Bellew, Henry Walter (DNB01)

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BELLEW, HENRY WALTER (1834–1892), surgeon-general, born at Nusserabad in India on 30 Aug. 1834, was son of Captain Henry Walter Bellew of the Bengal army, assistant quartermaster-general attached to the Cabul army in the disastrous retreat of 1842. He was educated as a medical student at St. George's Hospital, London, and admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England in 1855. He served in the Crimean war during the winter of 1854-5, and on 14 Nov. 1855 he was gazetted assistant-surgeon in the Bengal medical service, becoming surgeon in 1867, and deputy airgeon-general in 1881. He went to India in 1856, and was at once appointed to the corps of guides, but was soon afterwards ordered to join Major (Sir) Henry Lumsden [q. v. Suppl.] on his Candahar mission, and he was serving in Afghanistan during the sepoy mutiny.

Bellew rendered important services to the Indian government by his knowledge of the natives during the Ambeyla campaign, and as civil surgeon at Peshawar his name became a household word among the frontier tribes, whose language be spoke, and with whose manners and feelings he was thoroughly familiar. In 1869 Lord Mayo employed him to act as interpreter with the ameer, Shere Ali, during the durbar at Ambala. In 1871 he accompanied Sir Richard Pollock on a political mission to Sista, and during 1873-4 he was attached to Sir Douglas Forsyth's embassy to Kashgar and Yarkand. In 1873 he was decorated with the order of a 'companion of the Star of India,' and after acting as sanitary commissioner for the Punjab he was appointed chief political officer at Cabul. But the cold and hardships he endured at the siege of Sherpvir brought on an attack of illness which obliged him to leave his post. He retired from the service with the rank of surgeon-general in November 1886. He died at Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, on 26 July 1892, and his body was cremated at Brookwood. There is a bust of Bellew in the United Service Museum at Simla.

Bellew married Isabel, sister of General Sir George MacGregor, and by her had two daughters and one son, Robert Walter Dillon, now a captain in the 16th lancers.

Bellew belonged to the school of Anglo-Indian officials who have helped to build up and consolidate the British empire in India by acquiring a thorough knowledge of the natives' habits and modes of thought. He was passionately fond of oriental studies, and acquired languages with great facility. His views on the history of these languages did not meet with general approval; but the numerous works he wrote, and the services he rendered to ethnography, grammar, and lexicography deserve grateful acknowledgment. As sanitary commissioner of the Punjab it was his custom to visit even the small and remote villages, while in the larger towns he would assemble the members of the municipality and explain to them in a familiar style the advantages of vaccination and the necessity of using pure water and of practising general cleanliness. He published in Punjabi a small treatise on vaccination, and such simple notes on cholera as could be easily understood by the people. As an explorer his gift of observation supplied minute and interesting information about regions that had been either unknown or but little known before he visited them; while as a political officer and representative Englishman on the Punjab frontier he gained in the highest degree the confidence of the native rulers as well as of their subjects.

Bellew's works are:

  1. 'Journal of a Political Mission to Afghanistan in 1857,' London, 1862, 8vo: full of information from a scientific as well as from a political point of view. The book is still valuable as a study of the character of the warlike hill tribes.
  2. 'General Report on the Yusuf-zais in 1864.' A work of great interest on the topography, history, antiquities, tribal subdivisions, government, customs, climate, and productions of the country.
  3. 'A Grammar and Dictionary of the Pukkhto or Pukshto Language,' London, 1867, 4to.
  4. 'From the Indus to the Tigris, with a Grammar and Vocabulary of the Brahoe Language,' London, 1874, 8vo.
  5. 'General Description of the Kashgar,' 1875, 4to.
  6. 'The History of Kashgaria,' Calcutta, 1875, 4to.
  7. 'Kashmir and Kashgar, a Narrative of the Journey of the Embassy to Kashgar in 1873-4,' London, 1875, 8vo.
  8. 'Afghanistan and the Afghans,' London, 1879, 8vo.
  9. 'The Races of Afghanistan,' Calcutta, 1880, 8vo.
  10. 'A New Afghan Question; or. Are the Afghans Israelites?' Simla, 1881, 8vo.
  11. 'The History of Cholera in India from 1862 to 1881,' London, 1885, 8vo.
  12. 'A Short Practical Treatise on the Nature, Causes, and Treatment of Cholera' (a supplement to the preceding work), London, 1887, 8vo.
  13. 'An Enquiry into the Ethnography of Afghanistan,' Woking, 1891, roy. 8vo.

[Obituary notices in the Transactions ot the Royal Asiatic Society, October 1892, p. 880, the Indian Lancet, Calcutta, 1896, vii. 29–31, and the Times, 29 July 1892.]

D’A. P.