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Archibald Irvine

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Lieut-Col. Archibald Irvine (1797-1849)

1828 Captain Archibald Irvine, 41 Charterhouse Square, Bengal Engineers, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]

1851 Obituary [2]

Lieutenant-Colonel Archibald Irvine, C.B., R.E., was born in the year 1797, in the parish of Westerkirk, in Eskdale, Scotland, the locality which was also the birth-place of Telford, our first President.

Having attained a cadetship, in the service of the Honourable East India Company, he went to Addiscombe, where he passed through the customary routine course of instruction, and afterwards proceeded to Chatham, being one of the first of the East India Company’s Engineer Cadets, who had the advantage of practising siege operations and military manoeuvres at that place.

In the year 1816, he landed at Calcutta, as an Engineer Cadet, and from that period, until his final resignation from the East India Company’s service, in 1847, Colonel Irvine’s career was marked with a zeal, energy, and ability, which merited and obtained the unlimited confidence of his superiors. It would scarcely be possible to detail all the varied services performed by him, during this long period, but some of the principal may be mentioned.

In 1825 he was appointed Major of Brigade of the Engineer Corps, before Bhurtpore; in the siege of which celebrated fortress, the junior officers of the Company’s Engineers, displayed so much skill and science, that Colonel, afterwards Major-General Sir Thomas Aubrey, the Commanding Engineer, wrote to Lieutenant-Colonel, now Major-General, Sir C. W. Pasley, under whom they had received instruction at Chatham, conveying the highest commendation of their services.

It was at this siege that Colonel Irvine used, for the first time, on actual service, the peculiar system of ventilating extensive shafts and galleries, previously adopted at Chatham, but which was unknown to the gallant defenders of the fortress, several hundreds of whom were killed by the explosion of the great mines, which formed the breaches in its lofty walls, by means of which the place was eventually stormed.

For his distinguished services on this occasion, when he was twice wounded, once very severely, Colonel Irvine received a brevet Majority, and was nominated a Companion of the Bath.

In March 1835, he was appointed, by the late Lord William Rentinck, to fill the very important post of Stipendiary Member of the Military Board; and in September 1843, the Honourable W. W. Bird, Governor-General, on the recommendation of the Earl of Ellenborough, placed him at the head of the Marine Department, in Calcutta, with the new designation of Superintendent of Marine. His services, in this novel and very responsible position, in reforming and remodelling the department, were of a most important and valuable nature, and were recognized by the Governor-General and the Court of Directors.

On resigning this post, in the early part of 1846, he tendered his services for the Army of the Sutlej, to which he was appointed chief engineer, and joined Viscount Hardinge’s camp on the evening before the battle of Sobraon. The following extract from the speech of the late Sir R. Peel, in the House of Commons, on the 2nd of April 1846, announcing that victory, has reference to the circumstance:- ‘(He (Colonel Irvine) arrived on the night before the battle, and his grateful Commander thus spoke:- ‘Brigadier Smith, C.B., had made all the dispositions in the Engineering Department, which were in the highest degree judicious, and in every respect excellent. On the evening of the 9th inst., Brigadier Irvine, C.B., whose name is associated with one of the most brilliant events in our military history, the capture of Bhurtpore, arrived in camp. The command would, of course, have devolved upon him, but with that generosity of spirit, which ever accompanies true valour and ability, he declined to assume it, in order that all the credit of the work he had begun might attach to Colonel Smith. For himself, he demanded but the opportunity of sharing our perils in the field, and he personally accompanied me through the day.’

On the termination of the war in the Punjaub, Colonel Irvine resigned the service of the East India Company, on which occasion the Governor-General, Viscount Hardinge, thus expressed himself in an autograph letter:-

Camp, Philor, March 22, 1846.

"I cannot allow you to leave my camp on your journey homewards, without expressing the regard and esteem I entertain for your personal character, and the strong sense I have of your public conduct and services.

"I have, in concurrence with my colleagues, conveyed to the Court of Directors, my opinion of the ability with which you have presided over the Marine Department, at Calcutta, your untiring zeal in enforcing, by your own example, the most strict performance of the public service, your unflinching integrity in superintending the interests of the East India Company, the scrupulous economy you have introduced in the naval expenditure, without any diminution of naval efficiency, can be proved by the facts, that the saving during your administration has amounted to a lac annually, and I am very glad, that the attempt is to be made to replace you from England, as I should have had great difficulty in finding an adequate successor.

"Since you came up to the army, I have had occasion highly to approve of the zeal and intelligence you have displayed, and I am much obliged to you, for the valuable collection of information you have so rapidly made, of the capabilities for the defences of Lahore; Umritsir, and Gorind Ghur. Your retirement from the service of the East India Company is a great loss, in the maturity of your experience, and I hope I may add, whilst your health is good, but having determiued upon taking that step, you have entitled yourself to the thanks of the Government, which I should be glad to convey to you in the strongest terms I can use, in taking my leave of so deserving and patriotic an officer.

"It must ever be a source of satisfaction to you, that you made the decision to move up to the army, leaving your family to proceed to England without you, and that you were in time to take a part in the glorious and decisive victory of Sobraon. You will leave us, now that the campaign is over, with the honourable satisfaction of being esteemed by the army, and of having acquired, in every department in which you have served, the confidence of your superiors, and the respect of the public. I hope you will have a prosperous journey, and after a well-spent life in India, enjoy a happy home in your native land.

"Ever, my dear Colonel, Yours with sincere regard,
(Signed) H. HARDINGE,"

Within four months after Colonel Irvine’s return to England, the Earl of Auckland, then First Lord of the Admiralty, tendered him the situation of Director of Works to the Admiralty, the duties of which post he entered upon in November 1846, with his usual assiduity, and conducted to the entire satisfaction of the Board, until his death in December, 1849, which was occasioned by a severe fall, at Portsmouth, whilst in the discharge of the duties of his office.

The Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty have placed upon record the following honourable tribute to his memory:-

“Admiralty, January 3, 1850.
Read the Report of the Death of COLONEL IRVINE.

"MY Lords receive with deep regret this melancholy intelligence. With great professional knowledge, there was combined in Colonel Irvine, so sound a judgment, and such earnest zeal for the public service, that my Lords were able, on all occasions, to rely with perfect confidence in his advice, and never ceased to congratulate themselves on the good fortune which had brought him into connection with this Department. In the daily experience of the efficiency with which the duties of his office were discharged, and of the economical spirit which he laboured everywhere to inculcate, and with so many proofs before them, of the improvements which were in the course of being carried into effect, both at home and abroad, in the administration of the public works, under his control, my Lords cannot but desire to put on record their deep sense of the value of Colonel Irvine’s services, and their regret at the sudden close of his distinguished and honourable career.

"By command of their Lordships,
(Signed) J. PARKER,"

It, only remains to add, that the late Colonel Irvine was as estimable and beloved in private life, as he was exemplary in the discharge of his professional duties. He was an affectionate husband, a fond parent, and a sincere friend; and the public service, his family and friends, must equally lament his loss.

He became a Corresponding Member of the Institution in the year 1828, and during the long period of his service in the East, had performed many of the civil engineering duties, which devolve upon the military officers in that country; such as making a survey of the heads of the Nerbnddah, Slane, and Mahunuddie Rivers; superintending the construction of churches at Cawnporp, and taking charge of the road from Benares to Allahabad, &c. The experience gained from this, added to his great natural ability, peculiarly fitted him for the posts he afterwards held, with so much credit, at the head of the Public Works Department of the Admiralty.

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