Ricketts, Henry (DNB00)

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RICKETTS, Sir HENRY (1802–1886), Indian civil servant, third son of George William Ricketts, was born at Lainston, near Winchester, on 25 March 1802. He was educated at Winchester College, and at the East India College, Haileybury, and entered the Bengal civil service in 1821. After passing some years in subordinate offices in the revenue and judicial departments, he was in 1827 appointed collector, and immediately afterwards judge and magistrate of the Cuttack district. In the following year he was transferred to Balasor, where he was employed in conducting a settlement of the land revenue of the district. In October 1831 the district was devastated by a hurricane, accompanied by an inundation of the sea, and resulting in the loss of twenty-two thousand lives. From that time until the hot weather of 1832 Ricketts was actively employed in mitigating the sufferings of the people by distributing food and clothing, advancing cash and seed, and stimulating cultivation, when on 7 Oct. of that year his efforts were frustrated by another gale even more violent than that of the previous year, and attended with great loss of life. The energy displayed by Ricketts in coping with these disasters, and subsequently in dealing with disturbances in the tributary states of Morbhanj and Nilghar, was highly appreciated by the government, and in 1836 Ricketts, though a civil servant of only fifteen years' standing, was appointed commissioner of Cuttack. It devolved upon him in that capacity to co-operate with the Madras authorities in suppressing a serious insurrection of the Kunds in Gumsur, and in inducing the tribes to abandon the custom of human sacrifices. This measure was not accomplished without opposition on the part of the chiefs. At the close of the insurrection Ricketts received the cordial thanks of the Madras government, especially for having effected the capture of Dora Bissoye, the leading insurgent, and thereby secured the peace and tranquillity of the disturbed district.

In 1839 Ricketts was compelled by ill-health to visit England. He returned to India late in 1840, and in February 1841 he was appointed special commissioner of the Chittagong division, with orders to carry out a much-needed resettlement of the land revenue. This important work was completed in 1848, and elicited high commendation from the government of Bengal and from the court of directors. In 1849 he was appointed a member of the board of revenue, and held that office until 1856. His attention had been for some years attracted to the ignorance of the native languages and of the laws manifested by many of the junior civil servants. While serving on the board he recommended the introduction of a system of examinations designed to test their practical qualifications. This system was introduced in 1853, and has since been continued with benefit to the public service.

In 1856 Ricketts was appointed commissioner for the revision of civil salaries and establishments throughout India, a very laborious and invidious duty which occupied him until September 1858. In the performance of this duty Ricketts visited the headquarters of every presidency and province in India, consulting the local authorities, and recording the result of his inquiries in a report which comprehended within its scope every branch of the civil administration. It dealt separately with 150 offices and classes of offices, embracing 2,625 officers, and explained the reasons for proposing increase or decrease of salary in each case. The result of his proposals, on the whole, was an increase of 981,451 rupees per annum; but he showed that if several proposed increases were rejected, there would be an annual saving of 931,086 rupees. The press of work occasioned by the mutiny prevented any immediate action being taken on the report, and as to many of the recommendations there was much difference of opinion; but the work, as a whole, was cordially approved by the government of India. The report is full of information on the vast range of subjects with which it deals, and embodies suggestions on important administrative questions, several of which, though opposed at the time, have since, either wholly or in part, been carried into effect. Among these latter was the question of giving greater opportunities of advancement to the natives of India in the public service, a policy which had been advocated by Ricketts at an early period of his career.

Before his appointment to this duty Ricketts had declined Lord Dalhousie's offer in 1854 of the post of chief commissioner in the Nagpur territory, then recently brought under direct British rule. In the same year he was appointed provisional member of the council of the governor-general; but in March 1857, hearing that the military member of council, Sir John Low [q. v.], was likely to resign his post, Ricketts, with a self-abnegation rare in any sphere of life, and with a prophetic foreboding of the struggle which was about to shake the Indian empire to its centre, at once placed his provisional appointment at the disposal of the chairman of the court of directors, in case it should be deemed advisable to appoint a military man to the vacancy. Sir James Outram [q. v.] was appointed, and Ricketts succeeded to a later vacancy. In December 1858 he declined Lord Canning's offer of the lieutenant-governorship of the North-Western Provinces. In May 1859, fourteen months after he had joined the council, his health suddenly broke down under pressure of work, and he was ordered to the Nilgiri hills to recruit; but, his illness returning after his resumption of work, he resigned his seat in January 1860, and finally left India. On both of these occasions the governor-general, Earl Canning, expressed great regret at the loss of his services [see Canning, Charles John, Earl Canning]. ‘Of all the colleagues,’ Canning wrote in 1859, ‘with whom I have been associated in public service, either here or elsewhere, I have had none whose earnest, high-minded, and able co-operation has been more agreeable to receive or more useful than yours.’ It was while serving in the governor-general's council that Ricketts suggested to Lord Canning, in order to meet the heavy stress of work which followed the mutiny, the quasi-cabinet arrangement still in force, under which each member of council takes charge of a department, disposing of all details, and only referring to the governor-general matters of real importance and questions involving principles or the adoption of a new policy.

During the twenty-six years that Ricketts survived his retirement from the public service, his interest in Indian affairs continued unabated. From time to time he published pamphlets on the leading Indian questions of the day, in which were recorded the results of his long administrative experience. In May 1866 he was created a knight commander of the star of India. He died at Oak Hill Grove, Surbiton, on 25 Feb. 1886, in the eighty-fourth year of his age, and was buried in the churchyard at Twyford, near Winchester, where some of his earlier years had been spent.

Ricketts was an admirable specimen of the best type of Haileybury civilian. Going out to India at the age of nineteen, fresh from the influences of Winchester and the traditions of the East India College, he was throughout his long service animated by an enthusiastic devotion to duty, was impressed by deep sympathy with the native races, and was keenly alive to the responsibilities of British rule. As an instance of the esteem and affection with which he inspired the natives who served under him, it may be mentioned that before his death he expressed his desire that his name and the date of his death, with the words, ‘He never forgot Balasor and the Ooriahs (Uriyas),’ should be inscribed on the monument put up to his wife at Balasor; and that on steps being taken to carry out his wish, the native officials at Balasor, whose fathers and grandfathers had served under him, begged permission to bear the expense of the inscription.

Ricketts married, in 1823, Jane, eldest daughter of Colonel George Carpenter of the Bengal army. She died at Balasor in 1830, leaving one son, George H. M. Ricketts, C.B., late of the Bengal civil service, and three daughters.

[This article is based partly on a record of services submitted to the secretary of state for India shortly before Sir Henry Ricketts's death, in compliance with a requisition made by Lord Randolph Churchill, and partly on personal knowledge.]

A. J. A.