SLEEMAN, William Henry. Stratton, Cornwall 18.8.1788 — at sea 10/25.2.1856. Sir. British Colonial Officer in India. Son of yeoman Philip Sl. and Mary Spray, lost his father in 1798, mother 1818. In 1809 joined the Bengal Army as infantry cadet, was immediately sent to India. From 1810 Ensign, 1814 Lieutenant, in 1814-16 in the Nepal war. Assistant to Adjutant-General for the Sagar and Nerbudda Territories, from 1820, 1822 Narsinghpur district. Captain 1825. In 1825-35 Magistrate and District Officer in the future Central Provinces (1828 Jubbulpore, 1831 Sagar). General Superintendent of the Operations for the suppression of Thagi (“Thuggee”) from 1835 (assisted from 1829), and also of Dakaiti (Dacoits), from 1839. 1837 Major, 1843 Lieutentant-Colonel. Resident at Gwalior, 1843-49, and at Lucknow 1849-56. Advised against the annexation of Oudh; his assasination attempted, 1851. 1853 Colonel, 1854 Major-General. Since 1854 ill, retired and died at sea off Ceylon. Married 1829 Amélie Blondin de Fontenne, seven children.
Sleeman became famous for his opposition of Satī and his independent opinions of economy, and still more for his determination in the suppressing of the Thags (M. na F. notes that often his role in this is even overestimated). His Rambles and Recollections is full od descriptions of local customs. His Account of Wolves gave Kipling the idea for The Jungle Book. Beside wolf children he also believed in phrenology. He was fluent in Hindi-Urdu and knew several other languages.
Publications: Ramaseeana, or a Vocabulary of the Peculiar Language used by the Thugs. 270+515 p. Calcutta 1836.
– “History of the Gurha Mundala Rájas”, JASB 6, 1837, 621-648.
– A Report on the System of Megpunnaism, or the Murder of Indigent Parents for their Young Children. 4+122 p. Calcutta 1839.
– The Thugs or Phansigars of India, comprising History of the rise and progress of that extraordinary Fraternity of Assasins. 217 p. Philadelphia 1839; Report of the Depredations committed by the Thug gangs of Upper and Central India from the cold seasons of 1836-37, down to their gradual suppression. 26+58+549+26 p. Calcutta 1840
– Rambles and Recollections of an Indian Official. 1-2. 1844, 2nd ed. 1893.
– An Account of Wolves nurturing children in their Dens. 15 p. Plymouth 1852.
– A Journey through the Kingdom of Oudh in 1849–50. 1-2. L. 1858.
Sources: Buckland, Dictionary; Máire ní Fhlathúin, “‘That solitary Englishman’: W.H. Sleeman and the biography of British India”, Victorian Review 27, 2001, 69-85 (online) with further references; Wikipedia with portrait.
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