ELLIS, Francis Whyte. 1777? — Ramnad 10.3.1819. British Civil Servant and Pioneer of Indology in India. From 1796 in Madras Civil Service, 1802 as Secretary to the Board of Revenue, 1810 Collector of Madras. Died of cholera (?).
He was a pioneer of Dravidian linguistics, who was, i.al., capable of showing the Tamil origin of Malayālam (1816/78). He was also interested in Telugu, knew well Sanskrit, and succesfully showed the real character of the Ézour-Vedam. He was one of the first to note that the Dravidian languages, Tamil, Telugu and Kannaḍa, were not derived from Sanskrit (1816). He collaborated with many South Indian scholars. He appointed A. Muttusami Pillai as Munshi at the College of Fort St. George and advised him to start collecting Tamil manuscripts, but the collection is said to have been destroyed by Ellis’ successor. In 1812 he also founded the College Press, with Tamil and Telugu types.
FE was also interested in social questions. As a revenue collector he was strongly against the ryotwar system of tenure introduced by Munro in South India. His Mirasi study soon became a classic of land revenue studies. Many of his studies were only posthumously published.
Publications: ““Note to the Introduction”, A. D. Campbell, A grammar of the Teloogoo language. Madras 1816, 1-20.
– His replies to 17 questions relative to Mirasi right was printed in Madras 1818, repr. in C. P. Brown (ed.), Three treatises on Mirasi right. Madras 1852
– The Sacred Kurral of Tiruvalluva-Nâyanâr. 304 p. Madras 1819 (13 short chapters ed. & transl.); Tirukkural: Ellis’ Commentary (the whole Arattuppāl section), edited by R. P. Sethu Pillai. 406 p. Madras University Tamil Series 20. 1955.
– “Account of a Discovery of a modern imitation of the Védas, with remarks on the genuine works”, As. Res. 14, 1822, 1-60 (on the Ézour-Vedam).
– “On the Law Books of the Hindus”, Tr. of Lit. Soc. Madras 1, 1827, 1-25.
– “Analysis of the Copper Grant in possession of the Jews of Cochin”, MJLS 13:2, 1844-45, 1-11.
– “Dissertation on the Malayâlma Language”, IA 7, 1878, 275-287 (written 1816, publ. with notes by Burnell).
Sources: *R.E. Asher, “Notes on F.E. and an unpublished fragment of his commentary on Tirukkural”, Proc. of the 1st int. Conference Seminar of Tamil Studies, Kuala Lumpur 1968-69; Buckland, Dictionary; *W. Elliot, IA 4, 1875, 219-221 & 7, 1878, 274f.; *S. Oleksiw, “F.W.E.: A Brief Review of his Work”, ALB 51, 1987, 267-275; *P. Sreekumar, “FWE and the Beginning of Comparative Dravidian Linguistics” Historiographia Linguistica 36, 2009, 75–95; *Th. Trautman, Languages and Nations: The Dravidian Proof in Colonial Madras. Berkeley 2006 (also briefly in Trautmann 1997, 149-155); D.N.B. 17, 276 (unsigned); Wikipedia.
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