on the length between Mogul Serai and the River Tonse, Mr. Le Mesurier was sent to the Punjab to examine the River Sutlej, with a view to selecting a site for a railway-bridge. A few months later the Mutiny broke out, and he had the opportunity, which is said to come to most men once in their lives, of showing the stuff he was made of. The way in which he met the call is best recorded in the words of Sir Donald Macleod, Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, who was at the time Financial Commissioner at Lahore, and who subsequently, in 1870, made strong representations to LorLd awrence’s Government for some recognition of Mr. Le Mesurier’s services. Sir Donald says:-

“After the news of the outbreak at Meerut had reached us by telegram, Ferozepore was the first station in the Punjab in which excitement made itself apparent among our native soldiery, and a report was then circulated that the native troops at Lahore and Mean Mir had broken out, and had reached the Sutlej, in order to co-operate with their brethren at Ferozepore.

“The precaution of disarming those troops had most fortunately been adopted with the utmost promptitude at Mean Mir, so that the intention which they were thus shown to have entertained was frustrated. But, nevertheless, things speedily began to assume an alarming aspect, and the existence of a large magazine, well stored with powder, rendered the position a most critical one. The Brigadier commanding was quite new to the charge, having arrived only two days before, and there was no Executive Engineer of Government on the spot.

“Under these circumstances, Mr. Le Mesurier, who was at the time in the interior, hurried in proprio motu to Ferozepore, and placed his services at the disposal of the Brigadier commanding, who most gladly accepted them, and obtained sanction to his being nominated Executive Engineer, which was duly gazetted. Mr. Le Mesurier at once set vigorously about completing the defence of the magazine, which in a short time he effected in a satisfactory manner. But as the arsenal contained upwards of 700,000 lbs. of gunpowder, packed away in store-rooms, where an ingenious incendiary might at any time succeed in destroying the whole, it became a matter of the very first importance to have this placed out of immediate danger, and accordingly to this matter he at once directed his special attention.

“The whole of the native establishment attached to the magazine speedily became more or less suspected, and several of them were not long afterwards hanged for treason and mutiny. But, nevertheless, Mr. Le Mesurier made use of the principal of these men as his instruments for getting the work carried out, European guards being at hand to act against them if any mutinous disposition should be exhibited. A lucifer match or a burning-glass mould have disposed of the whole of the powder and of the European guard.

“The whole of the gunpowder was in a short time taken out of the storerooms, and buried deeply and securely in the earth, the operation being carried out with so much judgment and skill that when, not long afterwards (two months), the gunpowder was dug up to be served out to the siege-train proceeding to Delhi, not a single barrewl as found damaged.”

General Peter Innes, the Brigadier commanding at Ferozepore, under whom this service was performed, in supporting Sir Donald Macleod’s memorandum, says:-

“On coming in I at once employed him (as Brigadier Commanding) to put under ground (7,500) seven thousand five hundred barrels of gunpowder, the only powder between Calcutta and Kurrachee. The powder was in condemned mud buildings, and a shofti red in would have blown all up.

“The Punjab Government wrote to me to say that if this powder was lost India was lost. . . . On the 19th August, when a portion of the 10th Cavalry broke and bolted, he was the only European gentleman present, and assisted a part of the 61st Foot in driving the rebels from the guns they had possessed themselves of.

“I have no hesitation in saying Mr. Le Mesurier is deserving of every reward the Goverumeut arc pleased to bestow for his very valuable services during the year 1857.”

But the mills of Government grind slowly, and it was not till nearly twenty years later that his services were recognized by his being made a Commander of the Star of India.

Mr. Le Nesurier could at this time (September and October 1857) get no orders from the Chief Engineer of the railway at Allahabad, and it would have been unsafe to return to field-work on the Sutlej River in the plains. He therefore left Ferozepore, and proceeded to Simla, via Loodiana and Kalka, to obtain information connected with the supply of timber and building-materials for railway purposes.

During this part, of his career there occurred an incident that illustrates the resourcefulness of Anglo-Indians during that period of mortal peril. In company with Lieutenant William Wells Lee, of the Bengal Army, and Lieutenant Crane, of H.M. 32nd Regiment, Mr. Le Mesurier was visiting the Rajah of Busahir, at his capital, Rampore, on the Sutlej. There were some men of doubtful loyalty at Busahir, and it was ascertained that there was also a store of gunpowder in the magazine. Under these circumstances, Mr. Le Mesurier and his associates obtained permission from the Rajah to fire from his one field-piece a royal salute in his honour. Having thus obtained access to his store, they fired away until all his powder was burnt!

Mr. Le Mesurier returned to Ferozepore at the end of 1857, and then marched to Delhi, where he remained until he could get a safe run through to Cawnpore, and so down to Allahabad. Here he found the railway offices established inside an intrenched camp, and Mr. Edward Purser, the Chief Engineer, and numerous members of the staff living at an old house, formerly Berrill’s hotel, on the Jumna bank.

Mr. Le Mesurier remained with Mr. Purser until September 1858, when he proceeded to organize a staff for the survey of the proposed line from Allahabad to Jubbulpore.

In the beginning of the cold season of 1859, being then only thirty years of age, he was confirmed in the appointment of Chief Engineer of the Jubbulpore line, East Indian Railway.

Soon after this, being in ill health, Mr. Le Mesurier came to England. He soon recovered, and, it being found that he could work advantageously at home on the plans of the Jubbulpore line, he took a temporary office in Manchester Buildings, Westminster, which he retained till late in 1862.

In July 1863 he returned to India and continued to act as Chief Engineer of the Jubbulpore line until five years later.

He then passed to the service of the Government of India, for whom he took charge, as Chief Engineer, of the surveys of the railway from Lahore to Rawal Pindee; but a few months later hree signed his appointment, having been invited, in September 1868, to join the staff of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway, as Chief Engineer of the Presidency Division.

In the following May, Mr. Le Mesurier was appointed Acting Agent of the Great Indian Peninsula line, and in October of the same year he was confirmed as Agent, and continued to hold that position until February 1877.

In January of that year Mr. Le Mesurier had received the offer of an appointment as Member of the Board of Administration of Egyptian Railways, Telegraph, and Port of Alexandria, of which Board General Marriott, C.S.I., was President. This offer he accepted, and on the death of General Marriott, in December 1879, was appointed the latter’s successor.

In this responsible post he discharged his duties efficiently and well, though for a second time exposed to the dangers of rebellion and the horrors of massacre, from which his wife had a narrow escape. He received the English war medal and the Egyptian bronze star, also a letter of thanks from Lord Granville; in addition to which H.H. the Khedive was pleased to confer on him the collar and the second class of the Osmanieh.

That continued and exceptional strain, physical and mental, should result in a constitutional break-down is what might have been expected. Mr. Le Mesurier himself resisted many warnings, such was his sense of public duty and determination to accomplish the work he was appointed to do. Yielding to the advice of friends, in 1887 he visited Guernsey, with a view of recruiting his health by native air and rest. Whilst there an attack of paralysis rendered his return to official life impossible. From this illness he imperfectly recovered. Great constitutional debility, followed by a second attack on the 30th of July, 1889, closed an honoured and useful life, to the intense sorrow of his family and friends.

Mr. Le Mesurier was elected a Member of the Institution on the 21st of February, 1862.

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