William Wilson Hunter
|Sir William Wilson Hunter|
15 July 1840|
Glasgow Scotland, UK
|Died||6 February 1900
Oaken Holt, England, UK
|Institutions||Indian Civil Service
University of Calcutta
|Alma mater||University of Glasgow|
Early life and education
William Wilson Hunter was born on 15 July 1840 in Glasgow, Scotland, to Andrew Galloway Hunter, a Glasgow manufacturer. He was the second son, among his fathers three sons. He started his education in 1854 at the 'Quaker Seminary' at Queenswood, Hampshire, after a year he joined, the Glasgow Academy.
He reached Bengal Presidency in November 1862 and was appointed assistant magistrate and collector of Birbhum, in the lower provinces of Bengal, where he began collecting local traditions and records, which formed the materials for his publication, entitled The Annals of Rural Bengal, a book which did much to stimulate public interest in the details of Indian administration. He also compiled A Comparative Dictionary of the Non-Aryan Languages of India, a glossary of dialects based mainly upon the collections of Brian Houghton Hodgson, which testifies to the industry of the writer but contains much immature philological speculation.
In 1869 Lord Mayo, the then governor-general, asked Hunter to submit a scheme for a comprehensive statistical survey of India. The work involved the compilation of a number of local gazetteers, in various stages of progress, and their consolidation in a condensed form upon a single and uniform plan. There was unhappiness with the scope and completeness of the earlier surveys conducted by administrators such as Buchanan, and Hunter determined to model his efforts on the Ain-i-Akbari and Description de l'Égypte. Hunter said that "It was my hope to make a memorial of England's work in India, more lasting, because truer and more complete, than these monuments of Mughal Empire and of French ambition."
Hunter wrote that
Under this system, the materials for the whole of British India have now been collected, in several Provinces the work of compilation has rapidly advanced, and everywhere it is well in hand. During the same period the first Census of India has been taken, and furnished a vast accession to our knowledge of the people. The materials now amassed form a Statistical Survey of a continent with a population exceeding that of all Europe, Russia excepted."
The statistical accounts, covering the 240 administrative districts, comprised 128 volumes and these were condensed into the nine volumes of The Imperial Gazetteer of India, which was published in 1881. The Gazetteer was revised in later series, the second edition comprising 14 volumes published between 1885 and 1887, while the third comprised 26 volumes, including an atlas, and was published in 1908.
Hunter adopted a transliteration of vernacular place-names, by which means the correct pronunciation is ordinarily indicated; but hardly sufficient allowance was made for old spellings consecrated by history and long usage. Hunter's own article on India was published in 1880 as A Brief History of the Indian Peoples, and has been widely translated and utilized in Indian schools. A revised form was issued in 1895, under the title of The Indian Empire: its People, History and Products.
Hunter later said that
Nothing is more costly than ignorance. I believe that, in spite of its many defects, this work will provide a memorable episode in the long battle against ignorance; a breakwater against the tide of prejudice and false opinions flowing down upon us from the past, and the foundation for a truer and wider knowledge of India in time to come. Its aim has been not literary graces, nor scientific discovery, nor antiquarian research; but an earnest endeavour to render India better governed, because better understood.
In 1882 Hunter, as a member of the governor-general's council, presided over the commission on Indian Education; in 1886 he was elected vice-chancellor of the University of Calcutta.
In 1887 he retired from the service, was created KCSI, and settled at Oaken Holt, near Oxford. He arranged with the Clarendon Press to publish a series of Rulers of India, to which he himself contributed volumes on Dalhousie (1890) and Mayo (1892). He had previously, in 1875, written an official Life of Lord Mayo, in two volumes. He also wrote a weekly article on Indian affairs for The Times.
But the great task to which he applied himself on his settlement in England was a history upon a large scale of the British Dominion in India, two volumes of which only had appeared when he died, carrying the reader barely down to 1700. He was much hindered by the confused state of his materials, a portion of which he arranged and published in 1894 as Bengal Manuscript Records, in three volumes. A delightful story, The Old Missionary (1895), and The Thackerays in India (1897), a gossipy volume which appeals to all readers of The Newcomes, may be regarded as the relaxations of an Anglo-Indian amid the stress of severer studies.
In the winter of 1898–1899, in consequence of the fatigue incurred in a journey to the Caspian and back, on a visit to the sick-bed of one of his two sons, Hunter was stricken down by a severe attack of influenza, which affected his heart. He died at Oaken Holt on 6 February 1900.
- Sir William Wilson Hunter (1868). A Comparative Dictionary of the Languages of India and High Asia: With a Dissertation. Based on the Hodgson Lists, Official Records, and Mss. Trübner and Company.
- Annals of Rural Bengal. Smith, Elder & Co. 1870.
- Sir William Wilson Hunter (1871). The Indian Musalmans: Are They Bound in Conscience to Rebel Against the Queen?. Trübner and Company.
- Sir William Wilson Hunter (1872). Orissa, Or, The Vicissitudes of an Indian Province Under Native and British Rule. Smith, Elder and Company.
- A Statistical Account of Bengal. London: Trübner & Co. 1875-1879. (20 volumes)
- A Statistical Account of Assam. 1879. (2 volumes)
- The Imperial Gazetteer of India. 1881. (26 volumes)
- A Brief history of the Indian peoples. ~Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1893.
- The Marquess of Dalhousie. 1894.
- State Education for the People in America, Europe, India, and Australia: With Papers on the Education of Women, Technical Instruction, and Payment by Results. C. W. Bardeen. 1895.
- The Thackerays in India and Some Calcutta Graves. London: Henry Frowde. 1897.
- History of India. London: Grolier Society. 1907.
Works on Hunter
- Francis Henry Bennett Skrine (1901). Life of Sir William Wilson Hunter, K.C.S.I.. Longmans, Green.
- "Obituary: Sir William Wilson Hunter, K. C. S. I., C. I. E.". The Geographical Journal 15 (3): 289–290. March 1900. doi:10.2307/1774698.
- Obituary Notice — Sir William Wilson Hunter Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, Published by Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1900. page vii.page 393.
- Marriott, John (2003). The other empire: metropolis, India and progress in the colonial imagination. Manchester University Press. p. 209. ISBN 978-0-7190-6018-2. Retrieved 7 December 2011.
- "Hunter, Sir William Wilson". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/14237. (subscription or UK public library membership required)
- Nicholas B. Dirks (2003). Castes of Mind: Colonialism and the Making of Modern India. Permanent Black. p. 199. ISBN 978-81-7824-072-5.
- Mittal, Satish Chandra (1996). India Distorted: A Study of British Historians on India 2. M.D. Publications. p. 170. ISBN 9788175330184.