GILCHRIST, John Borthwick. Edinburgh 1759 — Paris 9.1.1841. British (Scots) Indologist, a Pioneer of Hindi-Urdu Studies. Son of merchant Walter G., lost his father at the age of one. After school in Edinburgh studies of medicine at George Heriot’s Hospital, Edinburgh. Joined the E.I.C.’s service in 1783 as assistant surgeon, served in Calcutta, 1794 surgeon. At this time the E.I.C. was content, if its agents achieved a smattering of Persian, but JBG realized the importance of Hindustani. In disguise he travelled in Hindi speaking provinces in order to learn good language, also learnt Persian and Sanskrit. In the end his idea was accepted, governor general Wellesley gave his support, and JBG was made the principal of the new Fort William College. Here he collected Indian literates and let them compose texts in Hindi and Urdu, promoting thus strongly the development of prose literature. Because of an illness he had to return to Britain in 1804. After a while in Edinburgh (1804 LL.D. University of Edinburgh) he was a short time Professor at East India College (then still in Hertford) in Febrary to May 1806. In 1809 retired from the E.I.C.’s service. A bank with J. Inglis in Edinburgh remained short-lived.
In 1816 JBG came to London and began private language classes for people intending to go to India. In 1818 the Company decided that its people (surgeons in particular) should learn Hindustani before leaving for India. Therefore a chair was founded for JBG at Oriental Institution (Leicester Square), but it soon became to quarrel. In public JBG announced to take not the 3 £ fee from his students (and as a compensation he obtained 150 £ in addition to his salary of 200 £), but in the classroom he demanded from every student a receipt for the purchase of his own books by 10-15 £. The impulsive way of his teaching was criticized, too. The course was obligatory only to surgeons, and JBG demanded that it should be obligatory to all. In his opinion, the E.I.C. was cruel, stingy and thankless.
In 1825 the Company had had enough. JBG was allowed to teach until the end of 1826, then he was succeeded by S. Arnot and D. Forbes. After an unsuccesful attempt to return to India he founded a rival school of Oriental languages, but retired soon. He was irascible, easy to take offence, and expressed himself in strong words. In politics he was radical republican. No wonder that he often had difficulties with people. He was married (probably late), no children. His widow married a Napolian general.
Publications: A Dictionary, English and Hindoostanee. 1-2. 1787-90.
– A Grammar of the Hindoostanee Language. 1796.
– Oriental Linguist. An … Introduction to the Language of Hindoostan. 1798, 2nd ed. 1802; The Anti-jargonist … being partly an abridgement of the Oriental Linguist. 1800; The Stranger’s East Indian Guide to Hindoostanee. 1802, 2nd ed. 1808, 3rd ed. 1820; The British Indian Monitor. 1-2. 1806-08 (a compact edition of all three).
– (ed.? and) transl. Hidayat ool Islam, compiled by Mouluwa Umanut Oollah, in Arabic and Hindostanee. 1. Calcutta 1804 (vol. 2 never appeared).
– The Hindee Story Teller, or entertaining expositor of the Roman, Persian and Nagree characters. 1802; A Collection of Dialogues, English and Hindoostanee, on the most familiar and useful subjects. 1804, 2nd ed. 1809, 3rd ed. 1820.
– The Hindee moral Preceptor, and Persian Scholar’s shortest road to the Hindoostanee Language, or vice versa. 1803 (Sa‘di’s Pandname in Persian with Urdu translation, English translation and verse paraphrase, comparative grammar of Persian and Urdu), new edition 1821 (with a new Urdu version).
– edited: The Oriental Fabulist, or Polyglott translations of Esop’s and other Ancient Fables from the English Language into Hindoostanee, Persian, Arabic &c., in the Roman character, by various hands. 1803.
– The Hindee-Roman Orthoepigraphical Ultimatum. 1820.
– The Orienti-Occidental Tuitionary Pioneer to Literary Pursuits by the King’s and Company’s Officers of all ranks … and departments … 14 reports, &c. … A Panglossal Diorama for a Universal language and Character … and a … new Theory of Latin Verbs. 1826.
– A New Theory and Prospectus of Persian Verbs with their Hindoostanee Synonyms. 1831.
– published all the time revised new editions of his books.
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; G. Goodwin, D.N.B. 21, 1890, 342-344; *M. A. Siddiqi, Gilkrist aur is kā ‘ahd. 312 p. Aligarh 1960 (in Urdu); Wikipedia.
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