Orders, Decorations, Medals and Militaria, to include the Brian Ritchie Collection (Part II) (2 March 2005)

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Date of Auction: 2nd March 2005

Sold for £2,500

Estimate: £2,000 - £2,500

The K.C.B. and Siege of Bhurtpoor group to Colonel Sir Proby Cautley, Bengal Artillery, Knighted for the construction of the Ganges Canal, completed in April 1854

(a) The Most Honourable Order of the Bath (Civil) K.C.B., Knight Commander’s set of insignia, comprising neck badge, 18 carat gold, hallmarked London 1851, maker’s mark RG for Robert Garrard; and breast star, silver, gold and enamels, the reverse plate inscribed Widdowson & Veale, Goldsmiths, 73 Strand, London, and stamped with maker’s mark WN, fitted with gold pin for wearing, scarce early insignia of the recently enlarged Civil Division of the Order

(b) Army of India 1799-1826, 1 clasp, Bhurtpoor (Lieutt. P. T. Cautley, (1st) Regt. of Arty.) long hyphen reverse, naming officially engraved in running script, nearly extremely fine (3) £2000-2500


Ex Tamplin Collection, Sotheby, February 1985.

The Civil Division of the Order of the Bath was enlarged in 1847 to include second and third classes and 25 K.C.B. and 50 C.B. badges were duly prepared by Garrard & Co. The supply of these badges had run out by August 1851 when a further 10 K.C.B. badges were ordered, one of which was subsequently issued to Cautley. At this period he would have received the standard issue ‘paper’ star issued by the Lord Chamberlain’s Office and would have purchased this metal star at his own expense.

Proby Thomas Cautley, constructor of the Ganges Canal, was the son of the Rev Thomas Cautley of Stratfield St. Mary’s, Suffolk, and Catherine, daughter of the Rev Charles Proby, and was born on 3 January 1802. He was educated at Charterhouse and nominated a Cadet for the Bengal Artillery by James Pattison, Esq., at the recommendation of his uncle, A. E. Impey, Esq. He was examined and passed into Addiscombe in July 1818, and a year later was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant. After promotion to Lieutenant in 1821 and regimental service in various appointments including Adjutant and Quartermaster in 1823-24, Cautley was appointed an assistant to Captain Robert Smith, Bengal Engineers, supervising the reconstruction of the Eastern Jumna Canal - the original canal, dug during the reign of Emperor Shah Jahan, the builder of the Taj Mahal, having failed due to faulty alignment. Work, however, was interrupted in December 1825, when Cautley and the rest of the canal officers were recalled to serve under Lord Combermere at the Siege of Bhurtpoor. After the capture of that fortress he returned to his work on the Eastern Jumna Canal which was opened in 1830. The following year he was placed in overall charge of the Jumna Canal, and by 1836 he occupied the post of Superintendent of Canals.

In 1837 the rains completely failed in the Doab between the fast flowing upper reaches of the Ganges and Jumna, causing widespread famine and substantial financial loss to the Government of the North-West Provinces. The only fertile fields to be seen that year were those beside the new Jumna Canal. Clearly there was an urgent need to construct a means of irrigating the whole of the Doab which promised, if properly watered, to be highly productive. The ambitious project of a canal from the Ganges had already been examined by Colonel John Colvin, Bengal Engineers, but with such discouraging results that it had been abandoned. Now in the light of the recent disaster, the Provincial Government asked Cautley to re-examine the problem. He agreed with Colvin that a suitable site for the canal’s headworks could be found near Hardwar where the Ganges enters the plains and in December 1839 he commenced operations. But the parsimony of the authorities was such that the grant sanctioned to him was insufficient to hire even one qualified assistant. Cautley reacted characteristically and ‘set out on his mission with only a few servants to carry his tents and provisions. For six months the Superintendent-General walked and rode across swamps and jungles, taking each level and measurement himself, and sitting up at nights transferred them to his maps. After this drudgery he was confident that the 300-mile canal could be made. Though mainly for irrigation it was also to be navigable by barges.’

In order for the canal to reach the ground from which the land to be irrigated could be commanded, Cautley boldly proposed that it should follow a direct line and be made to go under or above the various torrential tributaries which ran from the copious natural drainage lines of the country near the Sivalik Hills. The first twenty miles of the canal presented the greatest test to Cautley’s ingenuity. The project’s ‘colossal character’ wrote the Hon. Alfred Deakin, the author of Irrigated India, ‘can be best conceived when a picture is presented to the mind of an artificial river sometimes carried over what in the rains are rivers, sometimes having those rivers carried over it, and at other times taking them into its course.

The first twelve miles of the Ganges Canal are in deep cutting, and at the sixth mile it encounters the Rani Rao torrent, transported overhead in a masonry aqueduct (at Ranipur) termed a superpassage, 200 feet wide and capable of taking a flood 14 feet deep. In the tenth mile comes the Puttri (Pathri) torrent, received by a superpassage 296 feet wide, 14 feet deep and 450 feet long. The Ratmau torrent in the thirteenth mile offers an equally astounding spectacle. It is permitted to flow straight into the canal ... The Solani Aqueduct comes in the nineteenth mile. It has 750 feet in length of clear waterway on 15 arches, or 920 feet of masonry in all bearing a channel 164 feet broad and 10 feet deep upon foundations 252 feet wide, resting on wells sunk 20 feet below ground. The upstream and downstream continuations are carried on an immense earthen embankment whose base is 350 feet wide, making 15,700 feet lined with masonry between banks 30 feet wide - a far grander work than anything in Italy.’ Cautley’s great work initially met with considerable opposition from the Government in Calcutta. War overshadowed India, money was tight, and there was a scarcity of trained engineers and skilled labour. To succeeding Governor-Generals, champions of Britain’s military mission in Asia, the canal was an anathema - a costly drain on the limited resources of the Treasury. ‘Originating as it did during the commencement of the Afghan War,’ wrote Cautley ‘the Ganges Canal was nursed at a period of intense trouble to the State; its weary progress was unwillingly prosecuted during the whole of a warlike administration’.

Cautley’s great work initially met with considerable opposition from the Government in Calcutta. War overshadowed India, money was tight, and there was a scarcity of trained engineers and skilled labour. To succeeding Governor-Generals, champions of Britain’s military mission in Asia, the canal was an anathema - a costly drain on the limited resources of the Treasury. ‘Originating as it did during the commencement of the Afghan War,’ wrote Cautley ‘the Ganges Canal was nursed at a period of intense trouble to the State; its weary progress was unwillingly prosecuted during the whole of a warlike administration’. In 1842, when deeply involved in the war in Afghanistan, Lord Ellenborough, who only understood the canal as a means of transport, issued orders for the cessation of all work and for the closing accounts to be sent in. But the Provincial Government protested arguing that the work had progressed too far to be stopped and after three months’ struggle the Governor-General relented and a small grant was permitted. In the face of such opposition, Cautley continued to work on the project until 1845 when, after twenty-six years service in India, his health gave out and he returned to England on furlough. Cautley also encountered opposition from Hindu holy men who felt that the waters of the Ganges, worshipped by hundreds of millions, were being ‘imprisoned’. Cautley reassured them that he would leave a narrow gap in the dam through which the river could always flow unchecked. Moreover, he carried out repairs to the holy bathing steps along the river, and beside each of the 103 bridges built over the canal, he placed new steps. Nevertheless, when the canal was eventually opened by the Lieutenant-Governor of the N.W. Provinces, there was trouble when a number of fanatics refused to accept that the holy water of the Ganges would consent to enter the canal, and to emphasize the expected miracle, the zealots occupied the canal bed. The laws of gravity, however, prevailed, and the protestors were force to flee before the rushing waters.

Cautley spent much of his time in England canvassing support for the canal and stressing its importance to Indian agriculture. He read a paper to the Royal Society and in 1846 was made a Fellow. On his return to India three years later, via Lombardy and Piedmont where he visited irrigation works, he found that the official attitude to the canal had dramatically changed and that the project now enjoyed the full support of the new Governor-General, Lord Dalhousie, and the Lieutenant-Governor of the North-West Provinces, James Thomason, who at Cautley’s suggestion founded the Thomason Civil Engineering College at Roorkee in 1847 to train engineer officers and subordinates for the Canal work.

Over 300,000,000 bricks were required in the construction of the canal and here Cautley faced another problem. The only available fuel, the Butea Frondosa, or Flame Tree, was particularly unsuited to the baking of bricks as a large number were invariably burnt up. The problem was eventually solved by an officer recently returned from Sind, who developed a type of kiln used in that province in which the bricks were insulated in ashes. ‘Now’ Cautley recorded in his memoirs ‘we had bricks as good as any that could be had in Europe.’ Some hundred square miles of jungle were cleared for fuel and 100,000 tons of lime were procured for mixing with the mortar which was sometimes reinforced with lumps of crude sugar known as gur. This gur was apparently irresistible to the sweet tooth of the coolies, who carried it from the godowns to the mortar pits, and who, despite warnings of dire consequences if caught, would eat and distribute among their friends up to half of their loads. None of the canal officials knew what to do about it. Then one day Cautley had one of his brainwaves. Next morning he collected several assistants outside the warehouse and waited for each coolie to appear with his load of gur. As he came by he was asked to stop, put it down and stand aside while each of the assembled Englishmen spat on it.

The Ganges Canal was finally completed on schedule and opened on 8 April 1854. The earlier difficulties were forgotten and Cautley was widely acclaimed, his feat of engineering being ranked among the foremost of the day. H. G. Keene, Bengal Civil Service, was one of those who attended the grand opening at Rorkee, ‘... a dense crowd filled the surrounding plain, over which leapt the light arches of the Solani aqueduct, lined with scarlet-coated sepoys; and as the Lieutenant-Governor lifted the bar that opens the sluice-gate, the troops fired a feu-de-joie, and the European spectators raised “a cheer for Colonel Cautley,” the Engineer-in-Chief, as, with folded arms and bent head, he silently watched the inrush of the waters that were to save a million fields from famine so long as the British rule in India should last.’ Cautley retired a month later and was honoured by the city of Calcutta who placed his bust in the Town Hall and presented him with a Memorial. On the morning he left India he was conveyed in Dalhousie’s yacht from Chandpal Ghat to the packet steamer and accorded the honour of a 13-gun salute fired from the ramparts of Fort William. Shortly after his arrival home he was appointed a Civil K.C.B. (London Gazette 1 August 1854), and took up residence in Sackville Street off Piccadilly.

During the Mutiny the canal played an important role as a means of rapid transport for troops going to Meerut and other centres of insurrection. Conversely, the canal presented the mutineers with a prime target and an attack was planned on the headworks at Hardwar, but thanks to the presence of mind of an old canal employee called Moola, a disaster to the canal, at least, was averted. When the attack occurred there were hardly any troops at Hardwar and Moola seeing the rebels crossing the shallow river acted on his own initiative and suddenly closed the canal gates. Water surged back into the river, drowning no fewer than six hundred mutineers.

In 1858, Sir Proby was appointed to the newly instituted Council of India, and served on that body until 1868. In addition to his distinguished career as an engineer, Cautley was an acknowledged geologist and palaeontologist, and carried out extensive explorations in the Sivalik Hills. Cautley, a Fellow of the Geological Society, was joined in his researches by Dr Hugh Falconer of the Botanical Gardens at Saharunpore, and together they were awarded the Woollaston Medal in 1837. He presented his collection of fossils, weighing no less than 40 tons to the British Museum. In the latter part of his life Cautley became involved in a professional argument with Major-General Sir Arthur Cotton (brother of Sir Sydney Cotton (see Lot 42) and father of Captain A. F. Cotton (see Lot 43)) who maintained that he should have sighted his headworks much lower down the river. A Government Committee was set up to investigate the matter and reported that in principle Cotton was right.

Honorary Colonel Sir Proby Cautley married Frances, the daughter of Anthony Bacon of Elcott, Berkshire, on 26 September 1839 at Landour, United Provinces, and died without issue at his home at The Avenue, Sydenham Park, Kent, on 25 January 1871, aged sixty-nine.

His great work was the construction of the Ganges Canal which virtually banished the spectre of famine from the Doab and turned the region into one of India’s richest agricultural areas. In the single famine year of 1865-66, the canal repaid the country more than its total cost of £1,400,000.

Refs: Hodson Index (NAM); Dictionary of Indian Biography; Dictionary of National Biography; Modern English Biography (Boase); Encyclopedia Britannica; Addiscombe - It’s Heroes and Men of Note; The Military Engineer in India (Sandes); The Geographical Magazine, August, 1957; General Sir Arthur Cotton, His Life and Work (Lady Hope); The History of the Order of the Bath and its insignia (Risk).