Francis Rawdon Chesney

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Francis Rawdon Chesney
General Francis Rawdon Chesney 1863.jpg
General F.R. Chesney in 1863
Born (1789-03-16)16 March 1789
Died 30 January 1872(1872-01-30) (aged 82)
Allegiance British
Service/branch Royal Artillery
Years of service 1805-1847
Rank General
Commands held 7th Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery
Awards Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal

Francis Rawdon Chesney (16 March 1789 – 30 January 1872) was a British general and explorer.


He was a son of Captain Alexander Chesney, an Irishman of Scottish descent who, having emigrated to South Carolina in 1772, served under Lord Rawdon (afterwards Marquess of Hastings) in the American War of Independence, and subsequently received an appointment as coast officer at Annalong, County Down, Ireland. F. R. Chesney was born there, on 16 March 1789.[1]

Lord Rawdon gave the boy a cadetship at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, and he was gazetted to the Royal Artillery in 1805. But though he rose to be lieutenant-general and colonel-commandant of the 14th brigade Royal Artillery (1864), and general in 1868, Chesney’s memory lives not for his military record, but for his connection with the Suez Canal, and with the exploration of the Euphrates valley, which started with his being sent out to Constantinople in the course of his military duties in 1829, and his making a tour of inspection in Egypt and Syria. In 1830, after taking command of 7th Company, 4th Battalion Royal Artillery in Malta, he submitted a report on the feasibility of making a Suez Canal. This was the original basis of Lesseps’ great undertaking (in 1869 Lesseps greeted him in Paris as the “father “ of the canal); and in 1831 he introduced to the home government the idea of opening a new overland route to India, by a daring and adventurous journey along the Euphrates valley from Anah to the Persian Gulf. Returning home, Acting Lt Colonel Chesney (as he then was) busied himself to get support for the latter project, to which the East India Company’s board was favourable; and in 1835 he was sent out in command of a small expedition, on which he took a number of soldiers from 7th Company RA and for which Parliament voted £20,000, in order to test the navigability of the Euphrates. [1]

After encountering immense difficulties, from the opposition of the Egyptian pasha, and from the need of transporting two steamers (one of which, the Tigris, was subsequently lost) in sections from the Mediterranean over the hilly country to the river, they successfully arrived by water at Bushire in the summer of 1836, and proved Chesney’s view to be a practicable one. In the middle of 1837, he returned to England, and was given the Royal Geographical Society’s gold medal, having meanwhile been to India to consult the authorities there; but the preparation of his two volumes on the expedition (published in 1850) was interrupted by his being ordered out in 1843 to command the artillery at Hong Kong. [1]

In 1847, his period of service was completed, and he went home to Ireland, to a life of retirement; but both in 1856 and again in 1862 he went out to the East to take a part in further surveys and negotiations for the Euphrates valley railway scheme, which, however, the government would not take up, in spite of a favourable report from the House of Commons committee in 1871. In 1868 he published a further volume of narrative on his Euphrates expedition.[1]


  • Reports on the Navigation of the Euphrates. Submitted to Government by Captain Chesney, of the Royal Artillery. Taylor, printer, 7, Little James Street, Gray's Inn. [1833]
  • The Expedition for the Survey of the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Carried on by order of the British Government in the years 1835, 1836, 1837 ; preceded by Geographical and Historical Notices of the Regions situated between the Rivers Nile and Indus. In Four Volumes. With Fourteen Maps and Charts, and embellished with Ninety-seven Plates, besides numerous Woodcuts. By Lieut.-Colonel Chesney, R.A., .F.R.S., F.R.G.S., Colonel in Asia, Commander of the Expedition. By Authority. Vols. I. and II. London : Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1850. Presentation copies, 4to. Ordinary copies, Royal 8vo.
  • On the Reorganization of the Royal Regiment of Artillery. By Colonel Chesney, D.C.L. and F.R.S., Royal Artillery. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1851. 8vo.
  • Observations on the Past and Present State of Firearms, and on the Probable Effects in War of the New Musket. With a Proposition for Reorganizing the Royal Regiment of Artillery by a Subdivision into Battalions in each special arm of Garrison, Field, and Horse Artillery, with Suggestions for Promoting its Efficiency. By Colonel Chesney, D.C.L., F.R.S., Royal Artillery. London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1852. 8vo.
  • The Russo-Turkish Campaigns of 1828 and 1829. With a View of the Present State of Affairs in the East. By Colonel Chesney, R.A., D.C.L., F.R.S., Author of "The Expedition for the Survey of the Rivers Euphrates and Tigris." With an Appendix containing the Diplomatic Correspondence between the Four Powers, and the Secret Correspondence between the Russian and English Governments. With Maps. London: Smith, Elder, and Go., 1854; and Redfield, New York, 1854. 8vo.
  • Narrative of the Euphrates Expedition. Carried on by Order of the British Government during the years 1835, 1836, and 1837. By General Francis Rawdon Chesney. Colonel Commandant 14th Brigade Royal Artillery, D.C.L., F.R.S., F.R.G.S., Commander of the Expedition. London: Longman, Green, and Co., 1868. 8vo.
  • Minutes of Evidence of the Select Committee on Steam Navigation to India. 14 July 1834, p. 52, and Letter, pp. 88–91.
  • Evidence on Steam Communication with India. Papers Ordered to be Printed by the House of Lords. P. 7, 23 February 1838.
  • (Evidence in) Report from the Select Committee on Euphrates Valley Railway. With the Proceedings of the Committee. Ordered by the House of Commons to be printed, 22 July 1872.



  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainChisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). [ "Chesney, Francis Rawdon" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Encyclopædia Britannica (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  •  Lane-Poole, Stanley (1887). [ "Chesney, Francis Rawdon" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). In Stephen, Leslie (ed.). Dictionary of National Biography. 10. London: Smith, Elder & Co.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lane-Poole, Stanley; Stearn, Roger T. "Chesney, Francis Rawdon (1789–1872)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/5230.CS1 maint: ref=harv (link)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  • Louise Chesney and Jane O'Donnell, “The Life of the late General F.R. Chesney”, edited Stanley Lane-Poole, published W. H. Allen (1885)
  • The Dublin University Magazine Vol. XVIII November 1841 "Lieutenant Colonel F.R. Chesney" pp 574–580, published William Curry, Jun. and Company, Dublin.
  • Haim Goren, Dead Sea Level: Science, Exploration and Imperial Interests in the Near East (London, I.B.Tauris, 2011) (Tauris Historical Geography Series).

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