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Charles Pasley

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Major General Charles Pasley (1824-1890)

1824 November 14th. Born the son of Charles William Pasley


1891 Obituary [1]

MAJOR-GENERAL CHARLES PASLEY, C.B., late Royal Engineers, was the eldest and last surviving son of Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Pasley, E.C.B., R.E.

He was born at Chatham, where his father was at that time Director of the Royal Engineer Establishment, on the 14th November, 1824.

In 1834 he entered Mr. Whiston’s school at Rochester, and it is related that whilst on a visit to London, in the summer of that year, he rode out every morning, “first studying the map and arranging his course.” The love of topography, which manifested itself thus early, lasted throughout his life, and one of his conspicuous characteristics was intense observation and interest in the study of locality. He was of a studious disposition, and during his holidays applied himself to the study of decimals and algebra in his father’s office in Brompton Barracks, Chatham.

After passing through the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, he received, in 1843, his commission in the Royal Engineers, and two years later filled a temporary vacancy in the Office of Instruction in surveying and astronomy at the Royal Engineer Establishment.

In 1846 he went to Canada, where he remained for three years, during the first two of which he lived, most of the time, in a beautifully situated old house on the Island of St. Helen’s, opposite Montreal, which had formerly belonged to the Canadian Barons de Longueuil, and was even then known by the name of the “Barony House.”

In the autumn of 1848 he was stationed at Bytown (now Ottawa), and appointed to assist a brother officer in the survey of the very extensive but scattered estates belonging to the Board of Ordnance on the Rideau Canal. They did the survey work in winter to avoid mosquitoes, swamps, and malaria, and to enable them to chain across the frozen rivers, leaving the necessary office work to be done during the summer months. In 1850 he was employed by the Colonial Government at Bermuda in deepening and improving the entrance to St. George’s Harbour.

In 1851 he was ordered to do duty at the Great Exhibition with many other Royal Engineer officers. He was superintendent of classes 24 and 25 (glass and china), with an office in the building, and after the opening had a still larger area under his superintendence.

In 1853 Lieutenant Pasley received his appointment as Colonial Engineer to the Colony of Victoria, and on arriving in Melbourne, in September of that year, he found himself at the head of a large department, with the additional duties, after a short time, of Colonial Architect, and subsequently those of the Central Road Board. In 1854 he was made member of a commission to make arrangements for an exhibition of colonial products at the Paris Exhibition in the following year.

Six months later he was nominated to a seat in the Legislative Council of Victoria. One month after this the Ballarat riots broke out, and he offered his services to the Governor (Sir Charles Hotham), and was sent to the Ballarat Gold Fields, where he assisted in the capture of a stockade occupied by the insurgents, on the 3rd of December, 1854.

In 1855 a new constitution came into force in Victoria, and a responsible ministry was formed, he being one of the members. Upon this taking place he was formally appointed Commissioner of Public Works. On December 10th he was appointed a member of the Executive Council, and a few months later was made by an Act of Council, joint trustee with Captain (now Lieutenant-General Sir) Andrew Clarke, R.E., for the Melbourne and Mount Alexander railway purchased by Government.

In 1856 Captain Pasley was elected Member for South Bourke. The Houses of Parliament were among the public buildings erected under his directions, and some of the principal streets of Melbourne were laid out during his term of office. The last public building with which he was connected was the Melbourne Post Office; but this was not completed until after his return to England. He also took the greatest interest in the Botanic Gardens, the herbarium of which was built under his auspices, and the Curator, Baron von Mueller, who still remains there, and is well known as a botanist, received his appointment at this time.

In 1860 he resigned the office of Commissioner of Public Works with the intention of returning to England, but his interest in the welfare of the Colony of Victoria and of the City of Melbourne was as keen as ever in after years. Before his departure from the Colony the New Zealand War broke out, and he immediately offered his services, which were accepted the same day, and he was appointed an extra member of Major-General (afterwards Sir Thomas) Pratt's staff. Three months later he was severely wounded by a bullet in the thigh while in charge of trenches, after laying out and constructing a parallel used in the capture of the Kaihihi Pah. His wound proved so serious that he became unfit for further duty, and. returned to Melbourne invalided.

In February, 1861, an address and testimonial, raised by public subscription, was presented to him by Sir Francis Murphy, speaker of the House of Assembly, on behalf of the Colony.

A friend and colleague of his during these years now writes:- "I had known him for above thirty-five years, since the time when he first became member of the Government of Victoria. His colleagues were greatly impressed by him from the first. His industry and extreme accuracy were extraordinary, and we of the first cabinet at Melbourne felt always safe if he undertook any difficult business, whether in his office or in the House. His department was by no means a bed of roses. But he did his work to the satisfaction of everybody, including the hostile critics of the opposition. The same was the case when he took over for a time the Victorian Agency. It is not given to everybody to be both shrewd in the conduct of affairs and also blameless; to live a long life without censure, but at the same time to be efficient in dangerous and difficult times. But this was essentially General Pasley’s character, and he was appreciated accordingly.”

For his services in the New Zealand War he was mentioned in despatches and promoted to Brevet-Major he having become Captain soon after his arrival in Melbourne.

In 1861 he returned to England still very lame from his wound, and received the sad news of his father’s death on his arrival. The same year he was made Commanding Royal Engineer at Gravesend, and read a paper on the New Zealand War at two meetings of the Royal United Service Institution.

In 1864 he was made Acting Agent-General for the Colony of Victoria, a temporary appointment which he held for four years, with leave from the War Office, and afterwards from the Admiralty, to accommodate the Colony until they were able to make a permanent appointment. During this time he superintended, on behalf of the Colony, the equipment of the ironclad "Nelson," and the design, construction, armament, and despatch of the "Cerberus" turret-ship, both ships being sent out to the Colony to assist in the defence of Melbourne Harbour. It may be here noted that, at the request of the Colony, he again served as Acting Agent-General for Victoria from 1880 to 1882.

In July, 1865, Major Pasley left Gravesend, and became Superintending Engineer at Chatham Dockyard, where an immense extension of docks and basins had been planned, and was carried out under his superintendence, and upon completion added to the old yard.

In December, 1870, Colonel Pasley was appointed by Mr. Childers (First Lord of the Admiralty) Honorary Secretary of the Committee on Designs for Ships of War, and soon after was made a member of the Committee as well as Honorary Secretary. Lord Dufferin was the Chairman. This work occupied many months in the following year, and on its conclusion Colonel Pasley was thanked both officially and privately for his services, and especially for the drawing-up of the report.

In the autumn of 1873 he succeeded Sir Andrew Clarke, R.E., as Director of Works to the Admiralty, and thenceforward had the control of all the works at the naval establishments at home and abroad, and of the coast-guard stations throughout the country.

The more important works designed in his office at he Admiralty under his supervision were: the entrance locks at Chatham yard, with their ingenious sliding caissons; the two first-class dry docks at Devonport and Haulbowline, which have novel arrangements for lessening the length of the cumbrous timbers usually employed for shoring vessels. The naval barracks at Keyham; the College for Naval Engineers, Keyham; the completion of the alteration of Greenwich Hospital to a naval college, with the elegant block of buildings for racket and fives courts.

The extensions of Chatham, Portsmouth, and Haulbowline dockyards were carried on during General Pasley’s term of office. Minor works were the dining hall and swimming bath at Greenwich Hospital School, various buildings at Plymouth Marine Barracks and at Walmer Marine Barracks; church at the Royal Naval Hospital, Plymouth; the Admiralty House at Queenstown; the infirmary at the Royal Marine Artillery Barracks, Eastney; the iron-shiprepairing shop, Malta dockyard, with numerous coastguard stations, while many other works at the naval establishments were carried out under his less direct supervision.

During his term of office at the Admiralty, General Pasley was also member of a Commission on the proposed improvement of Alexandria Harbour, and member of the Committee of 1882 on the employment of convicts, which resulted in the construction of the new Harbour of Refuge at Peterhead. He attained the rank of Colonel in the Corps of Royal Engineers, April lst, 1876, and retired with the rank of Major-General on August 27th, 1881. In recognition of his valuable services under the Admiralty, Major-General Pasley was created a Civil Companion of the Bath on April 23rd, 1880. He retired from the post of Director of Works in 1882.

He was very fond of music, and his love of books began at an early age, when he spent all his pocket-money in the acquisition of them. He had a very retentive and accurate memory, and to exemplify the service which this proved to his friends as well as to himself, it may be mentioned that while on a visit to the Mediterranean with the Lords of the Admiralty, soon after the acquisition of the Island of Cyprus, at an entertainment in Toulon Harbour, sitting next a French admiral, he discussed the peculiarities of the harbour, which he then visited for the first time; and on the French admiral begging to know whence he had obtained such particular information, Major-General Yasley promised him extracts from books at home-a promise which he afterwards fulfilled. He had been ill with increasing weakness for over five years, and died rather suddenly on November 11th, 1890. He was elected Associate of the Institution on the 10th of April, 1866.


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