TURNOUR, George. Ceylon (Sri Lanka) 11.3.1799 — Naples 10.4.1843. British Civil Servant and Indologist in Ceylon. Son of elder G.T., the Earl of Winterton, who at the time of his birth was high civil officer in Ceylon (d. 1813), and a French mother, Emilie de Beaussett, from 1811 grew up in England. In 1818 joined Ceylon Civil Service, served in different parts of the island, learned “dialects” (apparently Sinhalese and Tamil) and Pāli. From 1833-41 the first Government Agent of the Central Province, then briefly Assistant Colonial Secretary in Colombo. In 1841 returned as ill to England, in 1842 went to Italy for his health, but did not recover.
Turnour was one of the very first Western Pāli scholars. He started his Mahāvaṁsa translation as early as 1826, but interrupted, when he heard of Upham’s unfortunate attempt. After seeing it he continued the work, on which his fame is founded. With the help of the Dīpavaṁsa he could show that King Piyadassi of the inscriptions just deciphered by Prinsep was Aśoka. In his articles he presented many canonical texts for the first time in English.
Publications: Articles on the history of Ceylon and Buddhism in Ceylon Almanack, esp. “Epitome of the History of Ceylon, chiefly from Mahavanso”, C.A. 1833.
– Epitome of the History of Ceylon, compiled from Native Annals, and the first twenty chapters of the Mahawanso. 127+139+108 p. Ceylon 1836.
– Edited: The Mahâwanso. In Roman characters with the tr. subjoined. 1. Chapters 1–38. 93+30+262+35 p. Ceylon 1837.
– “Examination of some Points of Buddhist Chronology”, JASB 5, 1836, 521-536; “Examination of the Pali Buddhistical Annals”, JASB 6, 1837, 501-528, 713-737 & 7, 1838, 686-701, 789-817, 919-933, 991-1014; “On the Tooth Relic of Ceylon, with remarks on the Lât inscription”, JASB 6, 1837, 856-869? (Dhauli & Girnar); “Further Notes on the Inscriptions on the columns at Delhi, Allahabad, Bettiah, &c.”, JASB 6, 1837, 1049-1064?.
Sources: C.B[endall], D.N.B. 57, 1899, 374; Buckland, Dictionary; *R.F. Gombrich, Oxford D.N.B.; *J.E. Tennent, Ceylon. 3rd ed. 1, 312; JRAS 8, 1846, Proc. ivf.; JASB Centenary Vol.; Wikipedia.