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Tank at Jacobabad, excavated on Jacob's orders. -Photo provided by author

The year 2012 marks 200th birth anniversary of the founder of the city of Jacobabad, General John Jacob, but hardly does anyone remember this greatest pioneer of the city and the district.

Even the 1.24 million people residing in the district have completely forgotten the man who single-handedly turned a desert into thousands of acres of arable land in just twenty years. One can appreciate the scale of progress and prosperity his works brought to the region by just comparing it with the contiguous areas in today’s Baluchistan which were not under his administrative jurisdiction.

Being a native of the city, I find it my moral duty to pay homage to this great man whose beau idéal rule spanning over just about two decades (1838-1858) continues to bear fruit for the local populace to this day. Being no exception, I too benefitted directly from what Jacob did for us and am obliged to give him the credit for all that.

Born as the fifth son of Reverend Stephen Long Jacob on January the 11th 1812 at Woolavington, a village in Somerset County in England, John was schooled by his father. At the age of sixteen, he was commissioned in the Artillery and sailed to India in 1828. He served in different regiments and divisions of the British Army in India before being finally given an uphill task of guarding the Northern Sind borders. He accepted the challenging task of coping with the hostile climate of the region where the average daytime summer temperatures went as high as 130 °F (54.4 °C).

Apart from being a resolute soldier, then a chivalrous commander, and an unwavering commandant of Sind Irregular Horse, he was an able administrator, an innovative inventor, a creative architect, a meticulous engineer, a master city planner as well. He believed in involving the locals in works of common good, an attribute not so common in the officers of British Raj. Besides his military expertise and achievements, his civilian services for the area are remarkable so much so that after nearly 200 years of his reign, still there are tangible evidences of his works for the district. It would not be wrong to say that his professional sincerities were with the British Rule but his emotional links with the people and the area were deep-rooted, inasmuch as he never returned to England for thirty years after leaving the country and was buried in the town he established with his very hands.

At the time he set foot on this land, the area was widely referred to as Upper Sind ‘desert’ that was rife with marauders looting for living. However, soon after restoring peace in the area by thoroughly defeating the predator tribes, he started building infrastructure for the town, previously a village known as Khangurh, and its surroundings. Being an architect and an engineer himself, he designed and then executed the plans of laying a wide road network around the town that measured a good 600 miles (965 kms). His belief in the prosperity of local population as a key to smooth functioning of the government was at odds with his high command both in Bombay and in London, which cost him in the form of lack of funds for executing his development projects. Nevertheless, determined in his will, he carried out his scheme without much support from the bosses and turned a desert into a vibrant market and greenery all around. His single most important feat was the excavation of Begaree Canal, originating from Guddu barrage on river Indus and going round the district irrigating thousands of acres of land previously uncultivated.

He resolved the problem of unavailability of potable water for the residents by excavating a tank that contained water brought from Indus through a canal. He put those men to work, for themselves, who would prefer to starve rather than touching a spade or a hoe. His formula was simple, yet effective. He would divide the work into small chunks and distribute it among families who, being dead sure on fair return on their hardwork, completed the tasks very honestly and well in time. Jacob noted in one of his writings that he saw the men working well into the night without any order or obligation from the authority. John never advocated exploiting the labour by no or paltry wages and he believed it would bring nothing but chaos and ever-decreasing revenue over a certain area or headcount.

The system of granting land to peasants was well in accord with Qur’anic principles in that the person/family that tilled the land was its rightful owner and the government, not the individuals, reserved the right to lease land to people for ploughing it.

Jacob as an inventor was highly regarded by his peers to the extent that the improvements he made to rifle were put to practice and advertised by a gun-maker in the USA. His major inventions in weaponry include the extension of range of fire for up to 6 miles (a milestone at that time). However, this was not the end of his personality. Another dimension of his personality was his wisdom that can be gauged from the doctrines he put forward; he wrote in a letter, “All that could not be demonstrated logically or mathematically must be dismissed as absurd and untenable.” This is, by far, the grand truth of nature we still witness.

An incident that showed his gentleness and selflessness as a person: in an 1837 letter to his father, he described how two locals saved him from drowning. He writes, “While a gigantic native trying to help me rise to the surface approached me, I put my hand on his shoulder but my weight, augmented by heavy weapons attached to me, was too much for him to support and, not wishing to drown him too, I let the fellow go”.

Although the two men coming for his rescue managed to help him get to shore safely, he did not compromise his rescuer’s life for his own. In recognition of his military and civilian services, he was given the titles of C.B. (Companion of the Order of the Bath) and Aide de Camp of Queen Victoria and Sindh.

Irregular Horse renamed after him as Jacob’s Horse in his lifetime. However, the irony of the fact is that as many as four† books have been written on the life and achievements of John Jacob, none being authored by a native of the city, nor even in the local language. The locals, at the behest of a religious group, even went on to agree to change the name of the town from Jacobabad to Attarabad arguing that Jacob was a Christian. Fortunately, the move was deterred thanks to the ‘sectarian divide’ due to which people from the opposing factions opposed the proposal.

Death knocked at his door way too early when he fell to brain fever and turned his toes up peacefully on 5th December 1858, he was just 46, but he had accomplished much more than his age would suggest. He gained enough love and respect of people of the area that he was honourably buried in the heart of the city in presence of members of society and the British troops. His tomb still attracts great respect from his admirers who know the importance of the man in the history of the area. His statue in the Taunton Shire Hall and in the National Army Museum in Chelsea, London, and the inscription on them are sufficient to describe his worth.

References: [1] Article by Kenneth Jacob titled, “Brigadier General John Jacob C.B.”, appearing in ‘Family History’, Vol 20, No 163, New Series No 139, April 2000. [2] Book by Alexander Innes Shand titling, “General John Jacob - commandant of the Sind irregular horse and founder of Jacobabad”, printed in 1900 by Seeley & Co. Ltd., 38, Great Russell Street, London and available online at the University of California database. † 1) Title: “General John Jacob – commandant of the Sind Irregular Horse and founder of Jacobabad”, author: Alexander Innes Shand 2) Title: “General John Jacob”, author: Anonymous 3) Title: “John Jacob of Jacobabad”, author: H. T. Lambrick 4) Book chapter from “Sepoy Generals” by George W. Forrest