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John Whitfield

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John Whitfield (1827-1884)

1884 Obituary [1]

JOHN WHITFIELD was born at West Allendale, in the county of Northumberland, in 1827, being one of four sons of Mr. Joseph Whitfield.

By showing an aptitude for drawing and mathematics at school, he was taken in hand by the late Mr. Thomas Sopwith, M. Inst. C.E., under whose kindly auspices he was introduced to his future profession, and for whom he ever expressed the greatest indebtedness and respect.

He was advised to go to London, and for some time was in the office of Messrs. Smith & Scott, surveyors.

Returning to Northumberland while still a young man, he carried out extensive and elaborate surveys of mining property, under the direction of Mr. T. J. Bewick, M. Inst. C.E.

In 1856 he was appointed on the staff of the late Mr. W. M. Peniston, M. Inst. C.E., Chief Resident Engineer of the Pacific and Sao Francisco Railway in Brazil, and went out to Pernambuco in October of that year. He remained in Brazil until 1863, and during the latter part of the period was Mr. Peniston’s chief assistant, and during the latter’s absence officiated as his locum tenens.

He returned to England in 1864, and assisted Mr. Bewick in getting up the Parliamentary plans of the Hexham and Allendale Railway. Subsequently he remained at home for about four years, engaged in various surveys and inquiries.

In January 1868 Mr. Whitfield received an appointment as third grade executive engineer in the Indian Public Works Department, and proceeded to Calcutta in the following month. He was at once posted to Raneegunge to assist in the completion of the plans of the Damuda canal, then under preparation by the late Captain Garnault, R.E. The original design of the canal was for navigation and irrigation, with a view to afford the collieries at Raneegunge water-carriage to Calcutta, 110 miles distant.

The whole of the work was done in the hot season, from April to August, and Mr. Whitfield’s services were gratefully acknowledged in the report made to Government. In fact without his valuable assistance and untiring zeal the report could not have been presented in one season. Owing to financial reasons, and partly to a practical joke played by a European convict, who was supposed to have discovered coal at Midnapore, the original plans were not adhered to.

Some years later, however, the work was put in hand as an irrigation-canal, and Mr. Whitfield had the satisfaction of carrying out his own designs to a most successful issue. The benefits of the work, both financially and on sanitary grounds, have been admitted by the zemindars, and repeatedly acknowledged by the Government of Bengal. From 1869-79 Mr. Whitfield was in charge of the most important irrigation division in Calcutta, and was largely engaged in municipal matters concerned with the gas- and water-supplies, and the drainage of the densely populated suburbs.

With the exception of three months’ privilege leave in 1876, Mr. Whitfield was always at work, and from repeated attacks of fever he suffered considerably. He was glad to have an opportunity of retiring when a general reduction took place in 1879, at which time he was an executive engineer, first grade.

It was his intention to return to England, but at the last moment, as he was leaving Calcutta, an offer came from the trustees of the Durbungah estate to take up the duties of Chief Engineer. This was accepted, and necessitated residence in Monghyr. But in less than twelve months he was compelled by medical advice to return home for rest and change. The appointment wab kept open in the hope that renewed health and strength would enable him to return. The relaxation had, however, come too late. He took up his. residence at Weston-super-Mare for the benefit of sea air, and after about three years, and enduring several months of weakness and pain, he quietly passed away on the 2nd of January, 1884.

Mr. Whitfield was too reserved to be popular, and much too hard working to be a general favourite among his subordinates. Ee was a true friend, and sincerely respected by many natives of India, who saw enough of his life to appreciate his good qualities. He was elected a Member of the Institution on the 2nd of February, 1864.

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