Gerard, Alexander (1792-1839) (DNB00)

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GERARD, ALEXANDER (1792–1839), Himalayan explorer, was son of Gilbert Gerard, D.D. [q. v.], grandson of Alexander Gerard, D.D. [q. v.], and brother of James Gilbert [q. v.] and Patrick [q. v.] He was born in Aberdeen 17 Feb. 1792, and probably was the student of that name who appears in the album of the King's or Marischal College in 1804. He received a Bengal cadetship in 1808. He was appointed ensign 13th Bengal native infantry 9 Sept. 1808 and lieutenant in that corps 28 Nov. 1814. He was employed in the survey of the route to Lahore in 1812, and as surveyor to the board of commissioners in the ceded provinces in October 1814, and was adjutant of the second battalion of his regiment in 1815. He was surveyor of Seharunpore in 1817; was posted to the Sirmoor battalion 12 June 1820; was assistant to the resident in Malwa and Rajpootana 29 June 1822; was surveyor of the Nerbudda valley 19 Nov. 1825, and surveyor in Malwa and Rajpootana from 11 Sept. 1826 to 18 Aug. 1827 (information supplied by the India Office). In the course of his service Gerard carried out many arduous and important survey duties, especially in the Himalayas, where he ascended heights previously believed to be inaccessible, and penetrated into Thibet as far as the frontier picquets of Chinese would allow. To him we are indebted for our earliest notions of the geological structure and remains of the Himalayan ranges. The first notice of him appears in ‘Asiatic Researches,’ xv. 339, as the companion of Major Herbert in the survey of the Sutlej. The same volume contains Gerard's ‘Observations on the Climate of Subathoo and Kotguhr’ (ib. pp. 469–88). His labours in completing the geographical survey of the Sutlej valley were subsequently described by Henry Thomas Colebrooke [q. v.] in ‘Transactions Asiatic Soc. London,’ i. 543. (See also ‘Edinburgh Journal of Science,’ v. 270–278, vi. 28–50.) In 1817–18 Gerard was exploring the Himalayas with Dr. Govan, and in 1819 with his brother, Dr. James Gilbert Gerard [q. v.], 1st Nusseerabad battalion. In 1821 he performed the most important of his Himalayan journeys. Leaving Subathoo he ascended the Himalayan upper ranges, carefully noting the places inhabited by the way, determining with the aid of the barometer, checked by trigonometrical admeasurements wherever practicable, their ranges of elevation above the level of the sea, the temperatures, natural productions, and character of the tribes dotted about on ledges previously supposed to be uninhabited and uninhabitable. Gerard and his company reached the Borendo pass, 15,121 feet above the sea-level, on 15 June. Here the native guides refused to proceed further, and Gerard had to shape his course to the source of the Pabur by another route. The Charang pass, at an altitude of 17,348 feet, was ascended on 9 July, half a mile of the slope being so slippery with gravel and half-melted snow that Gerard had to crawl upwards on all fours, burying his arms deep in the snow to secure his hold. Another ascent was that of the Keeobrung pass, 18,312 feet above the sea. Yet another was that of Mount Tahigung, where part of the ascent was at an angle of forty-two, an incline declared by Humboldt to be impracticable. The height ascended was 19,411 feet, and the total computed altitude of the mountain 22,000 feet. A small collection of geological specimens, made by Gerard in Chinese Tartary during this journey between lat. 31° 30′and 32° 30′ N. and long. 77°–79° E., at an elevation of 19,000 feet above the sea, and resembling the fossils of the oolite in Europe, was exhibited before the Geological Society of London after his death. A narrative of Gerard's ‘Journey from Subathoo to Shipké in Chinese Tartary’ appeared posthumously in ‘Journ. Asiat. Soc. of Bengal’ (1842), xi. 363–91, and his ‘Journal of a Journey from Shipké to the frontier of Chinese Thibet’ was published in the ‘Edinburgh Journal of Science’ (1824), i. 41–52, 215–225. Bishop Heber, who met Gerard at Ummeerpore after his return from this journey, describes him as a man of very modest exterior and of great science and information, and enlarges eloquently in his journal on Gerard's achievements and enterprising spirit (Heber, Journal of a Journey in the Upper Provinces, ii. 59). Sir H. T. Colebrooke made selections from Gerard's geological notes on the Himalayas, whereof duplicates were sent to the Geological Society, London, from which and from Gerard's letters was compiled the ‘Geological Sketch of the Himalayas,’ which appeared in ‘Geological Trans.’ (London), i. (2nd ser.) 124. Gerard was a good Persian scholar and versed in other oriental tongues. He was a most accurate topographer and a very entertaining and observant traveller. Unfortunately, except in the fragmentary shapes just indicated, no accounts of his travels were published during his lifetime. Broken health, the result of the amazing hardships endured in the course of his survey duties and travels, led to his retirement from the service on 22 Feb. 1836, and brought him to a premature grave. He died at Aberdeen on 15 Dec. 1839, in the forty-eighth year of his age, after three days' illness, from a fever, to the attacks of which he was periodically subject.

In 1840 Sir William Lloyd, knight, of Brynestyn, near Wrexham, a Welsh country gentleman, who had been a major in the Hon. East India Company's Bengal infantry and an Indian surveyor, brought out a book, under the editorship of his son, George Lloyd, entitled ‘Narrative of a Journey from Caunpoor [Cawnpore] to the Borendo Pass in the Himalayas, viâ Gwalior, Agra, Delhi, and Sirhind, by Major Sir William Lloyd, knight. … Also Captain Alexander Gerard's Account of an attempt to penetrate by Bekhur to Garoo and Lake Manasarowara. Also a Letter from the late James Gilbert Gerard, esq., M.D., detailing a Visit to the Shatool and the Borendo Passes with the purpose of determining the Line of Perpetual Snow on the Southern Face of the Himalayas,’ 2 vols. 8vo, London, 1840. The second volume of this work consisted of the narratives of Alexander and James Gilbert Gerard, which were prepared for the purpose by Alexander, who died while the sheets were in the printer's hands. Afterwards, Alexander Gerard's papers, or some of them, appear to have been entrusted to Mr. George Lloyd, who published therefrom ‘An Account of Koonawar in the Himalayas,’ London, 1841, 8vo. To this account are appended narratives of Alexander Gerard's Himalayan journeys in 1817–18 and 1819.

The paper on ‘Pendulum Experiments’ (1851), entered under the name in ‘Cat. Scientific Papers,’ vol. ii., was by another Alexander Gerard (LL.D. Aberdeen, 1875, teacher of mathematics in Robert Gordon's Hospital, now Gordon College, Aberdeen). He belonged to a different family.

[Chambers's Biog. Dict. of Eminent Scotsmen (in part inaccurate); Gent. Mag. new ser. xiii. 324; authorities under Gerard, Patrick.]

H. M. C.