Drummond, Thomas (1797–1840), engineer and public servant, was born 10 October 1797 in Edinburgh. Both his parents had connections with the Scottish literary world, his mother, Elizabeth, being the daughter of the whig writer James Somers, while his father, James Drummond, was a member of the Society of Writers to the Signet and a committed tory. Thomas was the third of four children, having two brothers and a sister. His father died in 1800 leaving considerable debts. His mother was obliged to sell the family estates, and their home in Edinburgh, and to move the family first to Preston and then to Musselburgh. Thomas was educated first at grammar school in Musselburgh, and then by private tutor and at a small school in Edinburgh run by George Scott, a mathematical master. He entered Edinburgh University at the age of 13.
In 1813 he became a cadet at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, joining the Royal Engineers two years later. Drummond accompanied Col. Thomas Frederick Colby (qv) to Scotland in 1821, and later to Ireland, to work on the ordnance survey. While engaged on the survey, Drummond invented two devices – a limelight and a heliostat – which significantly facilitated the surveyors in their task, and in collaboration with Colby he produced a set of self-compensating measuring bars which enabled the base of Lough Foyle to be accurately measured. Drummond hoped to develop his limelight for use in lighthouses, but it proved too expensive. He was elected a fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society in 1830.
Having made the acquaintance of a number of leading whig politicians, Drummond was appointed to head the boundary commission established to redraw parliamentary boundaries in connection with the great reform act of 1832. Through the work of the commission he came into contact with Lord Althorp, the chancellor of the exchequer, and in 1833 was appointed his private secretary. The same year he met Maria Kinnaird, the adopted daughter and heir of Richard Sharp. Drummond's marriage to Maria on 19 November 1835 made him financially independent. With the formation of a new government under Lord Melbourne (qv), Drummond was appointed under-secretary at Dublin Castle on 25 July 1835. The serving under-secretary, Lt-col. Sir William Gosset, was unpopular with the catholic community and was removed as a signal of the government's commitment to a fresh policy towards Ireland. This policy had its roots in the belief held by a section of the whig party that centuries of religious discrimination and maladministration had destroyed public confidence in government in Ireland, and that radical action was necessary to address this situation. Government and the law had to be seen to be administered fairly, and measures promoted to improve the material condition of the mass of the population.
The three men appointed to head the Irish government in 1835, the earl of Mulgrave (qv) (lord lieutenant 1835–9), Lord Morpeth (qv) (chief secretary 1835–41), and Drummond, were all enthusiastic exponents of the new policy, and worked closely and harmoniously together to implement it. As under-secretary, Drummond played a key role within the government and was responsible for initiating as well as implementing policy. It should be noted, however, that his was a subordinate role; all his actions required the sanction of his superiors. One of Drummond's first acts on his arrival in Dublin was to revive earlier proposals for reform of the police system in Ireland. Believing an efficient, impartial force to be essential to good government, Drummond advocated the amalgamation and centralisation of the county constabulary, with all appointments being vested in the lord lieutenant, together with the creation of a separate force for Dublin. The requisite legislation was passed in 1836. Drummond continued to take a close interest in police affairs, issuing a steady stream of government circulars and liaising with the newly appointed inspector-general, Col. James Shaw-Kennedy (qv). Particular efforts were made to prevent Orange processions, and to suppress faction-fighting. Drummond's zeal in immersing himself in, and attempting to direct, all aspects of Irish administration was not always appreciated by other officials. Frustrated by what he saw as government interference in the organisation and operation of the constabulary force, Shaw-Kennedy resigned in March 1838.
Drummond's official conduct was the cause of public controversy in May 1838 when, in reply to a letter from a number of Tipperary magistrates headed by Lords Glengall and Lismore expressing their concern about the state of the county, he suggested that the extent of crime might have less to do with the severity of the law than the rising level of evictions, and reminding them, in a much quoted phrase, that ‘property has its duties as well as its rights’. The following year, Drummond defended the government's policy in Ireland before a select committee of the house of lords. This he did very successfully, demonstrating on the basis of impressive, if unreliable, statistics that the country had become more peaceful and more prosperous since 1835. His appearance emphasised the highly politicised nature of his position and duties.
Drummond was anxious to make government more accessible, as well as more acceptable, to catholics, and his office was open to all callers. He was also a strong supporter of government investment in economic development. At his own instigation he was appointed in 1836 as one of four commissioners charged with inquiring into the promotion of railway communications. The commission's report, published in 1838, was a meticulous and far-sighted examination of the economic potential of railway transport, as well as of its social implications, and recommended the construction of a nationwide railway system financed by government. A bill to make available over £2.5 million for the construction of trunk lines was drawn up and passed the commons in 1839, but was subsequently dropped by the government. Other reforms with which Drummond was involved included the establishment of democratically elected municipal corporations and reform of the tithe system, so that responsibility for paying tithe was placed on landlords rather than their tenants.
Drummond's devotion to his duties was total. He frequently worked from the early hours of the morning till late at night (though this was partly because he appears to have been an exceptionally poor delegator), and as a consequence saw little of his wife and three young daughters, Mary Elizabeth (b. 1836), Fanny (b. 1838), and Emily (b. 1839). His health suffered and he was forced to take a break from work early in 1840. A few months after returning to his duties in Ireland in February 1840, he contracted what was considered to be internal erysipelas and died on 15 April 1840. He requested to be buried in Ireland – in whose service, he claimed, he had lost his life – and was buried in Mount Jerome cemetery, Harold's Cross, Dublin. His funeral was attended by most of the leading figures in the country, and large numbers of people joined the funeral procession. A statue by John Hogan (qv), paid for by public subscription, was erected in the City Hall, Dublin, in 1843, where it remains. Drummond's papers are in the NLI.