Charles Pasley (engineer)

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Major-General Hon. Charles Pasley, C.B., R.E., (14 November 1824 – 11 November 1890) was a British Army officer and Colonial Engineer, Commissioner of Public Works and politician in colonial Victoria.[1]

Early life[edit]

Pasley was the son of Lieutenant-General Sir Charles Pasley, K.C.B., and his second wife Martha Matilda née Roberts.[2] He was born at Brompton barracks[3] Chatham, Kent, England, and was educated at the King's School, Rochester, and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich from 1840.[2] He obtained a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 20 December 1843. He went through the usual course of professional instruction at the military school at Chatham, of which his father was the head, and proved himself so good a surveyor and mathematician that for some months he temporarily held the appointment of instructor in surveying and astronomy. After serving at several home stations he was promoted first lieutenant on 1 April 1846, and in June was sent to Canada. He was employed on the ordinary military duties of his corps until 1848, when he was appointed to assist in the survey of the extensive and scattered ordnance lands on the Rideau canal. The outdoor survey was done in the winter to enable the surveyors to chain over the frozen lakes, and to avoid the malaria and mosquitoes of the swamps.[3]

In 1849 he was sent to the Bermuda islands, and while there was mainly employed in superintending, on behalf of the colonial government, the work of deepening the channel into St. George's Harbour. In November 1850 he returned to England on account of ill-health. In February 1851 he was selected to join the staff of the Great Exhibition of that year.[3] He served at Bermuda in 1850.[1]

Career in Australia[edit]

Pasley arrived at Melbourne on 18 September 1853, having been appointed in the spring of that year Colonial Engineer to the colony of Victoria. He found himself at the head of a considerable department, to which that of Colonial Architect was very soon added, and subsequently that of Central Road Board. In 1854 he was member of a commission to make arrangements for an exhibition of colonial products at the Paris Exhibition in the following year.[1] In October 1854 he was nominated to a seat on the Victorian Legislative Council.[4] About this time the Ballarat riots broke out, and he offered his services to the Governor, Sir Charles Hotham, and was sent to the goldfields on a special mission. In 1855 the new constitution came into force in Victoria, and the first responsible ministry was formed by William Haines in November 1855, General Pasley taking the portfolio of Commissioner of Public Works. On 10 December he was appointed a member of the Executive Council, and a few months later was made by an Act of Council a joint trustee with Captain (later Lieut.-General Sir) Andrew Clarke, R.E., for the Melbourne and Mount Alexander Railway, purchased by Government. In 1856 Captain Pasley was elected to the first Victorian Legislative Assembly for South Bourke, and in March 1857 he resigned with the rest of the Ministry, but ultimately consented to remain as professional head of the Department of Public Works.[1]

The Houses of Parliament were amongst the public buildings erected under Pasley's direction, and some of the principal streets of Melbourne were laid out during his term of office. The last public building with which he was connected was the Melbourne Post Office, but this was not completed till after his return to England. Captain Pasley also took great interest in the Botanic Gardens and the Herbarium, which was built under his auspices. In 1860 he resigned his connection with the Public Works Department, with the intention of returning to England; but his interest in the welfare of the colony of Victoria and of the city of Melbourne was as keen as ever in after years.[1]

Before his departure from the colony, the New Zealand war broke out, and he immediately offered his services, which were accepted the same day, and he was appointed an extra member of Major-General (afterwards Sir) Thomas Pratt's staff. Three months later he was severely wounded by a bullet in the thigh, while in charge of the trenches, after laving out and constructing a parallel needed in the capture of the Kaihihi Pas. His wound proving serious, he became unfit for further duty, and returned to Melbourne invalided. For his services in New Zealand he was mentioned in despatches, and promoted to brevet-major, he having become captain soon after his arrival in Melbourne.[1] Pasley also received the New Zealand Medal.[3]

Later life[edit]

Pasley left for England in May 1861, in the steamship Great Britain. He left Melbourne amid popular demonstrations of regret. On arrival in England in August 1861 Pasley was appointed commanding royal engineer at Gravesend. In 1862 he read a paper before the Royal United Service Institution on the operations in New Zealand, to correct some misapprehensions on the subject which existed in the public mind with regard to his old general.[3]

In 1864 he was employed as Acting Agent-General for the colony of Victoria, a temporary appointment which he held for four years, with leave from the War Office, and afterwards from the Admiralty, to accommodate the colony until they could make a permanent appointment. In this capacity he superintended on behalf of the colony the equipment of the HMS Nelson, and the design, construction, armament and despatch of the HMVS Cerberus turret-ship. He again acted as Agent-General for Victoria from 1880 to 1882. From 1873 to 1882 he held the Imperial appointment of Director of Works of the Navy, in succession to Sir Andrew Clarke. Pasley became colonel in April 1876, and retiring from the army with the honorary rank of major-general in August 1881. General Pasley, who died at Chiswick, London, on 11 November 1890, married at Hampton, Middlesex, on 29 March 1864, Charlotte, eldest daughter of John Roberts, of Barzell, Sussex, who survived him.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Mennell, Philip (1892). "Wikisource link to Pasley, Major-General Hon. Charles". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource 
  2. ^ a b McNicoll, Ronald. "Pasley, Charles (1824–1890)". Australian Dictionary of Biography. Canberra: Australian National University. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
  3. ^ a b c d e  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain"Pasley, Charles (1824–1890)". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900. 
  4. ^ "Pasley, Charles". re-member: a database of all Victorian MPs since 1851. Parliament of Victoria. Retrieved 28 June 2013. 
Victorian Legislative Council
Preceded by
Robert Pohlman
Nominated member
16 October 1854 – March 1856
Original Council
Victorian Legislative Assembly
New district Member for South Bourke
November 1856 – July 1857
With: Patrick O'Brien
Succeeded by
Sidney Ricardo