Elijah Impey

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Sir Elijah Impey
Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal
In office
22 October 1774[1] – 3 December 1783 (Effectively). Resigned 1 November 1787[2]
Sole Justice of the Sadr Diwani Adalat
In office
24 October 1780[3] – 5 November 1782[4]
Member of Parliament
for New Romney
In office

Sir Elijah Impey (13 June 1732 – 1 October 1809) was a British judge, the first chief justice of the Supreme Court of Judicature at Fort William in Bengal,[5] Chief Justice of the Sadr Diwani Adalat and MP for New Romney.


He was born the youngest son of Elijah Impey and his wife Martha, daughter of James Fraser and was educated at Westminster School with Warren Hastings, who was his intimate friend throughout life. He proceeded to Trinity College, Cambridge in 1752, graduating in 1756 as the second Chancellor's classical medallist.[6]

Having been called to the bar in 1756, he was appointed the first chief justice of the new supreme court at Calcutta in 1773 and knighted[clarification needed] in March 1774.

En route to India he learned Bengali and Urdu, and once there studied Persian.[7] with his wife Mary (née Reade), from 1777, he hired local artists to paint the various birds, animals and native plants, life-sized where possible, and in natural surrounds. The collection, often known as the Impey Album.[7]

In 1775 he presided at the trial of Maharaja Nandakumar,[5] who was accused of forging a bond in an attempt to deprive a widow of more than half her inheritance. As a result of the trial he went down in history, because in 1787 he was subjected to impeachment, along with Warren Hastings, for their conduct of the case. He was accused by Macaulay in the House of Commons of conspiring with Hastings to commit a judicial murder[5] by having unjustly hanged Nandakumar; but the whole question of the trial of Nandakumar was examined in detail by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, who stated that "no man ever had, or could have, a fairer trial than Nuncomar, and Impey in particular behaved with absolute fairness and as much indulgence as was compatible with his duty."[5] According to Macaulay, Impey later applied English law so aggressively as to "throw a great country into the most dreadful confusion", until in effect bribed by Hastings to desist.

In 1790 Impey was returned to Parliament as the member for New Romney constituency and spent the next seven years as an MP before retiring to Newick Park near Brighton He died there in 1809 and was buried in the family vault in Hammersmith, London. He had married on 18 January 1768 Mary, daughter of Sir John Reade, of Shipton Court, Oxfordshire; they had five sons.

In 1795 his application for a fellowship of the Royal Society was rejected.

His wife, Lady Mary Impey, is commemorated in the name of the Impeyan pheasant (Lophophorus impejanus).


A portrait of Impey, by Johan Zoffany hangs in Kolkata High Court.[7]

Further reading[edit]



  1. ^ Curley p 194
  2. ^ Curley p 485
  3. ^ Curley p 313
  4. ^ Curley p 344
  5. ^ a b c d Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1911). "Impey, Sir Elijah" . Encyclopædia Britannica. 14 (11th ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 342–343.
  6. ^ "Impey, Elijah (IMY752E)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  7. ^ a b c "The forgotten Indian artists of British India". BBC News. 30 November 2019. Retrieved 30 November 2019.

External links[edit]

Parliament of Great Britain
Preceded by
John Henniker
Member of Parliament for New Romney
With: Richard Joseph Sullivan
Succeeded by
John Willett Willett
John Fordyce