Colonel James Tod (1782-1835)

(by Brig. A. Mason, M.C., R.E.)

Indian diplomat; born in Islington, London, 20th March, 1782. His uncle, Patrick Heatley, procured him an East Indian cadetship, and after a course of instruction at Woolwich, Tod proceeded to Bengal, arriving in March, 1799, when he was posted to the Second European Regiment, his commission being dated 9th January, 1800.

He volunteered for Lord Wellesley’s (The Duke of Wellington, 1769-1852) expedition to the Moluccas and served for a short time with the Marines aboard the Mornington. On 29th May, 1800 he was appointed a Lieutenant in the 14th Bengal Infantry and went up country; while stationed at Delhi in 1801, he was ordered to survey an old canal in the neighbourhood.

In 1805 he was attached to the escort of Graeme Mercer, Envoy and Resident at Sindhia, Gwalia’s court, and was then and in 1812-17 constantly surveying and collecting topographical information. In 1815 he submitted a map to the Governor-General, Lord Hastings, which for the first time mentioned ‘Central India’.

Rajputana was also included in his researches, together with the Indian Desert, into which he sent parties of explorers, whose Journals and notes of which, and others from Central and Western India form the Annals of Rajasthan which comprised “eleven moderate-sized folio volumes”. He spent most of his extra salary on native explorers.

In 1817 Lord Hastings’ expedition against the Pindaris took place, where Tod’s local knowledge was invaluable – he had already sent in reports and plans for a campaign against them: he volunteered for service and was sent to Rowtah in Haraoits where he set up an Intelligence department which “materially contributed to the success of the campaign”. He induced the Regent of Kotah to capture and surrender to his forces the wives and children of the leading Pindari chiefs.

In 1818 the chiefs of Rajputana accepted a protective alliance and he was appointed Political Agent in the West Rajput States where he was very successful – within a year some three hundred deserted towns and villages were re-peopled, trade revived and in spite of the reduction of customs and transit dues, revenue increased amazingly to higher figures than ever before. In the next five years, Tod earned the respect of chiefs and people, restoring several princely families from destitution caused by Mahratta raiders. They nicknamed the town of Bhilwara, “Todgark”.

Bishop Heber, in his travels in Rajputana in. February, 1825, reported that people never knew prosperity until Tod came and that everybody except thieves and Pindaris loved him. Tod’s great misfortune was that the Calcutta government suspected him of corruption because he favoured native princes so much, and his power was narrowed and other officers were associated with him, so that he resigned in disgust. He retired in 1822, due it is stated to ill-health, but this did not prevent him returning to Bombay by the circuitous route described in his Travels in Western India, which was published after his death.

He left Bombay for the United Kingdom in 1823 and never returned to India, spending the remainder of his life in arranging and publishing the mass of material he had accumulated.

He was for a while acting Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society, to whom he read several papers.

  • October 1813 Promoted Captain.
  • May 1824 Promoted Major.
  • June 1826 Promoted Lieutenant-Colonel.
  • June 1825 Retired

Published Annals and Antiquities of Rajasthan or The Central and Western Rajpoot States of India , London, 1829-32, 2nd Edition, Madras, 1873, and a popular edition in Calcutta. Travels in Western India Embracing a Visit to the Sacred Mounts of the Jains, London, 1839 with an anonymous memoir.

[Source: the Dictionary of National Biography (1893)]


©A Mason 2007 All rights reserved