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George Ritso Jervis

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George Ritso Jervis (1794-1851)

1841 Lieut-Col George Ritso Jervis of the Engineers, Bombay Company, became a member of the Institution of Civil Engineers.[1]


1852 Obituary [2]

Colonel George Ritso Jervis was born at Madras, on the 8th of October, 1794. His father, who held the post of Lieutenant-Governor of Ceylon, was the elder brother of the Chief Justice of Chester, and the uncle of the present Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. His decease alone precluded his succession to the title of Earl St. Vincent, which was eventually conferred by special grant of the Crown, on Mr. Edward Ricketts, the descendant of the sister of Lady St. Vincent.

The subject of this memoir was the eldest of four brothers, the two elder of whom entered into the service of the Honourable East India Company, in the Engineer corps, and the two younger in the Artillery; and seeing much active service, all were enabled to attain rank, whilst gaining the approbation of the government, and the highest testimonials from their immediate commanders.

At the age of sixteen, George Jervis was sent to the Military Academy at Marlow, whence he was removed to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and completed his studies at the then recently founded East India Company’s College at Addiscombe, where his early attainments attracted the attention and commendation of his superiors, and secured his nomination to the Engineer corps.

On his arrival in India, in 1810, he was detached on service with a division of the army under General Walker, at that time besieging the forts of Chya and Nowanngger; where, on one occasion, by his dexterity in the management of a gun, under his charge, he dismantled and silenced a particular gun in one of the enemy’s batteries, which had occasioned serious casualties among the artillerymen, and the troops generally. This instance of skill and coolness, secured him through after life the distinguished favour of Colonel Sir Lionel Smith, and established his reputation as a rising officer.

On the termination of the campaign, he was employed in the construction of civil engineering works, such as roads, bridges, &C., in the province of Baroda, until 1819, when he was recalled to active field service, on the staff of General Sir William Keir Grant, then commanding one of the divisions of the army under the Marquis of Hastings. His chivalrous gallantry in several actions soon distinguished him from his comrades, and won the public thanks of the Commander-in-Chief, whilst it secured the esteem and respect of the veterans amongst whom he served.

It is not, however, for his military services, brilliant and valuable as they were, that he will be remembered. It is as the active coadjutor of that enlightened statesman, the illustrious Mountstuart Elphinstone, in his benevolent and wise endeavours to spread the blessing of education among the native Indians, that the name of Colonel Jervis w11l descend to posterity. Many circumstances combined to render his co-operation most valuable, and is fact almost indispensable, for this great undertaking. He was as great a proficient in all the theoretical branches of education, as in the practical duties of the several special services, and he was a good oriental scholar. Being at the head of the Engineering department of the Bombay Presidency, he was enabled to employ, beneficially, all the native talent that was developed, and above all, his indomitable energy and unwearied zeal, enabled him to overcome obstacles which would have paralyzed other men.

The duties of the Engineer officers in India, are, of necessity, more comprehensive than those of the Royal Engineers in this country; indeed, when not engaged in active military service, they perform all the duties of Civil Engineers, designing and superintending the execution of Public Works of every kind, such as the construction of Roads, Bridges, Tanks and Hydraulic Works, whether for the irrigation, or drainage of the country, or the improvement of the Rivers, Docks, Harbours, Lighthouses, and Machinery of all kinds; in addition to which they must possess, such a knowledge of Architecture, as will enable them to design and erect all the principal public buildings; and Surveying in all its branches, from the trigonometrical lines of a province, to the simple measurement of a field, must be familiar to them.

The performance of these onerous duties was rendered more difficult by the want of efficient assistants; and the forming of these, first induced the attention of Colonel Jervis to the subject of native education in India. After many partially successful attempts, he founded, in about the year 1823, the ‘Engineers’ Institution,' the design of which was to prepare an efficient body of young men, to act under Officers on Engineering Works; and for the diffusion of scientific knowledge among them.

To this establishment he devoted much time, and for the pupils, he commenced the translation into the Marathi and Guzerathi dialects, of some of the most useful educational and scientific works of the period, which he afterwards extended, among others, to Hutton’s Mathematics, De Morgan’s Works, and several of Lord Brougham’s writings. He also introduced the process of lithographic printing, till then unknown in India.

The natives, thus educated, were found so useful, and general attention was so directed to the subject, that when, on the retirement of the Honourable Mountstuart Elphinstone from the Government in 1827, it became a question how the general feeling of respect and affection of all classes of Europeans and Natives could be most appropriately demonstrated, the princes and chieftains, the wealthy merchants of Western India, and a large body of the most intelligent and influential Hindoos, Parsees, and Mahomedans, acting under the advice of their tried friend Colonel Jervis, determined to found a College and Schools for the free and public instruction of all classes, and to name it after this distinguished scholar, statesman, and soldier, who had ever shown such affectionate solicitude for their welfare.

Thus was established the Elphinstone College at Bombay, for which the sum of £16,500 was subscribed in one day, by those who were desirous of showing their affection for their Governor, whilst they aided in the benefits he had striven to confer 0n them. Subsequent contributions from the Directors of the H.E.I. Company, and from private individuals, have enabled professorships to he founded, and the instruction imparted to the natives has proved most valuable.

In 1843 it was determined to establish a class of Civil Engineering, and your Associate, Mr. William Pole, was appointed the Professor, on the recommendation of the Council of this Institution. On his arrival at the College, in 1844, he received all kindness and attention from Colonel Jervis, who, although differing from the Government in some of the details of the plan, warmly lent his aid, and gave every facility afforded by his department of the service; and on the return of Mr. Pole to England in 1847, on account of ill health, all the pupils of the class were received into active employment on the works of the Engineering Department of the Presidency.

Colonel Jervis held the chief command of the Engineer corps for nine years, during which time he originated and caused the execution of many important and useful public works; among which may be mentioned, giving a better supply of water to the Town and Island of Bombay, improving the drainage, perfecting the defences of that important station, completing the Harbour, the Docks, and the Warehouses; the construction of a dam for the supply of water for the city of Poonah, and extending the defences of Aden.

These are only a few of the objects to which his active mind was directed, and amidst his official occupations he found time to fulfill the duties of General Superintendent of Public Education, Examiner of Oriental languages for the Civil Service, and Syndic, or Examiner of the Translation of the Scriptures, then in progress under that excellent prelate Bishop Weber, with whom he actively co-operated in all his educational plans.

Colonel Jervis joined the Institution, as an Associate, in the year 1841, and made frequent use of it, during his short residence in England, and by correspondence on his return to India.

The bodily labour induced by his unwearied energy, proved too much for his health, which became seriously impaired, and he retired for quiet and repose to Boulogne-sur-Mer, France, where on the 14th October, 1851, at the age of fifty-seven, he closed an unremittingly active career of forty-one years, in the service of his country, enjoying the respect of the Government, the attachment of his brother officers, and the affection of his friends.


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