Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Pasley, Charles (1824-1890)

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PASLEY, CHARLES (1824–1890), major-general royal engineers, eldest son of General Sir Charles William Pasley [q. v.] was born at Brompton barracks, Chatham, Kent, on 14 Nov. 1824. He was educated at the King's grammar school, Rochester, Kent. He entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich in February 1840, and obtained a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 20 Dec. 1843. He went through the usual course of professional instruction at the military school at Chatham, of which his father was the head, and proved himself so good a surveyor and mathematician that for some months he temporarily held the appointment of instructor in surveying and astronomy.

After serving at several home stations he was promoted first lieutenant on 1 April 1846, and in June was sent to Canada. He was employed on the ordinary military duties of his corps until 1848, when he was appointed to assist in the survey of the extensive and scattered ordnance lands on the Rideau canal. The outdoor survey was done in the winter to enable the surveyors to chain over the frozen lakes, and to avoid the malaria and mosquitoes of the swamps.

In 1849 he was sent to the Bermuda islands, and while there was mainly employed in superintending, on behalf of the colonial government, the work of deepening the channel into St. George's Harbour. In November 1850 he returned to England on account of ill-health. In February 1851 he was selected to join the staff of the Great Exhibition of that year.

In 1853 Pasley was appointed colonial engineer of the colony of Victoria, his brother-in-law, Lieutenant (now Sir) H. W. Tyler, royal engineers, who had been given the appointment, having been prevented by a series of contretemps from taking it up. Pasley arrived at Melbourne in September 1853, and found himself at the head of a large office, to the duties of which were subsequently added those of colonial architect and of a central road board.

Pasley was promoted captain on 17 Feb. 1854. On 16 Oct. 1854 he was nominated to a seat in the legislative council of the colony. In December 1854 very serious disturbances took place at the goldfields of Ballarat, and Pasley placed his services at the disposal of the officer commanding the military forces which it was necessary to employ to suppress the insurrection. Some fighting took place, and two officers and thirteen men were wounded and two men killed, while the rebels had about forty killed and many wounded. Pasley acted as aide-de-camp to the officer commanding, Capt. J. W. Thomas. His valuable assistance was acknowledged in despatches printed and laid before the legislative council.

In November 1855 Victoria became a self-governing colony. A new constitution was proclaimed, with a responsible ministry, in which Pasley took office as commissioner of public works. The department of public works, at that time of rapid development, was most important, and Pasley administered it with skill and patience. He saw the inestimable value to the colony of good communication, and pressed forward the construction of high-roads and railways. In 1856 Pasley stood for South Bourke; there were six candidates for two seats, and Pasley headed the poll. His address to the electors is remarkable, not only for the breadth and liberality with which he treated the questions of the day, but also for his determination at the same time not to support any change of laws merely for the sake of change.

In 1856 Pasley was appointed by act of council a joint trustee with his brother officer and colleague in the ministry, Captain (now Lieutenant-general Sir) Andrew Clarke, then surveyor-general and commissioner of crown lands, for the Melbourne and Mount Alexander railway, which had been purchased by the government. In 1858 he was a member of a commission to inquire into the state of the defences of the colony. The houses of parliament and government house at Melbourne were among the public buildings erected during his term of office, and some of the principal streets of Melbourne were laid out under his direction.

Pasley resigned his office under the government of Victoria in May 1860, to return to military duty. He was about to embark for England in July when news arrived at Melbourne of a reverse suffered by her majesty's troops in New Zealand at the hands of the Maoris. Pasley at once offered his services to General Pratt, commanding the troops in Victoria, who was about to proceed to Taranaki in New Zealand with all the available troops at his disposal. He was appointed assistant military secretary to General Pratt; but in October he was placed under the commanding royal engineer, in order to take charge of the trenches for the attack of the pah at Kaihihi. This was the first occasion that a pah was attacked by regular trenches, and the attack was quite successful. Pasley was severely wounded by a bullet through the thigh. He was mentioned in despatches, was awarded a pension of 100l. per annum, and on 28 Jan. 1862 he received a brevet majority for his services in the campaign. He also received the New Zealand war medal. He was invalided to Melbourne in November 1860, and remained there till he was able to embark for England in May 1861, in the steamship Great Britain. He left Melbourne amid popular demonstrations of regret.

On arrival in England in August 1861 Pasley was appointed commanding royal engineer at Gravesend. In 1862 he read a paper before the Royal United Service Institution on the operations in New Zealand, to correct some misapprehensions on the subject which existed in the public mind with regard to his old general. In 1864 he took over from Major (now Lieutenant-general Sir) Andrew Clarke, who had been appointed director of works at the admiralty, the duty of special agent for Victoria. He held this office until December 1868, and received the thanks of the government of Victoria and of the board of advice in London for his services. Among the services he rendered to the colony while holding the appointment were the equipment of the ironclad Nelson, and the design, construction, armament, and despatch of the turret-ship Cerberus, which the Victorian government obtained from the British government for the defence of Melbourne harbour.

In October 1865 the Duke of Somerset, then first lord of the admiralty, appointed Pasley to the charge of the great extension works of Chatham dockyard. These he had carried far towards completion when he was appointed, in 1873, to succeed Colonel (now Lieutenant-general Sir) Andrew Clarke as director of works at the admiralty. Pasley was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 6 July 1867, and brevet-colonel on 6 July 1872. At the end of 1870 Pasley was appointed by Mr. Childers, his old colleague in the Victorian administration, then first lord of the admiralty, to be secretary to the committee on designs for ships of war, and in May 1871 he was appointed a member of this committee as well as secretary. He drafted the report, which elicited from the chairman, Lord Dufferin, the highest eulogy.

From September 1873 to September 1882 Pasley was director of engineering works and of architecture at the admiralty. In 1876 he inspected Malta and Gibraltar dockyards, and in 1878 accompanied the lords of the admiralty and the secretary of state for war to the principal French and Italian military ports, to Cyprus, the Suez Canal, Alexandria, Malta, and Gibraltar. In recognition of his services at the admiralty, Pasley was made a civil C.B. on 23 April 1880. In May 1880 he succeeded Mr. Childers as acting agent-general for Victoria, but with the title of chairman of the board of advice, an appointment he held for two years. In 1881 he was a member of an international commission to report upon the best means of improving the entrance to the harbour of Alexandria, and received the thanks of the Egyptian government. In 1882 he was a member of a committee on the employment of convicts which resulted in a decision to construct the new harbour of refuge at Peterhead.

The more important works designed under his superintendence at the admiralty were the entrance locks at Chatham dockyard, with their ingenious sliding caissons, the two first-class dry docks at Devonport and Haulbowline, the naval barracks and college for naval engineers at Keyham, the alterations of Greenwich Hospital to fit it for a naval college, and the extension of Chatham and Portsmouth dockyards. He was an associate member of the Institution of Civil Engineers, and in 1874 he was elected associate member of the council of the institution for the ensuing year.

Pasley retired from the army on 27 Aug. 1881, with the honorary rank of major-general, and from the post of director of works at the admiralty in September 1882. He died at his house at Bedford Park, Chiswick, on 11 Nov. 1890.

Pasley married at Hampton, Middlesex, on 29 March 1864, his cousin Charlotte Roberts, who survived him. There was no issue of the marriage.

[Despatches; War Office Records; Admiralty Records; Memoir by Sir John Stokes in Royal Engineers' Journal, 1891.]

R. H. V.