On this day in 1866
Death of Thomas Fiott de Havilland
Thomas Fiott de Havilland (10 April 1775 to 23 February 1866), was an engineer and architect who built some of the most notable buildings in Madras. In later life he became a politician after returning to Guernsey.
He left Guernsey for Madras, via England, and arrived in August 1792. The following year, he joined the engineer corps. That assignment determined the course of the rest of his life.
De Havilland the traveller
Although India was his base, he went on expeditions to Ceylon and Egypt. On the latter, he was ordered to find a source of water for the British troops as they marched between Cairo and Suez and, having done so, rewarded with a trip home. He sailed back to Guernsey via Malta, but didn’t stay long before he returned to India. On the journey back, he was captured by the French, but soon freed and allowed to continue to Calcutta.
He was later court martialed for mutiny after being accused of passing a message between two Lieutenant-Colonels. Although he maintained his innocence, he saw that he would lose, so resigned and appealed to a higher authority. That authority, the Honourable Court of Directors, was more open to his plea, and returned him to service without punishment.
De Havilland the architect
While in India, he built the Scottish National Church at Madras, and the Madras Bulwark. The church cost around £20,000, which would be equivalent to £1.3m today, and featured a dome 51ft in diameter.
He was also particularly proud of the Madras Bulwark, a massive sea defence designed to protect the city from some of the most fierce waves in the world. He recorded in his autobiography that the Indian government described it as “the greatest… work ever executed by any individual under this presidency”.
He stayed in India for 30 years, and in the forces for another three, finally retiring aged 50 in April 1925. Two years later, he bought an estate on Guernsey and built Havilland Hall, which he let to the Lieutenant-Governor. He became the political representative for St Andrew’s parish.
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