PRINSEP, James. London 20/29.8.1799 — London 22.4.1840. British Civil Servant, Numismatist and Epigraphist in India. Son of John Prinsep (1746–1830), an industrialist and politician who had been in India as soldier in 1771-88, and Sophia Elizabeth Auriol, brother of —> Henry Thoby Prinsep. He studied chemistry and was apprenticed to royal mint in London. Went to India in 1819 and served as Assistant Assay-Master at Calcutta Mint. In 1820-30 Assay-Master at Benares Mint, constructed there a new mint and a church, repaired the minarets of Aurangzib’s Mosque, conducted a statistical surveyand drew up the first map of the city. From 1830 deputy and in 1832-38 Assay-Master at Calcutta Mint, succeeding H. H. Wilson in this and as the secretaryof the Asiatic Society. He completed the building of the Hooghly-Sundarbans canal, started by his deceased brother, the engineer Captain Thomas Pr. Married 1835 Harriet Sophia Aubert, one daughter and one son. In November 1838 he left for England, where he soon “died from softening of the brain caused by overwork” (Buckland).

Prinsep had many interests, including chemistry, mineralogy, meteorology, numismatics, epigraphy, and archaeology. He successfully deciphered the Gupta, Brāhmī and Kharoṣṭhī scripts and thus gave a decisive contribution to the research of Indian history opening the Maurya, Indo-Greek, Kuṣāṇa and Gupta periods. Most of his work, including mineralogical and meteorological studies, where published in the JASBwhich he founded and edited in 1832-38. In epigraphical work he gained valuable assistance from Pandit Kamalākānta.

His work on numismatics and epigraphy began in 1832 with Roman, Greek and Persian coins. Soon he took the Kuṣāṇa coins, too, and in 1833 read Kaniṣka as “Kanerko”. Further Kuṣāṇa articles were published in 1834 and 1835 and one on Hindu coins in 1835. In 1837-38 he explained Kṣatrapa coins, in 1835 and 1838 Gupta coins. Epigraphical work was started with the Gupta inscription on Allahabad Pillar in 1834 and 1837. With Aśokan inscriptions he dealt in 1834, and the final decipherment of the Pillar Edicts followed in 1837. In 1838 he dealt with the Rock Edicts and found the names of Hellenistic rulers. In 1838 he also published the inscription of Rudradāman and the decipherment of coin Kharoṣṭhī. Another contribution in 1838 dealt with the early history of numbers.

Publications: Views and Illustrations of Benares. Lithogr. 1825 (35 own drawings).

– “On the Ancient Roman Coins in the Cabinet of the Asiatic Society”, JASB 1, 1832, 402-404; “On the Greek Coins in the Cabinet of the As. Soc.”, JASB 2, 1833, 27-41, 2 pl.; “Note on Lieut. Burnes’ Collection of Ancient Coins”, JASB 2, 1833, 310-318, 1 pl.; “Note on the Coins found by Captain Cautley at Behat”, JASB 3, 1834, 227-231; “On the Coins and Relics discovered by M. Chevalier Ventura … in the Tope of Manikyala”, JASB 3, 1834, 313-329, 2 pl., 436-456, 2 pl.; “Bactrian and Indo-Scythic Coins”, JASB 2, 1833, 405-416; “Note on Coins discovered by M. Court”, JASB 3, 1834, 562-567, 2 pl.; “Further Notes and Drawings of Bactrian and Indo-Scythic Coins”, JASB 4, 1835, 327-348; “On the connection of various Ancient Hindu Coins with the Grecian and Indo-Scythic Series”, JASB 4, 1835, 621-643, 5 pl.; “Notice of Ancient Hindu Coins”, JASB 4, 1835, 668-690, 4 pl.; “New Varieties of Bactrian Coins”, JASB 5, 1836, 548-554, 1 pl.; “New Varieties of the Mithraic or Indo-Scythic Series of Coins”, JASB 5, 1836, 639-657, 3 pl.; “New Types of Bactrian and Indo-Scythic Coins”, JASB 5, 1836, 720-724, 1 pl.; “Specimens of Hindu Coins descended from the Parthian type, and of the Ancient Coins of Ceylon”, JASB 6, 1837, 288-302, 3 pl.; “The Legends of the Saurashtra Group of Coins deciphered”, JASB 6, 1837, 377-392, 1 pl.; “Additions to Bactrian Numismatics and discovery of the Bactrian Alphabet”, JASB 7, 1838, 636-658, 3 pl.; “Coins and Relics from Bactria”, JASB 7, 1838, 1047-1052, 1 pl.

– “Note on Inscription No. 1 of the Allahabad Column”, JASB 3, 1834, 114-118; “Note on the Mathiah Lath Inscription”, JASB 3, 1834, 483-487; “Second Note on the Bhilsa Inscription”, JASB 3, 1834, 488-494, 2 pl.; “Inscription on the Iron Pillarat Delhi”, JASB 3, 1834, 494, 1 pl.; “Further particulars of the Sarun and Tirhoot Laths, an Account of two Buddha Inscriptions”, JASB 4, 1835, 124-128, 2 pl.; “Various Ancient Inscriptions”, JASB 5, 1836, 340-349, 2 pl., 482-486, 3 pl., 554-561, 2 pl., 657-661, 1 pl., 724-731, 5 pl., 795 & 6, 1837, 218-223, 3 pl., 278-288, 1 pl., 663-682, 7 pl., 869-887, 6 pl. & 7, 1838, 901-914, 966-978; “Note on the Facsimiles of Inscriptions from Sanchi near Bhilsa”, JASB 6, 1837, 451-477, 5 pl.; “Interpretation of the most ancient of the Inscriptions on the Pillar called the Lát of Feros Shah, near Delhi, and of the Allahabad, Radhia and Mattiah Pillar, or Lát, Inscriptions”, JASB 6, 1837, 566-609; “Discovery of Name of Antiochus the Great, in Two of the Edicts of Aśoka, King of India”, JASB 7, 1838, 156-167; “On the Edicts of Piyadasi, or Aśoka, the Buddhist Monarch of India, Preserved on the Girnar Rock in the Gujarat Peninsula, and on the Dhauli Rock in Cuttack; with the Discovery of Ptolemy’s Name therein”, JASB 7, 1838, 219-282; “Account of an Inscription found by Mr. H. S. Boulderson in the neighbourhood of Bareilly”, JASB 6, 1837, 777-786, 1 pl.; “Further elucidation of the Lát or Silastambha Inscriptions”, JASB 6, 1837, 790-; “Note on the Facsimiles of the various Inscriptions on the ancient column at Allahabad”, JASB 6, 1837, 963-980, 2 pl.; “Note on Inscription at Udayagiri and Khandgiri, in Cuttack”, JASB 6, 1837, 1072-1091, 2 pl.; Examination of the Inscriptions from Girnar in Gujerat, and Dhauli in Cuttack”, JASB 7, 1838, 334-356, 4 pl.; “Examination of the separate edicts of the Aswastama Inscription at Dhauli in Cuttack”, JASB 7, 1838, 434-456, 1 pl.

– Many scientific articles in AsRes and JASB.

Essays on Indian Antiquities, historic, numismatic and palaeographic, to which are added his Useful Tables, Illustrative of Indian History, Chronology, Modern Coinages, Weights, Measures & c. Edited by E. Thomas. 1-2. 16+435, 7+224 p. L. 1858.

Sources: JRAS 6, 1841, Annual Report 5-9; J.A[rbuthnot], D.N.B. 46, 395f.; Buckland, Dictionary; P. Thankappan Nair, James Prinsep. Life and Works. 1. Background and Benares Period. 15+279 p. 16 pl. Calcutta 1999; *H.T. Prinsep in Essays 1858, i-xvi; *V.A. Smith, East and West July 1906; Windisch 98-112; Wikipedia with medal and two portraits (by Emily Prinsep and C. Grant); painting by G. Chinnery in Ch. Allen, The Buddha and the Sahib. 2002; bust in Chatterjee & Burn 1943.

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