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Henry Christopher Digges La Touche

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Henry Christopher Digges La Touche (1839-1895)


1895 Obituary [1]

HENRY CHRISTOPHER DIGGES LA TOUCHE, the son of the Rev. Thomas La Touche of Killanaule, in the county of Tipperary, was born on the 2nd of September, 1839.

He was educated at Warwick and Cheltenham Colleges. In boyhood he displayed much mechanical aptitude, being known among his schoolfellows as 'Carpenter Digges,' and in early youth he constructed a lathe with slide rest which he finished with much care and skill.

Towards the end of 1860 he was apprenticed to Mr. Edward Purser, then engaged on the construction of the Smyrna and Aidin Railway in Asiatic Turkey, and arrived in that country in December of that year. He was engaged for three years principally on survey and office work, as there was during that period but little constructive progress on that line.

Among these surveys were preliminary studies of lines of railway from Varna to Rustchuk in European Turkey; and from Sebastopol to the north of the Crimea, a portion of a projected line to Moscow.

At the beginning of 1864 the works of the Smyrna and Aidin Railway were pushed on with more vigour, and Mr. La Touche was put in engineering charge of the heavy works (including two tunnels) of the northern slope of the Ephesus Pass. He remained on these works till their completion in July 1866, when the line was opened to Aidin and his services were no longer required.

This, as many engineers will remember, was a bad time to be thrown out of work, and Mr. La Touche did not succeed in finding employment until in 1868 he obtained an appointment under Mr. Hamilton Lee-Smith, who was then forming a staff for the construction of the Lahore and Peshawur Railway under the orders of the Indian Government.

He accordingly went out to India in November, 1868, and was employed for the first three or four years on surveys of the difficult portion of the Lahore and Peshawur line which traverses the “Salt Range” between the rivers Jhelum and Indus. About this time he was, with others of Mr. Lee-Smith‘s staff, incorporated with the establishment of the Indian Public Works Department and ranked as Executive Engineer 2nd-grade.

In 1874 Mr. La Touche went home on furlough, and on his return to India was placed in engineering charge of the Chumbul Bridge on the railway between Agra and Jhansi. This bridge is of twelve spans of 200 feet and two spans of 150 feet; making a total opening of 2,700 feet. The drainage area above bridge is about 48,000 square miles, and the floods rise to the enormous height of 96 feet. The foundations consisted of stone wells sunk to a depth of 80 feet, and the superstructure of stone piers and wrought-iron lattice-girders. He remained in charge of this work till its completion in 1881 (for the last two years as Engineer-in- Chief of the railway of which it formed a part), when he went to England on furlough and married in November of that year a daughter of the Rev. G. Huntingdon, rector of Tenby.

On his return to India he was placed in charge of the Bundelkhund Railway Surveys as Engineer-in-Chief. These surveys included that of a line from Jhansi to Manikpur which occupied two years, after which the construction of that line was commenced and carried on departmentally under Mr. La Touche’s charge. One of the largest works was a girder bridge of thirteen spans of 150 feet over the River Betwa. The rise of this river in floods is 54 feet at the bridge.

Early in 1885 these works were handed over by the Government of India to the Indian Midland Railway Company, and Mr. La Touche was sent to take charge of the Bellary Kistna Railway in the Madras Presidency, succeeding Mr. Henry Lambert as Engineer-in-’Chief. He remained in charge of this work till his health broke clown and he was obliged to go home in 1890.

There were many large works on this line too numerous to specify, but one, in which Mr. La Touche’s characteristic mechanical resource was more particularly shown, may be mentioned. This is the Dorabavi Viaduct of which the middle span is about 240 feet with the underside of the girders about 200 feet above the ravine bed. The girders of this large span were erected at the level of the foot of the piers and gradually raised along with the building of the piers in the following manner. A massive timber four-legged “stool” was firmly braced to each end of the girders. The legs of these stools worked like plungers in sand-boxes built into the piers. The girders were lifted by hydraulic jacks, and at each lift of the jacks sand was run into the sand-boxes, thus supporting the girders while the masonry was carried up and the jacks set for a fresh lift. This method worked most successfully and effected a great saving in staging.

As already mentioned, in 1890 Mr. La Touche’s health broke down, and in May of that year he went home invalided, retiring shortly after from the service of the Indian Government. He never recovered his health, and was up to the date of his death (the 16th of February, 1895) subject to attacks, arising from heart disease, each of which left him weaker than the last.

He was of a manly and straightforward disposition, kind and helpful in all family relations, and a staunch friend. He was in his professional work essentially practical, and, besides great mechanical ability, had considerable capacity for administration, which stood him in good stead in the appointments he latterly held. He was deservedly popular with those who worked under his orders, as his dealings with them were always marked by kindness and consideration.

Mr. La Touche was elected an Associate on the 1st of December, 1868, and was transferred to the class of Member on the 9th of February, 1875.



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