WILFORD, Francis

WILFORD, Francis. 1771 (1761?) — Benares 1822. British (of German Origin) Colonial Officer and Indologist in India. Born in the Kingdom of Hannover, obtained classical education. At an early age (1781?) joined the E.I.C.’s military service. Served many years as Lieutenant, in the end Colonel (possibly retired in 1794 and settled in Varanasi). There is very little reliable information available about his life. Apparently he had Indian wife and daughters.

FW was a pioneer, though notorious, of ancient Indian history and geography. He was learned, but uncritical, both with his sources and his conclusions. Thus his studies contain numerous fantastic equations, such as Deukalion = Deva-kāla-yavana. He thought to have found in the Purāṇas accounts of the sources of the Nile, the British Isles, and the narratives of the Old Testament. His main sources were the Viṣṇupurāṇa and the Bhāgavatapurāṇa, but also the summaries of other Purāṇa texts made by hired Pandits, who, observing that this kind of information brought in more money, inserted in their text the information sought for by the young scholar. The fraud became open rather early, and even FW himself understood that his early article on Egypt was therefore of little value, but the rest, too, remained extremely speculative. His sole worth was in publishing a great number of information, like Purāṇic cosmography, chronology, etc., based on manuscript sources, and therefore he was still used by pioneers such as Benfey and Lassen.

Publications: “Remarks on the City of Tagara”, AsRes 1, 8vo-reprint of Indian original publ. in London 179?, 368-375; “On Egypt and other Countries adjacent to the Ca’li’ River or Nile of Ethiopia, from the ancient Books of the Hindus”, AsRes 3, 8vo-reprint 1799, 46-259; “A dissertation on Semiramis, the origin of Mecca & c.from the Hindu Sacred Books”, AsRes 4, 1795, 8vo-reprint 1801, 376-400; “On Mount Caucasus”, AsRes 4, 1795, 8vo-reprint 1801, 455-539; “On the Chronology of the Hindus”, AsRes 5, 1798, 8vo-reprint 241-295; “Remarks on the Names of the Cabirian Deities”, AsRes 4, 1798, 8vo-reprint 297-301; “On Mount Caucasus”, AsRes 6, 180?, 8vo-reprint 455-439.

– “An Essay on the sacred Isles in the West, with other Essays”, AsRes 8, 1805, 8vo-reprint 1808, 245-376 & 9, 1807, 8vo-r. 32-241 & 10, 1808, 8°-r. 27-157 & 11, 1810, 8vo-r. 11-152.

– “On the ancient Geography of India”, AsRes 14, 1822, 373-470; “An essay on the comparative geography of India”, JASB 20, 1951, 227-272, 470-486.

Sources: *H. Hosten, “Father A. Monserrate, S.J., and Captain F. Wilford”, JASB N.S. 18, 1922, 371-374; Windisch 115f.; not in D.N.B. Long article in Wikipedia contains many details, but present little evidence in their support.

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