Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Sankey, Richard Hieram

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SANKEY, Sir RICHARD HIERAM (1829–1908), lieutenant-general, royal (Madras) engineers, born at Rockwell Castle, co. Tipperary, on 22 March 1829, was fourth son of Matthew Sankey, barrister, of Bawnmore, Co. Cork, and Modeshil, co. Tipperary, by his wife Eleanor, daughter of Colonel Henry O'Hara, J.P., of O'Hara Brook, co. Antrim. Educated at the Rev. D. Flynn's school in Harcourt Street, Dublin, he entered the East India Company's military seminary at Addiscombe in February 1845. Sankey showed considerable talent as an artist, and won a silver medal at an exhibition of the Dublin Society in 1845 and the prize for painting on leaving Addiscombe at the end of 1846. Commissioned as second lieutenant in the Madras engineers on 11 Dec. 1846, he arrived in Madras after the usual instruction at Chatham in Nov. 1848.

After serving with the Madras sappers at Mercatur he officiated in 1850 as superintending engineer, Nagpore subsidiary force; but owing to ill-health he was at home for three years (1853–6). Promoted lieutenant on 1 Aug. 1854, he was appointed, on returning to Madras in 1856, superintendent of the east coast canal. In May 1857 Sankey was called to Calcutta as under-secretary of the public works department under Colonel (afterwards General Sir) William Erskine Baker [q. v.].

On the outbreak of the Mutiny Sankey was commissioned as captain of the Calcutta cavalry volunteers, but in September was despatched to Allahabad for field duty. Besides completing the defensive works along the Jumna, he levelled the whole of the Allygunge quarter of the city, employing some 6000 workmen to clear the front of the entrenchments of obstructions and to construct a causeway across the muddy bed of the Ganges. He established a bridge of boats, and having to provide shelter for the advancing troops all along the grand trunk road in the Northwest Provinces, he arrived at Cawnpore, in the course of this duty, the day before it was attacked by the Gwalior force under Tantia Topi. He acted as assistant field engineer under Lieutenant-colonel McLeod, the commanding engineer of General Windham's force, and when that force fell back on the entrenchments was employed in strengthening the defences; noticing that the whole area as far as an outpost some 600 yards away was swept by the enemy's fire, he effectively connected the outpost with the entrenchment by a simple screen of mats fixed during one night. After the rebels were defeated by Sir Colin Campbell on 6 Dec, Sankey was transferred as field engineer to the Gurkha force under Jung Bahadur. He organised an engineer park at Gorakpur and procured material for bridging the Grogra and Gumti rivers for the march to Lucknow. Alone he reconnoitred the Gogra, which was crossed on 19 Feb. 1858, when the fort Mowrani on the other side of the river was seized. Next day he took part in the action of Phulpur, where he constructed a bridge of boats 320 yards long in two days and a half, and made three miles of road. The Gurkha army, 20,000 strong of all arms, then crossed into Oude, and Sankey received the thanks of his commander and of the government of India for 'his great and successful exertions.' While on the march on 26 Feb., Sankey's conspicuous gallantry in forcing an entry into a small fort at Jumalpur occupied by the rebels was highly commended by the commander in his despatch, and he was unsuccessfully recommended for the Victoria Cross.

Sankey was at the action of Kanduah Nulla on 4 March, and was mentioned in despatches. He constructed the bridge to pass the troops over the river to Sultanpur and received the thanks of government. At Lucknow the Gurkha army was posted in a suburb south-east of the Charbagh, which it attacked on the 14th. Next day Sankey was with the Gurkhas when they carried all before them to the gate of the Kaisar Bagh, which General Thomas Franks [q. v.] had captured. Sankey was also engaged with the enemy on the 15th, 18th, and 19th, and on the final capture of the city made arrangements for establishing the bridge over the canal near the Charbagh.

Soon after the fall of Lucknow Sankey returned to Calcutta in ill-health, and was sent to the Neilgherries to recruit. For his services in the mutiny campaign he received the medal with clasp, was promoted second captain on 27 August 1858, and brevet major the next day. During 1859 he was executive engineer, and also superintendent of the convict gaol at Moulmein in Burma, and received the thanks of the government of India for his management of the prison. In 1860-1 he was garrison engineer at Fort William, Calcutta. Promoted first captain in his corps on 29 June 1861, and appointed assistant to the chief engineer, Mysore, he held the post with credit until 1864. In 1864 he succeeded as chief engineer and secretary to the chief commissioner, Mysore, and during the next thirteen years managed the public works of that province. He originated an irrigation department to deal scientifically with the old native works; the catchment area of each valley was surveyed, the area draining into each reservoir determined, and the sizes and number of reservoirs regulated accordingly. He also improved the old roads and opened up new ones in all directions. Government offices were built, and the park around them laid out at Bangalore.

In 1870 Sankey spent seven months on special duty at Melbourne, at the request of the Victorian government, to arbitrate on a question of works for supplying water to wash down the gold-bearing alluvium of certain valleys. He was promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel on 14 June 1869, regimental lieutenant-colonel on 15 Oct. 1870, and brevet colonel on 15 Oct. 1875.

In 1877 he was transferred to Simla as under-secretary to the government of India, and in September 1878, when war with the Amir of Afghanistan was imminent owing to the rebuff to the Chamberlain mission, was appointed commanding royal engineer of the Kandahar field force under Lieutenant-general, afterwards Field-marshal, Sir Donald Stewart [q. v. Suppl. I]. Sankey arrived with the rest of his staff at Quetta on 12 Dec, and being sent forward to reconnoitre recommended an advance by the Elhawga Pass, leaving the Khojak for the second division under Major-general (afterwards Sir) Michael Biddulph [q. V. Suppl. II]. On 30 Dec. 1878 he was promoted regimental colonel. On 4 Jan. 1879 Sankey was with the advanced body of cavalry under Major-general Palliser when a cavalry combat took place at Takt-i-pul. Stewart's force occupied Kandahar, and advanced as far as Kalat-i-Ghilzai, when the flight of the Amir Shere Ali put an end, for a brief period, to the war. While Sankey was preparing winter quarters for the force at Kandahar he was recalled to Madras to become secretary in the public works department. For his share in the Kandahar expedition he was mentioned in despatches, created a C.B., and given the medal. During five years at Madras Sankey became member of the legislative council, and was elected a fellow of the Madras University. He helped to form the Marina and to beautify the botanical gardens and Government House grounds. On 4 June 1883 he was promoted major-general. He retired from the army on 11 Jan. 1884, with the honorary rank of lieutenant-general. He had previously received the distinguished service reward in India.

On his return to England in 1883 Sankey was appointed chairman of the Irish board of works. In 1892 he was gazetted K.C.B. After his retirement in 1896 he resided in London, but his activity was unabated. He visited Mexico and had much correspondence with the president Diaz. He died suddenly at his residence, 32 Grosvenor Place, on 11 Nov. 1908, and was buried at Hove, Sussex. Sankey was twice married: (1) in 1858, at Ootacamund, to Sophia Mary (d. 1882), daughter of W. H. Benson, Indian civil service; (2) in 1890, at Dublin, to Henrietta, widow of Edward Browne, J.P., and daughter of Pierce Creagh; she survived him. By his first wife he had two daughters, one of whom married his nephew, Colonel A. R. M. Sankey, R.E.

[India Office Records; Vibart's Addiscombe; The Times, 12 Nov. 1908; memoir with portrait in Royal Engineers' Journal, June 1909.]

R. H. V.