Henry Yule

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Henry Yule
Henry Yule.jpg
Born 1 May 1820 (1820-05)
Inveresk, Scotland
Died 30 December 1889(1889-12-30) (aged 69)
London, England
Nationality British
Occupation Orientalist
  • Anna Maria White (m. 1843 - 1875)
  • Mary Wilhelmina Skipwith (m. 1877 - 1881)
Children Amy (b. 1852)
Parent(s) William Yule and Elizabeth Paterson
Awards Founder's Medal of RGS (1872)

Sir Henry Yule KCSI (1 May 1820 – 30 December 1889) was a Scottish Orientalist. He published many travel books, including translations of the work of Marco Polo and Mirabilia by the 14th century Dominican Friar Jordanus. He was also the compiler of a dictionary of Anglo-Indian terms, the Hobson-Jobson, along with Arthur Coke Burnell.

Early life[edit]

Henry was born at Inveresk, Scotland, near Edinburgh. He was the youngest son of Major William Yule (1764–1839), translator of the Apothegms of Ali the son of Abu Talib (referring to Ali, the successor to Mohammed, the prophet of Islam). The Yules were farmers at Dirleton in East Lothian and the name may be of Scandinavian origin. Henry's mother was Elizabeth Paterson (d. c. 1827) of Braehead in Ayrshire. His eldest brother was (later Sir) George Udny Yule (1813–1886), who was father of the statistician Udny Yule (1871–1951). Another older brother, Robert (1817–1857), died in the Indian Rebellion of 1857 in Delhi.

Henry Yule was educated at the university in Edinburgh, and later studied under Henry Parr Hamilton and James Challis. His fellow students were John Mason Neale and Harvey Goodwin. After a brief period at University College London, Yule entered Addiscombe Military Seminary (1837–8),[1] followed by the Royal Engineers Establishment at Chatham, Kent. He obtained his commission in December 1838,[2] and joined the Bengal Engineers in 1840.[3][4]


The main pass, Aden by Yule, likely drawn in January 1844 during his return journey to India.

His first posting was in the Khasi Hills where the mission was to establish transport of coal to the plains. He was fascinated by the region and wrote an account of its people. He returned to England in 1843 and married his cousin Anna Maria[5] (d. 1875), daughter of Major-General Martin White of the Bengal Infantry (d. 1856).[6] She accompanied him back to India but returned owing to ill health. He was posted to enquire on the relationship between irrigation by the proposed Ganges Canal and its impact on public health in the area. He served in both the Sikh wars (1845-6 and 1848-9). He left India in 1848 to live in Edinburgh with his wife, and for three years lectured at the Scottish Military Academy. He wrote a volume on forts (1851).[3]

A daughter, Amy, was born in 1852 and shortly after her birth, Yule returned to Bengal. He worked in Arakan and Burma and was put in charge of a new railway system. This was interrupted by a posting as a secretary to Colonel Arthur Phayre's mission to Ava, Burma, in 1855. During this period he published Narrative of the Mission to the Court of Ava (1858) with illustrations.[7] The 1857 rebellion made his life difficult, and although Yule was close to the governor generals Lord Dalhousie and Lord Canning, he lost interest in his work.[3]

Retirement in Europe[edit]

Yule retired in 1862, and Canning's death in that year made it difficult for him to find any official appointment in London. In 1863 he was created a Companion of the Order of the Bath through the influence of Sir Roderick Murchison. He devoted his leisure to the medieval history and geography of Central Asia. His wife became unwell, and they crossed Europe to settle in Palermo, Sicily. He made use of the richly stocked public libraries there during this period. He published Cathay and the Way Thither (1866), and the Book of Marco Polo (1871), for which he received the Founder's Gold Medal of the Royal Geographical Society the following year. After his wife's death in 1875, Yule returned to England where he was appointed to the Council of India. Yule remarried in 1877, his new wife Mary Wilhelmina (died 26 April 1881) the daughter of a Bengal civil servant, Fulwar Skipwith.[3]

Yule was a member, and from 1877 to 1889 President, of the Hakluyt Society. He was also vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society (1887–9), and would have become a president but for a protest that he led along with Henry Hyndman against Henry Morton Stanley. The Society wanted to welcome Stanley but Yule stood against the violent methods used in Africa. One of his heroes, on the other hand, was Garnet Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley[8]

For the Hakluyt Society, Yule edited the Mirabilia Descripta (1863), a translation of the travels of the 14th century Friar Jordanus,[9] and The Diary of William Hedges (3 vols, 1887–89). The latter contains a biography of Governor Pitt, grandfather of William Pitt, 1st Earl of Chatham. He contributed introductions to Nikolay Przhevalsky's Mongolia (1876) and Captain William Gill's The River of Golden Sand (1880). He wrote biographical notes for the Royal Engineers' Journal, and many geographical entries in the Encyclopædia Britannica.

Yule's most popular work, compiled with Arthur C. Burnell, was the Hobson-Jobson (1886), a historical dictionary of Anglo-Indian words and phrases which continues to provide an insight into the language used in British India.

Yule died at his home in Earls Court, London, on 30 December 1889 aged 69, and is buried at Tunbridge Wells.[3]


Yule was awarded an honorary LL.D. from Edinburgh in 1884 and served as royal commissioner for the Colonial and Indian Exhibition of 1886. He was created Knight Commander of the Order of the Star of India in 1889.[4]

Selected publications[edit]

For a full list see Cordier & Yule (1903).[10]

Volume 1; Volume 2; Volume 3


  • Przhevalskii, Nikolai Mikhailovich (1876). Mongolia, the Tangut country, and the solitudes of northern Tibet, being a narrative of three years' travel in eastern high Asia (2 Volumes). Morgan, E. Delmar (translator), Yule, Henry (Introduction and Notes ). London: S. Low, Marston, Searle, & Rivington.  Volume 1, Volume 2. The travels of Nikolay Przhevalsky.


  1. ^ Vibart 1894, p. 680.
  2. ^ Vibart 1894, p. 487.
  3. ^ a b c d e Driver 2004.
  4. ^ a b Yule 1903.
  5. ^ The United Service Magazine (Volume 43 ed.). p. 319. Retrieved 28 December 2015. 
  6. ^ Pollock, Arthur William Alsager. The United Service Magazine, (Volume 3; Volume 82 ed.). p. 172. Retrieved 28 December 2015. 
  7. ^ Yule 1858.
  8. ^ Teltscher, Kate (2013). Introduction to new edition of Hobson-Jobson. OUP. p. xxvii. ISBN 0191645842. 
  9. ^ Yule 1863.
  10. ^ Cordier & Yule 1903.


Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]