Crawfurd, John (DNB00)

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CRAWFURD, JOHN (1783–1868), orientalist, was born on 13 Aug. 1783, in the island of Islay, where his father had settled as a medical practitioner. He received his early education in the village school of Bowmore, and in 1799, at the age of sixteen, he entered on a course of medical studies at Edinburgh. Here he remained until 1803, when he received a medical appointment in India, and served for five years with the army in the North-west Provinces. At the end of that time he was, most fortunately in the interests of science, transferred to Penang, where he acquired so extensive a knowledge of the language and the people that Lord Minto was glad to avail himself of his services when, in 1811, he undertook the expedition which ended in the conquest of Java. During the occupation of Java, i.e. from 1811 to 1817, Crawfurd filled some of the principal civil and political posts on the island; and it was only on the restoration of the territory to the Dutch that he resigned office and returned to England. In the interval thus afforded him from his official duties he wrote a ‘History of the Indian Archipelago,’ a work of sterling value and great interest, in 3 vols. 1820. Having completed this work he returned to India, only, however, to leave it again immediately for the courts of Siam and Cochin China, to which he was accredited as envoy by the Marquis of Hastings. This delicate mission he carried through with complete success, and on the retirement of Sir Stamford Raffles from the government of Singapore in 1823, he was appointed to administer that settlement. In this post he remained for three years, at the end of which time he was transferred as commissioner to Pegu, whence, on the conclusion of peace with Burma, he was despatched by Lord Amherst on a mission to the court of Ava. To say that any envoy could be completely successful in his dealings with so weak and treacherous a monarch as King Hpagyīdoa would be to assert an impossibility; but it is certain that Crawfurd, by his exercise of diplomatic skill, accomplished all that was possible under the conditions. In the course of the following year Crawfurd finally returned to England, and devoted the remainder of his long life to the promotion of studies connected with Indo-China. With characteristic energy he brought out an account of his embassy to the courts of Siam and Cochin-China in 1828, and in the following year a ‘Journal’ of his embassy to the court of Ava (1 vol. 4to), which reached a second edition in 1834 (2 vols. 8vo). Among his other principal works were ‘A Grammar and Dictionary of the Malay Language,’ in 2 vols., 1852, and ‘A Descriptive Dictionary of the Indian Islands and Adjacent Countries,’ 1856; in addition to which he published many valuable papers on ethnological or kindred subjects in various journals. Endowed by nature with a steadfast and affectionate disposition, Crawfurd was surrounded by many friends, who found in him a staunch ally or a courteous though uncompromising opponent in all matters, whether private or public, in which he was in harmony or in disagreement with them. For many years Crawfurd was a constant attendant at the meetings of the Geographical and Ethnological Societies, discussing authoritatively all matters connected with Indo-China. He unsuccessfully contested, as an advanced radical, Glasgow in 1832, Paisley in 1834, Stirling in 1835, and Preston in 1837. Crawfurd died at South Kensington on 11 May 1868, aged 85.

[Gent. Mag. 1868; Proceedings of the Royal Geographical Society, 1868; Times, 13 May 1868; and the works above cited.]

R. K. D.