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Rai Bahadur Kanhaya Lal

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Rai Bahadur Kanhaya Lal (c1829-1888)

1888 Obituary [1]

RAI BAHADUR KANHAYA LAL was a native of Jalesar in the Agra District of the North-West Provinces of India, a town which gave its name to a well-known regiment of the old Bengal army, the 9th Native Infantry.

From school at his native place he went, in 1843, to the Government College at Agra, where he highly distinguished himself, and, besides several scholarships, gained four medals, for Translation, for History, for English Essay, and for proficiency in Blackstone’s Commentaries. This last prize perhaps shows that he had at one time a different profession in view from that which he afterwards chose, but the great aptitude he evinced for mathematics induced some of the English officers, of the college and of the Government, to advise that he should become a pupil of the Engineering College at Roorkee. At Roorkee he was as highly distinguished as he had been at Agra. In December 1851, prizes for Mathematics, Engineering and Surveying, were awarded to him, with the certificate of qualification for admission to the Public Works Department in the rank then called Sub-Assistant Civil Engineer.

After employment for a short time on the Eastern Jamna Canal, he was transferred, in 1852, to the Punjab, at that time a new British possession, where works of many kinds were being carried on under the direction of Lieut. Colonel Napier, Civil Engineer in the Punjab, now Lord Napier of Magdala. Kanhaya Lal was soon found to be a most useful man to have at the capital city and chief civil station of the Province. Very many and various were the works he was called upon to do at the headquarters of the administration. He acted for a time as assistant to the superintendent of a small school of engineering, temporarily established at Lahore to meet the urgent demand for surveyors and other helpers for the public works that were required. He prepared at the same time a complete and accurate plan of the city and civil station of Lahore, with numerous sections of the city walls, and details of the fortified gateways. He was then required for special duty in the office of the Chief Engineer, Colonel Fraser. Then two pieces of work brought him much credit. First the Central Hall of the large substantial building, chosen to be the Government House, was to be redecorated after the manner of the old arabesques of which the traces remained. This work was carried out by Kanhaya Lal, under the direction of Captain Hyde, an officer of distinction, who died a few months ago, and of whom a biographical notice appeared in vol. xci. of the Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers. The zealous and satisfactory manner in which Kanhaya Lal pushed on the work at the native building, converted into a church on the first establishment of the civil station of Lahore, received the warmest acknowledgments of the chaplain. From every Government officer under whom he was employed, or for whose department he did work, he received the highest commendation. His industry and attention to duty were unceasing. His advantages in the way of practical training were very small, compared with those which the pupil of an English engineer in active practice can have. All the engineering works he ever saw, in the early part of his service in the Indian Public Works Department, were of the most ordinary kind, however important to the Indian Government for the administration of the country, and to the Indian public for the supply of many wants. Kanhaya Lal was never out of India, and, until railways came to cross the great rivers of the Punjab, he had never had an opportunity of knowing, except from books, the nature of any of the great iron structures with which engineering art in other countries was familiar.

The Executive Engineers of the Indian Public Works Department are ranged in four grades, rising from fourth grade to first. Kanhaya Lal’s promotion went on steadily, and he was an Executive Engineer of the first grade when the time came for his retirement from the public service. Other qualities besides accurate and substantial execution of work go to make up the character of a successful Executive Engineer. To design as well as to execute requires some knowledge of the science of engineering, which is the aim of the preparatory training. To know how to rule and manage men is important. To be methodical and thoughtful, SO as to be able satisfactorily to look after a variety of works in different places, is no less so. And this implies further to be diligent and energetic. Kanhaya Lal possessed these qualifications in a very high degree, and exercised them to good effect. Seeing what a useful man he was, and how much he could do, without ever seeming in haste or disturbed, it is not surprising that he was constantly looked to, to do something more. Committees of various kinds obtained his services, and when the Lahore University College was started (now the Lahore University), a well-educated native gentleman like Kanhaya Lal became appropriately a Member of the Senate. While engaged in departmental and other official work, he contributed to the "Professional Papers on Indian Engineering,” published at Roorkee, accounts of some of the works on which he was employed, condensed descriptions with plans and drawings, and statements of the cost. Among these are a description of the tree spurs on the River Ravi opposite Lahore, protective works formed chiefly of anchored trees thrown out from the bank, which the river had attacked and threatened further to cut away, with danger to important buildings. These spurs, constructed in 1867, were most successful in forming a new bank and directing the course of the stream into mid-channel. Others of these papers refer to the Lahore Central Jail, a large jail with two circles, completed in 1868, each having cells and prisoners’ barracks laid out on the radiating system, with central tower, and with large work-sheds for various manufactures; to the Mayo Hospital, Lahore, a large medical and surgical hospital, named after the Viceroy of India, Lord Mayo, who visited it soon after its completion, in 1872 ; and to the Government College, 1877. He also described the Senate Hall of the Punjab University, and the Female Penitentiary, in the same year. Memorandum on the John Lawrence and Montgomery Halls (two memorial buildings not constructed by him), followed by an account of the timber Roofing of the Montgomery Hall (this was his work), and separate paper of calculations, published in 1877. A description, in the same year, of the jail, which he constructed at the station of Montgomery, a new station on the line of railway between Lahore and Multan. The Telegraph Office at Lahore, the Mayo School of Art, 1881, the Medical School, 1883, the Chief Court and the Reservoir for the Lahore Water Works, 1884. Besides these accounts of executed works, all in English, he wrote some other useful professional treatises and papers. Four of these were in Hindustani, for the use of students in the vernacular classes of the Roorkee College, and others, namely, on Surveying Instruments, on Calculation of Earthwork, on Laying out Curves for Roads and Canals, and on the Mode of drawing different kinds of Arches. Also, in English, Rules, Formulas, and Tables for calculating velocity and discharge of Rivers and Canals. Collection of Designs for Wooden Bridges, Rules and Tables for Measurement of Timber, and for Conversion of Indian and English Cubic Measures. The leisure hours of a life of this kind are not many, but Kanhaya Lal managed to find them, and devoted some of them to non-professional literature, Persian and Hindustani. When Executive Engineer of Lahore he wrote a Life of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, in Persian verse; a History of the Punjab in Hindustani, and a series of moral essays in Persian verse, which he called 'Gulcitr-i-Hindi,' or the 'Indian Rose-Garden.' After retirement from the public service, he wrote, in Hindustani, an account of Lahore, with descriptions and historical notices of its old buildings, with which he had become very familiar during the long time he held the office of Executive Engineer. Retirement from the Public Works Department did not altogether deprive Lahore of his services. He continued to be a Member of the Senate of the University, and of the Engineering Faculty, and Vice-President and Honorary Engineer of the Lahore Municipal Committee, where his professional knowledge and his business habits made his advice and services of great value. He showed his continued interest in the Engineering College at Roorkee by founding, in 1870, an Annual Prize of the value of fifty rupees, to which he added, in 1876, an annual gold medal of the value of a hundred rupees. He desired to help and encourage other native engineers, whilst his great effort was that his own work might be at once creditable and serviceable.

On retirement from active service in the Public Works Department Kanhaya Lal received, with the approval of the Secretary of State, the maximum pension, in recognition of his services. During the course of his service in the Public Works Department, the Government of India had come to know the estimation in which he was held by the local Government, and by all those with whom and for whom he had worked. When he was still in the third grade of executive engineers the honorary title of Rhi was, in 1868, conferred on him by the supreme Government, the Viceroy being Sir John Lawrence, who knew him well. And he was in the highest grade when, in 1876, he received the added distinction of Bahhdur from Lord Northbrook. Uneventful as his career was in some sense, and almost the whole of it in one place, it was get full of varied and productive service. In 1872 he was elected an Associate, and in 1883 a Member, of the Institution of Civil Engineers, though he was never himself in England. And he was alike worthy of that honour, and worthy of some record of his professional life and work. The illness which preceded his death had only for a short time taken an acute form, but he had for some months been known to be suffering from slower ailments, though not laid aside from work. He died on 23rd February, 1888, after an eminently active and useful life of fifty-nine years. The conditions of engineering work are different in India from those under which the profession is usually practised in England, and different from those under which engineering works were carried on in India in the times of those governments which went before us. This Indian engineer, Rai Bahadur Kanhaya Lal, showed capacities and attainments which allow of his comparison with more favoured engineers at home ; and as a practical worker he maintained, in the way suited to the requirements of his time, the credit justly given to Indian builders of the days gone by.

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