Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/James, Henry

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1398660Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 29 — James, Henry1892Robert Hamilton Vetch ‎

JAMES, Sir HENRY (1803–1877), director-general of the ordnance survey, was the fifth son of John James, esq., of Truro, by Jane, daughter of John Hosken, esq., of Carines. He was born at Rose-in-Vale, near St. Agnes, Cornwall, in 1803; was educated at the grammar school, Exeter, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich; became a probationer for the corps of royal engineers in 1825, and was gazetted second lieutenant 22 Sept. 1826. The following year he was appointed to the ordnance survey. He remained on the survey, devoting himself to his duties, and in particular to the geological part of them, until 1843, when, having been successively gazetted as lieutenant on 22 July 1831 and second captain on 28 June 1842, he was, on the recommendation of Colonel T. F. Colby [q. v.], the head of the survey, appointed local superintendent of the geological survey of Ireland under Sir Henry De la Beche, who was then director-general of the geological survey of the United Kingdom. On 7 July 1846 he was transferred to admiralty employment, and was sent to Portsmouth as superintendent of the constructional works in the dockyard. He was promoted captain on 9 Nov. 1846, and on 8 Sept. 1847 was appointed a member of the commission for inquiring into the application of iron in railway structures. In 1850 he returned to the ordnance survey, and had his divisional headquarters at Edinburgh. During part of this year he was employed in the board of health inquiry into the sanitary state of towns. On 12 May 1851 James was appointed an associate juror for naval architecture, military engineering, ordnance, &c., comprising Class viii. in the Great Exhibition of that year. On 23 Aug. 1853 he was sent to Brussels on special service. On 20 June 1854 he was promoted brevet-major, and on 11 July of the same year he succeeded Colonel Hall as director-general of the ordnance survey. On 16 Dec. 1854 he was promoted lieutenant-colonel.

On assuming the command of the survey, James found the ‘battle of the scales,’ as it has been called, in full development. Indecision as to scale had produced serious delay. Hundreds of thousands of acres of ground had been surveyed, but not laid down on paper. The battle had been waged for some years, and James entered with spirit into the fight. He was not only possessed of the necessary scientific knowledge, but he was always ready with an answer, as his evidence before committees printed in the parliamentary blue-books fully proves. When he was appointed director of the ordnance survey, the whole of Ireland, Yorkshire and Lancashire in England, and a few counties in Scotland had been surveyed on the scale of six inches to the mile, but many eminent authorities had given a decided opinion in favour of the scale of 1/2500 or 25.344 inches to the mile. The result was that both the one-inch and six-inch scales were retained for the whole country, and the 1/2500 scale (almost exactly one inch to an acre) adopted in addition for the agricultural districts.

The reduction of the plans from one scale to another was much facilitated by the application of photography. James had satisfied himself by trial at the Paris exhibition of 1855 that plans could be reduced from larger to smaller scales by photography without sensible error, and lost no time on his return in adding a photographic establishment to the survey office, Southampton, at which all the plans on the 1/2500 scale have since been reduced to the six-inch scale, thereby effecting a great saving of expense.

On 22 Aug. 1857 James was appointed director of the topographical and statistical department of the war office, and the staff employed in the quartermaster-general's office in London were by order of Lord Panmure, the then secretary of state for war, combined with that of the ordnance survey, and placed under James's direction. This continued until the severance of the ordnance survey from the war department, and its transfer to the office of works in 1870.

On 16 Dec. 1857 James was promoted colonel in the army. While the survey of the country and the duties of the topographical department were being actively carried on, various scientific investigations connected with them were in progress. In 1856 observations were taken with Airy's zenith sector on the summit of Arthur's Seat, Edinburgh, and at points north and south of that hill, in order to compare the deflection of the plumb-line due to the configurations of the ground with the differences between the observed latitudes, and to determine the mean specific gravity of the earth. In 1860 James was knighted in recognition of his services. In 1861 the English triangulation was extended into France and Belgium, in order to establish the connection between the triangulations of the three countries in the most perfect manner, with a view to the calculation of the length of the arc of parallel between Oursk on the river Oural and the British astronomical station at Feaghmain in the island of Valentia. In 1866 the results of the comparisons of the standards of length of England, India, Australia, France, Russia, Prussia, and Belgium were published, all these countries having, on the invitation of the British government, sent their standards for comparison to the ordnance survey office, Southampton, where a building and apparatus had been constructed by James for the purpose. The units of measure used in the triangulation of the various countries, and the lengths of the several arcs which had been measured in different parts of the world, were then reduced in terms of the English standard yard and foot, and the elements of the earth's figure corrected accordingly.

In 1867 points at Haverfordwest and in the island of Valentia, which had been selected as stations of the great European arc of longitude, were connected with the principal triangulations; and the direction of the meridian was observed at Valentia and compared with the direction as calculated from Greenwich by means of the triangulation connecting Greenwich with Valentia. The lengths of the arcs of parallel from Greenwich to Mount Kemmel in Belgium, from Greenwich to Haverfordwest, and from Greenwich to Valentia were also calculated.

Besides these services immediately connected with the ordnance survey, James, in 1864–5, arranged for a survey of Jerusalem, which was made by a party of royal engineers under Captain (now Sir Charles) Wilson; the survey was published in 1865, with descriptive notes and photographs. In 1868–9, on James's initiative, the two rival mountains, Jebel Musa and Jebel Serbal, were surveyed by Captains Wilson and Palmer.

The principal work with which the name of James will always be associated is photozincography. With a view of substituting photographic carbon prints for the tracings of the six-inch plans which were made for the purposes of the engraver, James had a carbon print of a small drawing prepared and transferred to zinc with perfect success. The new art was found invaluable. It was introduced at the ordnance survey office in 1859, under the supervision of Captain (now Major-general) A. De C. Scott, R.E., who had charge of the photographic establishment at Southampton. Without its assistance it would have been impossible to keep pace with the demand for maps on a variety of scales, while the gain in accuracy was reported by a committee under the presidency of Sir Roderick Murchison to be such that the greatest error in a photozincograph reduction did not amount to 1/400 part of an inch, a quantity quite inappreciable, and much less than the error due to the contraction and expansion of the paper on which the maps were printed. The resulting economy was obviously considerable. Photozincography in its application to maps attracted much attention abroad, and representatives of the principal European powers were sent to Southampton to study the process. The Spanish government especially interested itself in the process, and sent officers on several occasions to study it; in 1863 the queen of Spain appointed James a commander and Scott a knight of the royal order of Isabella the Catholic. The services of photozincography, as developed under James, have proved most useful in popularising the study of palæography and philology. At James's suggestion this process was adopted in the reproduction of Domesday Book.

On 6 March 1868 James was promoted major-general, and on 21 Nov. 1874 lieutenant-general. He remained at the head of the ordnance survey until August 1875, when failing health compelled him to resign. He died 14 June 1877 at his residence in Southampton. He married Anne, daughter of Major-general Watson, R.E., by whom he had two sons and a daughter who survived him. He was made a fellow of the Royal Society on 30 Nov. 1848, and an associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers on 1 May 1849.

James was a man of varied gifts, strong personality, and commanding presence. Somewhat egotistical and imperious in manner, he was unpleasant if opposed, but was possessed of so much humour that he was a most agreeable companion. He was a keen sportsman, a good shot, and a successful fisherman. He was always particular to clear the survey men out of the deer forests before the close season began.

For the following publications James was responsible: 1. ‘Abstracts from the Meteorological Observations taken at the Stations of the Royal Engineers in 1853–4,’ 4to, 1855; those from 1853–9 were published in 1862. 2. ‘On the Deflection of the Plumb-line at Arthur's Seat, and the mean Specific Gravity of the Earth,’ pamphlet, 4to, 1856. 3. ‘On the Figure, Dimensions, and mean Specific Gravity of the Earth as derived from the Ordnance Trigonometrical Survey of Great Britain and Ireland,’ 4to, 1856. 4. ‘Principal Triangulations of the Earth,’ 2 vols. 4to, 1858. 5. ‘Lecture on the Ordnance Survey,’ pamphlet, 8vo, 1859. 6. ‘Tables for the Reduction of Meteorological Observations,’ 8vo, 1860. 7. ‘Photozincography,’ 8vo, Southampton, 1860. 8. ‘Abstract of the principal Lines of Spirit-Levelling in England and Wales,’ with a volume of plates, 4to, 1861. 9. ‘Extensions of the Triangulations of the Ordnance Survey with France and Belgium, and Measurement of an Arc of Parallel 52° N.,’ 4to, 1863. 10. ‘The Astragalus of Tin: Note on the block of Tin dredged up in Falmouth Harbour,’ 8vo, London, 1863. 11. ‘Comparisons of Standards of Length of England, France, Belgium, Prussia, Russia, India, Australia. …’ 1866, 4to. 12. ‘Determination of the Positions of Feaghmain and Haverfordwest, longitude stations on the great European Arc of Parallel,’ 4to, 1867. 13. ‘Plans and Photographs of Stonehenge and of Turnsachen in the Island of Lewis, with Notes relating to the Druids, and Sketches of Cromlechs in Ireland,’ 4to, Southampton, 1867. 14. ‘Notes on the Great Pyramid of Egypt and the Cubits used in its Design, with plates,’ 4to, Southampton, 1869. 15. ‘Photozincography and other Photographic Processes employed at the Ordnance Survey Office,’ 4to, 1870. 16. ‘Notes on the Parallel Roads of Lochaber,’ with map and sketches, 4to, Southampton, 1874.

[Corps Records; Ordnance Survey Records; private manuscript Memoir by Major-general Cameron; ‘Romance of State-mapping,’ by Colonel T. P. White, R.E., see Blackwood's Magazine, 1888; for a full bibliography see Boase and Courtney's Bibl. Cornubiensis.]

R. H. V.