MACNAGHTEN, William Hay. Antrim, North Ireland ?.8.1793 — Kabul 23.12.1841. Sir, first Bart. British Civil Servant, Diplomat, and Orientalist in India. Second son of the lawyer Sir Francis Workman M. (1763–1843, served in India 1809–25, Sir 1809, chief of the clan 1832, Bart. 1836, publ. Considerations on the Hindu Law, as it is Current in Bengal. Serampore 1824) and Letitia Dunkin. Educated at Charterhouse, came to India as cadet in 1809, served first in Madras, studied eagerly Hindustānī and Persian, also Tamil, Telugu, Kannaḍa, and Marathi. In 1811-12 in Hyderabad as cornet, learning skills of diplomacy. In 1813 moved to Mysore residence and in 1814 to Bengal Civil Service, now studied languages at College of Fort Williams. After a while as assistant magistrate in Bengal, from 1820 Judge and Magistrate of Shahabad and from 1822 Registrar of Sudder Dewanny (Sadr Diwani Adalat). Became known as an expert of law. In 1830-33 he was Bentinck’s secretary in his tour around India, then head of secret service (Secret and Political Departments) until 1837. In 1837 he was a member of Auckland’s inspection in the North-west Provinces and planned the military expedition to Afghanistan. In 1838 he was at the court of Ranjit Singh negotiating an agreement in favour of Shah Suja. In 1839 he followed the army as diplomat to Afghanistan, but quarreled with officers and spent too much money to bribes. As an incurable optimist he trusted Shah Suja and even on his popularity, applying, without reason, his Indian experiences and discarding the warnings of Burnes and Pottinger. In 1841 he was against the evacuation. On 2nd November the insurrection broke out and Burnes was murdered. The army committed mistakes and the insurrection gained rapidly force. Soon Macnaghten was also caught by the rebels and shot. Unmarried.
Macnaghten was knighted (bart.) as absent in 1840 or 41, in September 1841 he became a provisional member of the Council of India, and in September 1841 Governor of Bombay. He was talented, but had too much optimism, impulsiveness and self-reliance. In Oriental studies he is mainly remembered of the first complete edition of the Arabian Nights he edited with —> T. Macan.
Publications: Principles and Precedents in Mohammedan Law. 73+5+379+80+12+25 p. Calcutta 1825, 2nd ed. by W. Sloan. 59+555+26 p. L. 1860; Reports of Cases in the Court of Nizamut Adawlut. 1. Calcutta 1827; Principles and Precedents of Hindu Law. 1-2. Calcutta 1828-29, 2nd ed. 1865; Reports of Cases in the Court of Sudder Dewanny Adawlut. 1827ff.
– Edited with Macan: The Alif [sic!] Laila; or book of the thousand nights and one night; commonly known as the Arabian Nights Entertainment. Publ. complete in the original Arabic by late Major T. M., ed. by W. H. M.. 1-4. Calcutta 1839-42.
Sources: J.A.H[amilton], D.N.B. 35, 1893, 239-243; *K. Prior, Oxford D.N.B.; Buckland, Dictionary; Wikipedia with two portraits.
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