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Robert Riddell

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Robert Riddell (1840-1891) of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway


1891 Obituary [1]>

ROBERT RIDDELL was born at Haddington on the 23rd of March, 1840, and was educated at the Edinburgh Academy and the University of Edinburgh.

After having been in the office of the late Alexander Gordon, for six months, he was for two years (1859-60) a pupil of Mr. Kyle, Surveyor, of Glasgow, when he also attended the Engineering Department in the University, and obtained first prize in the late Professor Rankine’s class.

He was then, for three years (1861-64), a pupil of Liddell and Gordon, during which time he was engaged on the surveys and part construction of the Bedford and Cambridge Railway, the Aberdare Branch of the West Midland Railway, the East Gloucestershire and the Northampton and Bedfordshire Railways.

For the next four years (1865-69) he was Resident Engineer on a section of thirteen miles, from Radlett to Harpenden, of the Midland Extension from Bedford to London.

On the 13th of August, 1869, Mr. Riddell was appointed as Second Class Assistant Engineer on the Staff of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company. On arrival in Bombay he was posted to the section Bombay to Lanoli, and had charge of the maintenance of forty-four miles of the railway, including the Bhore Ghat incline. He retained charge of this important and responsible work until June, 1879, having been promoted to First Class Assistant Engineer in May, 1871, and to Resident Engineer in January, 1876, when the length of his section of the line was extended to seventy-three miles.

During this period of ten years Mr. Riddell devoted himself with unremitting earnestness and zeal to the improvement and efficient maintenauca of the way and works. The Bhore Ghat incline, whilst in his charge, attained a high degree of excellence and good order, which has since been steadfastly upheld. In addition to ordinary maintenance Mr. Biddell carried out several important works on the section, amongst which may be noted the flattening of slopes and removal of dangerous rocks from the hill-side between the tunnels Nos. 25 and 24, a work estimated to cost Rs.4,30,000; extensive repairs to three of the large viaducts on the Ghats, involving an expenditure of Rs.2,28,000; the construction of the Bhusi reservoir, near Lanoli, for the water-supply of the Bhore Ghat, having a masonry dam 751 feet in length with a maximum height of 53 feet, calculated to impound 70 millions of gallons of water, the cost being Rs.1,57,000; underpinning the walls of tunnel No. 21, and many other works on the Ghat, which though of minor importance, were such as to tax the energy and skill of an engineer employing native labour.

In June, 1879, Mr. Riddell proceeded to England on sixteen months’ furlough. On his return to India in November, 1880, he was posted to section Manwar to Rhusawul, 115 miles, but was soon afterwards transferred to section Sholapore to Raichore, 160 miles, where he remained until July, 1881, when he was placed in charge of the section Khandwa to Sohagpore, 142 miles. During this second period of his service Mr. Riddell was employed chiefly in the ordinary maintenance of works on open line, fully sustaining the reputation attached to him, that whatever he took in hand he improved.

On the 2nd of July, 1883, two bridges at Ajunta and Bhokri on section Bhusawul to Khandwa, each of seven 30 feet girder Spans, and separated by only a few miles, were swept away by unprecedentedly high floods. Mr. Riddell was deputed to carry out temporary works for restoring traffic communication pending and during the construction of new permanent works, of which he was also placed in direct charge. At the Bhokri the line was diverted and the river crossed by timber balks resting on sleeper-cribs, and erected at low-level, but when nearing completion, after ten days’ labour, the structure was entirely washed away by further floods. Timber trestle bridges were then framed, and erected at a height above ordinary flood-level both at the Ajunta and Bhokri; these temporary works, which were completed by the 27th of July and 2nd of August respectively, though severely tested by floods, successfully carried the traffic during the remaining months of the monsoon of 1883, and until July of the following year. At the close of the monsoon, the building of the new permanent bridges was taken in hand, and vigorously prosecuted during the working season of 1883-84.

The Ajunta bridge, of three spans of 75 feet girders on masonry abutments and piers, was commenced on the 1st of December, 1883, and completed on the 14th of July, 1884. The Bhokri bridge, of three spans of 100 feet girders on masonry abutments and cast-iron cylinders of 11 feet in diameter, was commenced on the 29th of November, 1883. The sinking of the cylinders through water-bearing stuff, in which many large stones, boulders, and lumps of conglomerate were met with, was attended with considerable difficulty, and as the work could not be finished before the setting in of the monsoon of 1884 it had to be suspended for that season.

The Ajunta bridge was opened for traffic on the 14th of July, 1884, but on the previous day the temporary timber bridges at that river and at the Bhokri were exposed to heavy floods, which swept away and totally destroyed them. After this disaster a second low-level diversion of the line was then undertaken at the Bhokri, with grades of 1 in 33 and 1 in 40, the road being laid on a rubble bank across the river. Notwithstanding material injury by flood on several occasions all damages were promptly made good, and traffic was passed over the diverted line throughout the monsoon, and until the permanent bridge was completed on the 10th of April, 1885.

Mr. Riddell may be said to have lived day and night on these works for a year and eight months, his powers of endurance being greatly tried, and his mind constantly taxed by intense anxiety. By his unceasing activity, determination, skill, and unwearying devotion to his duties he won the admiration of all who were acquainted with the nature of his task.

As these works were nearing completion Mr. Riddell was directed to prepare estimates for doubling the line between Bhusawal and Hhandwa, a distance of 74.75 miles. On the work being sanctioned, early in 1885 he was appointed to undertake its execution, holding for a time in addition the maintenance charge of the same section. This length, doubled at a cost of 27.5 lakhs of rupees, was completed in sections, and finally opened for traffic throughout in December, 1889.

On the 12th of December, 1887, Mr. Riddell was appointed to act as District Engineer on the district Tapti river to Jubbulpore, 334.75 miles, and in August, 1889, he was confirmed in that grade, retaining charge of the same district until the 17th of July, 1890, when he proceeded to England on furlough for eighteen months. During his service of nearly twenty years in India, Mr. Riddell was necessarily occupied for a great part of the time on the maintenance of open line, to the improvement and strengthening of which he gave his constant care and attention. He was, however, more fortunate than perhaps any other officer of the staff of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway in having charge of large undertakings. He most thoroughly enjoyed being engaged on works of construction; he revelled in encountering and overcoming difficulties, and openly expressed satisfaction in being called upon to undertake the carrying out of what he whimsically described as “a real good, mucky job.”

Patient, persevering, observant, and possessing a thorough knowledge, both technical and practical of his profession, and always exercising great tact and judgment in the control of events and persons, he was eminently fitted for the life he had elected to follow. Naturally blessed with a fine constitution, he scarcely suffered from serious sickness at any time of his life. His residence in India had apparently not affected to any degree his general health, and his many friends hoped and looked to his life being prolonged for many years. He was in full enjoyment of the open-air life in England, and when the writer of the present notice met him so lately as on the 23rd of April last, he seemed to be in perfect health. On the following day Mr. Riddell left town to visit some friends in the New Forest. He was taken seriously ill on the way and had to break the journey at Southampton, where, although everything that could be done by careful nursing and skilful medical advice was availed of, in little more than three weeks he succumbed to the illness from which he suffered, and died on the 16th of May.

Mr. Riddell was a man of high principle and sterling worth, proud of his profession, and certainly a most valuable member of the Engineering Staff of the Great Indian Peninsula Railway Company, whose best interests he had always at heart. His genial, frank, fair and considerate nature, and his kind, disposition endeared him to every one with whom he came in contact, whether professionally or socially, European or native, and it can rarely have happened that the loss of one in his position has been so widely and deeply deplored as that of the subject of this Paper.

On the formation of the Corps of the General Indian Peninsula Railway Volunteers in March, 1876, Mr. Riddell joined, and he was unanimously elected by his fellow volunteers to the command of a Company. He was made Field Officer in March, 1885, and remained in the corps up to the date of his death. This regiment has always numbered over a thousand strong, and has maintained a good reputation for discipline and efficiency. A brother officer, of long standing, thus writes of him :

"Major Riddell in volunteering, as in every other work he put his hand to, showed his own strong individuality. The Companies he commanded were always amongst the best drilled and best shooting companies. Every soldier and volunteer knows what a popular. and efficient commander can effect in these respects, and certainly no officer in this corps was more popular with all ranks, or more efficient in military duties.

"In order fully to qualify himself as a Field Officer, by the kind permission of the Commanding Officer of the 45th Nottinghamshire, he was able to drill and parade with that regiment at Jubbulpore. He speedily became as popular with the ‘Sherwood Foresters’ as with his own regiment.

"A keen sportsman, a thorough horseman, a good shot ; keeping his horses, and, indeed, his stable open to his friends; not only honourable and manly in character, but most lovable in disposition, he was known throughout his long district as ‘the Squire,’ and certainly no better name could describe him.”

Mr. Riddell was elected a Member of the Institution on the 2nd of December, 1879.


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