George Turnbull (civil engineer)
George Turnbull was the Chief Engineer responsible for construction from 1851 to 1863 of the first railway line from Calcutta (the then commercial capital of India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...

): the 541-mile line to Benares en route to Delhi
Delhi , officially National Capital Territory of Delhi , is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest by population in India, next to Mumbai. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16,753,265 inhabitants in the Territory at the 2011 Census...

. He was acclaimed in the Indian Government's Official Gazette of 7 February 1863 paragraph 5 as the "First railway engineer of India".

Early life

George Turnbull was born in Luncarty
Luncarty is a village in Perth and Kinross, Scotland, approximately four miles north of Perth. It lies between the A9 to the west, and the River Tay to the east.-History:...

, 5 miles north of Perth, Scotland
Perth, Scotland
Perth is a town and former city and royal burgh in central Scotland. Located on the banks of the River Tay, it is the administrative centre of Perth and Kinross council area and the historic county town of Perthshire...

 in 1809, the 11th child of William Turnbull and Mary Sandeman — they moved in 1814 to nearby Huntingtower
Huntingtower and Ruthvenfield
Huntingtower and Ruthvenfield, a village of Perthshire, Scotland, on the Almond, 3 miles northwest of Perth, and within 1 mile of Almondbank station on the Caledonian railway. Pop. 459....

 village, where his father developed a bleachfield
A bleachfield or croft was an open area of land used for spreading cloth and fabrics on the ground to be bleached by the action of the sun and water...

. His two grandfathers Hector Turnbull
Hector Turnbull (bleachfield developer)
Hector Turnbull was a leading Perthshire linen bleachfield developer and operator....

 and William Sandeman
William Sandeman
William Sandeman was a leading Perthshire linen and later cotton manufacturer. For instance in 1782 alone, Perthshire produced 1.7 million yards of linen worth £81,000...

 had jointly developed linen
Linen is a textile made from the fibers of the flax plant, Linum usitatissimum. Linen is labor-intensive to manufacture, but when it is made into garments, it is valued for its exceptional coolness and freshness in hot weather....

 bleachfields in Luncarty. Initially largely schooled by his older sister Mary, George in 1819 from age 10 rode a pony to Perth Grammar School
Perth Grammar School
Perth Grammar School is a secondary school in Perth, Scotland. It is located in the Muirton district of Perth at the junction of Bute Drive and Gowans Terrace...

. In 1824 he attended Edinburgh University learning Latin, Greek and mathematics.

Career in England

In 1828 he sailed from Dundee
Dundee is the fourth-largest city in Scotland and the 39th most populous settlement in the United Kingdom. It lies within the eastern central Lowlands on the north bank of the Firth of Tay, which feeds into the North Sea...

 to London
London is the capital city of :England and the :United Kingdom, the largest metropolitan area in the United Kingdom, and the largest urban zone in the European Union by most measures. Located on the River Thames, London has been a major settlement for two millennia, its history going back to its...

 to train under the famous civil engineer Thomas Telford
Thomas Telford
Thomas Telford FRS, FRSE was a Scottish civil engineer, architect and stonemason, and a noted road, bridge and canal builder.-Early career:...

 building St Katharine Docks
St Katharine Docks
St Katharine Docks, in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, were one of the commercial docks serving London, on the north side of the river Thames just east of the Tower of London and Tower Bridge...

. In 1830 he became Telford’s draughtsman and clerk, living in Telford’s house in 24 Abingdon Street. He became an Associate of the Institution of Civil Engineers
Institution of Civil Engineers
Founded on 2 January 1818, the Institution of Civil Engineers is an independent professional association, based in central London, representing civil engineering. Like its early membership, the majority of its current members are British engineers, but it also has members in more than 150...

 at age 19 and eventually the oldest member.

In 1832, he helped survey the options for supplying water to London both from the north and south, gauging the north-side rivers Colne
River Colne, Essex
The River Colne is a small river that runs through Colchester, England. It is not a tributary of any other river, instead having an estuary that joins the sea near Brightlingsea.-Source:...

, Gade
River Gade
The River Gade is a river running almost entirely though Hertfordshire. It rises from a spring in the chalk of the Chiltern Hills at Dagnall, Buckinghamshire and flows through Hemel Hempstead, Kings Langley and Croxley Green to Rickmansworth where it joins the The River Colne...

, Lea, Odess and Ver
River Ver
The Ver is a river in Hertfordshire, England. The river begins in the grounds of Markyate Cell, and flows south for 12 miles alongside Watling Street through Flamstead, Redbourn, St Albans and Park Street, and joins the River Colne at Bricket Wood....

; and on the south side the River Wandle
River Wandle
The River Wandle is a river in south-east England. The names of the river and of Wandsworth are thought to have derived from the Old English "Wendlesworth" meaning "Wendle's Settlement". The river runs through southwest London and is about long...

. He was involved in 1833 with experiments for fast passenger canal boats on the Paddington Canal with Cubitt
William Cubitt
Sir William Cubitt was an eminent English civil engineer and millwright. Born in Norfolk, England, he was employed in many of the great engineering undertakings of his time. He invented a type of windmill sail and the prison treadwheel, and was employed as chief engineer, at Ransomes of Ipswich,...

, Dundas
Dundas may refer to:Places* Dundas, Greenland* Dundas, Minnesota, United States* Dundas, New Brunswick, Canada* Dundas, New South Wales, Australia* Dundas, Ontario, Canada* Dundas, Tasmania, Australia* Dundas, Wisconsin, United States...

 and other prominent engineers.

In 1834 Telford died: Turnbull (Telford’s clerk) was involved with his burial in Westminster Abbey
Westminster Abbey
The Collegiate Church of St Peter at Westminster, popularly known as Westminster Abbey, is a large, mainly Gothic church, in the City of Westminster, London, United Kingdom, located just to the west of the Palace of Westminster. It is the traditional place of coronation and burial site for English,...

. Turnbull was promoted to be resident engineer until 1840 building the Bute ship canal and docks in Cardiff
Cardiff is the capital, largest city and most populous county of Wales and the 10th largest city in the United Kingdom. The city is Wales' chief commercial centre, the base for most national cultural and sporting institutions, the Welsh national media, and the seat of the National Assembly for...

, reporting to William Cubitt
William Cubitt
Sir William Cubitt was an eminent English civil engineer and millwright. Born in Norfolk, England, he was employed in many of the great engineering undertakings of his time. He invented a type of windmill sail and the prison treadwheel, and was employed as chief engineer, at Ransomes of Ipswich,...

 and meeting Lord Bute
John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute
John Crichton-Stuart, 2nd Marquess of Bute, KT, FRS was the son of John, Lord Mount Stuart and the former Lady Elizabeth McDouall-Crichton...

 regularly. In August 1836 George was in Bristol to see the 1½-inch bar drawn across the river at Clifton
Clifton, Bristol
Clifton is a suburb of the City of Bristol in England, and the name of both one of the city's thirty-five council wards. The Clifton ward also includes the areas of Cliftonwood and Hotwells...

 for the future suspension bridge
Clifton Suspension Bridge
Brunel died in 1859, without seeing the completion of the bridge. Brunel's colleagues in the Institution of Civil Engineers felt that completion of the Bridge would be a fitting memorial, and started to raise new funds...

. Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel
Isambard Kingdom Brunel, FRS , was a British civil engineer who built bridges and dockyards including the construction of the first major British railway, the Great Western Railway; a series of steamships, including the first propeller-driven transatlantic steamship; and numerous important bridges...

 visited him at the Cardiff works in 1839. Amongst other journeys, his January 1837 diary records travel from Cardiff to his Perthshire
Perthshire, officially the County of Perth , is a registration county in central Scotland. It extends from Strathmore in the east, to the Pass of Drumochter in the north, Rannoch Moor and Ben Lui in the west, and Aberfoyle in the south...

 home: the mail coach to Bristol (with no Severn Bridge
Severn Bridge
The Severn Bridge is a suspension bridge spanning the River Severn between South Gloucestershire, just north of Bristol, England, and Monmouthshire in South Wales, via Beachley, a peninsula between the River Severn and River Wye estuary. It is the original Severn road crossing between England and...

 or tunnel
Severn Tunnel
The Severn Tunnel is a railway tunnel in the United Kingdom, linking South Gloucestershire in the west of England to Monmouthshire in south Wales under the estuary of the River Severn....

 of course); all the next day Bristol to London “on Cooper’s coach, sitting on the box seat outside with the coachman” (there was snow 10 feet deep near Marlborough); the steamer Perth for the 41-hour journey to Dundee; and then overland to Huntingtower, near Perth.

From 1840 to 1842 Turnbull built Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough is a large town situated on the south bank of the River Tees in north east England, that sits within the ceremonial county of North Yorkshire...

 Dock which was later bought by the Stockton and Darlington Railway
Stockton and Darlington Railway
The Stockton and Darlington Railway , which opened in 1825, was the world's first publicly subscribed passenger railway. It was 26 miles long, and was built in north-eastern England between Witton Park and Stockton-on-Tees via Darlington, and connected to several collieries near Shildon...

. In 1841 he travelled through deep snow to Stirling
Stirling is a city and former ancient burgh in Scotland, and is at the heart of the wider Stirling council area. The city is clustered around a large fortress and medieval old-town beside the River Forth...

 to agree a contract to supply sleepers
Railroad tie
A railroad tie/railway tie , or railway sleeper is a rectangular item used to support the rails in railroad tracks...

 for the railway. In 1843 he was responsible for the railway line from the Shakespeare Tunnel along the shore to Dover station
Dover station
-United Kingdom:*Dover Priory railway station in Dover in Kent.See also: List of railway stations in Dover-United States:*Dover in Dover, New Hampshire.*Dover Plains in Dover Plains, New York....

 (he entertained the Duke of Wellington
Duke of Wellington
The Dukedom of Wellington, derived from Wellington in Somerset, is a hereditary title in the senior rank of the Peerage of the United Kingdom. The first holder of the title was Arthur Wellesley, 1st Duke of Wellington , the noted Irish-born career British Army officer and statesman, and...

, “pale, old and shaky on his legs”, who visited the works) and built a pier and landing stages at Folkestone
Folkestone is the principal town in the Shepway District of Kent, England. Its original site was in a valley in the sea cliffs and it developed through fishing and its closeness to the Continent as a landing place and trading port. The coming of the railways, the building of a ferry port, and its...

In 1845 he was the engineer in Birkenhead
Birkenhead is a town within the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral in Merseyside, England. It is on the Wirral Peninsula, along the west bank of the River Mersey, opposite the city of Liverpool...

 for the complex Seacombe
Seacombe is a district of the town of Wallasey, on the Wirral Peninsula, England. Administratively, Seacombe is a ward of the Metropolitan Borough of Wirral. Before local government reorganisation in 1 April 1974, it was part of the County Borough of Wallasey, within the geographical county of...

 Wall sea defence that helped drain the marshes behind the town of Seacombe.

In 1846-9 he was the resident engineer for the Great Northern Railway
Great Northern Railway (Great Britain)
The Great Northern Railway was a British railway company established by the Great Northern Railway Act of 1846. On 1 January 1923 the company lost its identity as a constituent of the newly formed London and North Eastern Railway....

 making cuttings and the South Mimms, Copenhagen and three other tunnels for the first 20 miles out of London, and making the first plans for Kings Cross station.

East Indian Railway

In 1850 he was appointed Chief Engineer of the East Indian Railway building 1851-1862 the first railway 541 miles from Calcutta to Benares (on the route to Delhi
Delhi , officially National Capital Territory of Delhi , is the largest metropolis by area and the second-largest by population in India, next to Mumbai. It is the eighth largest metropolis in the world by population with 16,753,265 inhabitants in the Territory at the 2011 Census...

), 601 miles including branches. He designed Calcutta’s terminus at Howrah
Howrah station
Howrah Station is one of the four intercity train stations serving Howrah and Kolkata, India; the others are Sealdah Station, Shalimar Station and Kolkata railway station in Kolkata. Howrah is situated on the West bank of the Hooghly River, linked to Kolkata by the magnificent Howrah Bridge which...

 which now has 23 platforms. The monsoon-ravaged Ganges tributaries such as the Sone River were particularly challenging to bridge: a major constraint for Turnbull was the lack of both quality clay and brick-building skills resulting in the change to importing much ironwork from England for the many bridges and other structures (all rails were imported from England as no Indian steel works existed). Another constraint was the difficulty of moving enormous volumes of materials from Calcutta up the Ganges on its primitive "country boats", particularly during the period of the Indian Mutiny when many boats were sunk and materials stolen. Cholera
Cholera is an infection of the small intestine that is caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The main symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea and vomiting. Transmission occurs primarily by drinking or eating water or food that has been contaminated by the diarrhea of an infected person or the feces...

 killed thousands.

Turnbull was offered a knighthood for his railway building in India, but declined it as he felt that he did not have sufficient money to live to the standard he felt was needed (he later regretted declining the knighthood, if only because it reduced his later earning power).

In February 1868, Turnbull was offered £2000 to settle the claim by contractors who had built part of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway
Great Indian Peninsular Railway
The Great Indian Peninsula Railway was a predecessor of the Indian Central Railway, whose headquarters was at the Boree Bunder in Bombay . The Great Indian Peninsula Railway was incorporated on August 1, 1849 by an act of the British Parliament. It had a share capital of 50,000 pounds...

. He travelled via Marseilles, Alexandria
Alexandria is the second-largest city of Egypt, with a population of 4.1 million, extending about along the coast of the Mediterranean Sea in the north central part of the country; it is also the largest city lying directly on the Mediterranean coast. It is Egypt's largest seaport, serving...

, train to Suez
Suez is a seaport city in north-eastern Egypt, located on the north coast of the Gulf of Suez , near the southern terminus of the Suez Canal, having the same boundaries as Suez governorate. It has three harbors, Adabya, Ain Sokhna and Port Tawfiq, and extensive port facilities...

, and on to Bombay. He and others had a private train for four days "getting down and inspecting every bridge and large culvert" and making copious notes for the 242 miles between Bhusawal
Bhusawal or Bhusaval is a city and a municipal council in Jalgaon district in the state of Maharashtra, India.-Geography:Bhusawal is located at . It has an average elevation of 209 metres ....

 and Nagpore.

Personal life

In 1845 he married Jane Pope in St. Margaret's, Westminster
St. Margaret's, Westminster
The Anglican church of St. Margaret, Westminster Abbey is situated in the grounds of Westminster Abbey on Parliament Square, and is the parish church of the House of Commons of the United Kingdom in London...

. She died 1850 in Calcutta. In 1855, after leave in England and on his way again to India, he married Fanny Thomas, the engineer William Cubitt
William Cubitt
Sir William Cubitt was an eminent English civil engineer and millwright. Born in Norfolk, England, he was employed in many of the great engineering undertakings of his time. He invented a type of windmill sail and the prison treadwheel, and was employed as chief engineer, at Ransomes of Ipswich,...

's niece (in Neuchâtel, Switzerland
Switzerland name of one of the Swiss cantons. ; ; ; or ), in its full name the Swiss Confederation , is a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, with Bern as the seat of the federal authorities. The country is situated in Western Europe,Or Central Europe depending on the definition....

 because of concern that UK marriage to his deceased wife’s half-sister might not be legal
Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907
The Deceased Wife's Sister's Marriage Act 1907 was an Act of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, allowing a man, if his wife had died, to marry her sister.Previously, it was forbidden for a man to marry the sister of his deceased wife...

 in England). They had five children.

The family retired to Cornwall Gardens in London and then in 1875 to Rosehill, Abbots Langley
Abbots Langley
Abbots Langley is a large village and civil parish in the English county of Hertfordshire. It is an old settlement and is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Economically the village is closely linked to Watford and was formerly part of the Watford Rural District...

, Hertfordshire
Hertfordshire is a ceremonial and non-metropolitan county in the East region of England. The county town is Hertford.The county is one of the Home Counties and lies inland, bordered by Greater London , Buckinghamshire , Bedfordshire , Cambridgeshire and...

, England. He was the Vice Chairman of the Assam Tea Company — his son (Alexander) Duncan Turnbull worked for the company in Assam
Assam , also, rarely, Assam Valley and formerly the Assam Province , is a northeastern state of India and is one of the most culturally and geographically distinct regions of the country...

 and his granddaughter Doris was born there.
Applying his engineering skills, he was involved with the Abbots Langley water scheme in 1885. He later wrote the prospectus for the Abbots Langley Water Company and was much involved with it. In March 1877, he also took a lease on 24 Collingham Place in London. His wife Fanny died in 1903.
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