Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Blochmann, Henry Ferdinand

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BLOCHMANN, HENRY FERDINAND (1838–1878), orientalist, born at Dresden on 8 Jan. 1838, was the son of Ernest Ehrenfried Blochmann, printer, and nephew of Karl Justus Blochmann, a distinguished pupil of Pestalozzi. He was educated at the Kreuzschule in Dresden and the university of Leipzig (1855), where he studied oriental languages under Fleischer, and afterwards (1857) under Haase at Paris. In the following year he came to England, eager to visit India and to study the eastern languages in situ; and as the only means open to him of getting there he enlisted in the British army in 1858, and went out to India as a private soldier, after the example of Anquetil du Perron. His linguistic and other abilities had, however, become known on the voyage to India, and soon after his arrival in Calcutta he was set to do office-work in Fort William, and gave lessons in Persian. In the course of about a year he obtained his discharge, and for a time entered the service of the Peninsular and Oriental Company as an interpreter. He was befriended by the Arabic scholar. Captain (afterwards Major-general) William Nassau Lees [q. v.], the principal of the Madrasa and secretary to the board of examiners, who had assisted in obtaining his discharge, and through whom he obtained, at the age of twenty-two, his first government appointment (1860) of assistant professor of Arabic and Persian in the Calcutta Madrasa. In 1861 he graduated M.A. and LL.D. at the university of Calcutta, choosing Hebrew for the subject of his examination. In the following year he left the Madrasa to become pro-rector and professor of mathematics, &c., at the Doveton College; but returning to the Madrasa in 1865, he remained there for the rest of his life, and was principal when he died.

Though Blochmann made some archæological tours in India and British Burma, he generally lived quietly in Calcutta, worked hard at Persian and Arabic, and in 1868 became philological secretary to the Asiatic Society of Bengal. In this position he was invaluable, and the list of his contributions to the society's 'Journal' and 'Proceedings' (Appendix D, Centenary Review of the Society's work, Calcutta, 1885) shows the extent and variety of his labours. Nothing connected with the history of Mohammedan India came amiss to him, but the most elaborate and valuable of his papers are his 'Contributions to the History and Geography of Bengal' (J. A. S. B. vols. xlii. xliii. xliv.) The work, however, on which his fame mainly rests is his translation of the 'Ain-i-Akbari' of Abul-Fazl, the first attempt at a thorough translation of the original; for the version of Francis Gladwin [q. v.], though a meritorious work for its time, is rather an abstract than a translation. Unhappily, Blochmann did not live to do more than translate the first volume (Calcutta, 1873), but the work was ably completed by Colonel H. S. Jarrett. Blochmann's notes are full and accurate, and throw a flood of light on the Emperor Akbar and his court, and on the administration of the Mogul empire. Prefixed to the translation is a valuable life of Abul-Fazl, of whom, however, he formed too high an estimate. Another important work was 'The Prosody of the Persians,' Calcutta, 1872. At the time of his death he had been working at a Persian dictionary, but no trace of the manuscript could be found among his papers. With all his learning, Blochmann was the most modest of men, and welcomed criticism and correction.

Overwork and the exhausting climate caused his early death on 13 July 1878. He is buried in the Circular Road cemetery, Calcutta. He married an Irish lady, who survived him, and left three children. A well-executed marble bust adorns the rooms of the Asiatic Society of Bengal.

[Private information; obituary notice by W. T. Blanford in Proceedings of the Bengal Asiatic Society, August 1878, p. 164; obituary notice by a relative, Hermann Krone, read before the Dresden Geographical Society and afterwards published in the Zeitschrift der deutschen morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, Leipzig, 1879, xxxiii. 335. The inscription on his tombstone misstates the day of his birth as 7 Jan., and gives his Christian names as Henry J.]

H. B-e.