Henry Miers Elliot (1808-1853)

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Henry Miers Elliot lived and worked in India between 1827 and 1853. His various positions within the East India Company led him to collect a vast amount of research and manuscripts concerning caste and community information, although his most well-known work is ‘The History of India: As told by its Own Historians’, which was compiled and published posthumously by John Dowson. The Royal Asiatic Society acquired Elliot’s papers some time after his death in 1853.

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During Elliot’s time in India he held a number of positions, the most notable being in the revenue department. In this role, he collected valuable research on local castes, customs and zamindars (local landowners and tax collectors), which helped in the East India Company’s inheritance of a Mughal system of revenue collection. There are large amounts of manuscripts relating to this work, most which are likely in either Persian or Urdu, and are characterised by official stamps in Arabic scripts and tables drawn in red ink.

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Elliot’s research for his positions within the East India Company ultimately led him to take a more general interest in the history of India, and it was in the mid-1840s that he proposed a twelve-volume work listing Mughal histories, to be titled ‘A Complete History of Mohammedan India’. In Elliot’s possession were hundreds of Persian extracts, notes, translations and original books which would have informed this publication, but his death in 1853 meant that the project never materialised. Many of these manuscripts remain with the Royal Asiatic Society, including a substantial amount concerning his glossaries, one of which was intended for this project and an earlier one for his revenue work.

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Although Elliot never saw his planned publication succeed, John Dowson compiled and edited his papers posthumously, with its entirety being published in eight volumes between 1867 and 1877 as ‘The History of India: As Told by its Own Historians’. Elliot’s work, both at the time of his death and after Dowson’s later publication, has received mixed reviews from both contemporaries and more modern historians, though it nonetheless remains a valuable source of research for many scholars to this day.

The catalogue for the papers can be found at Archives Hub here.