William Henry Sleeman

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William Henry Sleeman
Born 1788 (1788)
Died 1856 (1857)

Sir William Henry Sleeman (8 August 1788 – 10 February 1856) was a British soldier and administrator in British India.

A great admirer of India's rich natural beauty, he was born in Stratton, Cornwall, the son of Philip Sleeman, a yeoman and supervisor of excise of St Tudy.[1] In 1809 William joined the Bengal Army, served in the Nepal War (1814–1816), and in 1820 became assistant to the Governor-General's agent in the Saugor and Nerbudda territories.

He is best known for his suppression of the Thuggee secret society. He had captured "Feringhea" (also called Syeed Amir Ali, on whom the novel Confessions of a Thug is based) and got him to turn King's evidence. He took Sleeman to a grave with a hundred bodies, told the circumstances of the killings, and named the Thugs who had done it.[2] After initial investigations confirmed what Feringhea had said, Sleeman started an extensive campaign, becoming superintendent of the operations against them in 1835, and commissioner for the suppression of Thuggee and Dacoity in 1839. During these operations, more than 1400 Thugs were hanged or transported for life. One of them, Bahram, confessed to have strangled 931 persons with his turban. Detection was only possible by means of informers, for whose protection from the vengeance of their associates a special prison was established at Jabalpur (at the time Jubbulpore). Sleeman had a Government Report made in 1889.[2]

Sleeman was also the earliest discoverer of dinosaur fossils in Asia. In 1828, serving as a Captain in the Narmada valley region, he noticed several basaltic formations which he identified as having been "raised above the waters". By digging around in the Bara Simla Hills, part of the Lameta formation near Jabalpur, he unearthed several petrified trees, as well as some fragmentary dinosaur fossil specimens.[3] Subsequently he sent these specimens to London [4] and to the Indian Museum in Calcutta.[5] In 1877 the genus was named Titanosaurus Indicus by Richard Lydekker,[6] but the identification has been doubted.

Sleeman also took an interest in phrenology and believed that the measurements of the skulls could help him identify criminal ethnic groups.[7]

Sleeman was resident at Gwalior from 1843 to 1849, and at Lucknow from 1849 to 1856. He was opposed to the annexation of Oudh by Lord Dalhousie, but his advice was disregarded. He died at sea near Sri Lanka on a recovery trip to Britain in 1856.

The village Sleemanabad in Madhya Pradesh, India was named in his honour.[8]


  1. ^ "Pedigree Chart for Major General William Henry Sleeman: Geneagraphie - Families all over the world". Geneagraphie. 2010-03-10. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  2. ^ a b Twain, Mark; Produced by David Widger (18 August 2006). "Following the Equator" (ASCII). EBook. Project Gutenberg. p. Chapter xlvi. Retrieved 27 February 2011. "This file should be named 2895.txt or 2895.zip" 
  3. ^ William Sleeman. "Rambles and Recollections of an Indian official" (PDF). p. 127. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  4. ^ Sahni, Ashok (2001). Dinosaurs of India. National Book Trust, New Delhi. ISBN 81-237-3109-4. 
  5. ^ "Background". Personal.umich.edu. Retrieved 2014-03-04. 
  6. ^ [1][dead link]
  7. ^ Bates, Crispin (1995). "Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: the early origins of Indian anthropometry". In Robb, Peter. The Concept of Race in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press. p. 230. ISBN 978-0-19-563767-0. Retrieved 2 December 2011. 
  8. ^ Dash, Mike Thug: the true story of India's murderous cult ISBN 1-86207-604-9, 2005, page ?

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