Public Works Department
Also includes Engineers generally.
The Public Works Department was a government department that was responsible for buildings, roads, irrigation and railways.
Public Works in India, such as the construction of roads, water tank, etc. was originally conducted by the military. This started with the Pioneers and then by the Public Works Department of the Town Major's List (Bengal & Bombay) or the Effective Supernumeraries (Madras). Much of the responsibility for public works was then passed over to a special section of the Indian Civil Service in the mid-19th century. Later, the military once more took responsibility for much of the public works.
Drawing attention of the Government to the unsatisfactory management and state of affairs in public works, the Court of Directors of the East India Company, in early 1850, instituted a Commission in each Presidency for investigation. The members of the Commission were unanimous on the inability of the Military Board in the management of public works. Lord Dalhousie founded the Public Works Department (PWD) through which roads, railways, bridges, irrigation and other public utility works were undertaken .
The Commission proposal, which was implemented in 1854, set out the following basic features : -
- The Control of PWD was removed from under the Military Board and placed under the Chief Engineers.
- The PWD came under the control of respective provincial Government
- Chief Engineers to be assisted by the Superintending Engineer & Executive Engineer.
The PWD was headed by the PWD Secretary to the Government of India – a Consultant Engineer and advisor to Viceroy and Council Deputy Secretaries were responsible for the each branch
In 1866-68 the PWD was divided into three branches namely:-
- Civil Branch - PWD (Roads, Building & Irrigation),
- Railway Branch - PWD (see seperate page) - which was disolved in 1905 on the creation of the Railway Board
- Military Works Branch - which detatched from the PWD and became the Military Works Service under the Indian Army in 1899.
Local Government had its PWD Secretary who was
Under him, Superintending Engineers were responsible for District, or a major project ie: a railway line.
Executive Engineers reported to the Superintending Engineers and were project managers for the single project. they would control:
- 2 or 3 Assistant Engineers,
- 5 or 6 European Overseer (NCO’s)
- 8/10 Native overseers and
- Office staff
- School of Military Engineering at Chatham, UK (1812) Colonial expansion resulted in a centralised establishment to teach civil engineering and architecture to officers destined for the colonies.
- The Royal Indian Engineering College at Cooper’s Hill, UK (1871) specifically trained Civil Engineers heading out to India to join the PWD.
- Thomason College, Roorkee. From around 1870 Assistant Engineers are drawn from civilian staff or the Royal Engineers, Artillery or line Officers were trained at Roorkee. New Engineering Officers to India spent a year at Roorkee serving with the Bengal Sappers and Miners, to acclimatise and become linguistically fluent.
Thomason College was a small training college, with a staff of five. It offered a two year Engineering Course for potential Assistant Engineers.
Graduates from Cooper’s Hill joined the imperial service, while those from Thomason College were destined for provincial service. Those specialising in Military Building including architecture would be based in a town, while those choosing the Irrigation, or the Railways would find themselves in a remote rural hinterland. Some students became members of the Survey Dept.
Those students with a particular interest in architecture were encouraged to specialise, as there was a great demand for architects.
At the time Indian Universities were formed (1860 onwards) they took inspiation from home, where Universities taught Engineering (full-time architectural education did not begin in England until 1892 at King’s College) so they copied the existing educational model.
English trained PWD engineers endorsed the training of Indian engineers at local colleges. Architectural critics (echoing the UK's Design Reform Movement suggested that engineers had insufficient design education - allowing them to copy European styles, but not innovate designs for Indian conditions. This was voiced in the 1868 Bombay Builder magazine - arguing that it was only in India that engineers were employed to design landmark buildings (Law Courts, Government buildings etc).
Arguably, Engineers adversely stagnated the training of Indian technicians, and this continued until Indian Universities, captivated with Modernism, offered Architecture Courses - in the run up to Independence. A result was several generations had not studied India’s rich architectural history. Accepting this the JJ School of Art Bombay looked forward, visioning the use of concrete a new material that would in time house India's masses.
As well as Thomason College, Roorkee housed:
- Headquarters for the Bengal Sappers and Royal Engineers in Bengal
- Quarter Master Course - seven month course
- Hugh Wilding, "M.I.C.E. in the branches: a family history work in progress" FIBIS Journal No 23 (Spring 2010), pages 28-38. M.I.C.E. stands for Member of the Institution of Civil Engineers. An account of researching a civil engineer in the Public Works Department. For details of how to access this article, see FIBIS Journals
- Hugh Wilding, "Building the Beas Bridge" FIBIS Journal No 24 (Autumn 2010), pages 50-53. For details of how to access this article, see FIBIS Journals.
- The following India Office Records held at the British Library may help researchers:
- PWD Civil Lists 1861-1940 IOR: V/13/195-226
- Once the whereabouts of your ancestor in a given year has been established, a useful next step is the IOR V/12 Service Histories.There are an alarming 434 volumes of Service Histories, and as well as whole sequences of volumes for the 3 Presidencies, there are more sequences for India, Assam, Bihar & Orissa, United Provinces, Punjab, North West Frontier, Central Provinces, Burma and Hyderabad! The earliest date from 1879 and the latest 1948, though dates for particular regions vary. The later you can get in your ancestor’s career the better, as the information appears to be cumulative.
- Records of Staff and Students of Cooper's Hill Engineering College 1871-1906 are held in series IOR/L/PWD/8 with those of students also on FIBIS database. "Engineering a career in India" 20 May 2014 British Library untold lives blog.
- The publication Indian Engineering is held by the British Library. For comments about this publication, refer the online editions, below. The British Library catalogue shows the following issues are held: UIN: BLL01013927488 "vol.3.no., etc (7 Jan.1888 - Jan.1952)". However, for the catalogue entry UIN: BLL01012090738 it is advised Deficient: vol.64, no.17 - vol.67, 1918-20.
- The publication Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland is held by the British Library, UIN: BLL01009537566 . Published by ICE Publishing 2002-2014, currently (August 2020) in three volumes: Volume 1: 1500-1830. Volume 2: 1830–1890. Volume 3: 1890–1920. Limited sample pages: Vol.1, Vol.2, Vol.3. Sample page, Volume 3 with entry for Harold Edward Byrne, Federated Malay States. For more sample pages, see Individuals below.
- From c June 2013 the following records have been availble on the pay site Ancestry.com
- UK, Civil Engineer Records, 1820-1930 source UK: Institution of Civil Engineers.
- UK, Civil Engineer Photographs, 1829-1923 source UK: Institution of Civil Engineers.
- UK, Mechanical Engineer Records, 1870-1930 source UK: Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Update: date range is now 1847-1938, (noted at 2020/08/14).
- ICE Library Institution of Civil Engineers, London. Includes an Archive service. Guide to the ICE Archives 2010. Previously the ICE Virtual Library could be searched for an obituary of an ICE member, which often gives details of a person's work history, but it is unclear if this facility is now only available to ICE members.
- Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History. The website advises “Grace's Guide is the leading source of historical information on industry and manufacturing in the UK”. Includes Biographies of selected Engineers.
- See also L/F/10 Records of Service 1702-1928
- Incidents and Anecdotes in the Life of Lieut.-General Sprot Volume 1 1906 Archive.org. The author spent 12 years in India, from 1849, page 13, with the British Army 83rd Regiment of Foot but much of this time was attached to the Public Works Department, Bombay Presidency.
- Memoir of General Sir William Erskine Baker, K.C.B., Royal Engineers (Bengal) 1882. Born 1808, he arrived in India in 1828 and worked on the canals of Upper India where he became involved with fossil discoveries. Papers about these were written in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He worked mainly with Canals and latterly the Railways, and in 1855 became the first Secretary of the Public Works Department. He left India in 1857 and in 1858 became Military Secretary at the India Office. FamilySearch Digital Library. You need to sign in to FS to view the book.
- Lieutenant John C Harris of the Bengal Engineers was involved in flood mitigation work following a major flood at Cuttack in 1855. See Cuttack for details.
- Frederick Lewis Dibblee. Railway engineer. Worked in India 1864-1888
- Life of Lieut.-General the Hon. Sir Andrew Clarke, Colonel-Commandant of Royal Engineers edited by Col. RH Vetch 1905 Archive.org. "Member of Council of the Viceroy of India 1875-1880" page 193-221. He was head of the Indian Public Works Administration.
- Village, Town, and Jungle life in India by A.C. Newcombe 1905 Archive.org He was in India 1874-1902 as a Civil Engineer in the Public Works Department
- Tom Salkield , was Engineer to the Municipality of Delhi 1905-1922. He was awarded the Kaiser-i-Hind decoration for public service in India .He was also in the Punjab Volunteer Rifles for 16 years. There are further details in his obituary ICE Proceedings Volume 16, Issue 3, 01 July 1960 , pages 348 –349.  Details of Tom Salkield Delhi Photograph Album 1905-1916 Janus (Archives in Cambridge)
- "East African Campaign 1914 – 1918: Faridkot Sappers & Miners" by Richard Sneyd html version, pdf gweaa.com. Robert (Robin) Thomas Stuart Sneyd was working as a civil engineer in Madras Presidency when he joined the Indian Army Reserve of Officers in March 1915 and joined the Faridkots at Voi in British East Africa in October 1915 as a Lieutenant.
- Charles Spedding, Engineer, of the road making contacting company Spedding & Co, making the road from Gilgit to Kashmir c 1891, and W.P. Appleford, an engineer employee - refer Punjab Rifles
- Colonel Frederick Charles Temple, C.I.E., C.B.E., V.D., 1879-1957 Obituary ICE Virtual Library. He came to India c 1905 and served in various capacities with the Military Works Services and with the Public Works Department. In 1919 he was appointed Chief Town Engineer and later Administrator, for the Tata Iron and Steel Co., being responsible for the design and building of the town of Jamshedpur. Later, he became Relief Engineer and Supply Officer to the Government of Bihar and Orissa after the January 1934 earthquake and was responsible for the reconstruction of the towns, roads and bridges destroyed.
- Sample pages from Biographical Dictionary of Civil Engineers in Great Britain and Ireland: Volume 3: 1890–1920, published 2014 by ICE Publishing. icevirtuallibrary.com
- John Edwin Dallas 1855-1938 Indian PWD, Railway Branch c late 1870s Bombay etc, Assam, Burma. Retired 1910.
- Sir Francis Langford O’Callaghan (1839-1909). Indian PWD, Railways 1862-1894, including north-west frontier.
- Brigadier-General Sir William Danvers Waghorn (1867-1936). Commissioned as a Royal Engineer 1887, joined the Public Works Department, Railways. Served in the Boer War as Deputy Assistant Director of Railways, and the Western Front, WW1 as Chief Engineer of XVII Corps. Retired 1924 India.
- Developments in Public Works, British India from History of India, Indianetzone
- "How our British rulers 'legalised' bribery" by M B Lal September 11, 2011. The Hindu.com, now an archived webpage.
- Heritage tag for 110-yr-old power project by Majid Jahangir. The second oldest power project, the Mohura [Mohra] Power House located in the Uri area of north Kashmir’s Baramulla district, was commissioned in 1902. This article also mentions the first power house set up in 1901 by the Maharaja of Mysore. The Tribune Saturday, September 1, 2012, Chandigarh, now an archived webpage. The Mohura Power House was situated midway between Uri and Baramulla.
- The Public Works Department of Burma 1910 – 1947 A Project by Vivian Rodrigues. Includes transcriptions from the book History of Services of Gazetted and other Officers serving under the Government of Burma July 1931 Vol I Part II . This Volume is titled Officers of Public Works Department, and is available online, refer below. The Anglo –Burmese Library. Retrieved 11 September 2014
Historical books online
- Also see Corps of Royal Engineers-Historical books online
- Also see Individuals, above
- Reports Correspondence and Original Papers on Various Professional Subjects Connected with the Duties of the Corps of Engineers Madras Presidency Volume 1 1839 by Captain J. T. Smith, F. R. S. Google Books
- The theory and practice in the construction of suspension bridges, and the origin of the "resultant tension" principle, having reference to the project for bridging the Hooghly. A lecture delivered at the Town Hall 27th October, 1853 by Lieut. Col. H. Goodwyn, Bengal Engineers. 1854 Google Books
- Selections from the Records of the Government of India (Public Works Department). No. XIII: Progress Reports of the Public Works Department, for the Year 1854-55 (Google Books)
- "Public Works in the Bengal Presidency" by Major General George Borlase Tremenheere, of the Bengal Engineers from Minutes of Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers (Great Britain) 1858 page 483 (Google Books). He also gave evidence in 1858 to a House Of Commons Select Committe on Colonisation and Settlement in India, see Parliamentary Papers 1858 (Google Books).
- Engineer's Journal and Railway, Public Works and Mining Gazette of India and the Colonies (Volume I title: Engineer's Journal and Railway and Public Works Chronicle of India and the Colonies) Google Books Volume 1 Published Calcutta 1858 Contents; Volume II 1859 Contents; Volume IV 1861 Contents
- The Bombay Builder: an illustrated journal of engineering architecture, science & art Volume 1 1865 Google Books
- Memorandum on the Employment of the Corps of Royal Engineers in India by Major G Chesney R E 1868 Google Books
- Index Scholasticus: Sons and daughters. A guide to parents in the choice of educational institutions, preparatory to professional or other occupation of their children by R. Kemp Philp 1872 Archive.org includes
- Indian Engineering (Archive.org). This Calcutta publication, "An Illustrated Weekly Journal" appears to covers all aspects of engineering- railways, buildings, bridges etc. It also has sections where it mentions people, their jobs, their deaths, promotions etc.
- Professional papers on Indian engineering
- Volume 1 1863-64, Volume 2 1865, Volume 3 1866, Volume 4 1867, Volume 5 1868, Volume 6 1869, Volume 7 1870 Google Books.
- Second Series Volume 1, 1872 Archive.org. Public Library of India Collection. Second Series Volume 2, 1873-(1873 Google Books), Second Series Volume 5, 1876, Second Series Volume 7, 1878, Second Series Volume 8, 1879 Archive.org
- Volume 9, 1880 is available to download as a pdf from Rare Books, sanipanhwar.com (scroll down to letter P)
- India List & India Office List 1905 Your railway ancestor may be here.
- India and Indian Engineering by J G Medley 1873 ex Principal of Tomason College, Rorkee. Good description of the life and work of engineers in India. Archive.org
- Indian Civil Engineering College, Coopers Hill Calendar 1873-74 Prospectus for 1873 with details of the course, Indian Public Works Department etc. Google Books
- Sanitary Engineering in India: for the use of Municipalities and Engineers by John Wallace, C E, Bombay 1893 Archive.org
- Ways and works in India being an account of the public works in that country from the earliest times up to the present day by G. W. Macgeorge 1894 Archive.org
- The Engineering Works Of The Godavari Delta: A Descriptive and Historical Account by George Turner Walch, Chief Engineer for Irrigation, Madras (Retired). 1896. Compiled for the Madras Government. Volume I, with Map of the Godarari Delta: Left side and Map: Right side, Volume II Archive.org
- The Engineering Works Of The Kistna Delta: A Descriptive and Historical Account by George Turner Walch, Chief Engineer for Irrigation, Madras (Retired). 1899. Compiled for the Madras Government. Volume I with Map of the Kistna River Basin, now known as the Krishna River. Volume II Archive.org
- Electricity in India , being a history of the Tata Hydro- Electric Project with notes on the Mill Industry in Bombay, edited by SM Rutnagur 1912 Archive.org. Contains a List of Engineers
- Military Works Handbook. Third Edition 1900, Fourth Edition 1908, Fifth Edition 1914 (Reprint 1918) 1919. Archive.org, mirror from Digital Library of India.
- Indian Engineering by William Lumisden Strange 1923. Full title: Indian engineering, relating to irrigation, water supply of towns, roads and buildings. Archive.org, Public Library of India Collection.
- Mahatma Gandhi Central Library Roorkee with a link to the Bhagirathi Archival Collection, which has books and documents relating to Roorkee and Engineering which may be downloaded as pdfs. Try the Search term Roorkee or Rourkee.
- Roorkee Treatise On Civil Engineering Section IX: Railways revised by W R Horn, Assistant Secretary, Railway Board 7th Edition 1929 Archive.org
- Proceedings of the Punjab Engineering Congress from 1913 are available on the website of Pakistan Engineering Congress which was established in 1912 as the Punjab Engineering Congress, located under Publications/Proceedings.
- History of Services of Gazetted and other Officers serving under the Government of Burma July 1931 Vol I Part II . The title page also states Officers of Public Works Department. Archive.org, Public Library of India Collection. For transcriptions from this book, refer above.