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John Pitt Kennedy (1796-1879)

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Lieut.-Colonel John Pitt Kennedy (1796-1879), Royal Engineers

1857 Engineer of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway. [1] Joined I Mech E

1868 Member of Inst Civil Engineers

1869 Resigned from I Mech E

1879 Was followed by his nephew John Pitt Kennedy (1824-1897) as engineer of the Bombay, Baroda and Central India Railway, and then by Francis Mathew


1880 Obituary [2]

LIEUT.-COL JOHN PITT KENNEDY was the fourth son of the Rev. John Pitt Kennedy, Rector of Carn Donagh, County Donegal, and afterwards Rector of Balteagh in the county of Londonderry.

He was born at Donagh, County Donegal, on the 8th of May, 1796, and died on the 28th of June, 1879.

His early education was received at Foyle College, Londonderry, under the Rev. James Knox.

In the year 1812 he entered the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and in the summer of 1815 passed out, having taken the fourth place, for the Corps of Royal Engineers. His first service in the corps was for a period of six months upon the Ordnance Survey in Gloucestershire and Oxfordshire. He did regimental duty for a considerable time, and for a portion of that period had charge of a company.

In the year 1819 he was ordered to Malta, and thence to Corfu.

On the 6th of April, 1820, he was appointed to the immediate direction of the works going on at Santa Maura, and on arrival there found the island in a state of insurrection, which was suppressed in a few days. The principal works in progress were: a moat to form an artificial harbour on the eastern side of the island, and a canal through a shallow inlet of the sea, to admit boats from the new eastern harbour to the town, and to the natural harbour westward of the island. He was occupied about two years in constructing these works, when a reduction of the Corps of Engineers placed him upon half-pay.

He was then asked by the Government to retain his civil appointment as Chief Engineer of the public works in progress, but he refused. On arriving in England, in 1822, he was invited by Sir Charles Napier to return to the Ionian Islands, as his Secretary and Director of Public Works in the Island of Cephalonia. He accepted the appointment, but was only able to do so by getting transferred into the line as a captain.

Amongst the works designed and executed by him were the Guardianno lighthouse, a Doric column, 12 feet in diameter at the base, and 85 feet high-which cost only £723, exclusive of the lantern; the lighthouse at Point Theodore, the columns of which are twenty-four in number and about8 feet high, the height to the top of the lantern being 30 feet; and a marine parade, quay, and market buildings. He also intersected the island with roads. When placed on half-pay, in 1830, he removed to Ireland, where he was surrounded by so much misery that he was induced, on public grounds, to sell his commission as captain, in order to provide funds to establish an industrial school at Lough Ash, County Tyrone. The principle which he thus tested has been since adopted by the Government, and extended with much public advantage.

In 1838 he joined the National Educational Department, Ireland, as Inspector-General, on the understanding that practical instruction in agriculture was to become a prominent branch in the national teaching, as urged in a book written by him, entitled 'Instruct, employ; don’t hang them.'

The first act of the Board, after his joining, was to appoint an inspector of schools for each county. These officers were chosen by public examination from several hundred competitors. He then selected 60 acres of land at Glasnevin, on the northern outskirts of Dublin, with a large house and garden in the village, as the site for a central model farm and training establishment for teachers coming from the district schools. The teachers likewise attended daily at Marlboro’ Street, Dublin, for instruction and training in the method of teaching. This system is still in operation at Glasnevin.

Subordinate to this first-class central agricultural training school, his plan was to have a second-class agricultural school at the centre of each of the four provinces, a third-class agricultural school at the centre of each of the thirty-two counties, a fourth-class agricultural school at the centre of each barony, and a fifth-class agricultural branch connected with each of the existing elementary schools. Had this general arrangement been fully carried out, Ireland, as regards agricultural instruction and useful knowledge, might now have been a model to other nations.

In the year 1843 he was appointed secretary to a Royal Commission for inquiring into the state 'of the law and practice in respect to the occupation of land in Ireland, &C.' The result of this investigation, which was very arduous, was printed in several large volumes.

In 1846 the late Lord Devon appointed him agent to his extensive estates in the County Limerick, Here he carried out the same principles of estate management that he had SO successfully practised at Lough Ash and Cloghan.

The failure of the potato crop having caused an extensive famine in Ireland, in the year 1847, he was invited by the late Sir Robert Peel to take the office of secretary to the Relief Commission which was then established. Passing through Dublin in the spring of 1848, Captain Kennedy found the city, and the country generally, in a most excited state, and a revolutionary outbreak in the streets daily expected. Numerous clubs, on one side, were holding nightly meetings for the immediate organisation of an active rebellion; defence committees, on the other hand, were in constant deliberation upon measures for the preservation of peace and order and for the protection of life and property.

He attended some of the latter, and found them without any sound principles of action. He convinced them that instead of limiting their efforts to the defence of each separate house by its own inhabitants, they should select a few commanding points which, being properly occupied, would defend the entire district. Both the inhabitants and the public authorities, civil and military, concurred in this view. He was furnished with the best existing plans of Dublin, and he divided the city into defence districts, marking on the maps the various points in each, the defence of which would thoroughly protect the whole. In a few days he had the work done so completely that by throwing a few armed men into each of the selected parts in the various districts when the necessity should arise, every street and lane in Dublin would be enfiladed or exposed to the fire directed from one or more of those defence posts. The number of volunteers for occupying each of these small posts was settled at six, to be relieved every morning. In addition to the numerous small posts there were to be twelve main posts, distributed at convenient localities, each to be manned by at least three hundred armed volunteers, relieved daily, whose duty it would be to furnish patrols and to reinforce where necessary the minor posts. A large body of volunteers was in readiness to turn out for duty. He was furnished with authority to take possession of any house fixed upon for a post if the city were proclaimed. The general arrangements being thus made, matters went on with increasing excitement from day to day.

When the old Orange party thought that such a crisis had occurred as would sustain them in making the Government restore some of their class privileges, which had been gradually reduced during the previous quarter of a century, they sought, in return for their support, either to be acknowledged by the Government as Orangemen, or to have arms granted them, failing one of which privileges they threatened to pass a resolution at their lodges withholding their support from Government. When this request was laid before the Lord-Lieutenant (Lord Clarendon), by a deputation of Orangemen, they were informed that he could not act as they desired ; but that as Captain Kennedy was taking a leading part in the volunteer defence of the city, it was possible he might find means for furnishing them with arms. He did so, authorising them to order five hundred stand of arms at a price not exceeding £1 5s. each. They went off perfectly satisfied, and that night, at meetings of their lodges, they reported the circumstances, and passed loyal resolutions declaring the determination of the Orangemen to sustain to the utmost the Government in the defence of law and order. This Orange declaration of loyalty exercised a most beneficial effect upon the crisis. Captain Kennedy failed to raise the amount required to pay for the five hundred stand of arms by subscription, and disbursed their cost out of his own pocket. He incurred this, to him, serious expense pro bono publico, although by his action wholesale bloodshed was no doubt prevented in Dublin.

On the occurrence of the Indian crisis of 1849, Sir Charles Napier was appointed Commander-in-chief in India, and he invited Captain Kennedy to accompany him as military secretary. The Duke of Wellington recommended Her Majesty to permit Captain Kennedy to re-enter the army as an ensign, with the brevet rank of major in India, with an understanding that he should soon be advanced to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. Major Kennedy, with Sir Charles Napier's sanction, offered to devote as much time as his duties of military secretary would permit, to superintend gratuitously the laying out and construction of a military road from the plains of India to Simla, extending it through the Himalaya mountains northward, and Sir C. Napier allowed the assistance of a company of Sappers, which was placed under his orders for this work. The Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, gladly accepted the offer, removing all the usual forms, and granting Major Kennedy full discretionary power as to the course he might adopt for accomplishing the object in view. His labours were crowned with success, and were instrumental in introducing to India a new principle for the construction of that class of public works, which, whilst it adds to the quality and rapidity of the work, reduces its cost to about one-eighth of the former Indian rate, or £130 per mile against £1,267 per mile. At the request of the Government, he furnished a statement of the rules and principles upon which he conducted this work, which were printed and circulated for general adoption in the north-western Provinces. A feature of considerable importance in the superintendence related to the employment of the Sappers, who were engaged entirely as overseers of large working parties, instead of merely as individual labourers. He was thus able to provide an ample, well-disciplined staff of efficient overseers.

On Sir C. Napier leaving Simla to return to England, Major Kennedy proceeded to Calcutta to take charge of the railway department, as consulting engineer to Government. Here ample scope existed for his genius and powers of organisation. He laid down plans for the application of a system of railroads throughout India, and propounded the axiom that every mile of rail opened would enable the Government to dispense with a company of soldiers, whilst it tended to enrich the inhabitants by developing mines of wealth at the time unthought of. However, his health unfortunately suffered from the climate, and after a year's discharge of the office of consulting engineer, he was obliged to return to Europe and to resign this appointment.

In 1852 he was introduced in London to Lieutenant-Colonel French, who had been Acting Resident at the Court of the Guicowar of Baroda. Colonel French wanted to get up a company to construct a line of railway from Baroda to Tankaria Bunda, in the gulf of Cambay, a distance of about 45 miles. Colonel Kennedy joined him, but instead of the original line proposed, they projected what is now the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India railway.

Their object was to open the most effectual line of intercourse from Bombay, through the central and north-western districts, to meet the railway in progress of construction from Calcutta to Delhi, together with all the branches that such a line could require. Upon the formation of the company, Colonel Kennedy was appointed consulting engineer and managing director. A staff of engineers was sent to Bombay, and during the cold season of 1853, comparative surveys, sufficient to lay a well-digested scheme before the Government, were made.

On the 3rd of November, 1854, the Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, sanctioned Broach, and Baroda, to Ahmedabad, leaving the remainder of the scheme for future decision, and the work to be commenced at Bombay. The Home Government, however, decided that the work should be commenced at Surat.

The main line from Bombay to Ahmedabad is 308 miles in length, and crosses several large rivers and inlets of the sea. It runs through a flat, alluvial district, and the only difficulty to be encountered in its construction was the erection of the necessary bridges. So great did this appear, that some engineers connected with the Bombay Presidency stated that these arms of the sea and large rivers could not Le bridged, except at such a cost as would render the construction of the railway unjustifiable. Knowing that masonry structures would be extremely expensive, Lieutenant-Colonel Kennedy had the foresight to turn to practical account the late Mr. Mitchell's invention of the screw-pile, and the rivers were bridged by Mitchell's screw-piles and Warren girders. He was a strong opponent to the break of railway gauge, and did all in his power to dissuade the Indian Government from adopting it.

He wrote many pamphlets on Indian subjects. The following extract is from the report of the Bombay, Baroda, and Central India Railway Company, of the 20th of June, 1879: 'The Directors announce, with deep regret, that failing health has obliged Colonel John Pitt Kennedy, the consulting engineer, and one of the original founders of the Company, to resign his appointment. The Directors cannot express in more fitting terms their sense of Colonel Kennedy's high qualities, than by adopting the following resolution of the Bombay Government: 'In resigning the post of consulting engineer to the Baroda Railway Company, Colonel Pitt Kennedy terminates a long career of public usefulness, during which his ability, integrity, and courtesy, have gained him the respect and esteem of all with whom he has been brought in contact. Government desire to take this opportunity of placing on record their sense of his personal worth, and of the value of the services he has rendered to the State.'"

He was elected a Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers on the 3rd of March, 1868, and occasionally took part in the discussions at the evening meetings.



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