Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet

Sir Henry Rawlinson, 1st Baronet

Infobox Scientist
name = Sir Henry Rawlinson

birth_date = 11 Apr 1810
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death_date = 5 Mar 1895
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Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson, 1st Baronet (1810-1895) was born at Chadlington, Oxfordshire. In 1827 he went to India as a cadet under the British East India Company. After six years with his regiment as subaltern, during which time he had become proficient in the Persian language, he was sent to Persia in company with other British officers to drill and reorganize the Shah's troops. It was at this time that he was first attracted to the study of inscriptions, more particularly those in the hitherto undeciphered cuneiform character. In the course of the two years during which he was in its immediate neighbourhood he transcribed as much as he was able of the great cuneiform inscription at Behistun. This trilingual inscription dated to the 5th century B.C. and the Medes and Persian ruler Darius the Great. Friction between the Persian court and the British government ended in the departure of the British officers.

Rawlinson was appointed political agent at Kandahar in 1840. In that capacity he served for three years, his political labours being as meritorious as was his gallantry during various engagements in the course of the Afghan War; for these he was rewarded by the distinction of C.B. in 1844.

Serendipity, by which he became personally known to the governor-general, led to his appointment as political agent in Ottoman Arabia. Thus he settled in Baghdad, where he devoted himself to cuneiform studies. He was now able, under considerable difficulties and at no small personal risk, to make a complete transcript of the Behistun inscription, which he was also successful in deciphering and interpreting. Having collected a large amount of invaluable information on this and kindred topics, in addition to much geographical knowledge gained in the prosecution of various explorations (including visits with Sir Austen Henry Layard to the ruins of Nineveh), he returned to England on leave of absence in 1849.

Rawlinson remained at home for two years, published in 1851 his memoir on the Behistun inscription, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He disposed of his valuable collection of Babylonian, Sabaean, and Sassanian antiquities to the trustees of the British Museum, who also made him a considerable grant to enable him to carry on the Assyrian and Babylonian excavations initiated by Layard. In 1851 he returned to Baghdad. The excavations were carried on under his direction with valuable results, among the most important being the discovery of material that greatly contributed to the final decipherment and interpretation of the cuneiform character. Rawlinson greatest contribution to the deciphering of the cuneiform scripts was the discovery that individual signs had multiple readings depending on their context (Meyer 154).

An equestrian accident in 1855 hastened his determination to return to England, and in that year he resigned his post in the East India Company. On his return to England the distinction of K.C.B. was conferred upon him, and he was appointed a crown director of the East India Company.

The remaining forty years of his life were full of activity — political, diplomatic, and scientific — and were mainly spent in London. In 1858 he was appointed a member of the first India Council, but resigned in 1859 on being sent to Persia as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. The latter post he held only for a year, owing to his dissatisfaction with circumstances connected with his official position there. Previously he had sat in Parliament as Member of Parliament (MP) for Reigate from February to September 1858; he sat again as MP for Frome, from 1865 to 1868. He was appointed to the Council of India again in 1868, and continued to serve upon it until his death. He was a strong advocate of the forward policy in Afghanistan, and counselled the retention of Kandahar. Rawlinson was one of the most important figures arguing that Britain must check Russian ambitions in South Asia. He argued that Tsarist Russia would attack and absorb Khokand, Bokhara and Khiva (which they did) and would invade Persia (present-day Iran) and Afghanistan as springboards to British India (Meyer 154).

His views were more particularly expressed in "England and Russia in the East" (1875). He was a trustee of the British Museum from 1876 till his death. He was created G.C.B. in 1889, and a Baronet in 1891; was president of the Royal Geographical Society from 1874 to 1875, and of the Asiatic Society from 1878 to 1881; and received honorary degrees at Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. He married Louisa Caroline Harcourt Seymour in September 1862, with whom he had two sons. He was widowed in 1889 and died in London six years later.

His published works include (apart from minor contributions to the publications of learned societies) four volumes of cuneiform inscriptions, published under his direction between 1870 and 1884 by the trustees of the British Museum; "The Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun" (1846-51) and "Outline of the History of Assyria" (1852), both reprinted from the Asiatic Society's journals; "A Commentary on the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Babylon and Assyria" (1850); "Notes on the Early History of Babylonia" (1854); "England and Russia in the East" (1875). He contributed articles on Baghdad, the Euphrates and Kurdistan to the ninth edition of the Encyclopædia Britannica, together with several other articles dealing with the East; and he assisted in editing a translation of "The Histories" of Herodotus by his brother, Canon George Rawlinson.

Further reading

* Adkins, Lesley. "Empires of the Plain: Henry Rawlinson and the Lost Languages of Babylon". London: HarperCollins, 2003 (hardcover, ISBN 0-00-712899-1); 2004 (paperback, ISBN 0-00-712900-9).
* Meyer, Karl Ernest; Brysac, Shareen Blair. "Tournament of Shadows: The Great Game And the Race for Empire in Central Asia". New York: Counterpoint, 1999 (hardcover, ISBN 1-58243-028-4); New York: Basic Books, 2006 (paperback, ISBN 158243106X
* Rawlinson, George. "A Memoir of Major-General Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (Elibron Classics)". London: Adamant Media Corporation, 2005 (hardcover, ISBN 1-4212-8893-1; paperback, ISBN 1-4021-8331-3).



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