Cautley, Proby Thomas (DNB00)

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CAUTLEY, Sir PROBY THOMAS (1802–1871), colonel, the projector and constructor of the Ganges Canal, was the son of the Rev. Thomas Cautley of Stratford St. Mary's, Suffolk. He joined the Bengal artillery in 1819, and after some years' service with that corps, in which he was for a time (1823 and 1824) an acting adjutant and quartermaster, he was appointed by Lord Amherst assistant to Captain (afterwards Colonel) Robert Smith of the Bengal engineers, who was at that time employed in reconstructing the Doáb Canal, an old channel of irrigation drawn from the left bank of the Jumna at the foot of the Siválik hills. In December 1825 Cautley, with the rest of the canal officers, was called to join the army engaged in the siege of Bhurtpore, under Lord Combermere, and, after serving with the artillery through that operation, rejoined his work on the canal, which was opened in 1830. In 1831 Cautley succeeded to the charge of the canal, and remained in charge of it for twelve years. The construction of the upper part of the canal was beset with difficulties, owing to a number of mountain torrents descending from the Siváliks and sometimes bringing down suddenly huge volumes of water, which traversed its alignment, and across which the canal at different relative levels had to be carried. In combating these difficulties Cautley displayed great skill and dexterity, and gradually developed the canal into an extremely efficient instrument of irrigation. It was not on a very large scale, extending with its distributaries to about a hundred and thirty miles in length and with a head flow of about a thousand cubic feet per second. While employed on this duty Cautley visited the Dehra valley, where he projected and executed the Bíjapur and Dehra watercourses, and projected also a line from the Jumna, which was carried out later.

The great work of Cautley's life was the Ganges canal. This was a purely British work. It was first contemplated by Colonel Colvin of the Bengal engineers, by whose advice Cautley examined the project, but with results so discouraging that the idea of the canal was temporarily abandoned by him (Calcutta Review, xii. 150). The severe famine of 1837–8 led to a re-examination of the project, which was reported on by Cautley in 1840, and sanctioned by Lord Auckland and eventually by the court of directors in 1841, the court directing that the projected canal should be ‘constructed on such a scale as would admit of irrigation being supplied to the whole of the Doáb, or the country lying between the rivers Ganges, Hindun, and Jumna, forming the principal part of the north-western provinces.’ Cautley's services in framing the project were acknowledged by the court by a donation of ten thousand rupees. The actual construction of the work was not commenced until 1843, and its progress was much retarded by the opposition of Lord Ellenborough, who did all that he could to discourage the project, withholding sufficient officers' assistance, and, with a strange misconception of the object for which the canal was mainly required, directing that it should be constructed ‘primarily for navigation, not for irrigation,’ and that ‘only such water should be applied to the latter object as was not required for the former.’ Until the beginning of 1844 Cautley was obliged, from the want of subordinate agency, to conduct with his own hands the drudgery of surveying, levelling, and such like work. In 1845 Cautley was compelled by ill-health to return to Europe. During his absence the work was efficiently carried on by Major (afterwards Sir William) Baker [q. v.] While in England, Cautley omitted no means of improving his qualifications for the work which he had left, by visiting such hydraulic works as could then be seen in Great Britain, while on his way back to India he examined the irrigation works in Lombardy and Piedmont and the barrage works then in progress on the Nile. After his return to India in 1848, when he assumed the office of director of canals in the N.-W. Provinces, which had been constituted in his absence, the canal made rapid progress under the active encouragement given to Cautley both by the lieutenant-governor, Mr. Thomason, and by the governor-general, Lord Dalhousie. It was opened on 8 April 1854, and in the following month Cautley left India, receiving on the occasion of his embarkation a salute from the guns of Fort William, which had been ordered by the governor-general in special recognition of the high value attached to Cautley's great work. The city of Calcutta presented Cautley with a memorial and placed his bust in the town hall, and the engineers who had been employed under him on the canal gave him a piece of plate. On reaching England he was created a K.C.B., and in 1858 he was selected to fill one of the seats in the new council of India, which he retained until 1868. In the latter part of his life Cautley became involved in a professional controversy with General Sir Arthur Cotton, the eminent hydraulic engineer, to whose genius the south of India is indebted for some of its most important irrigation works. The main point in dispute was whether the head of the Ganges canal should have been fixed where the river, with a shingle bed and a high incline, quitted the Sub-Himalaya, or much lower down, where it flows in a depressed alluvial trough of comparatively small slope. The former course, adopted by Cautley, was supposed to afford a better base for the works regulating the supply, but involved crossing, at great cost, numerous torrents similar to those already referred to. The latter course involved the foundation of the works on sand and a considerable length of very deep cutting before the surface of the plain to be irrigated was reached. Subsequent experience, derived from the construction of dams built on sites such as Sir Arthur Cotton contemplated, across the Ganges for the lower Ganges canal, and across the Jumna for the Agra canal, appears to have shown that the view of the latter was correct in principle, but that he considerably underestimated what would have been the cost of the work if carried out on his plan. The most serious fault of the canal was excess of slope, and to rectify this parts of it were remodelled at a cost (which, however, included extensions of work necessary in any case) of fifty-five lakhs of rupees, the original cost of the work having been 217 lakhs. In submitting the plans and estimates for the improvements the government of India remarked that, ‘considering the unprecedented character of the Ganges canal project and its great magnitude,’ they did not think that ‘the credit of its designer was really diminished by what had occurred.’ They believed that ‘very few engineering works of equal novelty of design and magnitude would be found to bear the test of actual experience with a more favourable result.’ ‘Whatever,’ they added, ‘be the present ascertained defects of the Ganges canal, the claims of Sir Proby Cautley to the consideration of the government of India for his eminent services are, in our estimation, in no way diminished, and his title to honour as an engineer still remains of the highest order’ (Despatch from the Governor-general of India in Council to the Secretary of State for India, 1 March 1865).

In addition to his labours as an engineer Cautley rendered distinguished service to geological and palæontological science by his explorations in the Siválik range, which is rich in fossil remains. His researches were chiefly carried on in association with Dr. Hugh Falconer, at that time in charge of the botanical garden at Saháranpur, and, their joint discoveries attracting attention in Europe, they were awarded by the Geological Society in 1837 the Woollaston medal in duplicate. It is stated that Cautley's collection of fossils presented by him to the British Museum filled 214 chests, averaging in weight 4 cwt. each. Cautley was a frequent contributor of papers both to the Bengal Asiatic Society and to the Geological Society of London. The following may be mentioned: In the ‘Asiatic Researches,’ vol. xvi. (1828), notice of ‘Coal and Lignite in the Himálaya;’ vol. xix. pt. i. (1836), ‘On the Fossil Crocodile of the Siváliks;’ ‘On the Fossil Ghariál of the Siváliks.’ In ‘Journal As. Soc. Bengal,’ vol. i. (1832), ‘On Gypsum of the Himálaya;’ iii. (1833), ‘On Discovery of an Ancient City near Behut in the Doáb;’ iv. (1835), ‘On Gold-washings of the Gúntí River;’ ‘On a New Species of Snake discovered in the Doáb;’ v. (1836), ‘On the Teeth of the Siválik Mastodon à dents étroites;’ ‘On the Mastodons of the Siváliks;’ vi. (1837), ‘On a Siválik Ruminant allied to the Giraffidæ;’ viii. (1839), ‘On the Use of Wells in Foundations, as practised by the Natives of the Northern Doáb;’ ix. pt. i. (1840), ‘On the Fossil Camelidæ of the Siváliks;’ xi. (1842), ‘On the Proposed For mation of a Canal of Irrigation from the Jumna, in the Dhera Dún.’ In ‘Geological Society's Proceedings,’ vol. ii. (1838), ‘On Remains of Mammalia found in the Siválik Mountains;’ ‘On the Discovery of Quadrumanous Remains in the Siváliks.’ In ‘Geological Society's Transactions,’ 2nd ser., v. (1840), ‘On the Structure of the Siválik Hills, and Organic Remains found in them.’ Also written conjointly with Dr. Hugh Falconer: in ‘Asiatic Researches,’ xix., ‘On Sivatheium Giganteum;’ ‘On Siválik Fossil Hippopotamus;’ ‘On Saválik Fossil Camel;’ ‘On Felis Cristata and Ursus Siválensis;’ also papers in ‘Journal As. Soc. Bengal,’ vols. iv. and vi., and in ‘Proceedings Geol. Soc.,’ No. 98, and in ‘Transactions Geol. Soc.,’ 2nd ser. vol. v.

Cautley also wrote an elaborate report on the construction of the Ganges canal, consisting of 2 vols. 8vo, 1 vol. 4to, and a large atlas of plans, published in 1860. In 1853 he published ‘Notes and Memoranda on the Eastern Jumna, or Doáb Canal, and on the Watercourses in the Dhera Dún.’ Cautley died at Sydenham on 25 Jan. 1871.

[Obituary notice in Times, 28 Jan. 1871; Calcutta Review, vols. xii. xxi.; India Office Records. In preparing this article the writer has received valuable assistance from Colonel Henry Yule, C.B., R.E.]

A. J. A.