Oliver St John (civil servant)

Oliver St John (civil servant)

Sir Oliver Beauchamp Coventry St. John, KCSI (21 March 1837 – 3 June 1891) was an administrator in British India. He served as the Chief Commissioner of Balochistan for ten years.

Oliver St. John was born in Ryde in the Isle of Wight to Captain St. John of the Madras Army. He studied at the East India Company's Military College at Addiscombe and joined the Bengal Engineers on 12 December 1856.[1]

Picus sancti johannis named after O. St. John by Blanford

After serving in the United Provinces of Agra and Oudh in the Public Works Department, he volunteered for work in Persia. This mission was mainly to establish a telegraph line between Persia and India. This mission along with Patrick Stewart was meant to lay a cable in the Persian Gulf and a land cable line for telegraphic link to Bosporus. Stewart and his brother Champain had already worked on a survey in Turkey. St. John worked on the expedition under Captain Murdoch Smith, R. E.

He later took charge of the line from Teheran to Bushahr (March 1866) and during this time a second telegraph line was added. He went home in May 1867 and he was then sent to Abyssinia to organize telegraph lines for the war. This line was 200 miles from the coast and this work led to his promotion. Towards the end of 1868 he returned to Persia and he remained here till 1871. In October 1871, Major St. John was sent to Baluchistan for the survey of the Perso-Kelat frontier. During all this time he took a keen interest in natural history and hunting. His personal notes are included in the zoology report of the expedition prepared by William Thomas Blanford. He also corresponded with ornithologists in the region such as Allan Octavian Hume. He returned to England in October 1872 and worked on preparing maps at the India Office. These maps were based on longitudes of the Persian telegraph stations fixed in co-operation with General Walker of the Indian Trigonometrical Survey, Captain Pierson, R.E., and Lieut. Stiffe, I.N.

St. John published his notes in the Narrative of a Journey through Baluchistan and Southern Persia (1876). He returned to India in 1875 and became Principal of the Mayo College in Ajmer. After August 1878 he became part of the staff of Sir Neville Chamberlain's mission to Kabul. He then became chief political officer to the Kandahar Field Force, becoming later Resident in Kandahar. An attempt was made on his life during a trip in Southern Afghanistan. He was also posted on special duty in Kashmir (January 1883), acting Resident in Hyderabad (April-July 1884), Resident in Kashmir (August 1884), Agent to the Governor-General at Baroda (December 1887), Resident at Mysore and Chief Commissioner in Coorg (January 1889). He was later recalled from Southern India to Baluchistan. He died in Quetta of Pneumonia after an attack of influenza.[1]

Blanford's account of zoology in the Persian border commission expedition includes notes on his experiences with lions in Persia while another account is provided of him chasing a tiger that threatened a colleague.


  1. ^ a b Goldsmid, Frederic (1891) Obituary: Colonel Sir Oliver Beauchamp Coventry St. John, R. E., K. C. S. I. Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society and Monthly Record of Geography, New Monthly Series. 13(7):434-437.
Political offices
Preceded by
Chief Commissioner of Balochistan
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Groves Sandeman
Preceded by
Sir Hugh Shakespear Barnes
Chief Commissioner of Balochistan (acting)
Succeeded by
Sir Hugh Shakespear Barnes

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