Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Lefroy, John Henry
LEFROY, SIR JOHN HENRY (1817–1890), governor of Bermuda and of Tasmania, born at Ashe, Hampshire, on 28 Jan. 1817, was son of J. H. G. Lefroy, rector of that place, and was grandson of Antony Lefroy of Leghorn, the catalogue of whose collection of coins and antiquities was printed in 1763. After his father's death in 1823, his mother moved with her family of six sons and five daughters to Itchel Manor, near Farnham, which had been left to her husband a few years before his death. Lefroy was sent to private schools at Alton and at Richmond. In 1828 two of his brothers accidentally discovered an important hoard of Merovingian and English gold coins and ornaments on Crondall Heath, and he thus acquired a taste for antiquarian research. In January 1831 he passed into the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and on 19 Dec. 1834 was gazetted a second lieutenant in the royal artillery, and stationed at Woolwich. He at once joined, with eight or nine young brother-officers, in a weekly meeting in one another's rooms for reading the bible and prayer, and, with the sanction of the commandant and chaplain, these young men opened an evening Sunday school for soldiers' children. He served at Woolwich for three years, varied by detachment duty at Purfleet and the Tower of London, and was on duty with his battery at London Bridge on the occasion of the queen's coronation. On 10 Jan. 1837 he was promoted lieutenant, and in August was sent to Chatham, where he availed himself of the royal engineers' school of instruction, and specially devoted himself to the study of practical astronomy.
In 1838 Lefroy, with Lieutenant Eardley Wilmot, proposed the formation of an institution to afford officers of the regiment opportunities of professional instruction. Colonel Cockburn, nead of the royal laboratory at Woolwich Arsenal, submitted the proposal to the authorities, and when the Royal Artillery Institution was founded was the first president of the committee of management, and Lefroy the secretary. The scheme was first suggested to Lefroy by a study of the manuscript records of a regimental society which had been started in 1771 and came to an untimely end.
The government having assented to a recommendation of the British Association to establish magnetical observatories in various colonies for simultaneous observation with other stations belonging to foreign powers, and having agreed to send a naval expedition to take simultaneous observations in high southern latitudes, Lefroy and Eardley Wilmot were in April 1839 selected, on the recommendation of Major (afterwards Sir) Edward Sabine [q. v.l, then engaged in a magnetical survey of the British islands, to proceed to St. Helena and the Cape of Good Hope respectively to take magnetical observations. After receiving instruction during the summer in magnetical work at Dublin from Professor Humphrey Lloyd [q. v.], who became Lefroy's lifelong friend, the two lieutenants embarked in H.M.S. Terror for St. Helena on 25 Sept. At Madeira the two subalterns took barometers to the top of the Pica Ruivo, measured its altitude, and descended with a supply of plants for the naturalists of the expedition. The results of these measurements are given in the ' Narrative of the Voyage of the Antarctic Expedition ' (pp. 6, 329). The voyage was a long one, as the survey work required the expedition to take a devious course by the Canaries, Cape de Verde Islands, St. Paul's, Trinidad, and Martin Vas, off the Brazilian coast, and Lefroy did not arrive in St. James's Bay at St. Helena until 31 Jan. 1840. He remained at St. Helena until 1842, carrying on magnetic observations, and during his stay assisted at the disinterment of the remains of Napoleon I, when they were removed to France. In July 1842 Lefroy was transferred to the observatory at Toronto. In the following year he made the remarkable journey which, undertaken for magnetic research, established his reputation as a geographer. In April 1843 he left Toronto, with Corporal Henry of the royal artillery as his sole white companion, travelled to Lachine, and thence to Hudson s Bay, partly by canoe and partly on snow-shoes. The principal object of the expedition was the determination of the approximate position of the American forces of magnetic intensity. During the journey Lefroy made two lengthy halts, the first at Fort Chipeweyan, at the west end of Lake Athabasca, where magnetical and meteorological observations were made every hour of the twenty-four from 16 Oct. 1843 to 29 Feb. 1844, months of arctic darkness; the second at Fort Simpson on the M'Kenzie River, where similar observations were made continuously during April and May 1844. Magnetic observations were also made every two minutes for hours together during periods of magnetic disturbance when the temperature in the observatories could not be kept above zero Fahr. During this survey Lefroy traversed about 6,475 geographical miles, and made observations at 314 stations en route. Considering the nature of the country, the severity of the climate, and the extreme delicacy of the instruments carried, the journey itself was no easy feat.
The magnetic results of this expedition were communicated to the Royal Society by Sabine, and remain the chief authority for the determination of the approximate position of the forces of magnetic intensity in North America. Lefroy's continuous and painstaking method of observation has been universally recognised as the ideal standard for all work of the kind. In a report on the Austrian expedition in 1872-4 Carl Weyprucht congratulated himself that his observations coincided with those of Lefroy, 'a highly trustworthy traveller, and one accustomed to rigorous and exact observations.' In 1885 Dr. G. Neumayer studied anew the results of Lefroy's magnetic survey, while Dr. Humphrey Lloyd, in 'A Treatise on Magnetism.' published in 1874, describes Lefroy's work as 'probably the most remarkable contribution to our knowledge of magnetic disturbance we possess.' Lefroy's magnetical and meteorological observations were published by the government in a work in which they are discussed at length in conjunction with similar observations made at Sitka, Toronto, and Philadelphia.
During his expedition in North America many observations were taken of the aurora borealis, which formed the subject of two papers communicated, one to the 'Philosophical Magazine.' the other to 'Silliman's Journal.' In November 1844 Lefroy resumed work at Toronto, where he continued to reside for the next nine years. On 30 Not. 1845 he was promoted captain. In 1849 he founded the Canadian Institute, and was for some years its president. He cultivated the friendship of American men of science, among others of Agassiz and Henry. In 1863 the Toronto observatory was transferred to the colonial government, and Lefroy returned to England. He joined his battery at Woolwich, and went with it to the camp of instruction at Chobham. The Royal Artillery Institution had somewhat declined after he ceased to be secretary in 1839, but in 1849 the evidence given by Captain Eardley Wilmot before a committee of the House of Commons had aroused public interest in it, and a grant of public money had been made for the erection of a suitable building. Lefroy was again appointed secre- tary, and the laboratory was fitted up under his direction. On 1 Feb. 1854 the new build- ins was opened, and the inaugural address delivered by Sabine.
In view of the coming war, and the need of a good and portable text-book, Lefroy energetically compiled in 1854 'The Handbook of Field Artillery for the use of Officers.' which was published by the institution, and three hundred copies were sent out to the Crimea in July 1854. The book collected for the first time the practical information which is required for the rough work of the camp, and proved of great use. It was subsequently issued under the authority of the war office as a text-book for artillery officers, and remained so until 1884, when it was replaced by 'The Handbook for Field Service.'
In 1854 Lefroy became secretary of the Patriotic Fund, which brought him into contact with the Duke of Newcastle, war minister, who in December made him his confidential adviser in artillery matters. He was gazetted as ' scientific adviser on subjects of artillery and inventions.' and to meet questions of pay and military precedence was made a senior clerk in the war office. His duties consisted principally in examining and reporting on military inventions, to which was added the 'foreign legions' and correspondence connected with them. At that time the professional advisers of the master-general of the ordnance on artillery matters were the ' select committee.' composed of nine artillery officers whose average length of service was forty-nine years, and the youngest of whom was sixty-four years of acre. Lefroy managed to get this committee abolished, and a new one, composed of younger men, appointed with power to obtain the best possible outside scientific opinion. Lefroy remained in the same post at the war office under Lord Panmure, and was one of the first to recognise the importance of rifled ordnance. Although he gave full weight to the necessity of careful experiment and caution in developing the invention, he realised the advantage to be gained by the use of an even imperfect rifled gun over the smooth bore, and on his recommendation a battery of rifled guns throwing a 15 lb. shell was actually ordered from Herr Bashley Brittan in 1855, but the order was cancelled on the termination of the war. Lefroy was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 24 Sept. 1855. In October 1855 Lefroy was sent by Lord Panmure, at two days' notice, to Constantinople, to confer with Brigadier-general Storks on the condition of the hospital staff in the East, and on the accommodation of the sick at Scutari. During this mission he made the acquaintance of Miss Nightingale, with whom ne enjoyed a lifelong friendship. He cordially supported her valuable work, and corresponded with her on the subject of military hospitals and nurses from 1856 to 1868. While at Constantinople he desired to secure for the artillery museum in the Rotunda at Woolwich one of the monster pieces of bronze ordnance which overlooked the Dardanelles from the fort on the Asiatic side, but it was only after eleven years of effort that his wish was accomplished.
In 1856 a reorganisation of the system of military education was undertaken by the secretary of war, and Lefroy prepared a detailed scheme. A large sum of money was laid out on a staff college at Sandhurst, and in February 1857 Lefroy was gazetted inspector-general of army schools. All matters connected with regimental education were placed under his direction, and he at once organised a large staff of trained schoolmasters. In September 1858 he drew up an able paper, urging the importance of establishing a school of gunnery, and it is to his foresighted initiative that the existing school at Shoeburyness is due. He was promoted brevet-colonel on 24 Sept. 1858.
Lefroy was a member of the royal commission on the defence of the United Kingdom appointed in August 1859. The committee s recommendations resulted in the defence loan, and the fortifications which still form the main works of defence of the arsenals and dockyards of the country. The same year, in view of possible hostilities, he was sent with Lieutenant-colonel Owen, R.E., by Lord Derby to report on the fortof Gibraltar, Malta, and Corfu. On the abolition of the office of inspector-general of army schools in 1860 Lefroy became secretary of the ordnance select committee, and in 1864 president of that committee, with the rank of brigadier-general. He became a regimental colonel on 9 Feb. 1865. On 8 Dec. 1868 he was appointed director-general of ordnance, with the temporary rank of major-general. While holding this post he carried through the formation of a class for artillery officers who wished to prepare themselves for special appointments, and to the 'advanced class.' as it was called — now the artillery college — the regiment owes much. While Lefroy was director-general of ordnance the so-called control department was introduced into the administration of the army. No one recognised more fully than Lefroy the necessity for a better organisation of the supply departments of the army, and no one opposed more keenly the attempt to secure it by converting the accountants and commissariat of the army into its controllers. He was unable, however, to secure the rejection of the new scheme, and early in 1870, finding his position untenable, he resigned his appointment, and on 1 April retired from the army with the honorary rank of major- general. In the previous month he had been made a OB. For ten years Lefroy had held most important posts in connection with artillery at a time when modern ordnance and ammunition commenced todevelope their vast size and power, and Lefroy's scientific attainments and untiring energy were of great value at a critical period in the history of our war material. His last service at the war office was as member of a committee presided over by Sir Frederick Chapman in 1870, to consider the proposed submarine mining defence of certain harbours of the kingdom.
In March 1871 Lefroy was appointed governor and commander-m-chief of the Ber- mudas. Durmghis tenure of office he brought together from all sources the original documents relating to the early history of the colony, and published them in two bulky volumes, with maps, charts, and views. He collected the indigenous flora of the islands, introduced new cereals and vegetables, and brought a skilled gardener at his own expense from England to superintend their culture. He also resumed meteorological and magnetical observations. Everything concerning the welfare of his government, civil and military, social, literary, and scientific, interested him, and the coloured people found in him a firm friend. While at Bermuda he strongly recommended on moral and economical grounds a reduction of the length of the terms of imprisonment which courts-martial were empowered to award. On his return home in 1877 he was put into communication with Sir Henry (now Lord) Thring, who was then drafting the amended Mutiny Act, and a more lenient code was the result.
Lefroy was made a K.C.M.G. in 1877, and in 1880 was appointed governor of Tasmania. During his residence in that colony he communicated to its Royal Society a paper 'On the Magnetic Variation at Hobart, which gives the result of his observations with the 4-inch azimuth compass made' in 1881. In this paper he also discusses the question of the secular change of the magnetic variation on the southern coast of Australia. He returned to England in 1882, and made his last contribution to magnetic science by the publication in 1888 of the diary of his Canadian magnetic survey. In this resume^ of the principal work of Lefroy's life it is to be observed that the lines of equal value of magnetic intensity on Lefroy*8 maps differ considerably from those of Sabine in the 'Philosophical Transactions' in 1846 and 1872. The explanation is that Sabine, in following out his system of showing normal lines of equal value of the magnetic elements, left out some of Lefroy's observations which he considered open to question. Lefroy, having personal Knowledge of the value of each one of his results, rejected none, and produces evidence to show that his isodynamic lines are 'locally correct.' Sabine, m fact, sought for the best mean results of a great continent, while Lefroy gave the exact results for a portion of that continent.
Lefroy resided in London for several years after his retirement from public life; but failing health led him to Cornwall, and he died at Lewarne, near Liskeard,on 11 April 1890. He was buried near his birthplace at Crondall in Hampshire. He was twice married, first in 1846 to the daughter of Sir John B. Robinson, bart., C.B.; she died in 1869; and secondly to Charlotte Anna, eldest daughter of Colonel T. Dundas of Fingask, and widow of Colonel Armine Mountain, C.B. [q. v.], who, with two sons and two daughters, survived him.
In person Lefroy was tall, with sharply cut features, very slim, alert in movement, genial in manner, cheerful in disposition, and chivalrous. His disinterested exertions to advahce the wellbeing of the soldier and the soldier's family dated from the commencement of his military career, and continued to the end. His good works were unpretending and unobtrusive. He was honorary secretary and later a commissioner of the Patriotic Fund, an active member of the committee of the Royal School for Daughters of Officers of the Army, and for some years chairman of its house committee.
As a labour of love he devoted his evenings for many months in 1863-4 to the arrangement, classification, and cataloguing of the valuable collection in the Rotunda (artillery museum) at Woolwich. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Society in 1848, and was for two years a member of its Kew committee. He became a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in 1853, was LL.D. of the M'Gill University, Montreal, a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries, and member of other learned bodies. In 1880 he was president of the geographical section of the British Association at the meeting at Swansea, and again in 1884 at Montreal, Canada, and delivered the presidential addresses. On 13 Jan. 1885 he read a paper before the Royal Colonial Institute, the Marquis of Lome presiding, on the British Association in Canada. In 1885 and 1886 he was a member of the general committee of the Universities Mission to Central Africa, and in 1887 and 1888 was a vice-president.
The following is a list of his works: 1. 'On the Meteorology of St. Helena.' 1841. 2. 'Botany of Bermuda.' 8vo, Washington, 1854 (Bulletin, No. 25, United States National Museum). 3. 'Magnetical and Meteorological Observations at Lake Athabasca and Fort Simpson by Captain J. H. Lefroy, and at Fort Confidence in Great Bear Lake by Sir John Richardson.' 8vo, London, 1855. 4. 'Notes and Documents relating to the Family of Loffroy of Cambray.' printed privately in 1868. 5. 'Memorials of the Discovery and Early Settlement of the Bermudas or Somers Islands.' 1515-1685, 2 vols. London, 1879. 6. 'The Historye of the Bermudae8 or Summers Islands from a MS. in the Sloane Collection in the British Museum. Edited for the Hakluyt Society.' London, 1882. 7. 'Diary of a Magnetic Survey of a Portion of the Dominion of Canada, chiefly in the North-West Territories. Executed in the years 1842-44.' London, 8vo, 1883. 8. 'Parochial Accounts, Seventeenth Century, St. Neots, Cornwall.' Reprinted from the 'Archaeological Journal.' vol. xlviii. 9. 'Royal Society's Proceedings;' 'On the Influence of the Moon on the Atmospheric Pressure, as deduced from Observations of the Barometer made in St. Helena.' 1842, iv. 395 ; 'Obituary Notice of Major-General Sir William Reid, K.C.B..' ix. 543. 10. British Association: Presidential Addresses before the Geographical Section, Swansea, 1880; Montreal, 1884. 11. Society of Antiquaries: 'Archæologia,' xlvii. 65. 'The Constitutional History of the Oldest British Plantation.' 12. 'Royal Geographical Society's Journal :' 'Barometrical and Thermometric Measurement of Heights in North America.' 1846, xvi. 263. 13. 'Archæological Journal;' 'On various Ancient Remains and Weapons.' xix. 82, 318, xx. 185, 187, 201, xxi. 60, 90, 91, 137, 176, xxii. 71, 84, 87, 166, 173, 354, xxiii. 65, 156, xxiv. 70, 74, xxv. 85, 151, 249, 261, xxvi. 174, 178. 14. 'Royal Artillery Institution Proceedings.' Vol. i. 1858: Preface. 'Notes on the Establishments of British Field Artillery since 1815.' Vol. ii. 1861 : 'Note on Mortar Practice.' 'Catalogue of Works on Artillery and Gunnery.' Vol. iii. 1863: 'On the Determination of Range Tables for Rifle Ordnance.' 'On the application of Rifled Cannon to the operation of Breaching unseen Defences by High Angle Firing.' Vol. iv. 1865: 'On two large English Cannon of the 15th Century preserved at S. Michel in Normandy;' contributions to regimental history, contributions to the technology of foreign rifled ordnance. Vol. vi. 1870 : 'An Account of the great Cannon of Muhammed II.' Vol. vii. 1871; 'The Story of the 36-inch Mortars of 1855 and 1858.' Vols. xiii. xiv. and xv. 1885, 1886, and 1888; Memoirs and war services of the following officers : Lieutenant-general Albert Borgard, General Forbes Macbean, Major-general William Phillips, General Ellis Walker, Lieutenant-general Sir Thomas Downman, Lieutenant-general George Fead, General Sir Anthony Farington, Lieutenant-general Robert Lawson, General W. J. Smythe. 15. 'Numismatic Chronicle;' 'Nature of Gold Coins discovered in 1828 in the Parish of Crondall, near Aldershot,' new ser. x. 164 ; 'On Bermuda Hog Money,' new ser. xvi. 153, xviii. 166 ; 'On Australian Currency.' 16. ' Philosophical Magazine;' 'Observations of the Aurora Boreahs,' 1850, xxxvi. 457. 17. 'Silliman's Journal:' 'The Application of Photography to the Self-Registration of Magnetical and Meteorological Instruments,' 1850, ix. 319; 'Remarks on the Winter of 1851-2 in Canada,' 1852, xiv. 135; 'Report on Observations of the Aurora Borealis,' 1852, xiv. 153. 18. 'Canadian Institution Journal;' 'Remarks on Thermometric Registers,' 1852-3, i. 29, 75 ; 'On the Probable Number of the Indian Population of America,' 1851 ; ' On the Probable Number of the Native Indian Population of British America,' . 19. 'American Association Proceedings;' 'A Comparison of the Apparent Diurnal Laws of the Irregular Fluctuations of the Magnetical Elements at the Stations of Observations in North America.' 1851, p. 175. 20. Royal Society of Tasmania—Presidential Address, 1881, p. 1: 'On the Magnetic Variation of Hobart,' p. 39.
[Memoir by Sir Joseph Hooker in Proc. of the Royal Geographical Society, xiii. 115; Memoir in Proc. of the Society of Antiquaries, xiii. 139; Memoir in Proc. of the Royal Artillery Inst, xviii. 307; War Office Records.]