SYKES, William Henry. near Bradford, Yorkshire 25.1.1790 — London 16.6.1872. British Colonial Officer in India, with wide scholarly interests. Son of Samuel Sykes, an estate owner. Entered as cadet in 1803, Lieutenant in Bombay Army 1805, participated in the siege of Bharatpur. Learned soon Hindī and Marāṭhī and became interpreter. Captain 1819, traveled four years in Europe 1820-24. Back in India, Elphinstone made him statistical reporter to Bombay Government, now also began natural and ethnographical studies, travelling around the Presidency. Major 1826, Lieutenant-Colonel 1831. When the post of statistical reporter was abolished in Dec. 1829, he took leave and continued his statistical surveys until 1831, then furlough in Europe. In 1833 retired as Colonel and remained in England. In 1835-45 Royal Commissioner in Lunacy. From 1849 a director of the East India Company. From 1857 M.P. for Aberdeen. Married 1824 Elizabeth Hay, children.
Sykes was one of the pioneers of the Victorian statistical movement and a noted ornithologist (he found no less than 56 new species). He made extensive natural collections and contributed to meteorology. He was also keen historian, much interested in Buddhist antiquities. He cricized the aggressive British policy in China and the policy that led to the 1856 uprising. He was one of the founding members of the Bombay Asiatic Society and from 1858 the President of R.A.S.
Publications: “An account of the caves of Ellora”, TrLitSocBombay 3, 1823, 265-323 (and two shorter articles in the same, 55-72).
– “Specimens of Buddhist inscriptions with symbols, from the west of India”, JASB 6, 1837, 1038-1042; and four zoological articles in JASB in the 1830s.
– “On the Land Tenures of the Dekkan” JRAS 2, 1835, 205-233; “Land Tenures of Dukhun”, JRAS 3, 1836, 350-376; “Notes on the Religious, Moral, and Political State of India before the Mahomedan Invasion, chiefly founded on the Travels of the Chinese Buddhist Priest Fa Hian in India, A.D. 399”, JRAS 6, 1841, 248-484; “Traits of Indian Character”, JRAS 17, 1860, 223-251.
– With J. Malcolm: “Inscriptions from the Boodh Caves, near Joonur”, JRAS 4, 1837, 287-291, 4 pl.
– “On a Passage in an ancient Inscription at Sanchi”, JRAS 6, 1841, 246f., “Miniature Chaityas and Inscriptions of the Buddhist religious dogma, found in the ruins of the Temple of Sárnáth”, JRAS 16, 1856, 37-53, 227f.
– A number of natural studies in the Proceedings of the Zoological Society, statistical in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London.
Sources: B.B.W[oodward], D.N.B. 55, 1898, 258; Wikipedia with two photos (German version adds a drawing).
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