COLEBROOKE, Henry Thomas

COLEBROOKE, Henry Thomas. London 15.6.1765 — London 10.12.(or 10.3. or 18.3. or 10.4.)1837. British Pioneer of Indology, Lawyer and Mathematician. 1782-1814 in India. Third son of Sir George C. (1729–1809), 2nd Bart., a banker and later the chairman of the E.I.C.’s directors (in 1769), and Mary Gaynor. Privately educated at home, learned Latin, Greek, French and German, in the age from 12 to 17 lived with the family in France. In 1782 joined E.I.C.’s service and, having narrowly escaped the Royal George, which sank when still in harbour, sailed on board of the next ship to India. During the travel he made meteorological observations (publ. in 1823 in Quart. Journal of Science & Literature). Arrived at Calcutta in 1783 and settled with his brother, Sir Edward C. (1761–1816) First he spent his time in social life, in hunting and other diversions, and only later began serious study and ordered a library of classics from Europe. Of his position in the E.I.C. he was not much interested and did not want to study Urdu and Persian as his father suggested. After three years in Calcutta he became assistant to the Collector of Tirhut. After a while in Purnia he became the Collector of Nattore. During these ten years he got interested in the land and began in earnest the study of its conditions, languages and nature. His interest in algebra and the practical need of legal knowledge led him to begin Sanskrit study.

In 1795 Colebrooke was nominated judge in Mirzapur near Benares, where he could better pursue his studies. He became acquainted with Sir William Jones and wrote his first contributions to the As. Res. In 1799-1801 he was on an unsuccesful mission to the Raja of Berar in Nagpur. From 1801 Judge of the new Court of Appellation (Sadr Diwani Adalat) and from 1805 Professor of Sanskrit and Hindu Law at the College of Fort William in Calcutta (taught not, but prepared text books). In 1807-12 member of Supreme Council, then back to court. From 1806 President of A.S.B. Married 1810 Elizabeth Wilkinson, after her death in 1814 he soon retired and returned to England. Second of his three sons (the others died early) was —> Th. E. Colebrooke.

In England Colebrooke settled down in Bath and started many-sided activity. He published anonymously writings on law, economy, and politics. In one article (Quarterly Journal of Science & Literature 7) he considered the possibility of building a ploughing tractor, as a horse eats the share of five men. He was active member in R.A.S., Linnaean Society and geological, astronomical and zoological societies. In 1821-22 he made a business voyage to the Cape. Although dorsal illness and increasing blindness later hampered his scholarly work, he was still capable, prompted by his friend and student Fr. Rosen, of editing his collected Indological articles.

Colebrooke was one of the greatest pioneers of Indology, the man who, building on the foundation laid by Sir William Jones, made of Indology a philological science. He began as a scholar of law, but the Digest in 1797 also established his fame as the leading Sanskrit scholar, and soon he became interested in many aspects of Indian culture. His grammar was a pioneer work based directly on Pāṇini. Many text editions (e.g. Pāṇini) were prepared by pandits under his supervision and a few by Colebrooke himself. He conducted research on Veda (which he was the first to describe, but still supposed to be not worth of much while), religions, philosophy, literature, inscriptions, mathematics and astronomy. His long article on philosophy covers all darśanas, Pāśupata, Pañcarātra, Jainism and Buddhism. As early as in 1801 he saw the IE character of Celtic languages. The most lasting value had probably his work on Indian astronomy. His large collection of Indian manuscripts he deposited in 1818 in E.I.C.’s (future India Office) Library. He was a keen rider and hunter.

Publications: Articles on zoology, botanics, geology, and meteorology in Quart. Jouurnal of Sc. & Lit., As. Res., Tr. of Geol. Soc., and Tr. of Linnæan Soc.

The Agriculture and Commerce of Bengal. 1792; Remarks on the present state of Husbandry and Commerce in Bengal. Calcutta 1795, rev. ed. 16+198 p. Calcutta 1803 (a report for the Company); the anonymously published Remarks on the husbandry and internal commerce of Bengal. 7+206 p. L. 1806 is claimed to be by Colebrooke, but its authorship is uncertain.

– “On the Duties of a faithful Hindu Widow”, As. Res. 4, 1795 = 1799 (8° ed.), 215-225; “Enumeration of Indian Classes”, As. Res. 5, 1798 = 1799 (8° ed.), 53-67; “On Indian Weights and Measures”, As. Res. 5, 1798 = 1799 (8° ed.), 91-109.

A Digest of Hindú Law on Contracts and Successions. 1-4. Calcutta 1797-98 and further editions (Vivādabhaṅgārṇava by Jagannātha Tarkapañcānana, translation begun by Sir William Jones).

– “On the Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus and of the Bra’hmens especially”, As. Res. 5, 1798 = 1799 (8° ed.), 345-368 & 7, 1801 = 1803 (8° ed.), 232-311; “On the Origin and Peculiar Tenets of certain Muhammadan Sects”, As. Res. 7, 1801 = 1803 (8° ed.), 336-342; “Observations on the Sect of Jains”, As. Res. 9, 1807 = 1809 (8° ed.), 287-322.

– “On ancient monuments containing Sanskrit inscriptions”, As. Res. 9, 1807 = 1809 (8° ed.), 398-445 (9 inscriptions studied); inscriptions also in TrRAS 1824-26; geographical articles in As.Res., TrRAS, etc.

Edited: Hitopadeśa or salutary instruction, in the original Sanskrit. Dasa Cumara Charita, abridged by Appayya. Three Satacas or centuries of verses, by Bharti Hari. 15+160+22+111 p. Serampore 1804; edited & translated: The Amara Kosha, a Sanscrit Lexicon (or, Cosha, or Dictionary of the Sanscrit Language by Amara Sinha). 7+11+422+ 219 p. Serampore 1808, 2nd ed. ibid. 1825.

A Grammar of the Sanscrit Language. I. 22+369 p. Calcutta 1805 (all publ.); “On the Sanscrit and Pracrit Languages”, As. Res. 7, 1801 = 1803 (8° ed.), 199-231 (also discusses the major modern Indian languages); “Sanscrit and Pracrit Poetry”, As. Res. 10, 1808 = 1811 (8° ed.), 389-474.

– “On the Vedas or Sacred Writings of the Hindus”, As. Res. 8, 1805 = 1808 (8° ed.), 377-497.

– “On the Indian and Arabian Divisions of the Zodiac”, As. Res. 9, 1807 = 1809 (8° ed.), 323-376; “On the Notions of Hindu Astronomers concerning the Precession of the Equinoxes and Motions of the Planets”, As. Res. 12, 1816, 209-250.

Translations of two Treatises of the Hindu Law of Inheritance. 15+377 p. Calcutta 1810 (Jīmūtavāhana & Yajñavalkya Commentary.

Translated: Algebra, with arithmetic and mensuration, from the Sanscrit of Brahmagupta and Bhascara. 84+378 p. L. 1817; Colebrooke’s translation of the Lilavati, with notes by Haran Chandra Banerji. Calcutta 1893, 2nd ed. 9+201+116 p. Calcutta 1927 (with text).

– “On the Philosophy of the Hindus”, TrRAS 1823-27 (1:1, 1823, 19-43; 1-2, 1826, 439-461; 1:3, 1827, 549-579; 2, 1827, 1-39), French by G. Pauthier. 8+322 p. P. 1833.

– “On the Hindu Courts of Justice”, TrRAS 2:1, 1829, 166-196.

With H. H. Wilson: The Sa’nkhya Kárika or Memorial Verses on the Sa’nkhya Philosophy, by I’swara Krishna, transl. from the Sanskrit by H. T. C., also the Bháshja or Commentary, transl. & illustrated by an original Commentary by H. H. W. 14+194+48+6 p. L. 1837.

Miscellaneous Essays. Ed. by Th. E. Colebrooke. 1-2. 465+563 p. L. 1837, 2nd ed. with notes by E. B. Cowell. 1-3. L. 1873.

Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; *T.E. Colebrooke, “The Life of H.T.C.” in *JRAS 5, 1839, 1-61 and in *Misc. Essays 2nd ed. Vol. 1, 1873; *S.L[ane]-P[oole], D.N.B. 11, 282-286; *M. Moses & A. Moulik: Dialogue of Civilizations. William Jones and the Orientalists. New Delhi 2009, 385-392; *Max Müller, Biogr. Essays. 2nd ed. Chips from German Workshop 2. L. 1895, 228-271; Sengupta 1996, 36-44; Staal 1985, 33ff.; Trautmann 1997, 146-149; Walckenaer, M.A.I.B.L. 16, 220-250; Windisch 26-36; Wikipedia with bust, the bust (by F.L. Chantrey) also in Sardesai, in Arberry, India Office Library. 1938 and in Chatterjee & Burn 1943, an engraving (by Atkinson after G. Richmond) in Arberry, British Orientalists. L. 1943, 34.

*Rosane and Ludo Rocher, The Making of Western Indology: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the East India Company. London 2001; *R. & L. Rocher, Founders of Indology: August Wilhelm von Schlegel and Henry Thomas Colebrooke in correspondence 1820–1837. Wb. 2013.

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