Colonel Sir George Everest, surveyor and geographer extraordinaire, died on 1 December 1866, after a remarkable career highlighted by his role in the Great Trigonometric Survey of India. This endeavour was literally a landmark scientific achievement that accurately measured the height of three of the great Himalayan mountains, one of which, the tallest peak in the world, was to later bear his name – Mount Everest.
The Great Trigonometric Survey of India was a massive project that set out to measure the entire Indian subcontinent with scientific precision, using the most accurate methods available.
The project was begun in 1802, under the East India Company’s Colonel William Lambton but then handed over to George Everest in 1823, following Lambton’s death. Everest was appointed Surveyor General of India in 1830 and continued to work on the project for the rest of his career.
During this time Everest proved himself as an innovator and organiser, modifying the available surveying equipment to suit the conditions. He also appointed Henry Barrow, a scientific equipment technician, to the position of instrument maker to India, allowing surveying equipment such as the theodolite to be repaired locally rather than sent back to England.
He eventually retired in 1843 and for his work on the project Everest was knighted in 1861 and the next year was elected as Vice President of the prestigious Royal Geographic Society. Four years later the Society named the highest mountain revealed in the survey, Mount Everest, in his honour. This was a peak that the Nepalese called Sagarmatha, and was estimated by the Survey to have a height of 8, 840 m – in close agreement to today’s official height of 8,848m.
It is believed that Everest never actually saw the peak himself and this may explain his objection to having the mountain named after him, but he was overruled by the Society who proceeded with the idea despite his misgivings.
Image: Photograph of Sir George Everest, c 1860, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.