Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Turnour, George
TURNOUR, GEORGE (1799–1843), orientalist, was the eldest son of George Turnour, third son of Edward Turnour Garth Turnour, first earl of Winterton [see under Turnor, Sir Edward]. His mother was Emilie, niece to the Cardinal Duc de Beaussett. He was born in 1799 in Ceylon, where his father was employed in the public service, but was educated in England. In 1818 he entered the Ceylon civil service, and devoted himself to the study not only of the vernaculars of the island, but also to the unexplored literature of Pali, the leading religious language of Ceylon and other Buddhist lands. In 1826, when residing at Ratnapura, near Adam's Peak, he obtained from his instructor in Pali a copy of the ‘Mahāvamsa,’ the most important authority on the ancient history of Ceylon. His first publication on this subject was in the ‘Ceylon Almanack’ in 1833. He had previously given a copy of his researches to Major Forbes, who republished them in his ‘Eleven Years in Ceylon’ (London, 1840), with confirmations of their accuracy. The great discovery of Turnour's life was the identification of King Piyadassi, the promulgator of the celebrated rock-edicts scattered over India, with Asóka, the grandson of Chandragupta, the Sandrakottus of Greek history. This turning-point of Indian historical research was communicated to James Prinsep and published by him, with a supplementary paper by Turnour himself, in the ‘Journal of the Bengal Asiatic Society’ for 1837. In literature Turnour's magnum opus was his edition of the ‘Mahāvamsa’ (vol. i.), published in 1836, with an English translation and a masterly historical introduction. This was the first Pali text of any extent that had at that time been printed. His literary work was carried on without detriment to public duty, and in the latter part of his career he was a member of the supreme council of Ceylon. His health becoming impaired in 1841, he returned to Europe, and died at Naples on 10 April 1843.
[Tennant's Ceylon, 3rd ed. i. 312 (from orig. documents); obituary in Journal of Royal As. Soc. vol. viii. (old ser.), Report for 1844; Journal of As. Soc. Bengal, vols. v–vii. and Centenary Volume.]