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Beveridge, Henry


Beveridge, Henry (1837-1929) was one of the few administrator-historians who studied Indian affairs with a liberal outlook. During the viceroyalty of lord ripon (1880-84), the influence of Gladstonian Liberalism became a permanent element in the political scene of British India and Beveridge may be considered as the best representative of this spirit.

Born on 9 February 1837 in Scotland, Beveridge studied at the Royal Circus School in Glasgow and at the Academy in Edinburgh. His education was disrupted for some time due to financial problems in the family. It was, however, resumed in Glasgow College when financial stability was established. He completed his formal education at Queen's College, Belfast, where he had entered in 1856 during his father's editorship of The Banner of Ulster.

While at Queen's College, Beveridge seriously started looking for a job, primarily to ease the financial problems of the family. Prospects for a job in Britain were very bleak. In this trying situation he tried a career in India, probably influenced by the changes that had been brought about in 1855 in the system of recruitment for Indian services. In July 1857 Beveridge appeared at the newly introduced competitive examinations for Indian services, and topped the list of successful candidates. He joined the service on 31 August 1857, sailed for India on 29 September 1857 and reached Calcutta on 20 January 1858.

Beveridge successfully completed a course at the Probationers College at Fort William, and was first posted to Mymensingh in January 1859 as Assistant Magistrate and Collector. From Mymensingh he was transferred to Jenaidah in September 1861, to Jessore in January 1862, to Nadia in April 1862, to Midnapur in January 1863, and to Sylhet in February 1863. From November 1863 to November 1864 he was deputed to the Foreign Department and was sent to Manipur on special duty. On his return from Manipur, he was posted to Kuch Bihar as Joint Magistrate and Deputy Collector in November 1864, transferred to Dhaka in December 1866, to Noakhali in November 1867 and to Hughli in February 1868. Beveridge was posted to Barisal in March 1870, to Chittagong in March 1871, and again to Barisal in June 1871.

In 1875 he opted for judicial service. He was posted to Rangpur as District and Sessions Judge in December 1876, and served in the same capacity in the districts of Pabna, 24 Parganas, Faridpur, Birbhum, Hughli, and Murshidabad till he retired on 15 January 1893. On his return to Britain he spent his retired life of about thirty-seven years in the study of India - its history, languages, rulers and peoples - and in writing about them. He died on 8 November 1929 in London at the age of ninety-two.

Beveridge inherited his strong literary tastes from both parents. His father's Comprehensive History of India (in three volumes, London, 1858-62) generated his interest in the history and people of India, a topic on which he was writing continuously while in India and after his retirement. He also got his aptitude for learning languages other than his mother tongue from his mother (Jemima Watt, 1795-1885), who knew many languages. Besides, his second marriage to Annette Susannah had a great influence on his literary endeavours.

However, despite Beveridge's intellectual capacity and literary background his activities as a writer and historian began late. His frequent transfers and unsettled domestic circumstances may have been responsible for this. He made his literary debut in 1869 when he wrote an article on 'Christianity in India' in the Theological Review. Early in January 1870, he delivered a lecture under the auspices of the Culross Temperance Society on 'Life and Manners in Bengal'. His curiosity and taste for historical investigation became visible in 1873 when he sent a copperplate inscription from Bakarganj for decipherment to the Asiatic Society, Calcutta. 'Were Sundarbans inhabited in Ancient TimesFoodgrain' was his first article to be published in the Society's Journal, No 1, pt 1 for 1876. From this time on he was constantly engaged in the intervals of his public duties in writing historical articles which were mainly published in the Calcutta Review, Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, and The Asiatic Quarterly Review. His last journal article entitled 'Timur's Apocryphal Memoirs' was published in the Journal of the Asiatic Society, vol. XVII (NS), 1922.

Beveridge's first major work was the District of Bakarganj: Its History and Statistics published in 1876. His second major work, The Trial of Maharaja Nanda Kumar, A Narrative of a Judicial Murder (1886) traversed controversial ground. The controversy was related to the trial and execution of Nanda Kumar in the time of Warren Hastings. He attacked the judgement which led to the execution of Nanda Kumar in his article 'Warren Hastings in Lower Bengal' (Calcutta Review, vols. 65, 66, 68, 1877-79). His view drew a vigorous reply from Sir James F. Stephen who had tried to vindicate Impey and Warren Hastings in his work, The story of Nuncumar and the Impeachment of Sir Elijah Impey, published in 1885. Beveridge, undeterred and by way of reply, preceded to collect his magazine articles into his second book, mentioned above. He also contributed a chapter to Martin's Indian Empire on 'the Administration of Warren Hastings' published in 1889. In 1890 he was elected President of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and his annual address to the Society was published separately in 1891.

After retirement in 1893, Beveridge continued his literary activities more vigorously. During his retirement he translated The akbarnamah and The maasir-ul-umara into English and edited the Tuzuk-i-Jahangiri translated by Alexander Rogers. Besides these major works of translation he wrote a large number of articles on a wide range of historical topics.

From the works of Beveridge it is difficult to see the full play of his genius as a historian. However his English rendering of the source books on Indian history earned for him a permanent place in the historiography of India. The students of Indian history will always remain indebted to him for his masterly translation of the Akbarnamah, Maasir-ul-Umara and the effective editing of the tuzuk-i-jahangiri. His District of Bakarganj: Its History and Statistics also opened up the potentialities for the study of local history. [Delwar Hussain]

Bibliograph William Beveridge, India Called Them, London, 1947; MD Hussain, 19th Century Indian Historical Writing In English, Calcutta, 1992.