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): the
541-mile line to Benares en route to
He was acclaimed in the Indian Government's
of 7 February 1863 paragraph 5 as the
"First railway engineer of India"
Turnbull was born in Luncarty, 5 miles
north of Perth,
Scotland in 1809, the
11th child of William Turnbull and Mary Sandeman — they moved in
1814 to nearby Huntingtower village, where his father developed a bleachfield.
His two grandfathers
and William Sandeman
had jointly developed linen
Luncarty. Initially largely schooled by his older
sister Mary, George in 1819 from age 10 rode a pony to Perth Grammar
In 1824 he attended Edinburgh University
Greek and mathematics.
Thomas Telford's draughtsman: St Katharine Docks, London
In 1828 he
sailed from Dundee to London to train
under the famous civil engineer Thomas
Telford building St Katharine Docks.
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
at age 19 and eventually the oldest member.
Water supply for London; fast canal boats
he helped survey the options for supplying water to London both
from the north and south, gauging the north-side rivers Colne, Gade, Lea, Odess and Ver; and on the south side the River Wandle. He was involved in 1833 with experiments for
fast passenger canal
boats on the Paddington
Canal with Cubitt, Dundas and other prominent engineers.
Telford’s death; Bute docks in Cardiff; Clifton Suspension
Turnbull (Telford’s clerk) was involved with his burial in Westminster
Abbey. Turnbull was promoted to be resident engineer
until 1840 building the Bute ship
canal and docks in
to William Cubitt and meeting
regularly. In August 1836 George was in Bristol to see
the 1½-inch bar drawn across the river at Clifton for the
visited him at the Cardiff
works in 1839. Amongst other journeys, his January 1837
diary records travel from Cardiff to his Perthshire home: the mail coach to Bristol (with no Severn Bridge or tunnel 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
Middlesbrough dock; Dover railway; Folkestone pier
to 1842 Turnbull built Middlesbrough Dock which was later bought by the Stockton and Darlington
Railway. In 1841 he travelled through deep snow to
Stirling to agree a contract to supply sleepers for the railway. In 1843 he was
responsible for the railway line from the Shakespeare Tunnel along the shore to
Dover station (he entertained the
Duke of Wellington, “pale,
old and shaky on his legs”, who visited the works) and built a
pier and landing stages at Folkestone.
he was the engineer in Birkenhead for the complex Seacombe Wall sea defence that helped drain the marshes
behind the town of Seacombe.
Kings Cross station and five tunnels
In 1846-9 he was the resident engineer for the Great Northern
making cuttings and the South Mimms
and three other tunnels for the
first 20 miles out of London, and making the first plans for
East Indian Railway built by George
First train of the East Indian
East Indian Railway
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), 601 miles
including branches. He designed Calcutta’s terminus at
Howrah which now has 21 platforms.
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
when many boats were
sunk and materials stolen. Cholera
George 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
. He travelled via Marseilles, Alexandria, train to Suez, and on to
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 and Nagpore.
he married Jane Pope in St. Margaret's, Westminster.
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’s niece
(in Neuchatel, Switzerland because of concern that UK marriage to his deceased
wife’s half-sister might not be legal in
They had five children.
family retired to Cornwall Gardens in London and then in 1875 to
Langley, Hertfordshire, England. He was the Vice Chairman of the Assam Tea Company — his son (Alexander)
Duncan Turnbull worked for the company in Assam 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
Image:G Turnbull - boxed ruler 1853.jpg|1853 24-inch brass ruler.
Teak box ink-inscribed: "Presented to George Turnbull Esq Chief
Engineer of the East Indian Railway Co as a small and deep feeling
on the part of Robert Berkeley Bailen[?] Claxton for the most
extraordinary kindness towards him and his dear wife Mary Susan
Elizabeth Claxton. July 28th 1853. May you ever
The ruler is engraved: "Troughton & Simms, London"
and "R B B Claxton"
.Image:G Turnbull - box of scales
1857.jpg|Boxed set of 1850s ivory engraved engineer's scales
. The leather case has
the black ink inscription: "This Box of Scales was presented to
me by Mr Metford at Monghyr in 1856 or 1857. G.
The triangular scales are engraved: "METFORD'S
ENGINEERS POCKET SCALES"
and "THOs D KING
plus leather and wood stick purchased in 1850s India by George
Turnbull (with two descendents 150 years later!)Image:George
Turnbull 1868.jpg|George Turnbull
Turnbull in the 1880s in her garden at Rosehill, Abbots Langley
with carvings bought by her husband George in the 1850s in
IndiaImage:Tiffin the gardener at Rosehill, Abbots Langley, late
1800s.jpg|Tiffin the gardener at Rosehill late 1800sImage:Rosehill,
Abbots Langley 1907.jpg|His family in 1909 at Rosehill