DAVIS, Samuel

DAVIS, Samuel. West Indies 1760 — Croydon 16.6.1819. British Engineer and Civil Servant in India, interested in Indian Astronomy. Son of an officer, John D., lost early his father and came to England with his mother. He “went to Bengal as an officer of Engineers, was an excellent artist. Accompanied Turner’s Embassy to Tibet in 1783, but he himself did not advance beyond Bhutan. He was afterwards admitted to the E.I.Co.’s service, was District Judge and Agent to the Governor-General at Benares and had an observatory there. As a mathematician and astronomer, he identified astronomical references in Sanskrit works” (Buckland). Kejariwal (67) states that he began his Indian career as engineer in Company’s service in Madras, only later in Calcutta (Wikipedia confirms), arrived at Madras 1780. Before Benares he served 1784-95 in Bhagalpur (befriended there with Sir William Jones) and Burdwan. During the revolt of Wazir Ali, the deposed Nawab of Oudh, in 1799 he defended himself and his family in a hard situation and was rescued by British troops. Finally Superintendent-General of Police and Justice of the Peace in Calcutta, member of the Board of Revenue and Accountant-General of India. Retired and returned to England in 1806. From 1810 to 1819 director of the E.I.C. and wrote the well-known Fifth Report on permanent settlement. F.R.S. Married Henrietta Boileau, seven daughters and four sons. The eldest son, Sir John Francis D. (1795–1890) was British Governor of Hong Kong and author of several Sinological books and of Vizier Ali Khan or The Massacre of Benares, A Chapter in British Indian History. L. 1871.

In his studies on Indian astronomy Davis was helped by Pandit Radhacharan, but also learned himself Sanskrit, and collaborated with Jones and R. Burrow. He was a skilled painter and used his time in Bhutan to make watercolours and pencil drawings of landscapes and architecture, i.al. of Buddhist temples.

Publications: “The Astronomical Computations of the Hindus”, As. Res. 2, 1789 = 8vo repr. 1799, 225-287; “On the Indian Cycle of Sixty Years”, As. Res. 3 = 8vo repr. 1799, 579-602.

– “Remarks on the Religious and Social Institutions of the Bouteas, or Inhabitants of Boutan”, TrRAS 2:2, 1830, 491-517.

M. Aris (ed.): Views of Medieval Bhutan: the diary and drawings of Samuel Davis, 1783. 124 p. 1982.

Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; Wikipedia.

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