Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Wheeler, James Talboys

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WHEELER, JAMES TALBOYS (1824–1897), historian of India, son of James Luff Wheeler (d. 1862), by his wife Anne Ophelia, daughter of David Alphonso Talboys [q. v.], was born at Oxford on 22 Dec. 1824. Educated at a private school, he started business as a publisher and bookseller, but with little success. Having gained, however, some credit, when still a young man, as a writer of handbooks for university students, and by a more elaborate work on the geography of Herodotus, he obtained during the Crimean war a supernumerary clerkship at the war office. In 1858 he went to India as editor of the ‘Madras Spectator,’ but gave up the profession of journalism on being appointed (4 Oct. 1858) professor of moral and mental philosophy in the Madras presidency college. In May 1860 he was employed by the Madras government to examine the old records; the results of his researches being a report, highly commended by the secretary of state, Sir Charles Wood, in a despatch dated 25 May 1861, and a ‘History of Madras in the Olden Time.’ On 26 Feb. 1862 he was appointed assistant secretary to the government of India in the foreign department, and removed to Calcutta, where, among other duties, he had charge of the foreign and, later, of the home offices when the secretaries were at Simla. Among the printed but unpublished volumes which he compiled under orders of government were a memorandum on the Scinde ameers, summaries of political affairs from 1864 to 1869, of Afghan affairs in the eighteenth and nineteen centuries, and of Persian affairs, a valuable report on Afghan-Turkestan, and a memorandum on the Wahabis, all of which have been freely used by official writers as well as by others who had access to confidential documents. His services were specially acknowledged by Lord Mayo in a minute dated 20 Feb. 1870. Early in that year he was transferred to Rangoon as secretary to the chief commissioner of British Burma. In that capacity in November 1870 he visited Mandalay and Bhamo, and had an interview with the king of Burma. In 1873 he obtained long furlough to England. Since his appointment to the foreign office his leisure had been devoted to the compilation of his excellent and sympathetic history of India, the first volume of which was published in 1867. Returning to India in 1876, he was employed to report on the records in the home and foreign departments at Calcutta; and, besides submitting reports on his investigations, compiled two volumes, which he was allowed to publish. He also prepared and published under the authority of government a ‘History of the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi.’ In 1891 he retired from the service. He died at Ramsgate on 13 Jan. 1897.

He married, on 15 Jan. 1852, Emily, daughter of Robert Roe, by whom he had three surviving sons—Stephen, Owen Edleston (late captain Leicestershire regiment), and Albert Fordyce; and one daughter, Edith.

He wrote, besides smaller text-books and articles in the ‘Calcutta Review,’ ‘Asiatic Quarterly,’ and other periodicals, the following: 1. ‘Analysis and Summary of Herodotus,’ 1848. 2. ‘Analysis and Summary of Old Testament History,’ 1849. 3. ‘Analysis and Summary of Thucydides,’ 1850. 4. ‘Analysis and Summary of New Testament History,’ 1852. 5. ‘Geography of Herodotus,’ 1854. 6. ‘Life and Travels of Herodotus,’ 1855. 7. ‘History of Madras in the Olden Time, 1639 to 1748: compiled from the Government Records,’ 1860–2, 3 vols. 8. ‘History of India,’ 1867–81, 4 vols. 9. ‘Summary of Affairs of the Government of India in the Foreign Department from 1864 to 1869,’ 1869. 10. ‘Early Records of British India,’ 1877. 11. ‘History of the Imperial Assemblage at Delhi,’ 1877. 12. ‘Summary of Affairs in Native States, 1818 to 1835,’ 1878. 13. ‘Summary of Affairs in Mahratta States, 1627 to 1858,’ 1878. 14. ‘Short History of India and the Frontier States,’ 1880. 15. ‘Tales from Indian History,’ 1882. 16. ‘India under British Rule,’ 1886.

[Times, 14 Jan. 1897; Indian official lists and private papers.]

S. W.