Memoir of William Ellis Metford (2)

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It became now an object to Mr. Metford, who had recently married a daughter of his father's old college friend Dr. Wallis, of Bristol, to obtain a remunerative appointment; and, largely through the good offices of Mr. T. E. Blackwell, backed by the recommendation of Mr. Brunel, he was offered, and accepted, a very important appointment on the East Indian Railway, under the present Sir Alexander Rendel. Early in March, 1857, he and his wife left England for India, arriving at Calcutta in April, and at Monghyr, on the Ganges, on May 18th. Just at this time the Mutiny was breaking out, and the house - about three miles from Monghyr - in which they first established themselves, was very soon obviously unsafe. They therefore moved into the town early in June, but found the situation in Monghyr an anxious one. The Railway Company sent orders for Mr. Metford to return with his staff to Calcutta; the East India Company's civil officers, on the other hand, being at their wits' end for men, pressed him to stay. Seeing the necessity of supporting the Government he remained, and persuaded nearly all his staff to do the same. His position as chief of the railway staff - but even more his courage and coolness, and power of organising - laid upon him with the help of his comrades the burden of keeping if it should be possible, a city of 50,000 or 60,000 inhabitants, imbued with every element of disaffection, and containing only some 70 or 80 Europeans all told, in quietness until it could be occupied by military force. Of the magnitude of this task with such means as were at his disposal, as well as of the difficulties added by the incompetence - or worse - of some of the few Europeans on whom he had to depend to help him, no better idea can be given than is conveyed in some extracts from a journal kept by his young wife in that terrible time.

Mrs. Metford's journal runs as follows:-
"June 11. - William making bullets all day. Thirty Sowars marched in - Mr. _____ very cleverly putting them into the unoccupied part of the gaol, so that they could combine with the prisoners. June 13. - Eight or ten gentlemen came to discuss affairs. News that some of the same regiment that we have to defend (?) us have just murdered their officers at a neighbouring station. It was decided to send supplies to the fortified house, and the women and children. Patrols decided on. Our party keep a look-out on the gate near us, and others at the four others, and communicate with each other continually, besides a strong guard at Dr. McCrae's (the fortified house). June 17. - William out continually; he is getting quite the head of the military arrangements here. It is well known that shells and murderous inventions are being made in abundance by 'Metford Sahib,' and there is a pretty strong feeling of respect for this corner of the fort. Mr. _____ dare not give any orders, so the Sahibs take it on themselves. William very savage at the proposal by Mr. R____ that everyone should take to the boats and lie off shore ready to fly; I am ashamed to say this Mr. R____ has a tolerably large party. June 16. - A report came this morning through the servants that the people in the Bazaar said, 'All the Sahibs had run away to the river, and that they were coming to loot their houses.'. . ."
The weary defence dragged on for six more weeks, and on July 26 Mrs. Metford writes: "William worried to death with his own and everybody else's business. You would, think he was the head of the station to see how every one comes to him for everything and looks to him for guidance." Then came a departure of some of the Europeans by boat. They were urged to join them. But Mr. Metford felt that if he left, his staff would go too, and that there would be many left defenceless to almost certain violence. Mrs. Metford refused to leave her husband. Her journal says:-
"There is only one lady left here besides myself. . . . Kept my boots on in case one might have to make a rush for Mr. Hellyer's boat. He is kindly staying at Monghyr, as he does not like to leave us entirely without refuge, in case of a visit from the Sowars. Mr. T____ and William intend to make a regular fortification, provided thirty men can be made to sign a paper that they will, in case of necessity, fight and defend themselves and families; thus, instead of flying, this is now being arranged by William, who is better, but still very unwell. Mr. _____ looks anxious and distracted: the last steamer would not spare us any troops. . . . William came home about 12; I was quite shocked at his appearance; he said he had a continual pain across his forehead."
Early in August English soldiers arrived at Monghyr, and Mr. Hellyer insisted that Mr. and Mrs. Metford should accompany him down the river to Bhagulpore, Mr. Metford being now completely broken down by his exertions. His illness was (says Mrs. Metford) "brought on by his hard work, mental and physical, for he kept watch for seven weeks nightly, two hours at a time, sometimes four, and the night after that four hours' watch was up the whole night; and this, together with the work his own energy brought on him in the station; for people soon began to see he was the only one who could and would do anything, and came to him about every trifle. Consequently he suffered severely for it. I saw how it was all tending, but all I could get from him was, 'If I don't do it, no one will, and we may all lose our lives in consequence.' And the entire arrangement of the night guards was in his hands; and if you knew the selfishness, drunkenness, and unwillingness he had to contend with daily, you would not be surprised at the result."

Five months were spent at Bhagulpore, and early in January, 1858, Mr. and Mrs. Metford returned to Monghyr, hoping that he would be able to resume his work; but after six weeks it was evident that his health would not allow this, and he returned to England in the spring of that year, suffering from chronic inflammation of the membrane lining the brain, and was obliged to relinquish his profession, and to live upon his private means. His quiet heroism was hardly known and met with no reward; there had been no outbreak and consequently no sensation. And from that time his work - for he could not be altogether idle - was often done under the weight of continual depression and headache. Yet, even so, he made for himself a reputation such as most men may envy, as a "path-finder" and an authority in matters connected with small arms, and kept up an active interest in many other fields of investigation.

Attracted by the precious stones which he saw while in the East, be studied their properties after his return home, and was by no means satisfied with the usual method of cutting them. He devised with little difficulty an ingenious machine by which he could form the facets with great precision, and quickly produced the most admirable results. At the Exhibition of 1862 he showed a case of gems of his own cutting, which were much appreciated by those who know good cutting from indifferent. Yet so strong is the habit of a trade, and so great is general ignorance on such subjects as this, that the invention had no chance whatever to become a success, or even to be tried commercially, although anyone of ordinary intelligence could very quickly learn its use. But the stones cut by its means remain, a monument of well applied commonsense.

Among other subjects in which Mr. Metford took an interest was astronomy, but he did not find it possible to employ very constantly the 4 1/3 in. equatorial telescope, which he had mounted for the purpose. He contributed, however, to the Astronomical Register of May, 1876, a description of a method of illuminating the time and declination circles, watch face, micrometer wires, and finder of the telescope by means of Geissler tubes - an original method, if not a new one at that time. Kite-flying was, an amusement in which he excelled and indeed, there was no part of the field of mechanics in which he did not take a keen interest.

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