COLEBROOKE, Henry Thomas

COLEBROOKE, Henry Thomas. London 15.6.1765 — London 10.12.(or 18.3. or 10.4.)1837. British Pioneer of Indology. 1782-1814 in India. Third son of Sir George C. (1729–1809), 2nd Bart., chairman of the E.I.C.’s directors in 1769, and Mary Gaynor. Privately educated at home, at the age from 12 to 17 lived in France with the family. In 1782 narrowly escaped the Royal George, which sank when still in harbour, and sailed on board of the next ship to India. During the travel made meteorological observations (publ. in 1823 in Qu. J. Sc. & Lit.). Arrived at Calcutta in 1783 and settled with his brother, Sir Edward C. 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 interested and wanted not 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 started 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 he 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 Professor of Sanskrit and Hindu Law at the College of Fort William in Calcutta (taught not, but prepared books). In 1807-12 member of Supreme Council, then back to court. In 1814 President of A.S.B. Married 1810 Elizabeth Wilkinson, after her death in 1814 he returned to England. —> Th. E. Colebrooke was his second son.

In England HTC settled down in Bath and started many-sided activity. He published anonymously writings on law, economy, and politics. In one article (Qu. J. Sc. & Lit. 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 hampered his scholarly work, he was still able, prompted by his friend and student Rosen, to edit his collected Indological articles.

HTC 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 started as a scholar of law, but soon became interested in many aspects of Indian culture. His grammar was a pioneer work founded directly on Pāṇini. Many text editions (e.g. Pāṇini) were prepared by pandits under his supervision and a few by HTC himself. He made research on Veda (which he was the first to describe, but still supposed not worth of much while), religions, philosophy, literature, inscriptions, mathematics and astronomy. As early as in 1801 he saw the IE character of Celtic languages. Most lasting value had probably his work on Indian astronomy. His large collection of Indian MSS. he deposited in 1818 in E.I.C.’s (future India Office) Library.

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.

– “On the Duties of a faithful Hindu Widow”, As. Res. 4, 1795.

translated: A Digest of Hindú Law on Contracts and Successions. 1-4. Calcutta 1798; Translations of two Treatises of the Hindu Law of Inheritance. Calc. 1810 (Jīmūtavāhana & Yajñavalkya Commentary).

– “On Indian Weights and Measures”, As. Res. 1798.

– “Enumeration of Indian Classes”, As. Res. 1798; “On the Religious Ceremonies of the Hindus”, As. Res. 5-7, 1798-1801; “On the Origin and Peculiar Tenets of certain Muhammadan Sects”, As. Res. 1801; “Observations on the Sect of Jains”, As. Res. 9, 1807.

inscriptions edited in As. Res. 1801, 1807, 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. Calc. 1805 (all publ.); “On the Sanscrit and Pracrit Languages”, As. Res. 7, 1801 = 1805, 199-231 (8Ś); “Sanscrit and Pracrit Poetry”, As. Res. 10, 1808, 387-474 (8Ś).

– “On the Vedas or Sacred Writings of the Hindus”, As. Res. 8, 1805, 369-476 (8Ś).

– “On the Indian and Arabian Divisions of the Zodiac”, As. Res. 9, 1807, 323-376 (8Ś); “On the Notions of Hindu Astronomers concerning the Precession of the Equinoxes and Motions of the Planets”, As. Res. 12, 1816 = 1818, 209-250 (8Ś).

translated: Algebra … of Brahmagupta and Bhascara. 1817; Colebrooke’s translation of the Lilavati, with notes by Haran Chandra Banerji. Calcutta 1893, 2nd ed. 9+201+116 p. Calc. 1927 (with text).

– “On the Philosophy of the Hindus”, TrRAS 1823-27.

– “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. 1-2. 465+563 p. L. 1837, 2nd ed. with notes by E. B. Cowell. 1-3. L. 1873.

Sources: Windisch 26-36; 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; Walckenaer, M.A.I.B.L. 16, 220-250; Wikipedia with bust.

*Rosane and Ludo Rocher, The Making of Western Indology: Henry Thomas Colebrooke and the East India Company. London 2001.


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