Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Scratchley, Peter Henry

SCRATCHLEY, Sir PETER HENRY (1835–1885), major-general royal engineers, special high commissioner in New Guinea, youngest of thirteen children of Dr. James Scratchley of the royal artillery, and of his wife Maria, daughter of Colonel Roberts, commanding the troops in Ceylon, was born in Paris on 24 Aug. 1835. He was privately educated in Paris, and, after passing through the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, obtained a commission as second lieutenant in the royal engineers on 11 April 1854, and was promoted to be first lieutenant on 20 June of the same year.

After studying at Chatham, Scratchley was sent to Dover, whence, on 24 July 1855, he proceeded to the Crimea and did duty with a company of sappers and miners in the trenches before Sebastopol. He was present at the fall of Sebastopol, and took part in the expedition to and in the capture of Kinburn on the Black Sea. For his services he received the Crimean war medal, with a clasp for Sebastopol, and the Turkish war medal.

On his return to England in July 1856 Scratchley was stationed successively at Aldershot and Portsmouth. In October 1857 he joined in India the force of Major-general Sir Charles Ashe Windham [q. v.] at Cawnpore, and was appointed adjutant of royal engineers. He was present throughout the operations around the city against Tantia Topi from 24 to 30 Nov. 1857, and on 6 Dec. took part in the battle of Cawnpore, won by Sir Colin Campbell over the rebel Gwaliar force. He commanded the 4th company royal engineers in the subsequent operations of the commander-in-chief's army. On 18 Dec. he accompanied the column under Brigadier-general Walpole by Akbarpur to Itawa, where he was employed on 29 Dec. in blowing up the post held by the rebels. He then accompanied the column to Manipuri. On 3 Jan. 1858 this column joined that of Brigadier-general Seaton at Bewar, and on the 4th the combined columns under Walpole entered Fathgarh, taken on the previous day by Sir Colin Campbell. From 5 to 14 Jan. Scratchley was employed, with five officers and one hundred men under him, in blowing up the nawab's fort at Farakabad. Scratchley was attached to a company of royal engineers during the operation before the final siege of Lucknow, and at the siege he was orderly officer to Brigadier-general Robert Cornelis Napier (afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala) [q. v.], who was chief engineer. He was in the storming party under Adrian Hope which carried the Begam's palace on 10 March, and was in personal attendance on Napier in the most exposed positions until the final capture of the city on 21 March 1858.

Scratchley was appointed adjutant of the engineer brigade of the army corps under Sir Hope Grant during the operations in Oudh. He marched from Lucknow on 11 April 1858, and took part in the action at Bari on the 13th. On following up the enemy to Bitaoli it was found that the Begam and his army had already evacuated it, and the force then marched southward to protect the road between Lucknow and Cawnpore, then threatened at Onao. Scratchley reached Jalalabad fort, near Lucknow, on 16 May, and remained there for some time. On 13 June he was at the action of Nawabganj. On 22 July he accompanied a force under Hope Grant, which relieved Man Singh at Shahganj, and marched thence to Faizabad, Ajudhia, and Sultanpur, where the rebels were repulsed on 28 Aug. 1858. Operations were then suspended until after the rainy season.

In October 1858 Scratchley commanded the engineers of the column under Brigadier-general Wetherall, and, marching from Sariam, took part in the attack on and capture, on 5 Nov., of Rampur-Kussia; in the attack on Shankarpur and its capture on the 9th; in the passage of the Ghaghra on 27 Nov.; and in the action of Machligaon on 4 Dec. Marching by the fort of Banhassia and by Gonda, he arrived at Balrampur on 16 Dec.; thence he accompanied the column in pursuit of Bala Rao, brother of Nana Sahib, to Kandakot, where, on 4 Jan. 1859, the rebels were driven across the border into Nipal, with the loss of all their guns, and Oudh was practically cleared of rebels. Scratchley was mentioned in despatches by Major-general Windham, Brigadier-general Wetherall, and Sir Colin Campbell. He received the Indian war medal, with clasp for Lucknow.

On 1 Oct. 1859 Scratchley was promoted to be second captain. On the appointment of Napier to a command in the China expedition Scratchley was chosen as his aide-de-camp; but in April 1860 he was ordered instead to take command of a detachment of royal engineers proceeding to Melbourne for employment on defence works. He arrived at Melbourne in August, and was employed under the Victorian government to design the works and to superintend their construction. He also filled the appointment of colonial engineer and military storekeeper. He threw himself with enthusiasm into the volunteer movement in the colonies, was one of the founders of and became honorary lieutenant-colonel of the Victorian artillery and engineers' volunteers. In September 1863, the colonial legislature having failed to provide funds for the defence works, Scratchley resigned his appointment. He received the thanks of the government of Victoria for his services in the colony.

Scratchley arrived in England at the end of 1863. On 15 March 1864 he was promoted to be brevet major for his war services. He was stationed at Portsmouth until October 1864, when he was appointed to the war office as assistant inspector of works for the manufacturing departments of the army, and later he became inspector of works.

Scratchley was promoted to be first captain in the royal engineers on 20 Dec. 1866, regimental major on 5 July 1872, and brevet lieutenant-colonel on 20 Feb. 1874. In 1877 he was selected by Lord Carnarvon, secretary of state for the colonies, to accompany Lieutenant-general Sir William Jervois (then governor of the Straits Settlements, and, in July 1877, appointed governor of South Australia) on a mission to the Australian colonies to advise as to their defences. Scratchley left England on 8 March 1877, and arrived in Sydney with Sir William Jervois on 30 April. In accordance with their able and elaborate report, the defence works of Sydney harbour, Port Phillip, Adelaide, and Brisbane have been mainly constructed. He was promoted to be regimental lieutenant-colonel on 1 Oct. 1877, and was thenceforth engaged by the governments of the different Australian colonies as their consulting military engineer and adviser. The fort, designed by him and executed under his orders, which protects the harbour of Newcastle was named after him by the New South Wales government to commemorate his services. He also designed and constructed, among other works, the fort on Bare Island, Botany Bay, the iron-casemated fort under George's Head, the alteration of the harbour batteries of Sydney and the battery for 25-ton guns at Middle Head, important portions of the Port Phillip defences. The works which protect Hobart were improved by him; Adelaide and Brisbane also received his attention.

Scratchley was promoted to be brevet colonel on 20 Feb. 1879. He was made a companion of St. Michael and St. George on 24 May of the same year for his services in Australia. In 1881 Scratchley was appointed vice-president of a commission in New South Wales to report on the military defences of the colony. He retired from active military employment on 1 Oct. 1882, with the honorary rank of major-general, but continued in his employment under the colonial office. In April 1883 he returned to England to consult the war office as to the general plan of defences for the colonies of Australasia, and as to the manufacture of heavy ordnance and details of fortifications.

In the autumn of 1884 the imperial government, having repudiated the action of the Queensland government in annexing the whole of New Guinea, decided to declare a protectorate over south-east New Guinea, and on 22 Nov. Scratchley was gazetted her Majesty's special high commissioner for this territory. He arrived at Melbourne on 5 Jan. 1885. The colonies were angry with the home government for the delay in dealing with New Guinea, by which portions of it had fallen to other powers. This irritation was not lessened by having to find 15,000l. a year among them for the maintenance of the government of the new protectorate. Scratchley's first duty was the delicate one of visiting each colony to arrange the quota of contribution. On 6 June 1885 he was made a K.C.M.G. On 15 Aug. he left Sydney to visit his government, arriving on 28 Aug. by the specially fitted-out steamer Governor Blackall at Port Moresby in New Guinea. Here he established his seat of government. The difficulties were considerable, provision having to be made for the protection of the isolated white people as well as for the control of the enormous and suspicious native population. In September he made an expedition up the Aroa river, and later, accompanied by H.M.S. Diamond and two other men-of-war, made a coasting voyage, in order to investigate the circumstances of several murders of white men. He died at sea just after leaving Cooktown for Townville, on 2 Dec. 1885. He was buried in St. Kilda's cemetery, Melbourne, with public honours.

A likeness, enlarged from the last photograph taken of Scratchley, hangs in Government House, Sydney. A book entitled ‘Australian Defences and New Guinea’ embodies Scratchley's views on colonial defence. It was compiled from his diaries and notes by Mr. Kinloch Cooke.

Scratchley married, at Melbourne, Victoria, on 13 Nov. 1862, Laura Lilias, daughter of Sylvester John Browne of co. Galway, by whom he had two daughters, Violet and Valerie, and a son Victor; they, with their mother, survived him.

Scratchley contributed three papers to the ‘Professional Papers of the Corps of Royal Engineers:’ one of them was a ‘Report on the Demolition of the Nawab's Fort, Furruckabad,’ 1858 (new ser. vol. viii.); another consisted of ‘Notes on the Fort and Entrenchments of Kussia Rampoor in Oudh’ (ib.)

[Royal Engineers Records; Despatches; War Office Records; obituary notices in Royal Engineers' Journal, vol. xvi. 1886; Annual Register, 1885; Melbourne Argus and Sydney Morning Herald, December 1885; Times, 4 Dec. 1885; Kaye's Sepoy War; Malleson's Indian Mutiny; private papers.]

R. H. V.