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William Erskine Baker

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Sir William Erskine Baker (1808-1881)


Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 03

BAKER, Sir WILLIAM ERSKINE (1808–1881), general, and a distinguished engineer, was the fourth son of Captain Joseph Baker, R.N., and was born at Leith in 1808.

He was educated at the East India Company's military college at Addiscombe, and went out to India as a lieutenant in the Bengal engineers in 1826.

He was promoted captain in 1840, and saw service in the first Sikh war. He led one of the attacking columns to the entrenchments at Sobraon, for which he was thanked in the despatch and promoted major.

He was afterwards exclusively employed in the public works department, and was successively superintendent of the Delhi canals, superintendent of canals and forests in Scinde, director of the Ganges canal, consulting engineer to the government of India for railways, and secretary to the government of India in the public works department. His services as a civil engineer were very great, and he was regarded as the greatest authority of his time on irrigation.

His military promotion continued during his civil employment, and he became lieutenant-colonel in 1854 and colonel in 1857.

In 1857 he returned to England, and in the following year was appointed military secretary to the India Office. But his knowledge was rather that of an engineer than a soldier, and in 1861 he became a member of the council of India, and in that capacity chief adviser to the home government on Indian engineering matters.

He was promoted major-general in 1865, colonel-commandant of the royal (late Bengal) engineers in 1871, and lieutenant-general in 1874; he was made a K.C.B. in 1870, and in 1875 he withdrew from public life.

He retired to his seat in Somersetshire, and, after becoming general in 1877, died there on 16 Dec. 1881.

Sir William Erskine Baker's work in Scinde is particularly memorable; the great irrigation works which he carried out there have rendered Sir Charles Napier's conquest of real value, and, according to Captain Burton, have made 'the desert flourish like the rose.'


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