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Julius Possmann

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Julius Possmann (1843-1916)


1917 Obituary [1]

JULIUS POSSMANN, who died at Sierre (Switzerland) on the 2nd October, 1916, was a Member of the Institution since 1872, and was thus one of the oldest, of whom very few are now left to us.

He was born at Cologne in 1843, and, leaving school early, entered a firm of railway engineers and contractors, where, considering his years and opportunities, he acquired a creditable smattering of mechanical knowledge.

In 1861 he came to London and at once obtained employment in the Foreign Gallery of the old Electric and International Telegraph Company (then under Mr. H. C. Fischer), where his knowledge of German, French, and English was appreciated. The idea of connecting the Mother Country with her Indian dependencies was a very old one, and after the Mutiny of 1857 it was seen to be a matter of urgent necessity.

In 1860 the Red Sea cables were laid, but, owing to imperfect manufacture and careless laying, they failed, one section after another, in a very few months. These failures gave a great set-back to submarine cable enterprise, and it was not until after the return of the Red Sea repairing expedition of 1862, under Sir Charles Bright, that the Government would consent to any scheme of telegraphic communication between England and India.

Towards the end of 1862, Colonel Patrick Stewart, R.E., returned from a special mission to Persia, the object of which was the establishment of a line of telegraphs along the Mekran Coast, the Persian Gulf, and the Turkish dominions. His report was so satisfactory that the Government decided to commence the work at once. Colonel Stewart was appointed to superintend the scheme on behalf of the Government, while Sir Charles Bright and Mr. Latimer Clark were appointed engineers and electricians under whose sole supervision the cable was to be manufactured, conveyed to destination, and finally laid.

The manufacture was commenced at Messrs. Henley's Works, Woolwich, in February, 1863, and the total length of nearly 1,500 miles was completed by the middle of October in the same year.

Meanwhile, Dr. Esselbach was appointed Director of the new department and was charged with the duty of selecting the scientific and clerical staffs. Amongst the latter Mr. Possmann had the good fortune to be chosen as first-class cable clerk on the nth August, 1863 ; and he sailed for India early in the following month. Within three years, owing to deaths and resignations in the superior staff, he was promoted to the rank of Assistant Superintendent on the 5th September, 1866.

On the 1st January, 1869, he was appointed Construction Superintendent, and with three other officers surveyed and marked out the route for a new landline between Gvvadur and Jask (Mekran Coast). In the course of this work, through a wild and little-known country inhabited by turbulent people, these officers were opposed and obstructed at every step by the local chiefs, who regarded the telegraph as the work of Shaitan (the devil) ; but with tact, patience, and a judicious use of baksheesh (the silver key) all difficulties were overcome. On return to headquarters from this arduous expedition in the very hottest season, Mr. Possinann was promoted to Station Superintendent (23rd August, 1869).

In the following autumn an additional cable (Hooper's india-rubber) was laid down between Jask and Bushire. The operation was carried out without a hitch under the personal supervision of Mr. Latimer Clark and Colonel Bateman-Champain, then the Director-in-Chief of the Department. Lieutenant Stiffe, late Indian Navy, directed the course on board the Dacca and prepared the cable charts, while testing operations were in the hands of Messrs. Herbert Taylor (of Mr. Clark's staff), Possmann, and Melhuish.

In those far-off days, and amongst the unruly peoples who inhabited the Mekran Coast, the telegraph officer was more than a pioneer of science. He was expected always to be a pattern to the natives around him, and often his tact and firmness in emergencies were put to a severe test. Mr. Possmann was chief actor in at least one such emergency.

On the retirement of Sir Henry Mance on the 23rd December, 1886, Mr. Possmann was appointed Engineer and Electrician, and finally, on the 1st April, 1893, he became head of the department as Director, with ex officio magisterial powers along the Mekran Coast.

For the last few years of his service he was (in addition to his telegraph duties) President of the Karachi Municipality, and Chairman of the Harbour Board, Manora.

He retired on pension on the 19th February, 1897, after nearly 34 years' service, and although many of these years were spent in very trying climates, such as Gwadur (Mekran Coast), Bushire (Persian Gulf), and Fao (Shat-el-Arab), he enjoyed always the best of health. Soon after his retirement, however, symptoms of heart trouble began to show themselves, and, although seldom ailing, he had to be careful. He therefore lived very quietly, spending his summers in England and wintering abroad, for the first few years at Montreux, then for 10 years in succession in Egypt, and for the last two winters at Territet in Switzerland.

He was on his way to this place for his third winter when he was taken ill at Sierre and in a few hours died (of heart failure) without pain and almost without warning.


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