Hislop, Stephen (DNB00)

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HISLOP, STEPHEN (1817–1863), missionary and naturalist, born at Duns, Berwickshire, 8 Sept. 1817, was the youngest child of Stephen Hislop, a mason and elder of the Relief church, by his wife, Margaret Thomson. Young Stephen was educated at the parish school of Duns, and while still a boy gave much of his time to insect-hunting or fossil-collecting. From 1834 to 1838 Hislop studied in the arts faculty at Edinburgh University, and afterwards spent a year at Glasgow, but returned to Edinburgh to study divinity under Thomas Chalmers. During these years he supported himself by acting as a tutor in the summer, and kept up his keen interest in nature. Hislop had joined the established church, but took part in the secession in 1843. He was attracted to mission work by acting as secretary to a Ladies' Society for Female Education in India, and in January 1844 was accepted by the foreign missions of the Free church as a missionary for India. He was soon afterwards licensed to preach by the free presbytery of Edinburgh. In November 1844 he sailed for Bombay, accompanied by his wife, Erasma Hull, granddaughter of George Whitefield's friend. Hislop was assigned to Nagpoor, and settled at Sitabaldi, a mile and a half west of that city, on 13 Feb. 1845; his first year was spent in studying the native languages, but in May 1846 he opened a school at Nagpoor, which has grown into the present Hislop College. Except for a thirteen months' change, to take charge of the mission at Madras in 1850, Hislop's first twelve years in India were passed in active mission and educational work, combined with studies in botany and geology. He acquired considerable influence with the natives, and a warning conveyed to Hislop by a Mahommedan friend in July 1857 was the means of saving the Europeans at Nagpoor during the mutiny. At the end of 1858 he returned to England for a rest of two years; he occupied himself in establishing mission agencies, and for a time was in charge of Craig or Ferryden in Forfarshire. At the meeting of the British Association in September 1859 he read a paper on the Gonds. In January 1861 Hislop was again at Nagpoor. Previously he had not much concerned himself with the political administration of the country, except to protest against any official recognition of heathen customs; but the province had suffered much from weak administration, and Hislop now set himself to expose the scandal and bring about a reform through the medium of letters to the ‘Friend of India’ newspaper. Earl Canning was at last induced to organise the central provinces as a single government, and to appoint Sir Richard Temple as chief commissioner. The new governor freely consulted Hislop on schools, civil reforms, and objects of scientific interest. In September 1863 Hislop accompanied the chief commissioner on a tour of inspection; on the evening of the 4th, while riding alone from Takalghal to Bori, he was drowned in the attempt to cross a small stream which was swollen through rain. His body was found the same night, and was buried in the Nagpoor cemetery. His wife, three daughters, and a son survived him. A large sum, to which many natives of India contributed, was raised for their support.

Hislop's work was much more than that of an ordinary missionary. Sir Richard Temple describes him as ‘among the most gifted and accomplished missionaries whom this generation has seen in India. Besides having much ability for organisation and education generally, for philology and antiquarian research, he had a taste and aptitude for physical science, especially botany and geology’ (Men and Events of my Time in India, p. 241). Hislop carefully studied the languages of the aboriginal tribes of his district, and in particular of the Gonds, and made a collection of their folklore. Geology was his chief study, and his labours in this direction were of much importance in the natural history of central India; for botany, however, he had a special taste; he also gave attention to zoology, working chiefly as an entomologist and conchologist; his notebooks are full of minute records of observations, illustrated by drawings in his own hand.

Hislop's ‘Papers relating to the Aboriginal Tribes of the Central Provinces’ (Nagpoor, 1866) were edited after his death by Sir R. Temple. In his lifetime his only independent publication was a sermon printed in 1860. But in 1853 he contributed to the ‘Royal Asiatic Society's Journal’ a paper on the ‘Geology of the Nagpoor State;’ he afterwards wrote two other papers for the same journal: ‘On the Age of the Coal Strata in Western Bengal and Central India,’ and ‘Remarks on the Geology of Nagpoor.’ Between 1854 and 1861 he contributed five papers to the ‘Quarterly Journal of the Geological Society.’

[Smith's Life of Hislop, with a portrait after a collotype taken in 1844 by D. O. Hill; John Wilson's Memorial Discourse, Bombay, 1864; Geological Society's Journal for 1864, pp. xxxix–xl.]

C. L. K.