Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Ellis, Francis Whyte

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ELLIS, FRANCIS WHYTE (d. 1819), orientalist, became a writer in the East India Company's service at Madras in 1796. He was promoted to the offices of assistant-under secretary, deputy-secretary, and secretary to the board of revenue in 1798, 1801, and 1802 respectively. In 1806 he was appointed judge of the zillah of Masulipatam; in 1809 collector of land customs in the Madras presidency, and in 1810 collector of Madras. He died at Ramnad of cholera on 10 March 1819. Ellis made his reputation as a Tamil and Sanskrit scholar. About 1816 he printed at Madras a small portion of 'The Sacred Kurral of Tiruvalluva-Nâyanâr,' with an English translation and elaborate commentary (304 pp.) The Rev. Dr. G. U. Pope, who issued a new edition of the 'Sacred Kurral' in 1886, and reprinted Ellis's as well as Beschi's versions, described Ellis as 'an oriental scholar of extraordinary ability.' To the 'Asiatic Researches' (vol. xiv. Calcutta) Ellis contributed an account of a large collection of Sanskrit manuscripts found at Pondicherry. These were shown to be compositions of Jesuit missionaries, who had embodied under the title of 'Vedas' their religious doctrines and much legendary history in classical Sanskrit verse, with a view to palming them off on the natives of the Dekhan as the work of the Rishis and Munis, the inspired authors of their scriptures. According to Professor Wilson Ellis also wrote 'three valuable dissertations on the Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalim languages.' The Telugu dissertation was printed in A. D. Campbell's 'Telugu Grammar' (1816?). Manuscript notes survive to show that in early life Ellis tried to trace analogies between the South Indian and Hebrew languages. Among his papers is a marvellously skilful explanation of the Travancore inscription, the oldest specimen of the Tamil language in existence.

Ellis was deeply interested in the history and social condition of the natives of India, and was an expert on both subjects. 'A reply [by Ellis] to the first seventeen questions stated in a letter from the secretary to government in the revenue department, dated 2 Aug. 1814, relative to Mirâsi right,' is one of the three treatises on Mirâsi right printed by Charles Philip Brown [q. v.] in his volume on the subject issued in 1852. In 1828 Ellis drew up a paper entitled 'Desiderata and Enquiries connected with the Presidency of Madras,' which was widely circulated after it had been translated into all the vernaculars. It dealt with the collection of information on all subjects, from 'language and literature' to arts, manufactures, and natural history. Ellis left his papers—philological and political—to Sir Walter Elliot, on whose death they passed to Dr. Pope. Dr. Pope has placed them in the Bodleian Library at Oxford.

[Prinsep's Madras Civilians, 1886; Rev. G. U. Pope's Sacred Kurral, 1886; Brit. Mus. Cat; Prof. H. H. Wilson in Imp. Dict. of Biog.; Athenæum, 1875, i. 489; information from the Rev. Dr. Pope of Oxford.]