CUNNINGHAM, Alexander. Westminster 23.1.1814 — Cranley Mansions, South Kensington (London) 28.11.1893. Sir. British (Scots) Colonial Officer and Archaeologist in India. The great pioneer of Indian archaeology and the first Director-General of the A.S.I. General-major. Born in England of Scots parents, poet Allan C. (1784-1842) and Jean Walker, brother of —> J. D. C. Educated at Christ’s Hospital. Patronized by Sir Walter Scott, who secured for A. Cunningham and his elder brother a cadetship of the E.I.C. After Addiscombe Military College he went in 1831 to India and joined in June Bengal Engineers as a second-lieutenant. In 1834 one of the aides-de-camp of Governor-General Lord Bentinck, in Calcutta became friend with Prinsep, who introduced him to archaeology and numismatics. In 1837 excavated Sarnath. In 1839 on a special mission to Kashmir, in 1840 engineer of the king of Oudh, in 1843-44 participated in Gwalior campaign. In 1846 (now a captain) on a special mission to Ladakh, in 1847-49 fixing the north-western boundary. In 1848-49 participated in the Pañjāb campaign and in the battle of Gujrāt on 22th February 1849 merited a majorship.
In 1848 Cunningham became interested in Laidlay’s English translation of Faxian. In 1850 executive engineer of the Gwalior state, where he had occasion to examine Sanchi. In 1851 he opened the Sanchi Stupa. From 1852 executive engineer at Multan, from 1856 chief engineer in Pegu and Tenasserim, from 1858 chief engineer in North-Western Provinces. In 1861, when the Archaeological Survey of British India was founded (not yet with this name), he was nominated the first Archaeological Surveyor, and in 1862 pensioned from the army as a General-Mayor. In his office he carried excavations on several Buddhist sites in Northern India (Bodh Gaya, Nalanda, Kusinara, Śrāvastī, Taxila). In 1866 the A.S.I. was abolished and he returned to England, working as a bank director in London, but already in 1870 the Survey was reestablished and now with necessary prerequisites for a systematic survey. Now he returned to India reestablished in his former office, now even with assistants (although they were not too well qualified for their job). Now excavated i.al. at Bharhut.
In the age of 70 he fell from the back of his elephant and was badly injured. He retired soon afterwards, in 1885. His large personal collection of Indian sculptures, coins, and antiquities sank in a ship on the north-eastern coast of Ceylon together with his books, notes and negatives. His last years he spent in England suffering of a long illness, in which he finally succumbed at his residence. In his publications he described his research adequately, though with a minimum of notes. In his surveys and excavations he concentrated on North India and never went beyond the Narmadā. C.S.I. 1871, C.I.E. 1878, K.C.I.E. 1887. Married 1840 Alicia Maria Whish. The younger of his two sons, Sir Alexander Frederick Douglas C. (1852-1935) served in I.C.S. in the North-West Frontier.
Publications: “Correction of a mistake regarding one of the Roman coins found in the Tope at Manikyala”, JASB 3, 1834, 635-637; various notes on Bactrian coins, JASB 1840, 1841, 1842; Various notes on Indo-Scythian etc. coins, JASB 1840, 1841, 1844, 1865; “Coins of Indian Buddhist Satraps, with Greek inscriptions”, JASB 23, 1854, 679-714.
– “The Ancient Coinage of Kashmir”, NC 6, 1843, 1-38; “An Attempt to Explain some of the Monograms found upon the Grecian Coins of Ariana and India”, NC 8, 1845, 175-197; “Coins of the Indian Prince Sophytes”, NC 2:6, 1866, 220-231; On Indo-Greek, Indo-Scythian and Indo-Parthian coins in NC 1868-73, 1889, 1890, 1892, 1893.
– Articles on geography (JASB 1841, 1848, 1860), on inscriptions (JASB 1863, 1864).
– “An Account of the Discovery of the Ruins of the Buddhist City of Samkassa”, JRAS 1842; “An Essai on the Arian order of architecture as exhibited in the Temples of Kashmir” JASB 17:2, 1848, 241-327, 17 pl. 1 map; “Relics from Ancient Persia in Gold, Silver and Copper”, JASB 50, 1881, 151-186 & 52, 1883, 64-67, 258-260, 2 pl.; etc.
– “Verification of the Itinerary of Hwan Thsang through Ariana and India”, JASB 17:1, 1848, 476-488.
– Ladâk. Physical, statistical, and historical; with notices of the surrounding countries. 14+483 p. 31 pl. L. 1854.
– The Bhilsa Topes; or, Buddhist Monuments of Central India: comprising a brief historical Sketch of the Rise, Progress, and Decline of Buddhism, with an account of the opening and examination of the various groups of Topes around Bhilsa. 36+368p. 73 pl. L. 1854.
– Reports of the Archaeological Survey of India. Calcutta 1863-65, and annually 1870-85, together 24 volumes of which 13 were written by him.
– The ancient geography of India. The Buddhist period, including the campaigns of Alexander, and the travels of Hwen-Thsang. 481 p. L. 1871.
– Corpus Inscriptionum Indicarum. 1. Inscriptions of Asoka. 151 p. 29 pl. Calcutta 1877.
– The Stūpa of Bhārhut. 143 p. 57 pl. L. 1879; Mahâbodhi or The Great Buddhist Temple under the Bodhi Tree at Buddha Gayâ. 87 p. 31 pl. L. 1892.
– Book of Indian Eras. 253 p. Calcutta 1883.
– Coins of Alexander’s Successors in the East. The Greek and Indo-Scythians. Part I. The Greeks of Bactriana, Ariana and India. 274 p. 12 pl. L. 1884 (originally long series of articles in NC); Coins of Ancient India from the earliest times down to the seventh century A.D. 9+118 p. 14 pl. L. 1891 (also from NC); Coins of Mediaeval India from the seventh century down to the Muhammadan conquests. 108 p. 11 pl. L. 1894.
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; J.S.C[otton], D.N.B. Suppl. 2, L. 1901, 94-96; JRAS 1894, 166-177; *Hoernle, Proc. ASB 1894; *JRAS 1963, 194-207; Wikipedia with two photos.
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