Martin, Thomas Acquin (DNB12)
MARTIN, Sir THOMAS ACQUIN (1850–1906), industrial pioneer in India and agent-general for Afghanistan, born at Four-oaks, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, on 6 March 1850, was son of Patrick William Martin, leather manufacturer, of Birmingham, by his wife, Mary Anne Bridges. After education at the Oratory, Edgbaston, he entered the engineering firm of Walsh, Lovett in Birmingham, and in 1874 went out to Calcutta to start a branch for them. Possessed of exceptional business capacity, he soon founded the firm which bears his name, of Clivestreet, Calcutta, and Laurence Pountney-hill, E.G. As the head of this firm he notably fostered the material development of India. The firm took over in 1889 the management of the Bengal Iron and Steel Company, which inaugurated at Burrakur Indian production and manufacture on a capitalised basis permitting of competition with imported steel and iron. The out-turn of pig iron was then 9000 tons per annum; but the works have been modernised, rich deposits at Manharpur are being worked, and the present productive capacity is 75,000 tons yearly. The firm also pioneered the construction of light railways along district roads in India, to serve as feeders of the main lines. It built and has the management of the Howrah-Amta, Howrah - Sheakhalla, Bukhtiarpur - Behar, Baraset-Basirhat, Shahdara (Delhi)-Saharanpur, and the Arrah-Sasaram light railways, which aggregate a length of 300 miles. Many jute mills in Bengal were constructed by the firm, and up to Martin's death it had the management of the Arathoon jute mills, Calcutta. Three large collieries in Bengal, and the Hooghly Docking and Engineering Company are under its control. The Tansa duct works, providing Bombay with a constant water-supply from a lake forty miles distant, were engineered by the firm, which has carried out the water-supplies of the suburbs of Calcutta, and of a large number of Indian mofussil towns, including Allahabad, Benares, Cawnpore, Lucknow, Agra, and Srinagar (Kashmir). With Mr. Edward Thornton, F.R.I.B.A., as principal architect, it erected chiefs' palaces and important public buildings in various parts of India, and particularly in Calcutta, where they are contractors for the All-India Victoria memorial hall.
Early in 1887 Martin was appointed agent by Abdur Rahman Kjian, Ameer of Afghanistan, and he sent to Kabul (Sir) Salter Pyne, the first European to reside there since the war of 1879-80 (with the exception of a French engineer who was there for a very brief period and afterwards disappeared). Pyne, on behalf of Martin's firm, built for the Ameer an arsenal, a mint, and various factories and workshops, subsequently introducing, as state monopolies, a number of modern industries.
Martin was constantly consulted by the Ameer on questions of policy, and he and his agents were able to render frequent political service to Great Britain. Abdur Rahman selected him to be chief of the staff of Prince Nasrullah Khan, his second son, on his mission to England in 1895. The stay here lasted from 24 May to 3 Sept., and in August Martin was knighted. Though the Ameer's main object in Mraoging the visit — the opening of direct diplomtic relations with Great Britain — was not achieved, Abdur Rahman still retained the fullest confidence in him. On his return to Kabul, Nasrullah Khan was accompanied by Martin's younger brother Frank, who succeeded Pyne as engineer-in-chief (cf. F. Martin, Under the Absolute Amir, 1907).
A man of genial manner and generous disposition, Martin was a close student of human nature. He proved his commonsense and catholicity of temper by admitting into partnership, in 1889, an able Bengali, (Sir) R. N. Mukherji, K.C.I.E., who shares with Martin's sons, Ernest and Harold, and Mr. C. W. Walsh the proprietorship of the firm. Martin, who was broken in health by severe toil in a tropical climate, spent much of his later life in Europe. He died at Binstead House, Isle of Wight, on 29 April 1906, and was buried in Ryde cemetery. A painting from a miniature is in the Calcutta office. He married on 2 April 1869, at Birmingham, Sarah Ann, daughter of John Humphrey Harrby, of Hoarwithy, Herefordshire, who survives with a daughter and five sons, four in the firm, and Captain Cuthbert Thomas, Highland light infantry.
[Ameer Abdur Rahman's autobiography, 2 vols. 1900; Gray's At the Court of the Ameer, 1905; Cyclopædia of India, Cal., 1906 V. Chirol's Indian Unrest, 1910; Admn. Rept Ind. Rlys. for 1910; The Times, 1 and 14 May 1906; Englishman (Calcutta), 17 Feb. 1912 Birmingham Post, 2 May 1906; private information.]