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The Life of John Wilson
For Fifty Year Philanthropist and Scholar in the East by George Smith (1879)


The continued demand for the book, even after the rapid sale of the First Edition, has led to its re-publication in a cheaper form. The use of smaller type has made this possible without seriously abridging the text, and with the omission of only a few extracts. On the other hand, a fortunate discovery in the records of the Foreign Office of the Free Church of Scotland has enabled the author to enrich this Edition with the characteristic letter at page 329 to Dr. Wilson from Dr. Livingstone, which Mr. H. Stanley posted from Aden to Bombay. In its present form the Life of Dr. Wilson is placed within the reach of the people, and more especially of both Asiatic and British youth in colleges and schools.

Isle of Arran,
25th August 1879.


When I was asked by his son to go over the voluminous papers and write the life of Dr. Wilson of Bombay, I at once sacrificed other engagements to the duty. As Editor of the Calcutta Review for some time before the Mutiny of 1857, and as Editor of The Friend of India, and Correspondent of The Times for many years after it, I was called to observe and occasionally to discuss the career of the Philanthropist and Scholar of Western India. For forty-seven years as a public man and a missionary he worked, he wrote, he spoke, and in countless ways he joyfully toiled for the people of India. While viceroys and governors, officials and merchants, scholars and travellers, succeeded each other and passed away all too rapidly, he remained a permanent living force, a mediator j between the natives and the governing class, an interpreter; of the varied Asiatic races, creeds, and longings, to their ’ alien but benevolent rulers. Nor was his work for his own countrymen less remarkable, in its degree, than his life of self-sacrifice for Hindoos and Muhammadans,: Parsees and Jews, out-castes and aborigines, and his building up of the indigenous Church of India. His influence maintained an English standard of morality and manners,

in society, while he was the centre of a select group of administrators, not confined to Bombay, like Sir Donald ) M'Leod, to mention only the dead. As an Orientalist and scholar, the power of his memory was only less remarkable than the ardour of his industry; his linguistic instinct was regulated by the philosophy with which his native country is identified, and all were directed by the loftiest motive and the purest passion that can inflame the breast. Wealth and honours he put from him, save when he could make them also ministers in the work of humanity. From Central India to Central Africa, and from Cabul to Comorin, there are thousands who call John Wilson blessed. His hundreds of educated converts and catechumens are the seed of the Church of Western India. Every missionary I and student of India Missions must sit at his feet.

From 1864, when I first visited Bombay, to his death at the close of 1875, I learned to know the man as well as his work. But he cannot be so well reproduced on the cold page, for his own writings do not reflect the charm of his talk, which delighted generations of friends, from Sir John Malcolm to Lord Mayo and Lord Northbrook, Sir Bartle Frere and Mr. Grant Duff. My aim is that this volume may supply the materials, at least, from which his Country and the Church Catholic, oriental scholars, and the princes and educated natives of India, shall not only see what manner of man he was, but be stimulated by his rare example. I hope also that the sketches of the other good and great men who worked for a time by his side may not be without interest; and that, still more, it may be seen how the British Government is rising to the height of our national responsibility for the good of the millions of Southern Asia, and of the neighbouring Malay, Chinese, Tatar, Persian, Arab, Abyssinian, and Negro peoples.

This is an English book, and therefore, though it occasionally treats purely scholarly questions, the English vowels are used to transliterate oriental names and terms. Save in extracts which demand the preservation of the original spelling, and in the name which I would fain have printed “Boodhist,” hardly an Asiatic word or phrase will be found which is not so rendered as to be capable of correct pronunciation, and of being easily understood. Scholars who write for scholars only, do well to follow the Indian and European vowel sounds. Scholars, officials, and all who desire the English reader to be attracted to, instead of being repelled from, the study of India and the East, will use English as uniformly as ineradicable custom permits.

Besides the acknowledgments made in the course of the narrative, I have to thank for their assistance his Excellency Sir Richard Temple, Bart., who, as the present Governor of Bombay, instructed the departments to supply copies of some of Dr. Wilson’s official correspondence; Sir Alexander Grant, Bart., Principal of the University of Edinburgh, who, as Director of Public Instruction for some years, was closely associated^ with Dr. Wilson; the third Sir Jamsetjee Jeejeebhoy, Bart.; The Pie vs. Dhunjeebhoy Nowrojee and E. Stothert, M.A.; Dr. Birdwood, C.S.I., and Dr. E. Fost, of the India Office; Hugh Miller, M.D., Esq. of Broomfield, Helensburgh; W. P. Jervis, Esq., Turin; Professors Charteris and Eggeling; and Professor Weber of Berlin, who has communicated to me, through Mr. John Muir, D.C.L., C.I.E., his very high estimate of the scientific pursuits of Dr. Wilson as an Orientalist who subordinated scholarly reputation to missionary ends. Only the long frontier war, and the other cares of his office as Governor of Cape Colony, have prevented his Excellency Sir Bartle Frere from contributing reminiscences of his lifelong friend.

Serampore House, Merchiston,
Edinburgh, October 1878.


Chapter I.
Home—School—University—Voyage to Bombay
Chapter II.
Old Bombay and its Governors to 1829
Chapter III.
Organisation and First Fruit of the Mission
Chapter IV.
Public Discussions with learned Hindoos and Muhammadans
Chapter V.
Tours to Nasik; to Jalna and Elora; to Goa, Kolhapore, and Mahableshwar
Chapter VI.
Tour to Surat, Baroda, Kathiawar, and Somnath
Chapter VII.
Zand. Scholarship and the Parsee Controversy
Chapter VIII.
Development of the Mission
Chapter IX.
Tours—Gaiesoppa Falls—Rajpootana — Kathiawar — The Somnath Gates
Chapter X.
Oriental Scholarship and Scholars
Chapter XI.
Home by Cairo, Sinai, Jerusalem, Damascus, Constantinople, and Perth
Chapter XII.
The Missionary Side of 1843
Chapter XIII.
Among Books—Second Marriage—Over Europe to Bombay
Chapter XIV.
A New Period—Tour in Sindh—The Bombay School of the Catechumens
Chapter XV.
Literary Activity—The Rock-cut Temples
Chapter XVI.
The Mutiny and its Good Fruit
Chapter XVII.
The Krishna Orgies — Dr. Wilson among the Educated Natives
Chapter XVIII.
New Bombay — Dr. Wilson among the Europeans — Dr. Livingstone—The Abyssinian Expedition
Chapter XIX.
Second and Last Visit Home
Chapter XX.
Appendix I.
Dr. Wilson on Native Rule in Baroda and Native - Opinion on British Rule
Appendix II.
Dr. Wilson on the Somnath Gates

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