Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Strachey, Richard
STRACHEY, Sir RICHARD (1817–1908), lieutenant-general, royal (Bengal) engineers, younger brother of Sir Edward Strachey [q. v. Suppl. II for parentage], and elder brother of Sir John Strachey [q. V. Suppl. II], was born on 24 July 1817 at Sutton Court, Somerset, the seat of his uncle, Sir Henry Strachey (1772–1858), second baronet.
Educated at a private school at Totteridge, Richard entered the East India Company's military seminary at Addiscombe in 1834, and left it as the head of his term with a commission as second lieutenant in the Bombay engineers on 10 June 1836. After professional instruction at Chatham, Strachey went to India, and did duty first at Poona and then at Kandeish. On the augmentation of the Bengal engineers in 1839 he was transferred to that corps, and posted to the irrigation works of the public works department on the Jmnna Canal, under (Sir) William Erskine Baker [q. v.]. Promoted lieutenant on 24 Feb. 1841, he was appointed in 1843 executive engineer on the Ganges Canal under (Sir) Proby Thomas Cautley [q. v.], and began the construction of the head works at Hurdwar.
In December 1845 Strachey was hurried off with all the other engineer officers within reach of the Sikh frontier to serve in the Sutlej campaign. He was appointed to Major-general Sir Harry Smith's staff, was present at the affair of Badiwal, at the battle of Aliwal on 28 Jan. 1846, where he had a horse shot under him, and at the victory of Sobraon on 10 Feb. After the battle he assisted in the construction of the bridge over the Sutlej, by which the army crossed into the Punjab. Sir Harry Smith, in his despatch after the battle of Aliwal, dated 30 Jan. 1846, highly commended the ready help of Strachey and of Richard Baird Smith [q. v.], also describing them as 'two most promising and gallant officers.' Strachey drew the plan of the battle to illustrate the despatch, and he was also employed on the survey of the Sobraon field of battle. For his services he received the medal with clasp, and, the day after his promotion to the rank of captain on 15 Feb. 1854, a brevet majority.
At the end of the campaign Strachey returned to the Ganges Canal, but frequent attacks of fever compelled him in 1847 to go to Nani Tal in the Kmnaon Himalayas for his health. There he made the acquaintance of Major E. Madden, under whose guidance he studied botany and geology, making explorations into the Himalaya ranges west of Nepal for scientific purposes. In 1848 he accompanied Mr. J. E. Winterbottom, F.L.S., botanist, into Tibet, penetrating as far as lakes Rakas-tal and Manasarowar, previously visited by his elder brother. Captain Henry Strachey, in 1846. Starting from the plain of Rohilkhand at an elevation of about 1000 feet above sea level, a north-easterly route was taken across the snowy ranges terminating on the Tibetan plateau at an altitude of between fourteen and fifteen thousand feet, on the upper course of the river Sutlej. Strachey's detailed account of this journey, entitled 'Narrative of a Journey to Lakes Rakas-tal and Manasarowar in Western Tibet,' appeared in the 'Geographical Journal' (1900), vol. xv. (see also Mr. W. B. Hemsley's paper on the 'Flora of Tibet or High Asia' published in the Journal of the Linnean Society, vol. xxv. 1902). Over 2000 botanical species (including crytogams) were collected, and of these thirty-two new species and varieties bear Strachey's name. The result of his geological observations was to establish the fact, which had been doubted by Humboldt, that in Kumaon there were glaciers in all respects similar to those of the European Alps, as shown, among other things, by the direct measurements of their rates of motion ; he also settled another disputed point— the true position of the snow line. Travelling over the moimtains, he observed the existence of a great series of paleozoic beds along the line of passes into Tibet with Jurassic and tertiary deposits overlying them. These fruits of his journey were given in a paper on ’The Physical Greography of the Provinces of Kumaon and Garhwal,' published in the 'Geographical Journal ' in 1851.
Strachey returned to England in 1850, and remained at home for nearly five years, occupied, among other things, in arranging and classifying his Kumaon collection. A provisionally named catalogue was prepared by him and printed ; it was afterwards revised, and appeared in 1882 in Atkinson's 'Gazetteer of the Himalayan Districts of the North-West Provinces and Oude.' Another revised edition was prepared at Strachey's request by Mr. J. F. Duthie, and published in 1906. In 1854 Strachey was elected a fellow of the Royal Society. He returned to India in the following year, and for a short time had charge of irrigation works in Bundelkhand. His first connection with the secretariat of the public works department was in 1856, when he was acting under-secretary in the absence of (Sir) Henry Yule [q. v.]. At Calcutta he was brought into contact with (Sir) John Peter Grant [q. v. Suppl. I], a member of the supreme council. When the Mutiny broke out, John Russell Colvin [q. v.], lieutenant-governor of the North West Provinces in Agra, was cut off by the mutineers from all communications with a portion of his territory; that portion was temporarily constituted a separate government, called the Central Provinces, under Grant as lieutenant-governor, and he appointed Strachey secretary in all departments under him.
Grant and Strachey went to Benares in July 1857, accompanied so far by Sir James Outram [q. v.] and Colonel Robert Napier, afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala [q. v.], who were on their way to Lucknow. After the fall of that place. Grant and Strachey moved to Allahabad, and when Grant was nominated president in council, Strachey remained behind to lay out the new railway station of Allahabad, the mutineers having almost destroyed the old one. He returned to Calcutta in 1858 on his appointment as consulting engineer to government in the railway department. He obtained acceptance of the principle so abundantly justified by its results — that for the construction of irrigation works and for railway development it was right to supply by loan the funds which could not otherwise be provided. His great constructive ability was shown in his reorganisation of the public works department, and in the initiation of an adequate forest service ; he was appointed secretary and head of the public works department in 1862. From this time until he left India for good Richard Strachey was a power in the country, and was, perhaps, the most remarkable man of a family which, for four generations, extending over more than a century, served the Indian government. A strong man with a determined will and a somewhat peppery temperament, he generally carried his way with beneficial results, though he sometimes took the wrong side in a controversy, as in the battle of the railway gauges. Strachey remained secretary to government for the public works department until 1865. Meanwhile he had been promoted lieut.-colonel on 2 July 1860, and colonel on 31 Dec. 1862. He was created a C.S.I, in 1866 for his services and appointed inspector-general of irrigation, and in 1869 acting secretary of the public works department, with a seat in the legislative council. On leaving India on promotion to major-general on 24 March 1871 (ante-dated to 16 March 1868), he received the thanks of government for his valuable services during a period of thirty-three years.
Soon after reaching England, Strachey was appointed by Lord Salisbury inspector of railway stores at the India office, and after retirement from the army on 23 Feb. 1875, with, the honorary rank of lieutenant-general, a member of the council of India.
In 1877 Strachey was sent to India to arrange with the Indian government the terms for the purchase of the East Indian railway, the first of the guaranteed railways to be taken over by the government on the termination of the original thirty years' lease, and he initiated the policy of and drew up the contract for the continued working of the railway by the company under government control. While in India he presided with great ability over a commission to inquire into the causes of the terrible famine and to suggest possible remedies. He also filled the post of financial member of council during the absence of his brother John, and was thus associated with the Indian government in the negotiations which led to the rupture with Shere Ali and war with Afghanistan. On his return home in 1879 Strachey was re-appointed to a seat in the council of India ; he was one of the British commissioners at the Prime Meridian Conference held at Washington, U.S.A., in 1884, and was elected one of the secretaries ; in 1887 he was chosen president of the Royal Geographical Society and held the post for two years ; he was also an honorary member of the geographical societies of Berlin and of Italy. He resigned his seat on the India council in 1889 to become chairman of the East India Railway Company, and his beneficial rule is commemorated by the 'Strachey' bridge over the river Jumna, opened shortly before his death. He was also chairman of the Assam Bengal Railway Company, and only resigned these positions when nearly ninety years of age, in consequence of increasing deafness. Under his management the East India railway became the most prosperous trunk line in the world.
In 1892 Strachey was one of the delegates to represent India at the international monetary conference at Brussels, and the same year he was a member of the committee on silver currency presided over by Lord Herschell, when there was adopted a far-reaching reform which he had proposed when finance minister in India in 1878, viz. to close the Indian mint to the free coinage of silver. In June 1892 he received from the University of Cambridge the honorary degree of LL.D.
Strachey did much good work for the Royal Society, served on its council four times, from 1872 to 1874, 1880 to 1881, 1884 to 1886, and 1890 to 1891, and was twice a vice-president ; he was a member of its meteorological committee (which controlled the meteorological office) in 1867, and he was a member of the council which replaced the committee in 1876, and from 1883 to 1895 was its chairman. From 1873 he was on the committee of the Royal Society for managing the Kew observatory. The royal medal of the society was bestowed upon him in 1897 for his researches in physical and botanical geography and in meteorology, and the Royal Meteorological Society awarded him the Symons medal in 1906. His most important scientific contributions to knowledge were made in meteorology. He laid the foundations of the scientific study of Indian meteorology, organising a department whose labours have been of use in assisting to forecast droughts and consequent scarcity and of no little advantage to meteorologists generally. For years he served on the committee of solar physics. A sound mathematician, Strachey delighted in mechanical inventions and especially in designing instruments to give graphic expression to formulas he had devised for working out meteorological problems. In 1884 he designed an instrument called the 'sine curve developer' to show in a graphic form the results obtained by applying to hourly readings of barograms and thermograms his formula for the calculation of harmonic coefficients. In 1888 and 1890 he designed two 'slide rules,' one to facilitate the computation of the amplitude and time of maximum of harmonic constants from values obtained by applying his formula to hourly readings of barograms and thermograms ; the other to obtain the height of clouds from measurements of two photographs taken simultaneously with cameras placed at the ends of a base line half a mile in length. A further invention was a portable and very simple instniment, called a 'nephoscope,' for observing the direction of motion of high cirrus clouds, whose movement is generally too slow to allow of its direction being determined by the unaided eye.
Strachey had been granted a distinguished service pension and created C.S.I, in 1866, after thirty years' service. Subsequently he declined the offer of K.C.S.I. But on the diamond jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897 he was gazetted G.C.S.I. After leaving India he lived at Stowey House on Clapham Common ; later he moved to Lancaster Gate, and only a few months before his death to Hampstead. He died at 67 Belsize Park Gardens on 12 Feb. 1908, and was cremated at Golder's Green.
On his return from India in 1879 Richard Strachey collaborated with his brother John in writing 'The Finances and Public Works of India' (1882), a record of their joint achievements from 1869 to 1881. In the preface to the fourth edition (1911) of Sir John Strachey's 'India: its Administration and Progress,' a development of the original work by the two brothers, Sir Thomas W. Holderness says: 'It describes a system of government which they, more than any other public servants of their day, had helped to fashion. It narrates the concrete results of this system, with intimate first-hand knowledge of its working and of the country and the populations which it affected, with an honourable pride in its pacific triumphs and in the benefits which it had conferred on their fellow Indian subjects.' Strachey wrote the articles on 'Asia' and 'Himalaya' in the ninth edition of the 'Encyclopædia Britannica ' and contributed many more papers than those already cited to scientific journals.
Sir Richard was twice married: (1) on 19 Jan. 1854 to Caroline Anne (d. 1855), daughter of the Rev. George Downing Bowles; (2) on 4 Jan. 1859 to Jane Maria, daughter of Sir John Peter Grant [q. v. Suppl. I.] of Rothiemurchus, N.B., his chief in the Mutiny days. She survived him with five sons and five daughters.
A portrait in oils (1889), by Lowes Dickinson [q. v. Suppl. II]; another in water-colours by Miss Jessie MacGregor; a third in pastel (1902), by Simon Bussy; and a medallion in bronze (1898), by Mr. Alfred Gilbert, R.A., are in possession of the family.
[Vibart's Addiscombe: its Heroes and Men of Note, 1898; Royal Engineers' Journal, 1908; Proceedings of the Royal Society, vol. lxxxi. 1908; Geographical Journal, March 1908; The Times, 13 Feb. 1908; Nature, 27 Feb. 1908; Spectator, 22 Feb. 1908; Engineering, 21 Feb. 1908; private information.]