Montgomerie, Thomas George (DNB00)
|←Montgomerie, Robert (d.1684)||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 38
Montgomerie, Thomas George
MONTGOMERIE, THOMAS GEORGE (1830–1878), colonel royal engineers and geographer, fourth son of Colonel W. E. Montgomerie of the Ayrshire yeomanry and of Annick Lodge, Ayrshire, was born on 23 April 1830. He was educated at Addiscombe for the East India Company's army, and passed out first of his term, winning the Pollock medal as the most distinguished cadet. He was gazetted a second lieutenant in the Bengal engineers on 9 June 1849, and went through the usual course of training at Chatham. He went to India in 1851, arriving in June, and, after serving for a year at Roorkee with the headquarters of the corps of Bengal sappers and miners, was posted to the great trigonometrical survey, then under Colonel (afterwards Sir) Andrew Scott-Waugh. Among his earlier duties on the survey he assisted in the measurement of the bases of verification on the plain of Chach (near Attok on the Indus) in 1853, and at Karachi in 1854-5. He was promoted first lieutenant on 1 Aug. 1854.
On the conclusion of the Karachi measurement he was given the charge of the trigo-topographical survey of the whole
dominions of the maharajahs of Janin and Kashmir, including the Tibetan regions of Ladakh and Balti, an area of about seventy thousand square miles. This survey constituted a network of geometry, thrown with much labour over an unknown country, embracing one of the most stupendous mountain tracts in the world. Many of the stations of observation exceeded fifteen thousand feet in height, while some ranged from eighteen to twenty thousand. Success attended the whole of the prolonged operations.
Besides the triangulation of the particular country in hand, peaks were fixed rising out of distant and inaccessible regions, such as those on the west of the Indus, towards Upper Swaton, in the ranges beyond Gilghit, which were either unknown or known only in inaccurate generalities. But a greater difficulty than either the physical character of the country or the constant toil of training fresh hands, arose from the work being carried on in the territory of a quasi-independent prince. The tact and ability which Montgomerie exercised in maintaining amicable relations with the court, and in preserving discipline among his own large and mixed establishment, earned just praise from the government. The old maharajah, Goolab Singh, regarded Montgomerie as a friend, and after the maharajah's death the same kindly relations were maintained by his successor.
At the time of the Indian mutiny, Sir John Lawrence, for political reasons, considered it inexpedient to stop the survey, and Montgomerie carried it on during that critical time. He was promoted captain on 27 Aug. 1858. A degree sheet of the survey was sent home in August 1859 by Lord Canning, who wrote to Sir Roderick Murchison from Calcutta in the highest terms of praise of both the map and its author. The survey was completed without a single casualty or serious failure in 1863-4, and Montgomerie, whose health had broken down, went to Europe on medical certificate. In May 1865 he received, at the hands of Sir Roderick Murchison, the founder's medal of the Royal Geographical Society.
Montgomerie returned to India early in 1867, and in May was appointed to the charge of the Himalayan survey in Kumaon and Gurhwal. Long before the completion of the Kashmir survey Montgomerie had considered the means of extending accurate reconnaissance in the country beyond the Indian frontier. It was not possible to extend the survey itself, or any work of European officers, without the risk of political complications, but there was no reason why properly trained natives, equipped as traders, should not pass freely to and fro and bring back good geographical results. A letter which Montgomerie wrote to the Asiatic Society of Bengal (21 July 1862) contained the germ of such a scheme. It was supported by the society, and eventually by the government. A beginning was made in 1863 by the despatch of a Mohammedan munshi, Abdul Hamid, to survey the route to Yarkand. The journey was successfully accomplished, but unfortunately the munshi died on the return journey, within a few days' journey of Ladak. Montgomerie contributed an account of this journey to the Royal Geographical Society in 1868, and mentioned another expedition of like kind, but of still greater interest, that he had started just before leaving India in 1864. This was the journey of the (long anonymous) 'Pundit,' from Nipal to Lhasa, and along the upper valley of the Brahmaputra to the source of that river, a journey of great importance to geography, and which for the first time determined the position on secure grounds of the capital of the pope of northern Buddhism. The names of Montgomerie's emissaries were, for obvious reasons of precaution, kept secret till death or retirement, and it was not till long after that the most eminent of them, Nain Singh, was known by name. The word 'pundit' acquired a new significance, and in a manner became a name for a trained explorer. After 1868 Montgomerie's reports of such explorations were as eagerly looked for by foreign geographers as by his own countrymen. Till he finally left India, whatever were his other duties, he continued to supervise the reduction of the observations of the emissaries beyond our frontier, and to combine their results.
In 1870-71-73, during the absence of Colonel Walker, Montgomerie officiated as superintendent of the great trigonometrical survey of India. He was promoted major on 5 July 1872. In 1873 he was compelled by ill-health to return to England. The foundation of serious disease had been laid during his prolonged and arduous toil on the Kashmir survey.
Montgomerie was in 1872 elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He was an honorary member of the Italian and other foreign geographical societies. In 1875 he was the representative of the British and Indian governments, and agent of the Royal Geographical Society at the Geographical Congress held in Paris, when he was decorated by the French government as 'Officer of the Uni- versity of Paris, and of Public Instruction.' He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 1 April 1874, and retired from the service with the rank of colonel in 1876. His last public appearance was at the meeting of the British Association at Bristol in 1875, when he read an interesting paper on the Himalayan glaciers. Montgomerie died at Bath on 31 Jan. 1878. He married in 1864 Jane Farrington, by whom he left three children. The following is a list of papers contributed by Montgomerie to geographical or scientific periodicals : 1. 'The Nanga Parbat, and other Snowy Mountains of the Himalaya Range adjacent to Kashmir' (Journ. Asiat. Soc. Bengal, xxvi. 1857). 2. 'The Great Flood of the River Indus, which reached Attok on 10 Aug. 1858 ' (ib. xxix. 1860): corroborating conclusions already arrived at by Colonel R. Strachey and others, that the flood in question, by which the Attok was raised ninety feet in seven hours, had nothing to do with the subsidence of a glacier in the Shayok branch of the Upper Indus, as had been alleged, nor probably had the similar great flood of 1841, which had been ascribed to a catastrophe in the same locality. 3. 'Memorandum drawn up by order of Colonel A. Scott-Waugh on the Progress of the Kashmir Series of the Great Trigonometrical Survey of India, with Map, and Observations on the late Conquest of Gilgit, and other incidental matters' (ib. xxx. 1861). 4. 'On the Geographical Position of Yarkund and some other places in Central Asia' (Journ. R. Geogr. Soc. xxxvi. 1866). 5. 'Report of a Route Survey made by Pundit from Nipal to Lhasa and thence through the Upper Valley of the Brahmaputra to its Source' (ib. xxxviii. 1868; cf. Proc. R. Geogr. Soc. xii. 146). 6. 'Report of the Trans-Himalayan Explorations during 1867' (Journ. R. Geogr. Soc. xxxix. 1869; cf. Proc. xiii. 183). 7. 'Report of the Mirza's Exploration from Kabul to Kashghar' (Journ. R. Geogr. Soc. xli. 1871; cf. Proc. xv. 181). 8. 'A Havildar's Journey through Chitral to Faizabad in 1870' (Journ. R. Geogr. Soc. xlii. 1872; cf. Proc. xvi.253). 9. 'Narrative of an Exploration of the Namcho or Tengri Nur Lake in Great Tibet, made by a Native Explorer in 1871-2,' with memorandum on the results of the above explorations (Journ. R. Geogr. Soc. xlv. 1875). 10. 'Journey to Shigatze in Tibet, and Return by Tengri Maidan in Nipal in 1871 by the Native Explorer' (ib. xlvii.) 11. 'Extracts from an Explorer's Narrative of his Journey from Petoraghar in Kumaon, via Jumla to Tadum, and back by the Kali Gandak to British Territory' (ib.) 12. 'Account of the Pundit's Journey in Great Tibet from Leh in Ladakh to Lhasa, and of his Return Journey to India via Assam' (ib.) 13. 'Meteorological Observations taken at Lé by W. H. Johnson, with Remarks by Major T. G. Montgomerie' (Proc. R. Geogr. Soc. xvii.) 14. 'Remarks in regard to Trans-Himalayan problems and explorations' (ib. xix. and xx.) 15. Note on Himalayan glaciers (Brit. Assoc. Rep. 1875).
[Records of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Memoir in vol. viii. Royal Engineers' Journal by Colonel Henry Yule; obituary notice in vol. xlviii. Journal of the Royal Geographical Society.]