Harness, Henry Drury (DNB00)
|←Harmer, Thomas||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 24
Harness, Henry Drury
HARNESS, Sir HENRY DRURY (1804–1883), general, colonel-commandant royal engineers, son of John Harness, esq., M.D., commissioner of the transport board, was born in 1804. William Harness [q. v.] was an elder brother. Harness passed high out of the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in 1825, but had to wait two years for a commission. He employed the interval in study ing mining engineering among the silver mines of Mexico. On being gazetted a second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 24 May 1827, Harness returned to England and went through the usual course of study at Chatham. In 1828 he married Caroline, daughter of Thomas Edmonds of Cowbridge, Glamorganshire, and in 1829 went with his company to Bermuda. He was promoted lieutenant on 20 Sept. 1832, and on his return home in 1834 was appointed an instructor in fortification at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. Here he remained for six years, and compiled a text-book which formed part of the course of study at the academy for the next twenty years. In 1840 Harness was appointed instructor in surveying at Chatham, and was promoted second-captain on 30 June 1843. In 1844 Harness went back to the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich as professor of fortification.
The next year he was appointed inspector of Welsh roads, with a view to assisting the county authorities in the rearrangement of the public roads consequent on the abolition of turnpikes. In 1846 he was appointed joint secretary with the Hon. F. Bruce to the new railway commission. When this commission became merged in a department of the board of trade, Harness remained as sole secretary.
Under an act to provide for the conveyance of the royal mails by railroad the remuneration to be paid to the railway companies was to be fixed by agreement, and Harness was appointed arbitrator for the post office, a very difficult duty, which he carried out with a result highly satisfactory and beneficial to the post office. He was promoted first captain on 20 Feb. 1847.
Harness was next called upon to reform the royal mint. The master of the mint in 1850 was a political officer whose responsibilities were limited to his parliamentary duties, and when Harness was made deputy-master he became virtually the head of the establishment. The mechanical operations of coining were at that time a matter of contract between the deputy-master and certain melters, assayers, and moneyers, who, besides enjoying considerable emoluments, claimed also a vested interest in the appointment of their successors. Harness had to substitute for this system a government department. During the progress of these reforms the master, Mr. Sheil,was appointed British minister at Florence. Sir John Herschel succeeded him, with no parliamentary responsibility. On the completion of the reorganisation in 1852 Herschel said that but for the resource and energy of Harness he could not have carried out the reforms so efficiently. Before Herschel's appointment Harness had been promised the mastership when the proposed abolition of a political head took place. He therefore considered himself superseded and resigned the position of deputy-master, although Lord Aberdeen, then prime minister, personally pressed him to remain. After declining the government of New Zealand, he accepted the appointment of commissioner of public works in Ireland, and remained in Ireland two years. In addition to his ordinary duties he, as a special commissioner, carried on an inquiry into the works of the arterial drainage of Ireland, and was a commissioner for the abolition of turnpike trusts.
On 20 June 1854 he was promoted brevet-major and on 13 Jan. 1855 lieutenant-colonel. He was then brought back to England to take charge of the fortification branch of the war office, under the inspector-general of fortifications, an office he held until the close of the Crimean war, when he was appointed commanding royal engineer at Malta.
On the outbreak of the Indian mutiny he was given the command of the royal engineers of the force, under Lord Clyde. He took part in the operations at Cawnpore, in the siege and capture of Lucknow, and the subsequent operations in Rohilkund and Oude. For his Indian services Harness was several times mentioned in despatches and was thanked by the governor-general in council. He was made a C.B., and received the medal and clasps.
In 1860, after his return from India, he was appointed director of the royal engineer establishment at Chatham (now the school of military engineering), which he succeeded in raising to a high pitch of excellence. He became a full colonel on 3 April 1862 and a major-general on 6 March 1868. On leaving Chatham he was appointed a member of the council for military education.
Shortly after the outbreak of the great cattle plague in 1866 Lord Granville invited Harness to become head of a new temporary department in the council office. According to the clerk of the council, Sir Arthur Helps, the privy council heard more plain truths from Harness than they were accustomed to. He declined the government of Bermuda and also of Guernsey. He was made a K.C.B. in 1873, and was awarded the good service pension. He was promoted lieutenant-general and made a colonel-commandant of the royal engineers in June 1877, and retired in October 1878 as a full general. He died on 10 Feb. 1883 at Barton End, Headington, Oxfordshire. On his death George Robert Gleig [q. v.], chaplain-general to the forces, wrote : 'I have lived long in the world and conversed with men of all orders of mind as well as of all professions, but among them I never found one in whose society I so much delighted as in his. His powers of narrative were remarkable. I invariably heard from him something which I loved to carry away. He was so gentle, so pure-minded, so simple in his- tastes, so just in his estimate of character.'
A portrait of Harness, painted by Mr. Archer, hangs in the mess of the royal engineers at Chatham.
[Corps Records; Memoir by Major-general Collinson, 1883.]