Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/O'Shaughnessy, William Brooke
O'SHAUGHNESSY, Sir WILLIAM BROOKE (1809–1889), afterwards Sir William O'Shaughnessy Brooke, director-general of telegraphs in India, was the son of Daniel O'Shaughnessy of Limerick, by his wife, whose maiden name was Boswell ; his uncle was dean of Ennis, and his great-uncle Roman catholic bishop of Killaloe. William was born at Limerick in 1809, but educated at Edinburgh University, where he graduated M.D. in 1830. He then entered the East India Company's service, and was appointed assist ant-surgeon in Bengal on 8 Aug. 1833 (Dodwell and Miles, Surgeons of India, p. 46). For some time he was physician to Sir Charles Theophilus, afterwards Baron Metcalfe [q. v.], at Agra; he became surgeon in 1848, and surgeon-major in 1861, and was also professor of chemistry in the medical college, Calcutta. While in Bengal he wrote numerous reports and tracts on various medical, chemical, and other subjects, but devoted his attention chiefly to the electric telegraph. Anxious to introduce it in India, he published a pamphlet giving the results of experiments in its working, in 1839, but received little official encouragement until the appointment of Lord Dalhousie in 1847. He was then employed to lay down an experimental line of telegraphs, and report on the result; its success led the directors in 1852 to sanction the immediate construction of telegraphs connecting Calcutta, Agra, Bombay, Peshawar, and Madras. O'Shaughnessy was appointed director-general of telegraphs in India, and was sent to England to collect men and materials. He returned to India and commenced the work in November 1853; such was his energy that the line between Calcutta and Agra, a distance of eight hundred miles, was in full working by March 1854; in February 1855 the telegraph extended 3,050 miles, connecting Calcutta directly with Agra, Bombay, and Madras, and in February 1856 this distance was extended to four thousand miles. O'Shaughnessy triumphed over innumerable difficulties — the lack of trained workmen, absence of bridges across wide rivers, and of roads through dense jungles. The main lines were barely completed before the mutiny broke out, and Lawrence bore emphatic testimony to the value of O'Shaughnessy's work when he stated that 'the telegraph saved India.'
O'Shaughnessy was knighted for his services in 1866, on a visit to England; after five years' further work in India, he retired to England in 1861. He had been elected a fellow of the Royal Society on 16 March 1843, and in 1861 he assumed by royal license the name Brooke. He died at Southsea on 10 Jan. 1889, having married thrice; his second wife, whom he married in 1835, was Margaret, daughter of Francis O'Shaughnessy of Curragh, co. Clare ; and his third was Julia Greenly, daughter of Captain John Sabine of the 23rd royal Welsh fusiliers.
Besides numerous separately issued tracts and contributions to various periodicals (see Royal Society's Catalogue, and Ronalds, Cat. of Scientific Papers), O'Shaughnessy published: 1. 'Manual of Chemistry,' Calcutta, 1841 ; 2nd ed. 1842. 2. 'The Bengal Dispensatory,' London, 1842, 8vo. 3. 'The Bengal Pharmacopoeia,' Calcutta, 1844, 8vo. He also published in 1831 a translation of Lugol's 'Essay on the Effects of Iodine in Scrofulous Diseases.'