ELPHINSTONE, Mountstuart. Dumbarton, Scotland 6.10.1779 — Hookwood, Surrey 20.11.1859. British (Scottish) Civil Servant in India. Son of John, the 11th Baron E., and Anne Ruthven. Educated in Edinburgh and Kensington. From 1795 writer in E.I.C.’s service, was sent to Benares, where he soon learned Persian and Hinsi and barely escaped the massacre in 1799. From 1801 assistant to the resident at Peshwa’s court in Poona, participated in Maratha wars in the staff of colonel A. Wellesley. 1804-08 resident at Nagpur, then he “was sent as Envoy to Kabul, with a view to establish English influence there against the supposed French designs”, met Shah Shuja in Peshawar (then Afghan territory) in 1809. He never went further than that, but collected much information from Afghans. From 1811 resident in Poona. In the war of 1817 his residence, books and papers in Poona were burnt, “he himself showed great skill and military courage: he annexed the Peshwa’s territory, as ordered, and administered it, interfering as little as possible with native usages.” From 1819 to 1827 Governor of Bombay, where he carried on legislative and judicial reforms and advanced education. The Elphinstone College was founded in 1834 in his honour (decision 1827, opened 1835). Unmarried.
After retiring from service Elphinstone travelled in 1827-29 in Europe and then “led a retired life, twice refused the offer of the Governor-Generalship of India, and declined the Under Secretaryship of the Board of Control and a special mission to Canada.” After being radical in youth, he became conservative in politics. He thought that the British rule in India will be short, the British were just teaching European values and later on Indians will establish their own government according to them. His interest in scholarly pursuits he preserved all the time.
Publications: An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul and its Dependencies in Persia, Tartary and Iran. 675 p. L. 1815, rev. ed. 1-2. L. 1839.
– History of India. 1-2. 654+752 p. L. 1841 (pre-colonial period); The Rise of British Power in the East. Edited by E. Colebrooke. 594 p. L. 1887.
– “Memoirs of the Hon. M.E.”, JRAS 18, 1861, 221-344.
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; *R.D. Choksey, M.E. The Indian Years, 1796–1827. 14+465 p. Bombay 1971; *T.E. Colebrooke, Life of Mountstuart Elphinstone. 1-2. L. 1884; *J.S. Cotton, Mountstuart Elphinstone. Rulers of India. Oxford 1892; M.E. Yapp, Encyclop. Iranica 8:4, 1998, 399f. (online 2011); H.G.K[eene], D.N.B. 17, 1889, 326-328; *C.A. Bayly, Oxford D.N.B.; picture in JBRAS Cent. Vol. 1905; Wikipedia with picture, portrait also in BDCRI 60-61, 2000-01 (2002), xvii.