… and Everest retired …

Dec 2006 | Comments Off on … and Everest retired …

By 1840 Everest was beginning to think of retiring. He was reaching completion of the Great Arc which was his initial aim but after that he had no further plans that would keep him in India. The last link in the Arc was the remeasurement of the Bidar baseline which took place in December 1841. Measured under the supervision of Alexander Waugh, it was the longest of all the Indian baselines at 41 345 ft (= 7.8 miles). Measured with compensating bars it took from October 19th to December 4th to complete.

Obviously there was much office work for Everest to complete after all the field work for the arc was over and it was November 1842 when he submitted his resignation and he sailed from India on December 16th 1843.

Retirement for many people is a time looked forward to for rest and hobbies, but not so with George Everest. Within a few months of arriving back in England he was becoming active in many of the prestigious Societies in London including The Royal Geographical Society and The Royal Society. After a visit of some months in 1845 to the United States he was back working on his Report of the work on the Great Arc with all the results including his second set of parameters for the figure of the earth. Of course it was to be expected that the second set of results were noticeably different to the first if for no other reason than that there was an interval of some 17 years and considerably more information to hand. The comparison was thus:

1830 a = 20 922 931.80 ft, b = 20 853 374.58 ft (a-b)/a = 1:300.80

1847 20 920 902.48 20 853 642.00 1: 311.043

Of the two results, the first set was much more widely used than the second set.

At the same time he must have been seeing the society ladies of London because in late 1846, aged 56, he married Emma Wing who was only 23 years old, so young enough to be his daughter. They achieved 20 years together and had six children. Unfortunately only the eldest son had any family and they both died around the time of the First World War. So the direct Everest line died out in 1935. Many people claim descendancy from George Everest but they are all indirect through his only married brother Thomas Everest. This was a line that was to include, through marriage, George Boole of Boolean algebra fame.

The Wing family of George Everest’s wife was a well known family from Rutland, in Eastern England. One relative of the17th century was Vincent Wing who, in 1664, wrote a book on The Art of Surveying. Several members of the family became eminent in astronomy, law and the Army.

Whilst George Everest’s professional life in the Survey of India is well chronicled there is a severe lack of information about his private life not only for his time in India but more surprising, for his retirement period in England. The comment of his niece in a published writing of 1905 did not improve matters. She said “that circumstances into which I cannot now enter, led to the destruction of nearly all written memorials of his life..” Various hypotheses have been put forward over the years as to why this should have occurred but so far there is nothing to prove any one of them and it would be fruitless to try discussing them here. If any reader has documents of any sort relating to his personal life at any time I would be interested to hear from them. Did he in fact deposit any documents in an Archive somewhere as so many of his famous contemporaries did?

It was 1861 before he was awarded the honour that he had felt for so long that he deserved. He was awarded the C.B. in February 1861 and was knighted in March of the same year.

Almost until the time of his death on 1 December 1866 at the age of 76, Sir George was on the Council of the Royal Society and a Vice President of the Royal Geographical Society.

The lasting memorial to him is, of course, something in which he played no direct part – the naming of the mountain. At the time of the discovery of such a high peak in the 1850s exceptional efforts were made to find a local name for it. When all suggestions could be disproved for one reason or another, Andrew Waugh, the then Surveyor General and Superintendent of the GTS, decided that it should be named after “My illustrious predecessor”. Rather naturally since that time there has been extensive debate on the name but this is not the place to go into that. Suffice to say that Sir George never saw the peak and never named it after himself.

In summary he was obviously a hard task master, single minded in determining to see his task through, and with formidable knowledge not only geodesy but with the ability to invent and repair instruments, and to survive so much by way of the hazards of India at that time. The meridian arc together with his two sets of parameters will be a lasting memorial to his genius for many more years to come.

Much of what has appeared in these instalments on Sir George Everest’s life and work can be found in: Smith, J.R. 1999. Everest. The Man and the Mountain. Whittles, Scotland.


JR Smith

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