Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Skinner, Thomas (1804-1877)

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SKINNER, THOMAS (1804–1877), engineer, born at St. John's, Newfoundland, on 22 May 1804, was the son of Lieutenant-colonel William Thomas Skinner, R.A. (d. 1829), by his second wife, Mary, daughter of Dr. Monier of the royal artillery [for the father's family see under Skinner, William, (1700–1780)]. In 1811 Thomas was placed at school in England, and remained there until in 1818 he proceeded to Ceylon, and obtained a second lieutenancy in the Ceylon rifles. In 1820 he was employed in constructing two roads to Kandy, one by the Kaduganava Pass, the other through the Seven Kirles, and was thenceforth connected with that branch of public works. In 1825 he was appointed staff officer of the garrison of Colombo, and on 27 Nov. 1829 deputy assistant quartermaster-general of the forces in Ceylon. In 1832 he opened a road from Aripo, on the western coast of Ceylon, to Anarajaporo. In the following year the public works of the colony were transferred to the civil authorities, and Skinner accompanied the surveyor-general over the country to initiate him in his duties. Subsequently Skinner undertook a survey of the mountain zone, the result of which was embodied in a one-inch sketch-map of the Kandian provinces and in a general map of Ceylon. In 1836 he was promoted captain, and in the following year was employed to regulate the surveyor-general and civil engineer's department, which had fallen into great confusion. This business occupied him until 1840; but as the department became again disorganised when he ceased directing it, he was appointed permanent commissioner for the roads in Ceylon in 1841. In 1847 he retired from his regiment with the rank of major, and in 1850 the civil engineer's department was incorporated with his own. In 1859 he was appointed auditor-general, but in consequence of a difference of opinion with the governor, Sir Henry Ward, as to the cost of a railway from Colombo to Kandy, he was superseded in 1861, and returned to his former post of commissioner of public works, which he continued to hold until, in 1865, he resumed the duties of auditor-general.

Skinner retired to England in 1867, and was made a companion of the order of St. Michael and St. George on 15 Feb. 1869. He took up his residence at Bath, where he died at 7 Grosvenor Place on 24 July 1877. His services to Ceylon were very great in opening up the country and rendering overland transport possible. He married Georgina, daughter of Lieutenant-general George Burrell, C.B., on 19 Dec. 1838. By her he had, with other children, Monier Williams Skinner, now lieutenant-colonel, R.E.

Skinner was the author of an autobiography entitled ‘Fifty Years in Ceylon,’ edited by his daughter Annie Skinner (London, 1891, 8vo), to which his portrait is prefixed. The book contains an outline of the history of his branch of the Skinner family.

[Skinner's Autobiography; United Service Mag. 1877, iii. 110.]

E. I. C.