Ranken, George (DNB00)

RANKEN, GEORGE (1828–1856), major, royal engineers, was born in London on 4 Jan. 1828. After being educated at private schools, he in 1844 passed into the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich. He obtained a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 1 Oct. 1847, went through the usual course of professional instruction at Chatham, and was promoted to be first lieutenant on 29 Dec. 1849. On 6 April 1850 Ranken embarked for Canada, arriving in Montreal early in May; he proceeded to Quebec, where he remained for two years, returning to Montreal in March 1852. In July he took a prominent part in endeavouring to extinguish the great fire at Montreal, when over ten thousand persons were rendered houseless. In February and March 1853 Ranken travelled through the United States of America and to the West Indies. During the tour he made the acquaintance of William Makepeace Thackeray, who was engaged in lecturing, and travelled with him. Ranken's journal of his travels was edited by his brother, and published as ‘Canada and the Crimea, or Sketches of a Soldier's Life,’ in 1862 (London, 8vo; 2nd ed. 1863). In the summer of 1853 Ranken was again at Quebec, and during the visitation of cholera he exerted himself to mitigate the sufferings of the poor. He advocated in the local press the formation of a society for the relief and assistance of distressed immigrants. In 1854 he distinguished himself in extinguishing the fire which destroyed the parliament buildings at Quebec, and received the thanks of the Canadian legislature for his share in saving the valuable library of the Literary and Historical Society.

Ranken returned to England early in 1855, and was quartered at first at Edinburgh, and then at Fort George, near Inverness. At this time he contributed letters on military topics to the ‘Morning Post,’ under the signature ‘Delta.’ He urged an increase of the pay of the soldiers serving in the Crimea, so as to induce the militia to volunteer for the line, a suggestion adopted by Lord Panmure [see Maule, Fox, second Baron Panmure]. He proposed the formation, since carried out, of camps of instruction; and also the reorganisation of the royal artillery and of the royal engineers.

While at Fort George Ranken volunteered for active service, and was at once ordered to the Crimea, arriving at Balaklava on 12 Aug. 1855. He was regularly employed on duty in the trenches. On 8 Sept. the British assault on the Redan took place. Ranken advanced in charge of the ladder party immediately after the skirmishers had been thrown out. He exhibited a rare zeal and courage in the operations, and thus raised the reputation of his corps. Although skilfully and obstinately contested, the assault proved unsuccessful; nevertheless by compelling the enemy to divide his forces, it enabled the French to establish themselves securely in the Malakoff, and the Russians, having lost the key of the position, evacuated the south side the same night. On the 10th Ranken rode into Sebastopol to see the ruins of the burning city.

The siege being over, Ranken was placed in charge of the waterworks for the supply of the army. He was promoted second captain on 25 Sept. 1855, and brevet major on 2 Nov. the same year for distinguished service in the field. On 28 Feb. 1856 he was accidentally killed while employed under Lieutenant-colonel Lloyd, R.E., on the demolition of the extensive range of barracks in the Karabelnaia, in Sebastopol, known as the White Buildings. General Codrington in his despatch wrote that ‘this excellent and gallant officer … lost his life from eagerness to complete the work entrusted to him.’ Ranken was buried on 2 March 1856, at the Right Attack burial-ground of the royal engineers, where eleven of his brother officers had been buried. A stained-glass window has been placed to his memory in the church of Valcartier, north of Quebec, a church towards the building of which he had largely contributed. A monument has also been erected in the cathedral of Quebec.

Ranken was unmarried. He kept a journal when in the Crimea, from which extracts were selected by his brother, W. B. Ranken, and published in 1857 under the title of ‘Six months at Sebastopol’ (London, 12mo). This volume contains an engraved portrait of Ranken from a photograph.

[War Office Records; Despatches; Porter's Hist. of the Corps of Royal Engineers; Ranken's Journals as above.]

R. H. V.