Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, Edward
THOMAS, EDWARD (1813–1886), Indian antiquary, born on 31 Dec. 1813, the son of Honoratus Leigh Thomas [q. v.], was educated at the East India College at Haileybury. He went to India in 1832 as a ‘writer’ in the Bengal service of the company. Ill-health interfered with his duties, and compelled several absences in England on sick leave; and when Lord Dalhousie, struck by his abilities, offered him in 1852 the post of foreign secretary to the government of India, he was reluctantly obliged to decline it, feeling himself unequal to the strain. After acting for a short time as judge at Delhi, he was appointed superintending judge of the Saugor and Nerbudda territory. He retired on a pension in 1857, and spent the rest of his life in scholarly pursuits, attending the meetings of learned societies and writing numerous essays and articles on oriental archæology. He died in Kensington on 10 Feb. 1886.
By breaking ground in a dozen obscure subjects—such as Bactrian, Indo-Scythic, and Sassanian coins, Indian metrology, Persian gems and inscriptions—Thomas rendered important services to science, which were recognised by his election as a fellow of the Royal Society on 8 June 1871, as correspondent of the Institute of France in January 1873, and as honorary member of the Russian Academy, and by his decoration as companion of the Indian Empire. His chief published volumes were his ‘Chronicles of the Pathan Kings of Delhi’ (1847; 2nd enlarged edit. 1871), and his edition of James Prinsep's ‘Essays on Indian Antiquities’ and ‘Useful Tables’ (2 vols. 1858), which he enriched with valuable notes, and rendered an indispensable work of reference for oriental archæologists. Other noteworthy publications were his ‘Coins of the Kings of Ghazni’ (1847, 1858), ‘Initial Coinage of Bengal’ (1886, 1873), ‘Early Sassanian Inscriptions’ (1868), ‘Ancient Indian Weights’ (1874, being part i. of the new ‘Numismata Orientalia’ which he edited for Nicholas Trübner [q. v.]), and ‘The Revenue of the Mughal Empire’ (1871, 1882). His numerous short papers in the transactions of learned societies, albeit often avowedly premature and containing tentative views which later study caused him to modify or abandon, not only bore the marks of a fine gift for palæography, numismatics, and a wide range of archæology, but gave a fresh impetus to the science, and stimulated other students. Many of these papers appeared in the ‘Numismatic Chronicle’ between 1847 and 1883, but the greater number were contributed to the ‘Journal’ of the Royal Asiatic Society, of which he was a member for forty years and treasurer for twenty-five, and in which his influence and advice were deeply felt and valued.
[Personal knowledge; private information; obituary by the present writer in Athenæum, 21 and 28 Feb. 1886; Annual Rep. Royal Asiatic Soc. May 1886; Men of the Time, 1884.]