Dickinson, John (DNB00)

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DICKINSON, JOHN (1815–1876), writer on India, the son of an eminent papermaker of Nash Mills, Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire—who with Henry Fourdrinier [q. v.] first patented a process for manufacturing paper of an indefinite length, and so met the increasing demands of the newspaper press—was born on 28 Dec. 1815. In due time he was sent to Eton, and afterwards invited to take part in his father's business. He had, however, no taste either for accounts or for mechanical processes; and being in delicate health he was indulged in a wish to travel on the continent, where, with occasional visits to his friends at home, he spent several years, occupied in the study of languages, of art, and of foreign politics. His sympathies were entirely given to the struggling liberal party on the continent, in whose behalf he wrote desultory essays in periodicals of no great note. It was not till 1850 that by an irresistible impulse he found his vocation as an independent Indian reformer. His uncle, General Thomas Dickinson, of the Bombay engineers, and his cousin, Sebastian Stewart Dickinson, encouraged and assisted John in the prosecution of this career. In 1850 and 1851 a series of letters appeared in the ‘Times’ on the best means of increasing the produce and promoting the supply to English manufacturing towns of Indian cotton. These were from Dickinson's pen, and were afterwards published in a collected form, as ‘Letters on the Cotton and Roads of Western India’ (1851). A public works commission was appointed by Lord Dalhousie the next year to inquire into the deficiencies of administration pointed out by Dickinson and his friends.

On 12 March 1853 a meeting was held in Dickinson's rooms, and a society was formed under the name of the India Reform Society. The debate in parliament that year on the renewal of the East India Company's charter gave the society and Dickinson, as its honorary secretary, constant occupation. Already in 1852 the publication of ‘India, its Government under a Bureaucracy’—a small volume of 209 pages—had produced a marked effect. It was reprinted in 1853 as one of a series of ‘India Reform Tracts,’ and had a very large circulation. The maintenance of good faith and good will to the native states was the substance of all these writings. Public attention was diverted from the subject for a time by the Crimean war, but was roused again in 1857 by the Indian mutiny. Dickinson worked incessantly throughout the two years of mutiny and pacification and afterwards, when the transfer of the Indian government from the company to the crown was carried into effect. He spared neither time nor money in various efforts to moderate public excitement, and to prevent exclusive attention to penal and repressive measures. With this view he organised a series of public meetings, which were all well attended. After 1859 the India Reform Society began to languish and at a meeting in 1861 Mr. John Bright resigned the chairmanship, and carried by a unanimous vote a motion appointing Dickin- son his successor. The publication in 1864–5 of two pamphlets entitled ‘Dhar not restored’ roused in Calcutta a feeling of great indignation against the writer, Dickinson, who was stigmatised as a ‘needy adventurer.’

On the death of his father in 1869 Dickinson, who inherited a large fortune, was much occupied in the management of his property, and being in weak health he gave a less close attention to the business of the society than he had done. Still, he kept alive to the last his interest in India, corresponding with Holkar, maharajah of Indore, with great regularity. He indignantly repelled the accusation made against Holkar in the affair of Colonel Durand [see Durand, Sir Henry Marion].

In 1872 Dickinson was deeply grieved by the death of his youngest son, and in 1875 felt still more deeply the loss of his wife, whom he did not long survive. On 23 Nov. 1876 he was found dead in his study, at 1 Upper Grosvenor Street, London. From the papers lying on the table it was evident that he had been engaged in writing a reply to Holkar's assailants, which was afterwards completed and published by his friend Major Evans Bell under the title of ‘Last Counsels of an Unknown Counsellor.’

The published works of Dickinson, chiefly in pamphlet form, are as follows: 1. ‘India, its Government under Bureaucracy,’ London, 1852, 8vo. 2. ‘The Famine in the North-West Provinces of India,’ London, 1861, 8vo. 3. ‘Reply to the Indigo Planters' pamphlet entitled “Brahmins and Pariahs,” published by the Indigo manufacturers of Bengal,’ London, 1861, 8vo. 4. ‘A Letter to Lord Stanley on the Policy of the Secretary of State for India,’ London, 1863, 8vo. 5. ‘Dhar not restored,’ 1864. 6. ‘Sequel to “Dhar not restored,” and a Proposal to extend the Principle of Restoration,’ London, 1865, 8vo. 7. ‘A Scheme for the Establishment of Efficient Militia Reserves,’ London, 1871, 8vo. 8. ‘Last Counsels of an Unknown Counsellor,’ edited by E. Bell, London, 1877, 8vo, of which a special edition, with portrait, was published in 1883, 8vo.

[Memoir by Major Evans Bell prefixed to Last Counsels of an Unknown Counsellor.]

R. H.