The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Scratchley, Major-General Sir Peter Henry

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Scratchley, Major-General Sir Peter Henry, K.C.M.G., R.E., was the youngest son of the late Dr. James Scratchley, of the Royal Artillery, by his marriage with a daughter of Captain Roberts, Commandant of Colombo, and was born in Paris, where his father, having left the army, was practising as a medical man, on August 24th, 1835. Having decided to adopt a military career, General Scratchley, when not yet fifteen, was nominated by Lord Palmerston, who had been at Harrow with his father, to a cadetship at the Woolwich Academy, where he formed a friendship with General Gordon, obtaining in 1854 a commission as second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers, and being almost immediately ordered to the Crimea, where he performed good and gallant service in the trenches of Sebastopol, and took part in the final assault upon the Redan, gaining in consequence the Crimean medal with clasp for Sebastopol and the Turkish war medal. On his return from the Crimea in 1856 he was employed for twelve months on engineering works at Portsmouth; and subsequently served with distinction during the stern scenes of the Indian Mutiny. In 1860 the Government of Victoria applied to the Imperial Government for an officer of engineers to superintend the erection of defence works in that colony; and General Scratchley (then captain) was selected for the post. He thus commenced a connection with the great work of Australasian defence, which terminated only with his life. Captain Scratchley was occupied for three years and a half in devising a scheme of defence for Victoria, in the meantime taking a prominent part in the local volunteer movement, acting as honorary lieut.-colonel of the Volunteer Artillery and Engineers. Owing to a change of Ministry his scheme was not carried out in its entirety, and Captain Scratchley returned to England in 1863, carrying with him the official eulogies of Governors Barkly and Darling on his services to the colony. Subsequently, having been promoted to brevet rank as major, he was for twelve years chief inspector of the manufacturing department of the War Office. In 1874 Major Scratchley became lieut.-colonel, and in 1876 was selected by Lord Carnarvon, upon the recommendation of the Secretary for War, to act, in conjunction with Sir William Jervois, as adviser to the Australasian Governments in providing for the defence of the entire group of colonies against foreign aggression. In 1878 Sir William Jervois became Governor of South Australia, and Colonel Scratchley was appointed Commissioner of Defences for the Colonies of New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, Queensland, and Tasmania, remaining in Australia in that capacity until 1883. In 1879 Colonel Scratchley, as he had now become, was created C.M.G.; and, despite the obstacles raised by the ever-shifting policy of the constantly changing colonial governments, did much good work in connection with the conjoint defences; In Oct. 1882 he retired from the army with the honorary rank of major-general; and on his return to England in the early part of 1883 was appointed Adviser on Defences to the colonies which he had previously served as Commissioner. He did not, however, hold this appointment long, being despatched from England, in Nov. 1884, as Special Commissioner to assume jurisdiction over the southern shore of New Guinea and the country adjacent thereto from the 141st meridian of east longitude eastward as far as East Cape, and as Deputy-Commissioner to the portions of New Guinea outside the protectorate, the intention of Germany to annex the northern portion being then somewhat in embryo, at least as far as the Australian colonies were aware. On his arrival at Albany General Scratchley first heard of the German annexation, and thus had to make his financial arrangements with the various Australian colonies for the future administration of the British protectorate under circumstances of great difficulty, as the latter were naturally indignant that Germany should have been allowed to filch away any portion of what they regarded as the natural heritage of the Australasian people. Ultimately all difficulties were smoothed over—at least temporarily—and General Scratchley arrived at Port Moresby to assume the control of the protectorate on August 28th, 1885. In November, whilst proceeding in the steamer Governor Blackall to inspect the boundary of the British territory at Mitre Rock, General Scratchley was taken ill with what proved to be New Guinea fever. As the attack seemed to be mild, he insisted on continuing his voyage to Mitre Rock, which was reached on Nov. 25th; but after remaining there for a short time he became so much worse that it was determined to return direct to Cooktown, where the Governor Blackall arrived on Dec. 1st. Early that morning he seemed better, but towards noon he became completely prostrated by the intense heat, and for some hours was scarcely conscious. All speed was therefore made to reach Townsville, en route for Sydney and cooler latitudes; but Sir Peter Scratchley gradually sank, and died at sea on the morning of Dec. 2nd, 1885. Sir Peter Scratchley (who was created K.C.M.G. in 1885) married, in 1862, Laura Lilias, daughter of Sylvester J. Browne, of co. Sligo. In 1887 a volume on "Australian Defences and New Guinea," compiled from Sir Peter Scratchley's papers, was published under the editorship of Mr. C. Kinloch Cooke, with a prefatory memoir.