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Creighton, Henry

Creighton, Henry (1764-1807) a Scotch adventurer and a private trader working with charles grant, once elected chairman of the East India Company. Though only a secondary merchant with limited success, Henry Creighton eventually turned out a pioneering medievalist by undertaking antiquarian and archaeological investigations into the ruins of the medieval city of Gaur.

In the year 1783 at the age of nineteen Creighton entered as a mercantile Assistant into the service of Charles Grant (1746-1823), who was then holding the important office of Commercial Resident at the East India Company's factory at Malda for providing silk and cotton piece-goods. The position of Charles Grant at Malda was very lucrative and he soon acquired a large fortune which included a manufactory of indigo at a place called Guamalati, situated right among the ruins of Gaur. In 1786 Charles Grant appointed Creighton as the Manager of the Guamalati indigo factory and when in 1790 family reasons compelled Mr Grant to return to England Creighton was asked to superintend it. Creighton remained at Guamalati and substantially increased the business by establishing several dependencies of indigo manufactory until his premature death (1807).

Henry Creighton was an excellent amateur painter and to find subjects for his paintings he frequented the ruins of Gaur at his leisure. Soon he developed interest in these ruins and antiquities and found great historical meaning in them. He took considerable pains to extricate richly carved architectural fragments and detached inscriptions from the deep jungles covering Gaur. He began to record their place of occurrence and fondly preserved them in the courtyard of his factory at Guamalati. These inscriptions and antiquities collected at Guamalati were shipped to England and fortunately found their way to the major public collections of England and USA.

Creighton visited all the extant monuments of Gaur, took sketches of them and even repaired some of the crumbling edifices like Firuz Minar. His antiquarian interest led him to Pandua as well where he prepared detailed architectural drawings of the Adina mosque. Gradually, he developed a large portfolio of drawings of the ruins of Gaur and its vicinity. In 1801, he completed the first scientific survey of the city of Gaur and made a detailed map of its ruins. He presented a copy of his survey map on a reduced scale to Governor General Marquees of Wellesley (1798-1805). A year after Creighton's death (1808) six of his drawings were engraved and published by James Moffat in Calcutta. In 1817, the result of his exertions at Gaur was finally published in the form of a book entitled The Ruins of Gour. Described and Represented in Eighteen Views with A Topographical Map compiled from his manuscripts and drawings in the hope of providing some support for his family.

In the introduction of his book Creighton describes the topography of the ruins and the state of its preservation quoting from the experiences of earlier visitors like Ruben Burrow and Jemes Rennell. The description is followed by eighteen superb drawings in water colour of the ruined edifices of Gaur engraved in small by Thomas Medland with brief notices on each of them. The views include the gateways (Dakhil, Chand, Kotwali and Gumti), mosques (Bara Sona, Chota Sona, Tantipara, Lattan and Chamkatti), minar (Firuz Minar) tombs (Husain Shah's tomb, tombs at the Chota Sona mosque), religious building (Qadam Rasul) and some minor edifices of the city. His survey map of Gaur is also appended to the text in a reduced scale.

Creighton's monograph is the first attempt to rediscover a lost city, the history of which was at that time, entirely unknown. His drawings form a series of delightfully bright and lovely miniatures of the ruined structures which are, in some respects unreal and romantically rendered, but nevertheless, a first charting of what was still an unexplored subject.

Creighton shared the Evangelical Christian belief and zeal of his employer Charles Grant. In his residency at Guamalati and its dependencies he established several Bengali free schools for instructing the local children. He also drew up a scheme for extending such Christian nurseries all over the country for missionaries to implement.

Creighton died in 2nd October, 1807, in the 44th year of his age and lies buried at Berhampore cemetery. He was survived by seven children and his wife Frances (Frances Slupart) whom he married in 1792 at the St John's Anglican Church, Calcutta. In the epitaph (now lost) of his grave in the Berhampore cemetery he is remembered as:

" the first instructor of native schools for instructing the children of the poor in their own languages as a means of diffusing among them useful tracts, and thereby an extensive district was comparatively enlightened and civilized and prepared for advancement to higher degrees of moral instruction and European improvement" [Pratip Kumar Mitra]

Bibliography Henry Creighton, The Ruins of Gaur: Described and represented in eighteen views with a topographical map, London, 1817; J Moffat, Views of Calcutta, Berhampore, Monghyr and Benars, Calcutta, 1805-10; William Francklin, Journal of a Route from Rajemahal to Gour, AD 1810-11, Shillong, 1910;' CB Lewis, The Life of John Thomas, Surgeon of the Earl of Oxford East Indiaman, and First Baptist Missionary to Bengal,London, 1873; CR Wilson, List of Inscriptions on Tombs or Monuments in Bengal. Possessing Historical or archaeological interest, Calcutta, 1896; Gautam Sengupta and Sheena Panja (ed), Archaeology of Eastern India: New perspectives, Kolkata, 2002.