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Colebrooke, Henry Thomas


Colebrooke, Henry Thomas (1765-1836) originally a civilian of the east india company who later turned himself into a great orientalist and organiser of oriental studies. In the pursuit of oriental knowledge Henry T Colebrooke, (son of Sir George Colebrooke, once a chairman of the East India Company), was truly an intellectual successor of Sir william jones. Jones founded the asiatic society of Bengal (1784), but it was Colebrooke who built its superstructure and established it as a great centre of oriental study in the east. As president of the Asiatic Society (1807) Colebrooke was instrumental in acquiring a plot of land and establishing a permanent home for the Society and also in obtaining a recurring grant from the government. It was Colebrooke again who started a sustained scheme for the collection and preservation of books, manuscripts, coins and inscriptions for the Asiatic Society. While in London after his retirement from the company civil service (1815) Colebrooke conceived the idea of establishing the Royal Asiatic Society in London. The Royal Asiatic Society was thus founded in 1823 and Colebrooke became its director.

While at Tirhut as Assistant Collector of Revenue, Colebrooke developed an interest in the Sanskrit language. charles wilkins is said to have initiated him into Sanskrit studies, but until 1801 Colebrooke's inclination was more for economic inquiries than for Sanskrit. The experience that he gathered as an officer posted in several Bengal districts has been distilled in a book entitled Remarks on the husbandry and internal commerce of Bengal, (1791). But soon he turned his wholehearted attention to Sanskrit studies. He first applied his knowledge of Sanskrit by revising Jone's Digest of Hindu Laws with reference to the original Sanskrit text. In the Asiatic Researches he frequently contributed articles on Hindu religion, caste, ethnicity's, law, customs and so on. He became a judge of the Sadr Diwani Adalat in 1801 and its chief judge in 1804. He was made a member of the Council of the Governor General from 1807 to 1812. At the fort william college he was an honorary professor of Hindu Law and Sanskrit until 1815 when he retired from service and left Calcutta for home.

Colebrooke wrote on the Vedas, Sanskrit grammar, and Indian jurisprudence, algebra, arithmetic, astronomy and geography. Applying the Hindu system of geography Colebrooke collected evidence on the height of the Himalayas and was convinced that it was the highest mountain range in the world, a conclusion that subsequently proved to be correct. In his Algebra of the Hindus (1817) he asserts that when sciences flourished in India, England was in the Stone Age. For the Fort William College Colebrooke edited the Amarakosa, a Sanskrit Dictionary (1808). In 1810 he published translations of the two most famous treatises on the Hindu law of succession, by Jimutavahana (Dayabhaga) and Mitaksara, in his Hindu Law of Inheritance. His eminence as an orientalist and scientist earned him felicitations and commemorations from all the Royal Societies during his lifetime and appreciative obituaries after his death. [Sirajul Islam]