WILFORD, Francis

WILFORD, Francis. 1761 (1771 makes him too young for his early career) — Benares 1822. British (of German Origin) Colonial Officer and Indologist in India. Born in the Kingdom of Hannover, obtained classical education. In 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 an Indian wife, Khanum Bibi, and several daughters.

Wilford 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 (Purāṇic Kālī river), of the British Isles (England as Albion is Śvetadvīpa), and of the narratives of the Old Testament (Ararat is Āryāvarta and like). 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 Wilford himself understood that his early article on Egypt was therefore of little value, but also his later work 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, 1789, 8°-reprint of Indian original publ. in London 1798, 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, 1792, 8°-reprint 1799, 46-259; “A dissertation on Semiramis, the origin of Mecca & c.from the Hindu Sacred Books”, AsRes 4, 1795, 8°-reprint 1801, 376-400; “On Mount Caucasus”, AsRes 4, 1795, 8°-reprint 1801, 455-539; “On the Chronology of the Hindus”, AsRes 5, 1798, 8°-reprint 1799, 241-295; “Remarks on the Names of the Cabirian Deities”, AsRes 5, 1798, 8°-reprint 1799, 297-301; “On Mount Caucasus”, AsRes 6, 1800, 8°-reprint 1801, 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. 1811, 27-157 & 11, 1810, 8vo-r. 1812, 11-152.

– “Account of some Ancient Inscriptions”, AsRes 5, 1798, 8°-reprint 1799, 135-141, 2 pl.

– “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; Trautmann 1997, 89-93 (but note that he several times mistakenly calls Wilford “Wilkins”); Windisch 115f.; not in D.N.B. The long article in Wikipedia contains many details, but present little evidence in their support.

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