March 1st marks the commemoration of the birth of Henry Miers Elliot, born this day in London, in 1808. I wonder if it was a similarly snowy day? He was educated at Winchester College before competing for a place with the East India Company, for whom he then worked for 26 years. We are fortunate to have some of his Papers in our Archives which were catalogued in 2016 by our then volunteer, Amy McCaffrey. The catalogue can be found on Archives Hub and more information about her work with the Papers can be found in her earlier blog post and the web page that she created about them. These papers include manuscript notes towards his most famous publication, The History of India, as Told by Its Own Historians, a book comprising of translations of medieval Persian chronicles which was published posthumously with the editing of John Dowson. Besides holding the manuscripts we also have a copy of the book within our Library Collections.
Also found among the Papers of Henry Miers Elliot, at an earlier point in the history of the RAS, is a Jambudvipa, the Jain map of the universe dating to around 1830.
This is not such an ornate version as the one that is currently on loan at the Science Museum for the Illuminating India Exhibition but has its own interest and would have definitely been of importance to Henry Miers Elliot in his research. This, like the other one, is gouache on cloth but is slightly smaller, measuring 53 x 51 cm.
His interest in cosmography can also be seen in the Persian manuscript, Nuzhat al-Qulub by Hamdullah Mustaufi Qazwini, one of about 10 manuscripts in our Collection that have a Henry Miers Elliot bookplate. This version dates back to at least the 16th century. It measures 12 x 8.5 inches and is on brown paper with the initial and final folios repaired. Bound at the front of the manuscript are a number of more recent pages containing a list of contents. The manuscript has a European half-leather binding with marbled-paper boards.
Henry Miers Elliot, despite his lengthy career with the East India Company, only lived until he was 45 years old, dying on the 30th December 1853 at the Cape of Good Hope. Like many of his generation, it seemed he had a keen interest in learning about the people and places in which he found himself, and not just in carrying out his administrative duties. We are grateful for the things that have become part of his collections. So, on this cold London evening, I’ll raise my mug of hot chocolate and say, “Happy Birthday, Henry Miers Elliot”.