Leyden's Political Connections

During his time in southeast Asia, John Leyden became close friends with a number of major figures in British military and diplomatic circles, in part because of his invaluable skills as a translator. Synergistically, these connections allowed him to travel more widely and brought him in contact with more languages and legends, as well as more powerful friends in the British East India Company (BEIC) and the British military and admiralty.

The following individuals were all important figures in the creation of British India, as well as in the solidification of British hegemony in other parts of south and southeast Asia. While the notes about each person on this page focus on his relationship with Leyden, you can also follow the link to the relevant Wikipedia page for each person. The sources for the biographical data are noted below.

Dr. James Anderson:(1738-1809) Anderson served as the physician-general of the British East India Company from 1800-1809, and had been a surgeon in the BEIC since 1786. Based in Madras, he would have been one of Leyden's first contacts in the BEIC medical service. Anderson was also a capable naturalist and botanist, who did extensive work on cochineal dyes, and also worked to reform pharmacological practices in the BEIC, calling for greater scientific attention to be paid to the contents of drugs given to BEIC personnel.

Lord William Bentinck:(1774-1839) Bentinck had been appointed governor of Madras the year Leyden arrived, 1803. In this post until 1807, he developed a firm conviction that it was necessary to modernize Indian society and improve British financial and civil administration. To this end, he made the practice of ritual widow-suicide (suti or suttee) illegal, make English the official administrative language, and provide for western-style education. Bentinck and Leyden were introduced by a mutual friend in England after Bentinck offered Leyden a post in Madras after illness had prevented Leyden from taking a similar post as a Company physician in Calcutta; Bentinck remained a friend and patron to Leyden for the rest of his life. Long after Leyden's death in 1811, Bentinck's administrative acumen led to him serving as governor-general of India from 1828 until 1835.

Philip Dundas: (1763-1807) Dundas was the brother of an important admiralty official, which helped smooth his way to becoming the governor of the island of Palau Penang (Puloo Penang) in March 1805. His new assistant secretary was a younger man named Thomas Raffles. During Leyden's time on Penang with Dundas and Raffles, he became interested in the Malay language, and leading to the development of his three language Malay-Burmese-Thai dictionary.

Sir John Malcolm: (1769-1833) Sir John Malcolm was a British soldier, diplomat, and administrator, and one of the chief thinkers behind the development of British India in the early nineteenth century. He became acquainted with Leyden when Malcolm was based in Seringapatam, in south-central India, where he was serving as the Resident at the Court of Mysore. Malcolm was soon dispatched to Persia as the BEIC ambassador, before returning to serve as the governor of Bombay, 1827-1830. He authored several major works on the history of India, including History of the Sikhs (1810), Sketch of the Political History of India (1811), History of Persia (1815), and LIfe of Lord Clive, (1836).

[Click to read Malcolm's perspectives on Leyden.]

Gilbert Elliot-Murray-Kynynmound, First Lord Minto: (1751-1814) The first earl of Minto was the son of minor Scottish nobles who came from the same area of Scotland as Leyden. After beginning a political career in Britain, the first earl of Minto was dispatched first as an envoy to the nascent colony of Australia before becoming governor-general of India in 1807, a post he held until 1813. As governor-general, Minto was responsible for appointing Leyden to the judgeship of the twenty-four Parganas (Pergunnahs) outside Calcutta in 1808. The first earl of Minto died in 1814; his great-grandson (the fourth earl of Minto) later served as both governor-general of Canada (1898-1904) and as viceroy and governor-general of India (1905-1910).

[Click to read Lord Minto's perspectives on Leyden.]

Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles:(1781-1826) Thomas Stamford Raffles, usually known simply as Stamford Raffles, began his career as a lowly clerk in BEIC service before being appointed assistant secretary to Philip Dundas, governor of Palau Penang, and later becoming governor of Java. Raffles is more commonly remembered today, however, as the founder of Singapore. Raffles and Leyden collaborated on a translated collection of Malaysian tales, published in 1821 after Leyden's death, and Raffles credited Leyden with a number of policy suggestions and as being a general inspiration for much of Raffles' subsequent work in southeast Asia. Leyden was also very influenced by Raffles' wife Olivia, to whom he dedicated several poems.

[Click to read Raffles' perspectives on Leyden.]


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