It’s all work of ‘Yakub Sahib’, a mali (gardener)told Rudyard Kipling as he stood in the centre of Ram Niwas Bagh admiring its waterworks.  In fact, the mali was talking about Sir Colonel Swinton Jacob, Superintending Engineer of the Jaipur State, and he was not wrong as Jacob is called Yakub in Arabic.

Kipling, who in 1887 was travelling across the Rajputana for his column,  ‘Letters of  Marque’ for  the Allahabad-based newspaper The Pioneer, paid ultimate tribute to Col Jacob in his inimitable style.

 “How much Colonel Jacob has done, not only for the good of Jeypore city but for the good of the State at large, will never be known, because the officer in question is one of the not small class who resolutely refuse to talk about their own work. The result of the good work is that the old and the new, the rampantly raw and the sullenly old, stand cheek-by-jowl in startling contrast. Thus the branded bull trips over the rails of a steel tramway which brings out the city rubbish; lacquered and painted cart behind the two little stag-like trotting bullocks catchers its primitive wheels in the cast-iron gas-lamp post with the brass nozzle atop, and all Rajputana gayly clad, small-turbaned swaggering Rajputana, circulates along the magnificent pavements.”

  This shows that Col Jacob belonged the stiff upper lip British class, who are not wont to blowing their own trumpets. In fact, it was the work of Col Jacob which was speaking volumes about his talent and the service he had rendered to Jaipur.

The son of Colonel William Jacob of the Bombay Artillery, Col Jacob was educated at Cheam School and Addiscombe College, and commissioned into the Bombay Artillery as a Lieutenant in 1858. Having joined the Indian Staff Corps in 1862. He served in the Public Works Department from 1862-96, becoming Superintending Engineer in 1893. As chief/consulting engineer of Jaipur state, he developed an irrigation system and also produced some fine work in the Indo-Sarcanic style, defined as a combination of “Hindu, Muslim and Western traditions”. Among his many other public works were the Lalghar Palace in Bikaner (1881) and the Albert Hall in Jaipur. He was also responsible for the original red sandstone buildings of St Stephen’s College at Kashmere Gate in Delhi (1891), and had the reputation of being “the best professional architect in India”. He was knighted in 1902. Notable among his works was Gorton Castle, although his plans for it underwent modifications. Built in 1904 as the new Government Secretariat in Shimla, it is now being restored after a disastrous fire in 2014. Another of his masterpieces was St John’s College, Agra (1914).

After 45 years, Colonel Jacob did finally resign, quitting his advisory role in the New Delhi project in August 1913. On his belated return to England, he was approached for a design for the Horsell Common Muslim burial ground in Woking, but was not well enough to work on it. He died on 4 December 1917.

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Asif Ullah Khan

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