CUST, Robert Needham. Bedfordshire 24.2.1821 — London 28.10.1909. British Indologist. Son of Hon. and Rev. Henry Cookayne Cust, of a noble family (his uncle was Earl Brownlow), and Anna Maria Needham. Educated at Eton, planned first to become a lawyer and began studies at Trinity College, Cambridge, but changed his mind and joined I.C.S. At Haileybury learnt Sanskrit, Persian, Arabic, and Urdu. In 1843 arrived in Calcutta, now learnt Bengali, etc. at College of Fort William. Served as assistant to the Magistrate of Ambala, then as personal assistant to the political agent of North-West Frontier. He landed thus in the middle of the Sikh war, where his boss was killed in 1845. Later in charge of Hoshiarpur district (he was the only British officer in the whole district), then moved to Ambala. In 1851 on a brief furlough in England, then served as Joint Magistrate of Benares and Magistrate and Collector of Banda in Bundelkhand. In 1855 he was again on leave in England (and thus escaped the mutiny), where he got married with Maria Hobart and was called to the bar. Back in India in February 1858 Commissioner of Lahore, then of Amritsar. His wife died in 1864, and RNC brought his children to England. Back in India, he served as a member of the Legislative Council. During another leave in England married again, Emma Carlyon, served then as a member of the Board of Revenue in North-West Frontier Province. After his second wife had died in Allahabad in 1867, RNC retired from service, returned to England, and married again, now Elizabeth Mathews. Travelled much in Europe and participated in seven Oriental conferences. In 1904 his eye sight began to fail, but with the help of a reader he continued his studies. LL.D. Edinburgh 1885. From his marriages he had foyr daughters and two sons.
RNC was not a great scholar, but he had an exceptional ability with languages. He is said to have mastered 16 languages (Greek, Latin, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, Arabic, Persian, Sanskrit, Hindi, Urdu, Pañjabi, and Bengali). He was also interested in missionary work and worked actively for British and Foreign Bible Society.
Publications: Between 1870–1909 wrote more than 50 books on Indian languages and religions, on African languages, Pacific languages, Caucasian languages, etc., political and religious writings, translations, poems, etc. Participated in the great English dictionary of Murray. Also wrote a number of articles, reviews and obituary notices to the JRAS, CR, etc.
– A Sketch of the Modern Languages of the East Indies. 210 p. L. 1878.
– “On the Origin of the Indian Alphabet”, JRAS 16, 1884, 325-359; “The Origin of the Phenicean and Indian Alphabets”, JRAS 1897, 49-80
– Linguistic and Oriental Essays. 1-7. L. 1880-1904.
– Pictures of Indian Life. 10+346 p. L. 1881.
– Memoirs of Past Years of a Septuagenarian. 456 p. Hertford 1900 (with his bibliography).
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; *P. Penner, Robert Needham Cust, 1821-1909: A Personal Biography. 1987; T. H. Thornton, JRAS 1910, 255-262 and *D.N.B. First Suppl. 1901; Boston Univ. History of Missiology homepage with photo (= P. Williams in Gerald H. Anderson (ed.), Biographical Dictionary of Christian Missions. 1998, 162f.); Wikipedia with two photos.