Charles Stuart (East India Company officer)
Kingdom of Ireland
|Died||31 March 1828
Calcutta, British India
|Buried||South Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta|
|Relations||Thomas Smyth (politician)
Robert Stuart (British Army officer)
James Stuart (artist)
Charles Stuart (c. 1758–31 March 1828) was an officer in the East India Company Army and is well known for being one of the few British officers to embrace Hindu culture while stationed there, earning the nickname Hindoo Stuart.
Stuart was allegedly the son of Thomas Smyth, Mayor of Limerick and MP for Limerick City. His grandparents were Charles Smyth (1694–1783), also MP for Limerick, and Elizabeth, daughter of Sir Thomas Prendergast, 1st Baronet.
Life in India
In his teens, Stuart left Ireland for India, where he remained for the rest of his life, embracing the Hindu culture and eventually earning his nickname. Starting as a cadet, he rose through the ranks to become a Major-General. His last command was the Saugor Field Force.
V. C. P. Hodson's biography of Stuart mentions that he "had studied the language, manners and customs of the natives of this country with so much enthusiasm, his intimacy with them ... obtained for him the name of Hindoo Stuart".
He is mentioned in William Dalrymple's book White Mughals (2002). Stuart adopted several Hindu customs, including bathing in the Ganges at Calcutta every morning, amassing a collection of deities as well as Indian clothes. He even encouraged European ladies in India to adopt the sari (through "frequent and vigorous" contributions to the daily Calcutta Telegraph in the year 1800) and Indian sepoys to wear full mustaches on parade. His commander-in-chief "ticked him off" due to his partiality towards sepoys sporting "Rajput mustaches or brightly colored caste marks on their foreheads".
He published his letters extolling the virtues of "elegant, simple, sensible, and sensual" Indian saris vis-a-vis "the prodigious structural engineering Europeon (sic) women strapped themselves into in order to hold their bellies in, project their breasts out and allow their dresses to balloon grandly up and over towards the floor" along with some replies by "outraged" white women in a "deliciously silly volume" entitled The Ladies Monitor, Being A Series of Letters First published in Bengal on the Subject of Female Apparel Tending to Favour a regulated adoption of Indian Costume And a rejection of Superfluous Vesture By the Ladies of this country With Incidental remarks on Hindoo Beauty, Whale-Bone Stays, Iron Busks, Indian Corsets, Man-Milliners, Idle Bachelors, Hair-Powder, Waiting Maids, And Footmen. Some of the reasons he cites for European women to give up iron busks are: Firstly wearing iron busks makes women highly susceptible to lighting strikes (exhorting them with sentences such as "This is no laughing matter ladies for I am absolutely serious"). Secondly by discarding iron busks from their wardrobes, European women would immensely enhance the supply of iron in Bengal for farmers who desperately need new wagon wheels.
Archie Baron says, in his book An India Affair:
- "For all this lubriciousness, Stuart should not be regarded as some dirty old man or prototype sex tourist. It was far easier to break into Muslim society than the exclusive and mysterious world of brahminical Hinduism which makes 'Hindoo Stuart' a rarity even among White Moghuls.... His Hinduism was on open display to the whole of Calcutta. As far as one can tell, this does not seem to have set back his career."
In his book Vindication of the Hindoos (1808), Stuart criticised the work of European missionaries in India, claiming that:
- "Hinduism little needs the meliorating hand of Christianity to render its votaries a sufficiently correct and moral people for all the useful purposes of a civilised society."
In this book he defends Hinduism from assaults by missionaries explaining:
- "Wherever I look around me, in the vast ocean of Hindu mythology, I discover Piety....Morality...and as far as I can rely on my judgement, it appears the most complete and ample system of Moral Allegory that the world has ever produced."
Throughout this book Stuart warns of the dangers of the "obnoxious" missionaries and of attempts to convert Indians to Christianity, a process he describes as "impolitic, inexpedient, dangerous, unwise and insane". He asks "if their religion is insulted what confidence can we repose in the fidelity of our Hindu soldiers?" presaging, it is said, some of the causes of the Mutiny of 1857.
Though Stuart often spoke of his conversion to Hinduism he had not entirely rejected Christian doctrines as he held the Hindu deity Krishna to be the Spirit of God who descends upon earth for the benefit of mankind which he believed was "not very inconsistent with Christianity" and "he was content to be buried in an Anglican cemetery, albeit along with his favourite idols".
His remarkable collection of antiquities forms the basis of the British Museum's ancient Hindu and Buddhist sculpture collection from the Indian Subcontinent, now known as the Bridge Collection.
- Spurrell, J. C. In Search of Thomas Smyth, Mayor of Limerick, Irish Family History Journal, Vol. 25 (2009)
- Your country needs you. And your beard Guardian UK – 9 November 2002
- Baron A., An Indian Affair, Channel 4 Books (2001)
- The South Park Street Cemetery, Calcutta, published by the Association for the Preservation of Historical Cemeteries in India, 5th ed., 2009
- See Michael D. Willis, 'Sculpture of India' in A. W. Franks: Nineteenth-century collecting and the British Museum, ed. M. Caygill and J. Cherry (London: British Museum Press, 1997), pp. 250–61. ISBN 978-0-7141-1763-8
- British Museum Collection
- W. Dalrymple, White Mughals (2002)
- V. C. P. Hodson (Major), List of Officers of the Bengal Army, 1758–1834, Part IV (1947)
- Dictionary of National Biography – Stuart, Charles (Vol. 53, pp. 141–142)