[This article was originally published in Voice of History ( vol.14, no.2, 1999, p.25-32) and is given here with one minor amendment. Since it was written, a biographical sketch of Hodgson by David Waterhouse incorporating additional information has been published in his edited volume, The Origins of Himalayan Studies: Brian Houghton Hodgson in Kathmandu and Darjeeling 1820-1858 (London: Royal Asiatic Society, 2004). The same book includes an amended version of Hariraj Joshi's essay `Brian Hodgson: the Untold Tale' and my own further extended account of Hodgson's political role. The historian Charles Allen is currently (2014) working on a new, book-length biography of Hodgson which is planned for publication in conjunction with the commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the ratification of the treaty of Sagauli in 1816.]
NOTES ON THE LIFE OF BRIAN HODGSON  John Whelpton
Hodgson, Brian Houghton (1800-1894), scholar and diplomat, was born on 1 Feb 1801 (or, less probably, 1800) at Lower Beech, Prestbury, Cheshire, the second of the seven children of Brian Hodgson (1766-1858), country gentleman, and his wife, Catherine (c.1776-1851), daughter of William Houghton of Manchester and Newton Park. The name Brian had also been borne by his grandfather and great-grandfather, landowners in the Midlands and north-west England. Following his father's failure in a banking venture, Hodgson's family had to sell their home at Lower Beech but financial difficulties were partly offset by family connections, including a great-aunt married to Beilby Porteus (q.v.), Bishop of London, and also by his mother's gift for making friendships. The family remained for some years in Cheshire before moving to Macclesfield, where Hodgson started his education at the Grammar School under Dr. David Davis, and then to Congleton. In 1814 he transferred to Dr. Daniel Charles Delafossie's seminary at Richmond, Surrey, whilst the family settled at Clacton, Essex, on his father appointment as Warden of the Martello Towers through the patronage of Thomas, 2nd. Earl of Clarendon. In 1816, James Pattison, Director and later Chairman of the East India Company, who had been a neighbour at Congleton, nominated Hodgson for the Indian Civil Service.
From February 1816 to December 1817 he attended the company's training college at Haileybury. Whilst waiting to take the entrance examination, he stayed with T.R. Malthus, who was Professor of History and Political Economy at the College and had been a Cambridge contemporary of his mother's friend, William Smyth. Malthus was a formative intellectual influence, turning him from `a young aristocrat in social feelings and sympathies' into `an advanced liberal in politics' (Hunter, Life of Brian Hodgson, p.23). Hodgson passed out of Haileybury at the head of his year, with prizes for economics, classics and Bengali.
Arriving in Calcutta in 1818, he led a full social life whilst continuing the study of Sanskrit and Persian at Fort William College. He was particularly successful with Persian, then still an official language within British India as well as the medium of written communication with independent Indian states, but a near-fatal attack of fever prevented him from completing the three-year course and made it essential for him to obtain a hill appointment if he was to remain in India. Probably through the influence of an aunt's friend, Lady Elizabeth D'Oyly, who was a second-cousin of the Governor-General's wife, he was in late 1819 appointed Assistant Commissioner of Kumaon (viz. present-day Kumaon and Garhwal). Hodgson worked on the revenue `settlement' under the Comissioner, George Traill, a strong believer in a paternalist administrative style and in detailed study of the land and its people. In 1820, probably on Traill's recommendation, he was promoted to the Assistant Residentship at the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, working under Edward Gardner, who had previously been Traill's own superior in Kumaon.
Since the conclusion of the 1814-1816 war between the Company and Nepal, there had been peace without cordiality. The country had been compelled to accept a British Resident, but he and his staff were not permitted to travel outside the Kathmandu Valley and, unlike the situation in many of the states within India proper, the Resident was not a de facto supervisor of the local administration. Dissatisfied with enforced idleness, Hodgson again used his connections to secure appointment as acting Deputy-Secretary in the Persian Department of the Calcutta Foreign Office in 1822. However, in 1823 his health again broke down and at the beginning of 1824 he had to return to Kathmandu in the subordinate position of post-master, becoming Assistant Resident again when a vacancy occurred the following year.
Advised by a friend on the General-Governor's Council that sufficient local knowledge would make even a young man a potential candidate for the full Residentship, Hodgson threw himself with renewed energy into the thorough investigation of all aspects of his surroundings which he begun during his first period in Nepal and on which his reputation now chiefly rests. As well as studying local institutions and commerce, he learned Nepali, a language closely related to Bengali and Hindi, and also Newari, the Tibeto-Burman tongue of the Kathmandu Valley's indigenous inhabitants. Despite family obligations which kept him in debt until 1837, he retained at his own expense a group of local research assistants. He trained himself and some of his staff as naturalists, specialising particularly in ornithology. He was to publish some 127 zoological papers and describe 39 new mammalian and 150 new bird species.
He was also an avid collector of Sanskrit manuscripts and of Tibetan printed volumes and was the first to reveal to the West the Sanskrit literature of northern, or Mahayana, Buddhism, which had been preserved only in Nepal. He distributed around four hundred manuscripts between libraries in India, Britain, France and Germany, and those sent to Paris enabled the Sanskritist Eugène Burnouf to produce his seminal studies. Hodgson himself, with the help of his Nepalese friend and helper Amritananda, sought to interpret his Buddhist materials, the results being published in learned journals between 1828 and 1837 and mostly reprinted in his 1874 Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal. He was mistaken in accepting Amritananda's classification of Buddhist doctrine into four `schools', a misinterpretation perhaps prompted by the design of the questionnaire Hodgson himself presented to the pandit. As he himself later realised, he was also wrong to argue that the Sanskrit Buddhist scriptures were older than the Pali texts of southern (Hinyana) Buddhism. Nevertheless, a leading authority could still write in 1987 that `His perspicacity was truly amazing and much of what he wrote remains valid in terms of the considerable amount of later scholarly work to which his discoveries gave birth' (Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism, p.2-3).
Hodgson finally became Resident in his own right on 21 January 1833, having already functioned as Acting Resident between Gardner's retirement in 1829 and Herbert Maddock's appointment in 1831. He brought to the job a strong conviction that Nepal's continuing resentment of the loss of a third of her territory after the 1814-1816 war, her isolationist policy and her maintenance of a large standing army were a continuing threat to peace and that this should be removed by encouraging the growth of commerce and by employing the country's `surplus military manpower' in the East India Company's forces. He initially shared the belief of the previous Residents that it was best to continue working with Bhimsen Thapa, the powerful minister who had dominated Nepali politics since 1806 and, since the war, had sought to present himself to his own countrymen as a bulwark against the East India Company and to the Company as the man who could persuade his countrymen to keep the peace. As the decade progressed, however, Hodgson became convinced that Nepal's outlook would become more pacific if the direction of relations with the British was in the hands of the young King Rajendra rather than Bhimsen, who depended on the goodwill of the army. Hodgson began pressing for direct access to the King and for concessions on trade but was restrained by the Indian government.
Whilst not yet intervening directly in the factional struggle, he sympathised strongly with Bhimsen's opponent Ranjang Pande and was particularly influenced by Ranjang's Brahman ally, Krishna Ram Mishra. When Bhimsen himself sought to buttress his position by moving closer to the British, Hodgson in effect aided the opposition by ensuring that no substantive negotiations took place during a mission to Calcutta led by Bhimsen's nephew in 1835-1836. In 1837, Bhimsen was arrested on suspicion of involvement in the death of the King's infant son; the child had allegedly drunk poison intended for his mother, the Senior Queen, who was a backer of Ranjang. When the King asked for his advice, Hogson recommended that Bhimsen be kept in custody whilst investigations continued.
Bhimsen's fall did not bring increased cordiality with the East India Company, since both the King and the Pande faction were ready to capitalise on anti-British feeling both at home and among other independent Indian states. In summer 1838, Hodgson transferred his sympathies to the Poudyal brothers, Brahmans whose family had long been rivals with the Mishras for appointment as guru (spiritual preceptor) to members of the royal family. He had a cynically realistic attitute towards their motives, having characterised them in 1833 as `men of the world who have been ours, aforetime, for a consideration and are ready to be again on like terms' (Whelpton, Kings, p.57). Nevertheless he formed a particularly close relationship with the second brother, Krishna Ram Poudyal, frequently reporting and seconding his opinions in letters to the Governor-General. His collaboration with Brahmans was probably facilitated by the vegetarian and teetotal lifestyle which he had adopted after recurrence of his liver complaint in 1837.
During 1839, moves by Ranjang's faction threatened the financial interests and even the personal safety of much of the nobility and many looked to the Residency for political support. In April, Bhimsen Thapa who was rearrested and in July he committed suicide in prison. According to the official report of the Nepalese officials who brought Hodgson the news, he wept on hearing it; he had at first refused Bhimsen's smuggled plea to intervene on his behalf, believing himself bound by government instructions not to interfere in the factional struggle, and his request to the Governor-General for permission to speak out had been sent too late.
Instability continued into 1840 with the temporary occupation of 200 square miles of British territory and a brief army mutiny that seemed at one point to threaten the Residency itself. As well as successfully demanding a Nepalese withdrawal, the Governor-General, Lord Auckland (q.v.), now authorised Hodgson to press the King to appoint new advisors friendly to the British, a policy which had been proposed the previous year by the Governor-General's council but rejected as premature by both Auckland and Hodgson himself. Having committed substantial forces to his ill-judged intervention in Afghanistan, Auckland was not in a position to fight a full-scale campaign against Nepal, but the movement of troops closer to the border and Hodgson's manoeuvrings secured the appointment at the beginning of 1841 of a `British ministry' headed by a collateral relative of the royal family and including both Krishna Ram Mishra and his more prominent brother, Ranganath.
Hodgson was active in the new administration, which continued until 1842, his task being eased by the death of the Senior Queen in October 1841 but complicated by the emergence onto the political stage of her son, Crown Prince Surendra. In April Hodgson was involved in a public clash with King Rajendra over a British subject who was party to a commercial dispute with a Nepalese and who had taken refuge at the Residency. He subsequently withheld from the King a letter concerning the incident from the new Governor-General, Lord Ellenborough (q.v.), which Hodgson believed would weaken the position of the pro-British ministers. Enraged, Ellenborough initially ordered Hodgson's instant dismissal but subsequently relented and left him in post with instructions to disengage gradually from his entanglement in internal politics.
He accomplished this successfully and in December 1842 was an enthusiastic observer of the `National Movement', a concerted effort by most of the nobility with backing from the army to make King Rajendra curtail the excesses of Crown Prince Surendra and grant authority to the Junior Queen, Rajya Lakshmi. Because of his failure to save Bhimsen, Hodgson was distrusted by Bhimsen's nephew, Mathbar Singh Thapa. Nevertheless, over the months preceding Mathbar's return to Nepal from India in 1843, Hodgson sought to influence him in Rajya Lakshmi's favour, whilst declining to give him any direct assurance of his future safety.
In May 1843, Hodgson sought Ellenborough's permission to remain in Nepal until 1844. This was ostensibly to complete a general study of the country on which he was now working, but a story still current in Kathmandu's Muslim community suggests another reason may have been the birth of a third child to Begum Meharunnisha, a Nepali Muslim with whom he had been living since the early 1830s. Although King Rajendra, with the agreement of the leading courtiers, took the unusual step of writing to ask the Governor-General to allow the extension, Ellenborough insisted on his departure and offered him appointment as Assistant Sub-Commissioner at Simla. Taking this as an insult, Hodgson resigned from the Bengal Civil Service. He was given an impressive send-off by the Nepalese court on 5 December 1843 and sailed for England from Calcutta on 7 February 1844.
Recent studies have modified the portrait of Hodgson as the complete master of events in Kathmandu which is offered in the biography by his personal friend, William Hunter. It is now known that even Lord Auckland, who allowed him a free hand in late 1840, seemed to sense that Hodgson's sudden enthusiasms could leave him open to manipulation and complained of his writing `so strongly from slight impressions' (Auckland Private Book, vol.9, f.52). There is also much to be said for the view of Lord Ellenborough and of his successor in Kathmandu, Sir Henry Lawrence (q.v.), that the East India Company's interests were better served by simple reliance on its own military strength than by involvement in factional politics. Nevertheless, Hodgson did succeed in keeping the peace and the war with Nepal which Auckland had thought likely to come was avoided. The regret expressed in Kathmandu at his departure was largely genuine and stemmed from a belief that he had saved the country from a clash with British India which would have ended its independence.
Hodgson's own popularity amongst many of his colleagues, and the recall of Lord Ellenborough by the East India Company's Court of Directors, would have enabled him to resume an official career but he stood by his decision to resign. After spending time with his parents in Canterbury and with his sister Fanny in Holland, to whom he entrusted his two elder children, he returned in 1845 to South Asia to continue his research in the Himalayas. As the Government of India would not allow him to return in a private capacity to Kathmandu, he settled instead at Darjeeling, a hill station established six years earlier just to the east of the Nepal border and under the superintendence of Archibald Campbell, who had been his assistant in Kathmandu. He mixed little with the local European community, perhaps because of his unhappiness at increasingly racist attitudes towards Indians. The botanist Joseph Hooker (q.v.) stayed with him from 1848 to 1850 and he himself usually visited Calcutta during the winter months. He was also joined by his son Henry, who died at Darjeeling in 1856. He maintained communication with Kathmandu and was for a time entrusted with the education of a son-in-law of Jang Bahadur Rana, who had come to power in 1846 and whose family were to rule Nepal until 1951. In October 1857, he helped persuade the Governor-General, Lord Canning, to accept Jang Bahadur's offer to lead a Nepalese force into India to assist in suppression of the `Mutiny'.
He continued his zoological work and wrote on the physical geology of the Himalayas, but concentrated in particular on the ethnology of the peoples of northern India, making extensive use of the comparative study of their languages to argue for common origins. His belief that all the `non-Aryan' peoples of India belonged to one great `Tamulian' family was misconceived, but he successfully demonstrated that many languages of Nepal and north-east India belong to what is now known as the Sino-Tibetan language family. These studies also reflected his concern with the position of `aboriginal' ethnic groups in relation to later, Hindu settlers and a belief, first formed in Nepal, that less-Hinduised peoples were more reliable supporters of British power than the higher castes from who the old Bengal army had been largely recruited. At the same time, however, he also advocated mass European settlement in the hills.
Hodgson also continued the advocacy of mother-tongue education for the people of India which he had begun at the height of the controversy between `Orientalists' and `Anglicists' in the 1830s. He maintained that the modern Indian languages were capable of use for scholarly purposes, in the same way that modern European languages had supplanted Latin for learned writing, and stressed the desirability of enriching them from Sanskrit or Persian rather than by loans from English. Lord William Bentinck had in 1835 decided the issue in favour of the use of English as the medium of both education and administration, but opinion had begun to swing Hodgson's way and his view that the public funds should support mass education in the vernacular was officially accepted by the government in 1854.
During a visit to Europe in 1853, Hodgson met and married Anne Scott (c.1815 -1868). His Nepalese partner, Meharunnisha, who remained in Kathmandu in 1843, had probably died shortly before this. His wife returned with him to Darjeeling, but in 1857 her health broke down and because of this and also his father's illness, Hodgson returned to England in 1858. He settled down to the life of a country gentleman in Gloucestershire, first at Dursley and then at Alderley, but, after 1883, wintering at the `Villa Himalaya' at Mentone on the French Riviera. His wife died in January 1868 and the following year he married Susan Townshend. His children born in Nepal had all died at an early age and there were no children from either of his formal marriages.
Although Hodgson himself had been plagued with ill-health in Nepal and India, he enjoyed a long and vigorous old-age, continuing to hunt until he was 68 and to ride a horse until 86. He remained intellectually active, receiving visits from his old friends and fellow scholars and also holding a candle for Gladstone and (after 1886) for Irish Home Rule amongst the largely Tory local gentry. He died peacefully at 48 Davies Street, London on 23 May 1894 and was buried in the grounds of the parish church at Alderley.
Hodgson published around 200 articles in journals and newspapers. His most important writings were re-issued as Essays on the Languages, Literature and Religion of Nepal and Tibet (1874) and Miscellaneous Essays Relating to Indian Subjects (2 vols., 1880), which are regularly reprinted in India and Nepal. He donated over 400 Sanskrit manuscripts and several hundred Tibetan wood-printed volumes to European libraries and to the Asiatic Society in Calcutta, and in 1864 turned over his collected materials on Nepal to the India Office Library where they remain a key resource for present-day scholars. He presented over 10,000 specimens (mostly birds) to the British Museum and also a folio of almost two thousand zoological drawings by himself and his assistants.
Among many other distinctions and honours, he was made a Corresponding Member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain (1828), Fellow of the Linnaean Society (1835), Chevalier of the Legion of Honour (1838), Fellow of the Royal Society (1877) and Honorary D.C.L. of Oxford University (1889).
Surviving photographs and the busts in the Asiatic Societies in Calcutta and London confirm his biographer's reference to his finely-cut features and dignified bearing. He could be over-impressionable and over-sensitive whilst, to a modern reader, his writings sometimes show signs of pomposity and, less frequently, of a patronising attitude towards the South Asian peoples amongst whom he spent so much time. These failings were more than offset by a strong sense of personal responsibility, prodigious intellectual energy and enthusiasm, and an obvious ability to inspire affection and often fierce loyalty amongst many of those around him.
W.W. Hunter, Life of Brian Houghton Hodgson, British Resident at the Court of Nepal (1896) [includes list of works] J. Whelpton, Kings, Soldiers and Priests: Nepalese Politics and the Rise of Jang Bahadur Rana, 1830-1857 (1991) D.N. Gellner, `Hodgson's Blind Alley? On the So-called Schools of Nepalese Buddhism', Journal of the International Association for Buddhist Studies, 12/1 (1985), 7-19 H.R. Joshi, `Brian Houghton Hodgson: the Untold Tale', forthcoming volume edited by David Waterhouse [for oral tradition in the Kathmandu Muslim community] `J.S.C.', `Hodgson, Brian Houghton', Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 P.Pels, `The Politics of Aboriginality: Brian Houghton Hodgson and the Making of an Ethnology of India', International Institute for Asian Studies Year book, ed. P.v.d. Velde (1994), 147-168 K. Mojumdar, Anglo-Nepalese Relations in the Nineteenth Century (1973). L. Snellgrove, Indo-Tibetan Buddhism: Indian Buddhists and their Tibetan Successors (1987) B.S. Cohn, `The Recruitment and Training of British Civil Servants in India', An Anthropologist among the Historians and Other Essays (1987), 500-553 [details of Haileybury and Fort William College] Private information from F. Pinn [photograph of gravestone of Henry Hodgson (1835-1856)] (Also probably useful but not yet seen: M. Cocker and C. Inskipp, A HimalayanOrnithologist: the Life and Work of Brian Houghton Hodgson (1988) )
 This is an extended version of an article to be published in the New Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, forthcoming). Copyright of the article is held by the publisher.
 Kumaon had been annexed from Nepal in 1815, during the war which ended that country's expansion along the Himalayas and deprived her of a third of her pre-war territory.
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