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Charles Herbert Theophilus Metcalfe

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Sir Charles Herbert Theophilus Metcalfe (c1853-1929), pioneer in railways in Africa

Worked with Douglas Fox and Partners


1929 Obituary [1]

Sir CHARLES HERBERT THEOPHILUS METCALFE, Bart., came of a family which had been closely associated with Indian affairs for several generations. He was the only child of the fifth baronet, Sir Theophilus John Metcalfe, and Charlotte, daughter of Lieut.- General Sir John Low, K.C.B., and was born at Simla on the 7th September, 1853.

After being educated at Harrow and University College, Oxford, where he gained his Rugby Blue in 1875, he served articles to Messrs. Sir Charles Fox and Sons from 1878 to 1881, and was then engaged as their assistant on the construction of the Southern Railway of Ireland and on the West Lancashire Railway.

During 1882-3 he acted as resident engineer for the firm on the Southport and Cheshire Lines Railway and the Hesketh Marsh Reclamation, and during the following year he was resident engineer on the Liverpool, Southport and Preston Junction Railway.

In 1886 he was appointed, jointly with the late Sir Douglas Fox, Past-President, engineer for the Liverpool and St. Helen’s and South Lancashire Railway.

He also acted as joint engineer with Sir Douglas Fox for the Bechuanaland Railway, for which he had charge of the survey during 1888-91.

In 1892 he went to South Africa to investigate a proposed line from Kimberley to Vryburg on behalf of the Exploring Company, in which Rhodes was interested, and which was the predecessor of the Chartered Company. During this visit to Africa Sir Charles Metcalfe again came in touch with Rhodes, with whom he had already formed a warm friendship at Oxford, and thereafter the two were closely associated until Rhodes’s death.

Sir Charles Metcalfe and Sir Douglas Fox and Partners acted jointly as consulting engineers for the construction of the various lines constituting the Rhodesia railway system, which were built under the auspices of Rhodes and the Chartered Company.

During this period and until 1914 Sir Charles lived continuously in Africa. He personally located all the lines and was in charge of all construction work, of which one of the notable achievements was the Victoria Falls bridge. He lived to see these early pioneering lines grow into a prosperous and still rapidly expanding system, with 2,500 miles of track, an annual traffic of 5 million train-miles, and an annual gross revenue of 25,000,000. He also acted as joint consulting engineer with Sir Douglas Fox and Partners for the Benguela Railway through Portuguese West Africa, which was begun in 1903, and reached the Congo frontier in August, 1928.

The Benguela Railway, the triumph of another great African pioneer and a friend and coadjutor of Rhodes, Sir Robert Williams, has a total length of 850 miles and will give a western outlet to the great Katanga copper fields of the Congo, as well as to Northern Rhodesia. As in the case of the lines in Rhodesia, Sir Charles Metcalfe traversed the whole intended route of the Benguela Railway, to a large extent on foot. He was joint consulting engineer for the construction of the Shire Highlands Railway in Nyasaland and for the Trans-Zambezi Railway through Portuguese East Africa from Beira to Murapa on the Zambezi river. His last active work abroad was a visit to Palestine in 1919 in company with Mr. Ralph Freeman, M. Inst. C.E., to report to the Zionist Organization on the future development of Palestine. He was at various times associated with many other enterprises, and was a Director of the Victoria Falls Power Company from its inception. He was elected an Associate Member of The Institution in 1885, transferred to the class of Members in 1897, and served as a Member of the Council from 1904 to 1906.

He died at his residence, Winkworth Hill, Godalming, on the 29th December, 1928.


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