Samuel Alexander Hill

Samuel Alexander (Alec) Hill was born in Ballyboley in 1851. Although a respected professor in colonial India, an author of textbooks and many papers, a public lecturer in South Carolina, and a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, he died young and is outshone today by his Pennsylvanian wife Edmonia Taylor and especially by their lodger, travelling companion and longtime correspondent Rudyard Kipling. Ballynure old cemetery commemorates him:

Erected in memory of John Hill of Ballyboley who died on the 11th February 1897 aged 78 years And of his wife Eliza C Hill who died on the 10th August 1899 aged 80 years Also their daughter Jane who died on the 25th December 1872 aged 26 years And their son Samuel Alexander who died in India on the 23rd September 1890 aged 39 years

Anyone linked with Kipling receives attention, but there are mistakes and gaps in the published material about Alec. I hope his scientific achievements, and his relatives in Ireland and America, are worth another look. This article has a short account of those links and of Alec’s life, with some notes on Ballynure and Ballyboley.

Alec was baptised [1] on 10 October 1851 in County Antrim about twelve miles north of Belfast, the son of a Ballyboley farmer John Beggs Hill and his wife Elizabeth or Lizzie Clements (that is, John Hill and “Eliza C Hill” on the headstone). Edmonia says [2] “His ancestors were among the earliest English settlers in this part of Ireland, having come over with Sir Arthur Chichester in the reign of Queen Elizabeth”. Alec’s family are likely to have identified as Ulster Presbyterians. Though his full given names were Samuel Alexander, and these are sometimes used for official reference, and his father referred to him in writing as Samuel, he was generally known as Alexander (shortened as Alec, Aleck, Alex, Alick) in his adult social life. I do not know why the middle name was preferred. He may have signed Samuel A. Hill in youth, but he was S A Hill (and normally so called in print) as a professional.

The obituaries present immediate puzzles. Nature has “The son of a clergyman in the north of Ireland”. The Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society (RMS) is also categoric:

After asking the Presbyterian Historical Society, the Meteorological Office archivists and various others I find no confirmation that his father John was a “clergyman”. The 1891 Nature article is by “H.F.B.”, the geologist and meteorologist Henry Francis Blanford (1834-1893). The RMS obituary is unsigned but has phrasing in common. Blanford was Alec’s close colleague and co-author, recently retired as chief of the Indian Meteorological Department; he ought to be reliable. The simplest alternative may be a confusion with Alec’s father-in-law, Reverend Riley Treadway Taylor, D.D. (1826-1909).

Edmonia says the “local school” was Ballyeaston National School, where Alec was first an ordinary pupil and then (age about 16) a “pupil teacher”, that is a senior boy trusted to help. In the National School registers Samuel A Hill is appointed not to Ballyeaston but to Lower Ballyboley (considerably nearer his home) on 1 January 1867. Alec’s baptismal day 10 October 1851 sets a lower limit of about 15 years 3 months at appointment.

Pupils acted as monitors, “pupil teachers” or assistants when even younger, but Alec seems to be in sole charge of Lower Ballyboley aged 15 or 16. The school is marked down from “Progressing” to “Stationary” during 1866. The inspection notes include “T. H. Craig is a middling teacher” and “Teacher to be admonished”. Thomas Hanna Craig was appointed aged 20 in August 1864, and left in December 1866; his name is scored through. Alec’s name is written immediately below; his age is given as 17. At the first inspection of 1867 “New teacher” is noted, and at the second the state of the school accounts is “Improved”. No other teacher is named, so it seems that in Craig’s absence – we cannot positively say resignation, medical absence, or dismissal – Alec is in sole charge. Craig later returned to Ballyboley, met further criticism, and retired under a cloud in 1903.

Alec may also have acted briefly at Ballygowan National School on the other side of Ballynure. In 1867 its schoolmaster Henry Wilson (age 57) is “a very poor teacher”. On 14 October 1867 “Samuel Hill” is appointed with his age given as 17 and ¾. Alec’s younger sister Margaret (Maggie) Hill became headmistress of the Model Schools in Monaghan and Londonderry.

In 1868 he went to the Government Training College in Dublin, where he was looked upon as of great ability and rare mental calibre. After staying there a little over a year, he was placed in the first class of teachers, and received an appointment as master of a new school in Lisburn, a considerable manufacturing town about twenty miles from his home, where he remained from May, 1869, to September, 1871 [ETH].

This was one of the new Railway Street buildings in Lisburn, at the time of a strong countrywide effort to improve the numbers and quality of teachers in Ireland. Today Brownlee Memorial School still records Mr Hill as its first head, but it has no other details [3] and neither has the nearby Presbyterian Church. According to Edmonia’s dating, Alec began his headship aged 17 and a half.

In 1871 he gained one of three available Royal Exhibitions at the School of Mines, for three years at £50 per year, with rights to attend “all the lectures and the chemical and metallurgical laboratories at the Royal School of Mines and the Royal College of Chemistry” [4]. In London “he studied under Prof. [T H] Huxley, winning distinguished favour” [ETH]. In July 1872 he received one of the two £15 Royal Scholarships for first year students; in 1873 he passed in the First Division on the First B. Sc. Examination in the University of London; in July 1874 he gained his diploma of Associate of the Royal School of Mines, only he and Mr W Saise [5] doing so in all three Divisions (Mining, Metallurgical and Geological).

At the end of 1874 Mr. Hill took his degree, with honors in several subjects, and the distinction of “university scholar” in geology and palæontology. While he was still in London, Gen. Strachey, R.E., F.R.S., a member of the Indian Council, came from the India office to inquire if the authorities of the School of Mines could recommend a young man as a professor of physical science for the new college at Allahabad. This situation was at once offered to Mr. Hill. He accepted it, and on Feb. 24, 1875, the Marquis of Salisbury [6] was pleased to appoint him to the position for five years. Mr. Hill left England very shortly to take up the professorship, in which chair he remained until the day of his death [ETH].

That day was about 15 and a half years later, albeit with breaks in 1883-84 and 1888-1889.

In May 1875 he was appointed as Meteorological Reporter by the lieutenant-governor of the Northwestern Provinces [7]. He was elected to the Allahabad Public Library Committee in June 1881, and later made its secretary. He became a Fellow of Calcutta University in 1883. Edmonia and his colleagues stress his exceptional dedication: “…laborious work in a trying climate for eight years”, long regular hours supplemented by helpful meetings with his students, attendance at their debates, and “untold patience with native workmen”. He came to India aged under 23 and a half – not much older than Kipling the journalist at the start of his Allahabad career – and we might like to know whether his leisure pursuits paralleled Kipling’s [8].

He was absent on leave from the 27th April to the 25th June 1881. That is unlikely to have meant a visit to Britain; in those days a two-month round trip was just possible, but very hard work.

In May 1883 he was granted a first “furlough” of a year [9]. He began in Ireland and touring through Wales. In September 1883 he sailed for America on the steamship State of Florida:

Here “S. A. Hill” is listed (possibly as a “Mercht” or merchant; the word is hard to read) below an Irish farmer “Alex Hall” (or just possibly Hill; this man is of some interest) and above “Miss Taylor”. Edmonia (“Edna”, or “Ted”) Taylor’s family came from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and her father was the longterm president of the College in nearby Beaver. The ship manifest lists her under Canada. She was born in September 1858 and died in 1952, thus spending two-thirds of her life as Alec’s widow. There were no children; possibly relevant is that in 1888 (wrote Kipling) she fell “deathly sick…After the fever broke she was off her head and the doctors talked of cerebro-spinal meningitis”.

In late 1883 Alec visited relatives in South Carolina (see below). On 20 February 1884 he was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Meteorological Society, but the Meteorological Office records do not say whether he was present in London. On 6 March 1884 he wrote from Ballynure to William Marriott, Assistant Secretary of the RMS:

Ballynure Co Antrim

6th [?] February March 1884

My dear Mr. Marriott,

I send you for the Society a copy of a little paper on variation in the sun’s heat read last year before the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Mr Blanford tells me that a German called Fröhlich has been working at the same subject and arrived at results confirmatory of mine. Blanford says his paper appears in the “Annalen der Physik &c” [?] No.1 of 1884. I suppose he means the old “Annalen der Physik und der Chemie”. If you take in this periodical will you kindly let me know if Fröhlich’s paper [10] appears in it and then I shall try to procure a copy. In an out of the way place like this of course I have no chance of seeing it.

I enclose an order to be transmitted to Grindlay & Co. for the continuation [11] of my annual subscription.

Yours sincerely

S A Hill

After a search in their records, this 1884 letter is the only example of Alec’s handwriting known to the Meteorological Office archivists. Probably during this home visit Alec agreed plans for the weather readings taken in Ballyboley and later published (see below).

The Abbeville press called him Samuel in its note of 23 April 1884 (five days after Florida, sailing for Glasgow, collided with another vessel and sank with many killed):

PROF. SAMUEL A. HILL, of Allahabad India, who was on a visit to this place last Fall, having got an extension of his leave of absence for six months, will return to America about the first of next June, for the purpose of consummating that which the bachelor editor of the Press and Banner has never been able to do for himself, viz: to marry.

This editor was William C Benet, of whom more below. The Press and Banner of 25 January 1882 carried an unattributed note on “India in Hot Weather”: I will briefly indicate the thermometric features, say at a central position like Allahabad… so Alec may have been contributing already.

Alec married Edmonia in Beaver on 26 July 1884 and they settled in Allahabad where he resumed work on 21 October. When Blanford in turn took leave (10 December 1884 to 10 March 1885) “Mr. S. A. Hill officiated as Meteorological Reporter to the Government of India in addition to his own special duties”.

In 1887, when the Act to establish a University of Allahabad was passed, he was appointed among the first Fellows and was chosen a member of the syndicate, the Executive Committee of the Senate…Mr. Hill’s life in India [N.B. this is Mrs Hill, his widow, writing] was spent in the routine of college work, with inspection tours in the cause of meteorology at Christmas time, and in the hot-weather vacations, all the while contributing papers on the subject so near to his heart to the various scientific and meteorological societies. In 1888, in addition to his other work, at the request of Government he undertook to write a series of geographies for Indian schools…These books were written in English, in Urdu, and in Hindi…In March, 1889, Mr. Hill took nine months’ furlough out of India. His travelling companion was the well-known author, Mr. Rudyard Kipling, who had been a warm personal friend for many months before their leaving India [ETH].

Kipling, a young and promising journalist, had worked in Lahore and was promoted to the Allahabad Pioneer in November 1887. Edmonia writes in December to her sister Caroline “I've met an unusually interesting man with the uncommon name of Rudyard Kipling. It happened this way. We were invited to dine with the Allens, who are neighbors. Mr. Allen, the proprietor of the Pioneer of Allahabad and of the Civil and Military Gazette of Lahore, is always on the lookout for the best material for his papers…After dinner, when the men joined the ladies in the drawing-room, evidently the rising young author had marked me for an American, and, seeking copy perhaps, he came to the fireplace where I was standing and began questioning me about my homeland. I am surprised at his knowledge of people and places. He is certainly worth knowing, and we shall ask him to dinner soon”.

Thomas Pinney says “Kipling and Mrs Hill were at once attracted to each other, and were quickly close friends: Kipling consulted her on his work, submitted it to her for her judgement, and confided to her his hopes and plans: she was muse, collaborator, and confidante all at once”. Edmonia’s side of the extensive correspondence is unpublished, and Pinney believes that Kipling’s widow destroyed it. There has been much speculation around this friendship and Kipling’s brief engagement in 1889-90 to Caroline. Imperfect but interesting copies of Kipling’s letters to Edmonia survive, mostly at the University of Sussex. The 1880s ones have much banter and gossip, with occasional Indian and French phrases. The later ones, when Kipling was married, are less lively. Pinney’s selection is too large to summarise here, and I note only a few direct mentions of Alec and a few points that Pinney passed over; his focus was on Kipling and he correctly judged that a full and annotated edition would expand beyond all reason. He loosely refers to Alec as an Englishman, though correctly placing his family at or near Belfast [12].

This letter from Edmonia appears to confirm, but is not absolutely explicit, that Alec was with her in the Allen house when she first met Kipling; and she does not say whether Alec had met him earlier. Charles Carrington’s biography says that Sir Edward Buck, Kipling’s “patron” in Simla,

could introduce him to Professor S. A. Hill, a meteorologist in Government service, who had recently been appointed to Allahabad as professor of science at the Muir College. Aleck Hill was a quiet, burly man with a bushy dark beard. Except that he was a devoted amateur photographer (in that heroic age of dark-rooms, tripod-mountings, and patent developers) we can find little to record of him. His wife, Edmonia Hill (known as ‘Ted’) was to play a principal part in Rudyard Kipling’s life. She was a lively young American lady from Beaver, Pennsylvania, aged about thirty, with a broad plump face, a pretty snub nose, and a shock of dark curls coming down in a widow’s peak on her brow.

Towards the end of the year Mrs. Hill met Rudyard, at the Allens’ house, and wrote to her young sister who was still in Pennsylvania .

Edmonia necessarily coped with some independence; Alec accumulated responsibilities and was often on the road or up in the hills. In 1888 he was appointed Supervisor of the physical sciences class at the Queen’s College, Benares, “where he went periodically”. They were in Mussoorie, near Simla, in the 1888 hot season. Plain Tales from the Hills, published that year, upset some of the British community with its stories of Simla flirting, drinking and worse. Naturally Kipling observed and even provoked various characters whose sayings and doings could be used for essays and fiction. Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, about a brave mongoose clearing cobras from the “big bungalow” of young Ted(dy) and family, owes something to his hosts and their Belvedere home and garden [13]. As far as I know, puns on these Hills and their tales from the Plain were resisted.

Alec was established and rising [14], but he died in India on 23 Sep 1890 aged 38 years 11 months, rounded to 39 on the Ballynure headstone. Apparently suffering from one of the common fevers or influenzas, but not in obvious danger, he lost consciousness and died within a day of “congestion of the brain”. Some 150 students formed a funeral procession, and his University colleagues spoke highly of his scientific and educational work, and their sense of loss.

He is known for the Kipling connection; a few of his 1880s photographs are widely printed; he is “The Professor” (not named, and not necessarily spouting his own words or opinions) in the From Sea to Sea articles; and he fades from view after death, while Edmonia lives to write his obituary, return to America, eventually resume her correspondence with Kipling (who shot to fame on reaching England in 1890), and leave useful diaries and letters. This story is fine but not worth retelling in detail here. I hope readers see something of interest in a few less familiar points about Alec’s technical work and his relations in America and Ballynure:

- His scientific career, with sunspots and Ballyboley thermometers

- His links with the Hills of Abbeville, South Carolina

- His opinions on Irish and other peoples and their political self-determination.