WHAT GEORGE EVEREST DID
WHENEVER I go for a walk in Dehra Dun I can see on the skyline three miles to the west of Mussourie Park House which was for over ten years the home of Colonel George Everest. I am told that I must not believe the story that on one occasion one of his assistants who was working on the heights of Himalayan peaks rushed into his office to say that he had just discovered the highest mountain in the world. The calculation was made after Everest had left India. But it is true that when a name had to be found for the highest mountain in the world since no local name existed, Everest's successor, Andrew Waugh, decided that it should be called after him, thus breaking the rule that peaks should not be named after individuals. When Colonel Phillimore's 'Historical Records of the Survey of India' fell into my hands I decided to try to find out what Everest had done to deserve so high an honour.
I soon found myself rather lost in an unfamiliar world of azimuths, zenith distances and arcs of amplitude. But I did discover that Everest "completed one of the most stupendous works in the whole history of science." This was the great arc of triangles from Cape Cormorin to the Himalaya of which Everest measured the section from Bidar at 17° 55’ to Banog at 30° 29'- a distance of about 870 miles. This in the words of Henry Lawrence was "a measurement exceeding all others as much in accuracy as in length." This arc was important not only because it provided a backbone for all subsequent survey work in India but because it was the longest accurate measurement of the earth's surface that had ever been made and provided scientists with much new information about the curvature of the earth, forces of attraction and other matters studied in Geodesy.
In 1787 the head of the Ordnance Survey had observed triangles between the Observatories of London and Paris and at the same time mentioned the great need of determining the value of the degree in lower latitudes. In 1791 two French scientists started to survey an arc from Dunkirk to Barcelone. The defeat of Tippoo Sultan in 1799 opened up scope for the survey of a much longer arc in India, and by chance the right man was in the right place at the right time. This was Major William Lamb- ton who had been Brigade Major to General Baird at the siege of Seringapatam. Before the end of the year he had put forward a plan for a Mathematical and Geographical Survey of India, and was given permission to go ahead. All the formal education that Lambton is known to have had consisted in a few years as a free scholar at Northallerton Grammar School. He himself said that it was while serving with the 33rd Regiment of Foot in Canada that he laid the foundations of that knowledge which was one day to bring him to the notice of the world. In due course he received many scientific honours including becoming a Fellow of the Royal Society.
Lambton's first requirement was mathematical instruments. While passing through Calcutta in 1797 he had chanced to see some lying with a Dr. Dinwiddie. Dr. Dinwiddie had taken them to China with Lord Macartney's mission to that country but the Chinese had shown no interest in them. Others were ordered from England, including a great theodolite, but this was captured by the French and taken to Mauritius. War was a more gentlemanly affair in those days and the Governor of Mauritius sent it to Madras with his compliments.
Madras was the best place in India for Lambton to start his survey from for the new observatory there (later shifted to Kodai- kanal) had recently fixed its position. Lambton measured a base line at St. Thomas' Mount, 7.58 miles in length. From either end of it he started reading angles and so constructed triangles right across the Peninsular which revealed that it was forty miles narrower than shown in Rennell's map of 1793. The scientific approach was paying off. As a further check on his accuracy he connected his triangles to a base line drawn at Bangalore. The length of this base line could be calculated from the triangles and it could also be measured on the ground. There was a difference of 3.7 inches in the two measurements which seemed very satisfactory.
Lambton soon realized that it would take too long for him to try to cover the whole country with triangles and he therefore decided to concentrate on an arc from Cape Cormorin northwards, and working along this arc by 1815 he had reached Bidar, north west of Hyderabad. Here he measured a base line and near here at Damargida he established an astronomical post. The next six years he spent at Hyderabad working on calculations.
He had started operations under the Madras government but he was now outside the Presidency and he applied to be brought under the supreme government and also asked for an assistant Lord Hastings appointed him Superintendant of the Great Trigonometrical Survey and chose Everest to be his assistant.
Everest had joined the Bengal Artilery in Calcutta in 1806 at I he age of sixteen. Two stories told of his early years indicate I hat he was a man of character. On one occasion he won a lot of money gambling. When he reached home he resolved never lo gamble again and threw all his winnings out of the window. On another occasion his horse was drowned under him and he had a narrow escape. He immediately learned how to swim. He aw service in Java and at the end of the war did some survey work there. He showed much ingenuity in dealing with obstructions on the Nadia rivers, and then was given the job of constructing towers for a visual telegraph between Calcutta and Chunar, south of Varanasi. He was on this job when he received orders on its completion to join Lambton at Hyderabad. He marched down by Jubbulpore and Nagpur, making a survey by pel ambulator as he went.
A few days after his arrival in December 1818 Lambton took (he field for the first time in six years for the sole purpose of Instructing his new assistant. Everest was delighted at 'seeing this great and extraordinary man in the very scene and character in which the imagination of my early youth had learned to depict him . . .When he aroused himself for the purpose of adjusting the great theodolite, he seemed like Ulysses shaking off his rags; his native energy appeared to rise superior to all his infirmities; his eye shone with lustre, his limbs moved with the vigour of full manhood . . Lambton was probably about sixty five years old and his health ruined by constant exposure to the elements, but his spirit was indomitable.
In order to benefit from the wonderful visibility of the occasional breaks in the monsoon Lambton sent out his parties at this time of the year, and Everest spent the monsoons of 1819 and 1820 surveying in Hyderabad. He suffered terribly from malaria and had to go on sick leave to the Cape. On his return he worked out a system of surveying at night by the use of lights, ml thereafter did most of his own survey work in the cold weather.
The Pindari wars having ended, at the end of 1822 Lambton decided to move his headquarters to Nagpur. He fell ill on the march and died fifty mills short of his destination at Hingan- ghat where a memorial to him still stands. Everest succeeded him as Superintendant of the G.T.S. and by 1824 he had carried triangles up to Sironj, north of Bhopal where he measured a base line and nearby established an astronomical post at Kalian- pur. He was again very ill and at times so weak that while surveying he had to be supported by two men. He had not been home since he had come out and he applied for home leave. He left Calcutta in November 1825. In his absence no one was thought good enough to work on the great arc.
Everest found a great deal to do in England acquiring new instruments and studying new methods of survey. He was particularly interested in a new survey being done in Ireland. The Directors had to warn him that he would be out of the Company service if he did not return within five years. He reached Calcutta with a month to spare. He was now Surveyor General and Superintendent of the G.T.S. but till 1838 still a Major. He spent over two years in Calcutta, reorganizing his office, recruiting staff and measuring a base line to the series of triangles that had been brought eastward in his absence. This was between milestones 4 and 11 on the Barrackpore Trunk road and towers built at each end are still standing.
In December 1832 he sent his luggage and equipment by boats up the river and himself left by road on December 24th. At Ghazipur he joined his brother Robert who was on his way to be a chaplain in Delhi, and then inspected survey operations at Saugor, Gwalior and Agra. He reached Mussourie in May a few days before his luggage and established himself at Park House which he had bought from General Whish. A small peak, Hathi- paon, was included in the estate and nearby was Banog which was to be the terminal station of the great arc. He hoped to make Park House his headquarters but next year the government dropped a bomb shell by issuing orders that government servants were not to reside in hill stations. Everest moved his correspondence office to Dehra Dun and once this was done government raised no objection to him spending the hot weather and monsoon at Park House.
His main jobs were to measure a base line and to connect it by triangles with the base line in Sironj. He decided that the Doon was the best place for the base line inspite of the fact that tigers were so plentiful and the grass so long that he and his party would have to move on elephants. In October 1833 he came down and selected a site for the base line and then moved off to select observation posts for the triangles down to Sironj. His party was carried by four elephants, forty two camels, thirty horses and about 700 porters. The Ganges Jumna plain was so flat and so thickly vegetated that it was impossible to find observation points. In the end Everest had to erect fourteen towers; one of them is still visible from the main road just south of Mnzaffarnagar. Besides the towers he used three renovated ruins, a mosque in Bulandshahr, a castle built by Gujars at Aring, and the Pir Ghyb clurgah on the Ridge in Delhi.
While he was working on the base line in Dehra Dun he received a communication from Col. Young, Superintendent of the Doon, in which he was referred to as 'Kumpaswala'. Everest took exception to this and so Young addressed him as 'Surveyor General Bahadur'. Everest claimed that he should be addressed as 'Surveyor General Kishewar Hind’. A certain prickliness was part of his character. When he entered Gwalior State he did not find the arrangements for his reception what he thought they should be and he complained to the Resident who did not help matters by intervening with the Durbar on behalf of 'one Major Everest, engaged in measuring'. When Everest complained, the Resident explained that he had not been able to translate Everest's titles into Persian. No doubt there must have been many frustrations as when, for example, arrangements for observing lights at night went wrong, and Everest's patience with his staff often wore thin. He poured out his irritation in streams of angry letters which, however, do not seem to have affected his staff's loyalty to him. "It seems to me that you will not abide by my orders, but pell-mell, heltershelter, four or fair - away to dam- nation and destruction the only means we have of doing our work. You seem to me to be stark - staring - mad."
All these troubles were aggravated by ill-health. "I was comfined to my bed from May to end of October, 1835, with little intermission, during which I was once bled to fainting, had up- wards of 1,000 leeches, 30 to 40 cupping glasses, 3 or 4 blisters..... besides daily doses of nauseous medicine . . . all of which produced such a degree of debility as to make it of small apparent movement whether I lived or died."
The observation towers were now ready and in October Everest, assisted by Andrew Waugh set off to observe the triangles down to Sironj. He also established an astronomical base at Kaliana near Muzaffarnagar and about sixty miles south of the base line in order to avoid being affected by the attraction of the Himalaya. When the length of the base line at Sironj as calculated from the triangles brought down from Dehra Dun was compared with the actual measurement on the ground, there was found to be a different of three and a half feet. The base line at Sironj had been measured in 1824 with chains. Everest sent Waugh at the end of 1837 to take the measurement with the compensation bars that he had brought back with him. Everest was then able to report that 'the computed base of Sironj brought clown from that of Dehra Dun differed from the actual measurement thus completed 6.365 inches, which considering that the Sironj and Dehra Dun bases are separated by 450 miles and by 86 principal triangles ... is as gratifying proof of the accuracy of the series ... as could be desired."
This was really the climax of Everest's work though he was still to spend two field seasons making comparative astronomical observations at Kaliana, Kalianpur and Damargida, while Waugh remeasured the triangles between Sironj and Bidar and the base line at Bidar. Having more exact instruments than Lambton had been able to use Everest would have liked to re-survey the triangles south of Bidar, but the Directors would not sanction the expense. Feeling that he had completed his task Everest sent in his resignation and left Park House in 1843. In after years he recalled that that part of the Doon in which he had constructed the base line became a tea garden, called, in compliment to the Great Arc, Arcadia. "My station of Hathipaon, where my office stood, looks down on this lovely valley of Dehra, and it was a really beautiful and interesting sight to watch the cultivation growing as if by enchantment. When I left Hathipaon on 1st October 1843 the whole was a rich and glowing mass of fields and orchards - fortunately my base line had already been measured."
He travelled down to Calcutta by river in thirty five days instead of the usual two months. He was accompanied by Waugh by whom he was succeeded as Surveyor General. In 1839 he reported that 'age has begun to leave the usual indelible marks upon me' but once he was back in England he seems to have recovered his vigour. He soon became known as a bold rider to hounds in Leicestershire. In 1846 he married and became the father of two sons and a daughter. He was knighted in 1861 and died in 1866.