Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Bateman-Champain, John Underwood
BATEMAN-CHAMPAIN, Sir JOHN UNDERWOOD (1835–1887), colonel, royal (late Bengal) engineers, son of Colonel Agnew Champain of the 9th foot (d. 1876), was born in Gloucester Place, London, on 22 July 1835. Educated at Cheltenham College and for a short time in fortification and military drawing at the Edinburgh Military Academy under Lieutenant (afterwards Colonel Sir) Henry Yule [q. v.], he passed through the military college of the East India Company at Addiscombe at the head of his term, receiving the Pollock medal. He obtained a commission as second lieutenant in the Bengal engineers on 11 June 1853. His further commissions were dated: lieutenant 13 July 1857, captain 1 Sept. 1863, major 5 July 1872, lieutenant-colonel 31 Dec. 1878, and colonel 31 Dec. 1882. He assumed the name of Bateman in addition to that of Champain in 1872 on succeeding to the estate of Halton Park, Lancashire.
After the usual course of professional instruction at Chatham he went to India in 1854. While acting as assistant principal of the Thomason college at Rurki in 1857 the Indian mutiny broke out, and he at once saw active service under Colonel (afterwards General Sir) Archdale Wilson [q. v.], was adjutant of sappers and miners at the actions at Ghazi-ud-din-Nagar on the Hindun river on 30 and 31 May, at Badli-ke-Serai under Major-general Bernard on 8 June, and at the capture of the ridge in front of Delhi. During the siege of Delhi Champain took his full share of general engineer work in addition to his duties as adjutant, and one of the siege batteries was named after him by order of the chief engineer in acknowledgment of his services. He was wounded by a grape shot on 13 Sept., but, although still on the sick list, volunteered for duty on 20 Sept., and was present at the capture of the palace of Delhi.
Champain commanded the head-quarters detachment of Bengal sappers during the march to Agra, at the capture of Fathpur Sikri, and in numerous minor expedtions. He commanded a mixed force of nearly two thousand men on the march from Agra to Fathgarh, where he joined the commander-in-chief in December 1857. He commanded the sappers during the march to Cawnpore and to the Alambagh, reverting to the adjutancy in March 1858, when he joined the force under Sir James Outram [q. v.] for the siege of Lucknow by Lord Clyde. During the siege he thrice acted as orderly officer to Sir Robert Napier, afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala [q. v.], by whom he was especially thanked for holding with Captain Medley and one hundred sappers for a whole night the advanced post of Shah Najif, which had been abandoned.
After the capture of Lucknow he erected some twenty fortified posts for outlying detachments. In April he was specially employed under Brigadier-general (afterwards Sir) John Douglas in the Ghazipur and Shahabad districts, was present in fourteen minor engagements, and was thanked in despatches for his services at the action of Balia. He joined in the pursuit of the mutineers, who, after incessant marching and fighting, were driven to the Kaimur Hills and finally defeated and broken up at Salia Dahar on 24 Nov. 1858. He received the medal and clasps.
When the mutiny was finally suppressed Champain became executive engineer in the public works department at Goudah, and afterwards at Lucknow, until February 1862, when he was selected to go with Major (Sir) Patrick Stewart [q. v. Suppl.] to Persia on government telegraph duty. At that time there was no electric telegraph to India. The attempt to construct one under a government guarantee had failed, and it was determined to make a line by the Persian Gulf route directly under government. Champain proceeded with Stewart to Bushahr, and thence in June to Teheran, where negotiations were carried on with the Persian government. In 1865 the line was practically completed, and on Stewart's death in that year Champain was appointed to assist Sir Frederic Goldsmid, the chief director of the Indo-European Government Telegraph department. He spent the greater part of 1866 in Turkey, putting the Baghdad part of the line into an efficient state, and in 1867 went to St. Petersburg to negotiate for a special wire through Russia to join the Persian system. This visit gave rise to intimate and friendly relations with General Liiders, director-general of Russian telegraphs, which proved of advantage to the service.
On his way out from England in September 1869, to superintend the laying of a second telegraph cable from Bushahr to Jashk, Champain was nearly drowned in the wreck of the steamship Carnatic off the island of Shadwan in the Red Sea. After coming to the surface he assisted in saving lives and in securing succour. In 1870 he succeeded Sir Frederic Goldsmid as chief director of the government Indo-European telegraph.
In the years from 1870 to 1872 Persia suffered from a severe famine, and Champain took an active interest in the Mansion House relief fund, of which he was for some time secretary. He arranged for its distribution in Persia by the telegraph staff, and had the satisfaction of finding it very well done. His sound judgment and unfailing tact, together with a power of expressing his views clearly and concisely, enabled him to render important service at the periodical international telegraph conferences as the representative of the Indian government. Special questions frequently arose the settlement of which took him to many of the European capitals, and in the ordinary course of his duties he made repeated visits to India, Turkey, Persia, and the Persian Gulf.
In 1884 the shah of Persia presented him with a magnificent sword of honour. In October 1885 Champain went for the last time to the Persian Gulf to lay a third cable between Bushahr and Jashk, afterwards visiting Calcutta to confer with government. On his way home he went to Delhi to see his old friend Sir Frederick (now Earl) Roberts, from whom he learned that he had been made a knight commander of the order of St. Michael and St. George.
He died at San Remo on 1 Feb. 1887. The shah of Persia himself sent a telegram to his family expressing his great regret for the loss of Bateman-Champain, 'qui a laissé tant de souvenirs ineffaçables en Perse,' a very unusual departure from the rigid etiquette of the court of Teheran. He married in 1865 Harriet Sophia, daughter of Sir Frederick Currie, first baronet (d. 1875). She survived her husband with six sons and two daughters of the marriage. Three sons are in the army and one in the navy.
Bateman-Champain was a member of the council of the Royal Geographical Society and of the Society of Telegraph Engineers. He was an accomplished draughtsman. In the Albert Hall Exhibition of 1873 a gold medal was awarded to a Persian landscape which he had painted for his friend Sir Robert Murdoch Smith [q. v. Suppl.] Many of the illustrations to Sir Frederic Goldsmid's 'Telegraph and Travel' are from original sketches in water-colour by Bateman-Champain.
[India Office Records; Despatches; Porter's History of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Vibart's Addiscombe, its Heroes and Men of Note; Goldsmid's Telegraph and Travel; the Royal Engineers Journal, 1887, obituary notice by Sir R. M. Smith; Times, 2 Feb. 1887; Ann. Reg. 1887; Kaye's History of the Sepoy War; Malleson's History of the Indian Mutiny; Norman's Narrative of the Campaign of the Delhi Army; Medley's A Year's Campaigning in India and other Works on the Indian Mutiny.]