KENNEDY, Vans. Pinmore, Parish of Ayr 1784 — Bombay 28.12.1846. British (Scots) Colonial Officer and Indologist in India. Major-General. The youngest son of Robert K. of Pinmore, of an old Ayrshire family. The father lost his money in the bankruptcy of Ayr bank and had to sell Pinmore and move to Edinburgh. After his death in 1790 the mother had to take care of the big family. VK was educated in Edinburgh, Berkhamsted and Monmouth. In 1800 he sailed for Bombay as a cadet. A battle in Malabar brought a neck wound, which troubled him until his death. In 1807 he served as interpreter in subsidiary forces to Peshwa under Colonel Wallace. In 1817-35 Judge-Advocate-General to the Bombay army, during Elphinstone’s governorship also Government interpreter of Marathi and Gujarati, but the office was suspended soon after Elphinstone’s departure. In 1835, because of his unorthodox habits of work, he was dismissed and sent to Malegaon to take charge of the 26th Regiment Native Infantry. In 1836 and until his death he was Oriental Translator for the government. Colonel 1829, Major-General 1838. He was an active member of the Literary Society of Bombay (since 1817) and the Bombay Branch of R.A.S. and was President of the latter in 1831-35. Unmarried.
VK was an eager student and scholar, who lived a life of recluse. He is said to have worked 16 hours in a day and spent all his money to manuscripts, salaries of munshis and financial aid. He was learned and independent, often controversial, and sometimes ended up with unreliable conclusions. Famous was his argument with H. H. Wilson and G. C. Haughton, where he defended his thesis of a great antiquity of the Purāṇas. A second heated argument, this time with the Serampore missionaries and the British and Foreign Bible Society, concerned the language of the Marathi Bible. The roots of Sanskrit and Hinduism he thought to be found in Mesopotamia. He compiled the first extensive dictionary of Marathi. Also a Persian scholar.
Publications: Articles in Tr. of Bombay Lit. Soc., JBRAS, JASB, etc.; e.g. “An essay on Persian Literature”, TrBLS 2, 1820, 61-103 (or 63-108); “Remarks on the Chronology of Persian History”, ibid. 109-153 (115-162); “Notice Respecting the Religion Introduced into India by the Emperor Akbar”, ibid.242-270 (256-286); “Remarks on the state of Persia from the battle of Arbela in A.C. 331 to the rise of Ardashir Babegan A.D. 226”, TrBLS 3, 1823, 1-52; “Remarks on the 6th and 7th chapters of Mill’s History of British India, respecting the religion and manners”, ibid. 117-171; “Remarks on the character of Muhammed”, ibid. 398-448.
– A Dictionary of the Maratha Language. 1-2. Bombay 1824.
– Translated: “The Legend of Jalandhara. From the Commencement of the Uttara Khand of the Padma Purana”, The Quarterly Oriental Magazine 4, 1825, 242-265 & 5, 1826, 1-20.
– Researches into the Origin and Affinity of the Principal Languages of Asia and Europe. 14+324 p. L. 1828; Researches into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology. 20+494 p. L. 1831.
– “An Abstract of Muhammadan Law”, JRAS 2, 1835, 81-165.
– Practical Remarks on the Proceedings of General Courts Marshall. L. 1824, 2nd ed. 1825, 3rd ed. 1836; A Treatise on the Principles and Practice of Military Law. 1832, 2nd ed. 1847.
Sources: H. B[everidg]e, D.N.B. Suppl. 3, 1901, 58f.; *Oxford D.N.B.; *J. Bird, JBRAS 2, 1848, 430-436; Buckland, Dictionary; L. Rocher, “Vans Kennedy (1784–1846). A preliminary bio-bibliography”, JAOS 109, 1989, 621-625; JRAS 10, 1847, Proc. ii-iv; Nouv. Ann. des Voy. 5:13, 1848, 118-120; Wikipedia.
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