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Major General Vans Kennedy (Founders and Guardians of The Asiatic Society of Mumbai)

Major General Vans Kennedy (Founders and Guardians of The Asiatic Society of Mumbai)
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Major General Vans Kennedy (Founders and Guardians of The Asiatic Society of Mumbai)

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Item Code: NAP573
Publisher: Indus Source Books
Language: English
Edition: 2018
ISBN: 9789385509353
Pages: 222
Cover: Paperback
Other Details: 8.5 inch X 5.5 inch
weight of the book: 170 gms
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About the Book

Vans Kennedy (1783-1846) was of Scottish descent, and a Major General in the then Bombay Army. Reckoned as one of the greatest contributors of his generation in the field of military law, his expertise ranged far beyond his military specialties. Undoubtedly, he was a celebrated Oriental scholar, linguist and antiquarian with a profound body of literary works to his credit. Though revered for his vast intellectual accomplishments, Vans Kennedy's literary contributions largely remain hidden or are lost in the maze of a forgotten history. Vans Kennedy spent his entire professional career in the Bombay Presidency. Beginning in 1800 with the 2nd Regiment Bombay Native Infantry, he was wounded in a campaign in Malabar. Later he donned important appointments like: Persian Interpreter of the Poonah Subsidiary Force, Judge Advocate General of the Bombay Army, Oriental Translator to Government, President of the Clothing Board, and the Colonel of the Regiment of the 4th Regiment Bombay Native Infantry. For almost 30 years from 1817 to 1846, Vans Kennedy had a long, scholarly association with the Society (Literary Society of Bombay and later Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society), and he was the first scholar to become both its Secretary and President. Vans Kennedy took pride in having served in India. Throughout his life, he retained the character of a student. He used to read extensively, and had mastered 12 languages. As a scholar in search for the truth, Vans Kennedy would delve deeper into the subjects he chose, and work on them with the utmost passion to ultimately contribute to the knowledge repository on Oriental studies. In his days, Vans Kennedy was the undoubted literary colossus of Bombay. A true trailblazer, his works were critically acclaimed for their originality, and for the use of empirical evidence.

Madhavi Kamat is the Honorary Joint Finance Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. An alumna of the University of Mumbai [K.T. Telang Gold Medalist for Masters in History], and of the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda [Masters in Museology — Course Topper], she is an avid reader who takes keen interest in history. Her first book was a biography of the 20th century social reformer, Ramabai Ranade, published in Marathi in 2010.

About the Author

Madhavi Kamat is the Honorary Joint Finance Secretary of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai. An alumna of the University of Mumbai [Masters in History], and of the Maharaja Sayajirao University, Baroda [Masters in Museology), she is an avid reader who takes keen interest in medieval and modern history of India. Madhavi has written a biography on the famous social reformer of the 20th Century Maharashtra, Ramabai Ranade, which was published in Marathi in the year 2010.

In her academic path, Madhavi was awarded the prestigious Dakshina fellowship while pursuing her B.A. degree, and she was the recipient of the Justice K.T. Telang Gold Medal and the Sir William Wedderburn Scholarship in her M.A. [History). Besides, she also topped her class in Masters in Museology.

In her professional life as a first generation entrepreneur and cofounder of a boutique content creation and software development firm, Aksharmaya, Madhavi creates and edits multi-lingual content for a variety of organisations. Passionate about Marathi, she has been undertaking specialist translation assignments for English to Marathi translations. A keen learner of history, her primary interests are in studying biographical accounts. And before devoting her efforts wholeheartedly to history, she also dabbled in Marathi experimental theatre as an actor.


During his tenure of six years as President of the Asiatic Society, Dr. Aroon Tikekar took several initiatives with a view to resuscitating the culture of research and scholarly studies focused on Mumbai, Maharashtra and Western India. The project for bringing out Monographs of about 100 pages on the Founders and Guardians of the Asiatic Society occupied a pivotal place in his vision. He was a scholar who was deeply interested in the 19th century India. It was his firm conviction that the Asiatic Society had contributed substantially to 'intellectualizing Mumbai' under the leadership and inspiration of a group of scholars who could be truly called the Founders and Guardians of the Society. He had a grand plan for publishing Monographs on 26 such outstanding personalities. He encouraged research scholars associated with the Society to undertake the writing of these Monographs and guided them about the resource material, particularly the material which was available in the Library of the Asiatic Society itself. He had explained that "during two centuries and more of its fruitful existence, its members have made pioneering and lasting contributions to many fields of higher enquiry, philosophical as well as empirical. Much of this contribution has been recognized and lauded by the world of scholarship in India and outside. However, there were some scholars associated with the Society whose significant contribution to various fields such as iconography, numismatics, epigraphy, geology, geography, folk-lore and allied subjects has remained unknown or underestimated. The yields of their intellectual labour deserve to be brought to light". The five year project envisaging publication of at least 25 such Monographs became a part of the Society's 'Five Year Plan: Though the initial schedule of publication could not be maintained, 15 Monographs have been brought out so far as listed below: 1. Edward Moor by Dr. Mridula Ramanna.
2. John Faithfull Fleet by Dr. Leela B. Jois and Dr. Purnima Srikrishna.
3. Sir George Birdwood by Dr. Vijaya Gupchup.
4. Alexander Kinloch Forbes by Mr. Deepak Mehta.
5. The Jervis Brothers — George Risto Jervis & Thomas Best Jervis, by Prof. J.V. Naik & Dr. Prabha Ravi Shankar. 6. Sir James Mackintosh (1765-1832) Founder of the Literary Society of Bombay (1804) by Ms. Mrinal Kulkarni.
7. William Erskine (1773-1852), Secretary of Bombay Literary Society by Dr. Usha Thakkar.
8. Rev. P. Anderson (1816-1857), the author of The English in Western India by Dr. Louiza Rodrigues. 9. W.E. Frere (1811-1880), President of both the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS) as well as the Bombay Geographical Society by Dr. Usha R. Vijailakshmi
10. Dr. George Buehler (1837-1898): Philologist & Epigraphist by Ms. Vaishali Karmarkar.
11. Dr. George Buist (1805-1860) by Dr. Aroon Tikekar
12. William Henry Sykes (1790-1872) by Dr. Sonali Pednekar
13. Peter Peterson (1847-1899) by Dr. Namrata Ganneri
14. John Briggs ((1785-1875) by Dr. Prabha Ravi Shankar
15. Henry john Carter (1813-1895) by Dr. Ravinder Kaur Cheema
The implementation of the Plan received a sudden set-back when Dr. Aroon Tikekar passed away on 19`11 January, 2016.

This was a cruel blow to the members of the Society and to the large circle of his friends and admirers. It was clear that in the absence of Dr. Tikekar, the stewardship of the project would have to be entrusted to a group rather than an individual. Accordingly, the Society constituted a Committee with Dr. Usha Thakkar as the Chairperson and Dr. Mridula Ramana, Mr. Yogesh Kamdar and Prof. Mangala Sirdeshpande, as the members. The Committee was to complete the unfinished task because that would be the best way of paying homage to the memory of Dr. Tikekar. The Committee has toiled to motivate the scholars who were assigned the work of certain Monographs. By maintaining a constant follow-up the Committee has been successful in getting 8 Monographs to the stage of publication. The Committee deserves thanks for its endeavours and good wishes for its efforts to get more and more Monographs completed so as to fulfil the vision of Dr. Tikekar.


When I set out to work on this monograph on Major General Vans Kennedy (1783-1846), I had decided I would undertake a fair, objective study of this exceptional man and his seminal works. In my search for the true Vans Kennedy, I read a lot of books on his era. And in the course of my study, I learnt and discovered many amazing facts from the vast body of diverse works I happened to read. Vans Kennedy is the man we have forgotten, and whose scholarly contributions have been largely overlooked by historians. Despite his huge body of works, only 3-4 short biographical notices exist on him. These too are quite sketchy, and these had been written to achieve some set, specific purposes then. Hence it may be noted that these aren't necessarily some extensively researched works written to capture the essence of his life and personality.

Challenges of working with inadequate information under the aegis of 'Founders and Guardians of the Asiatic Society of Mumbai, when this monograph came my way, I was thrilled and excited, for a variety of reasons. First, when I seriously started with the project, I realised I was going to do the work in the 200th year of Vans Kennedy joining this august Society (he became a member of the Literary Society of Bombay on 1 April 1817). Second, Vans Kennedy was a linguist, and an expert in Marathi. And given my love for Niarathi, I swelled with pride.

With this new-found excitement, came the real challenges. Barring those odd glances on the Society's 'roll of honour, which features Vans Kennedy both as the Secretary and as the President, I was quite apprehensive because the personality was new to me. And I was really curious to know more about him. Dr. Aroon Tikekar had already given me an oral brief, which contained the following points: a) Vans Kennedy was the Secretary as well as the President of the Society, b) he was a linguist who had authored a broadly-ample dictionary of English-Marathi and Marathi-English, c) he had also revised the Marathi grammar, and d) he was a Major General in the then British Indian army. Dr. Tikekar further cautioned me that I could encounter quite limited (documented) information on the gentleman. Reposing faith in my abilities, Dr. Tikekar also gave me some tasks of responsibility — finding his sketch and his burial place. First, no sketch or photo of his existed in the known ambit of the Society or among the members of Dr. Tikekar's literary circles. Second, no one knew where exactly he was buried.

A preliminary look at the popular research information website, JSTOR led me to Ludo Rocher's biographical article on Vans Kennedy, which mentioned that he was buried in `the Back-Bay cemetery, close to the sea wall. With this little information at hand, my journey to know more about Vans Kennedy really began. And I set out on my journey looking for the Back Bay cemetery to find his grave.

The arduous task of finding his burial site in this search for the cemetery, the very word, Back bay became a misnomer. Names of places change over a period of time. In India, such a change is more frequent. Bombay itself is now Mumbai, and Madras is Chennai. The erstwhile Victoria Terminus (VT) was rechristened Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus (CST), and now that has been changed to Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Terminus (CSMT). Elphinstone Road Station is now Prabhadevi Station, and it is reported that there are plans to rename Matungastation too.

The Back Bay as we know it today hugs Churchgate and Colaba. With my limited knowledge of Back Bay, I started looking at the cemeteries in Colaba. Afghan Church was my first choice. On visiting the Church I realised that nothing of Vans Kennedy's era was actually there. The caretaker was kind enough to part with information on cemeteries he knew of, and asked me to go to three or four likely places. [Incidentally, some of the kindest of strangers I met was during my search of these graveyards. Even the undertakers were really kind.]

St. Thomas Cathedral was my next destination. I was again thrilled because this place sparkles in front of me on my everyday commute to the Society. The reverend being away, the kind-hearted security guard showed me all the stones and plaques on the walls and on the floor. Vans Kennedy's epitaph was not there. In their database, we searched for his name —looking for his tombstone, but in vain. At the Cathedral, I was informed of the Sewri cemetery, a 40 odd acre green resting place for the dead, and right in the middle of the city. They have records of burials digitised on their computers. For 1846 (the year Vans Kennedy died) three burials were noted in their records, but not of Vans Kennedy. So again, though dejected, I set out with an even more invigorated zeal to find General Kennedy's final resting place.

My next destination was Antop Hill, which had a mention of a European cemetery. No trace of it is seen today. At Antop Hill there is an Armenian cemetery and a Japanese cemetery. An elderly gentleman residing in that area told me that there used to be a European cemetery too. However it was encroached upon over the years and the cemetery has now gone under the slums. He added that many of the plaques and tombstones were used as building material and kitchen platforms. Unfortunate though, but this is how we treasure our heritage and treasures.

My journey becomes a profound quest in this journey of finding the exact burial ground; all leads seemed to end in disappointment. I obviously did not venture out to look at the Kalyan cemetery as I knew well that the Back Bay waterfront (and its sea wall) wouldn’t have been in Kalyan. More determined to find where the Back Bay cemetery was, my journey became a real quest. I chanced upon a photograph on the Internet by some Europeans who had come to Mumbai in search of their forefather’s burial sites. And there was a mention of a garden that came up on the erstwhile European cemetery by the sea. The search then narrowed down to a level of near precision.


  Foreword vi
  A Note from the General Editor ix
  Vans Kennedy: A Forgotten Legacy xii
  Introduction xv
I Vans Kennedy's Biographical Sketch 1
II Highlights of Major General Vans Kennedy's Military Career 14
III Vans Kennedy's Association with the Asiatic Society of Mumbai 41
IV Evaluation of Vans Kennedy's Contributions Appendix 52
  Appendix 77
  Notes 79
  Bibliography 82


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