Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomason, James

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THOMASON, JAMES (1804–1853), lieutenant-governor of the North-Western Provinces of India and governor-designate of Madras, was born at Great Shelford, near Cambridge, on 3 May 1804. In 1808 his father, Thomas Truebody Thomason, curate to Charles Simeon [q. v.], accepted a chaplaincy in Bengal. In India he became distinguished as a good preacher and a devoted clergyman. He was an intimate friend of David Brown (1763–1812) [q. v.], of Claudius Buchanan [q. v.], and of Henry Martyn [q. v.], and for a time as chaplain to the governor-general, Lord Moira [see Hastings, Francis Rawdon, first Marquis of Hastings]. James was sent to England at the age of ten, and was consigned to the care of Simeon, who was residing at Cambridge with his grandmother, Mrs. Dornford. Shortly after his arrival he was sent to a school at Aspeden Hall, near Buntingford, where he had Macaulay as one of his fellow-pupils. Four years later he went to a school at Stansted in Sussex, where Samuel Wilberforce was his schoolfellow. Thence, having obtained an appointment to the Bengal civil service, he moved to Haileybury College, and arrived at Calcutta in September 1822, at the age of eighteen.

He speedily acquired considerable proficiency in native languages. His earlier service was passed in the judicial department. Before he had been seven years in India he was appointed registrar to the court of Sadr Adálat at Calcutta, and he afterwards acted as judge in the Jungle Mahals. In 1830 he was appointed secretary to government, and held that office until 1832, when, at his own request, he was transferred to the post of magistrate and collector of Azamgarh, in order that he might acquire administrative experience and practical knowledge of district work in immediate contact with the people. In this work he was employed for five years. A survey and reassessment of the revenue for thirty years was at that time in progress. He was settlement officer, as well as magistrate and collector, and his settlement work brought him into the closest touch with agricultural affairs and with the landed interests. It may be said that the five years which Thomason spent in Azamgarh did more than any part of his official life to fit him for his later duties as governor of a province. Early in 1837 Thomason was appointed secretary to the government of Agra, which had been constituted under the statute of 1833. In 1839 the state of his wife's health compelled him to return with her to England. He had only taken leave to the Cape of Good Hope, and his conduct, by the rules of the company, involved forfeiture of his membership of the civil service. The court of directors, however, knowing his value, restored him to the service, and the government of India kept his appointment open for him.

Returning to Agra early in 1840, Thomason served on in the secretariat until the end of 1841, when he succeeded Robert Merttins Bird [q. v.] as a member of the board of revenue. Early in the following year he was appointed by Lord Ellenborough foreign secretary to the government of India, and in the latter part of 1843 was nominated lieutenant-governor of the North-Western Provinces, which office he assumed on 12 Dec. of that year. This appointment Thomason held until his death in 1853. Throughout his long term of office his abilities and energies were devoted with unparalleled success to the well-being of the province under his charge. His directions to settlement officers and to collectors of land revenue are still, with but slight modifications, the guide of those important branches of the administration. It was entirely owing to his strenuous advocacy that the construction of the Ganges Canal, which was seriously opposed by Lord Ellenborough, and was not opened until after Thomason's death, became an established fact. In developing the communications, in improving the police and gaols, in promoting popular education, and generally in carrying out improvements in every branch of the public service, few rulers have achieved more marked success. Thomason died at Bareilly on 27 Sept. 1853. On the same day the queen affixed her signature to his appointment as governor of Madras.

Thomason throughout his life was influenced by strong religious sentiments and by the highest Christian principles, but he was not the less careful to abstain from any measures which might be regarded as interfering with the religious feelings or prejudices of the natives. He married, in 1829, Maynard Eliza Grant, the daughter of a civil servant.

[James Thomason, by Sir Richard Temple, Oxford, 1893; Directions for Revenue Officers in the North-Western Provinces in the Bengal Presidency, Agra, 1849.]

A. J. A.