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John Steell

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John Steell (1828-1886)


1887 Obituary [1]

JOHN STEELL, the eldest son of the eminent sculptor, Sir John Steell, R.S.A., was born at Edinburgh on the 20th of September, 1828, and was educated at the Academy in that city. He was articled to the late Mr. John Miller, M.P., M.Inst.C.E., in 1846, and remained in the same office until that gentleman retired from the profession in 1850.

In 1851 Mr. Steell left England for Port Natal, proposing to practise as a Government Surveyor, and was passed by Mr. Bird, the then Surveyor-General.

After a residence of five years in Africa, he returned to England, and having spent a few months in the office of the late Mr. B. H. Blyth, M. Inst. C.E., he in 1857 accepted an appointment as an engineer under Mr. Joseph Bray, contractor, who was then engaged in carrying out the extension of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway from Poona to Sholapore.

In 1860 Mr. Bray’s managers, Messrs. Lee, Watson, and Aiton, entered into a contract for the construction of the branch of the same railway connecting Nagpore with the main line at Bhosawal in Khandeish, and Mr. Steell was entrusted by them with the charge of a considerable part of the contract, including several heavy works.

After being with the firm for four years, he was compelled to return to England for the benefit of his health.

In 1864 he again went to India, and was for a little over a year under Mr. C. B. Ker, M.Inst.C.E., on the North-Eastern extension of the G.I.P. Railway, but was prostrated by hard work in an unhealthy district, and an attack of dysentery compelled him to seek rest and change at home.

In 1867 he entered the service of Messrs. Adamson and Clowser, who had undertaken the extension of the G.I.P. Railway from Sholapore to Goolburgah, in the direction of Madras, and remained with that firm until they gave up the contract. When the Railway Company decided to complete the works departmentally, Mr. Steell’s services were retained to finish the works he had begun for the contractors.

In 1870, the works on the Goolburgah Extension having been completed, he accepted an appointment as Third Grade Executive Engineer in the Public Works Department of the Government of India. His large and varied experience of railway work eminently fitted him for employment on the lines which the Indian Government were, at that time, undertaking, and he was placed in charge of the branch from Badnera, on the Nagpore branch of the G.I.P. Railway to Oomrawuttee, which he laid out and constructed.

In 1871, he had to take sick leave and did not return to duty till 1874. He was then placed in charge of the construction of 20 miles of the Wardha Valley Railway, a line undertaken by the Government of India with a view chiefly of utilizing the deposits of coal at Warora. On its completion Mr. Steel1 remained in charge for twelve months, and also worked the coal mines most successfully, his management being highly commended.

The Government of India having decided to construct a narrow gauge line from the terminus of the G.I.P. Railway at Nagpore, into the Raipore District in the direction of Calcutta, Mr. Steell was ordered to join the staff, and was engaged on its construction under Colonel J. O. Mayne, R.E., the Chief Engineer, until 1879, when he took advantage of the favourable terms offered by the Government to induce engineers of the Public Works Department to retire voluntarily, and resigned the service. At this time he was an Executive Engineer, First Grade, having received two steps of promotion between 1870 and 1879.

After a short holiday he accepted an appointment on the G.I.P. Railway, on which he had already spent several of the best years of his life, and was employed as Resident Engineer in charge of various sections of the line. For the last few years he resided at the flourishing railway settlement at Igatpuri, at the summit of the Thull Ghat, the northernmost of the two magnificent inclines surmounting the western ghats constructed by the G.I.P. Railway Company under the direction of the late Mr. James Berkley, M.Inst.C.E. In gradually failing health, Mr. Steell continued to perform his onerous duties, until at last he was struck down by a severe attack of fever, under which he succumbed on the 24th of September, 1886, in the 58th year of his age.

Mr. Steell was universally liked and respected, and the esteem in which he was held, by all the classes of the community, found expression in the large attendance at the interment which took place in the picturesquely situated churchyard at Igatpuri. His genial and kindly disposition, and his strongly marked individuality, caused him to be well known in Western India; while his wide experience, accurate knowledge, and general information made him one of the most trusted and valued officers of the Company. He was well known for the honesty which characterized his opinions, and the sincerity and earnestness with which his duties in every office and capacity were discharged; and he enjoyed the complete confidence of the Company’s Chief Engineer, Mr. Wilson Bell, M.Inst.C.E., under whom he had served since his engagement with the Company in 1879. His loss was deeply felt, more especially by those who had had the good fortune of having known him long and intimately. He was one of the most hospitable of men, and entertained his guests by relating stories of his adventures and travels, as well as by his observations as a naturalist, which branch of science he studied with great interest.

He was elected an Associate of the Institution on the 4th of February, 1873, and was transferred to the class of Members on the 2nd of May, 1876.



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