Wednesday, November 11, 2009


The book currently on my bed-side is William Dalrymple's Nine Lives:In search of the sacred in modern India. This is the first book of Willam Dalrymple that I am reading.

William Dalrymple was in the city last week to promote this book.His visit was well covered by both the leading dailies of the city, The Hindu and The Times of India.While Times of India ran a small interview with him early last week, The Hindu ran a front page story featuring him in the Thursday edition of its supplement Metro Plus.

This feature was accompanied by a wonderful photograph of him at the cenotaph of one of his ancestors, Sam Dalrymple which has a cupola over it and is situate near St.Thomas Mount,not far from the airport. Lieutenant Colonel Sam Dalrymple of the Madras Artillery died in May 1821 aged 49 years and a cenotaph was erected in his honour by his brother officers.

William Dalrymple had mentioned in the interview with the Times of India that several generations of his family had grown up in the city. Intrigued by this piece of information and the subsequent feature in The Hindu,the heritage buff in me had me probing further Dalrymple connections with the city.

I came across an earlier Dalrymple in the city prior to Sam Dalrymple. Alexander Dalrymple arrived in May 1753 aged just 15 years.He was appointed to the post of the Writer to the East India Company.During his early years at Madras, he came under the influence of Robert Orme, the famous historian(who was then member of the Council and Accountant of Madras) who chose him as the Sub-Accountant, notwithstanding his inexperience in the subject.His appointment was however not approved by the Governor.

Robert Orme gave Dalrymple use of his valuable library which helped him a lot in developing his knowledge.Being employed at the Secretary's Office, Dalrymple came across old records which gave him an opportunity to study the development of commerce in the East.

Combined with a keen interest in navigation(which he studied), this knowledge helped him undertake successful journeys to places such as the Sultanate of Sulu and Balambangan which enabled the Company to establish commercial arrangements with them.

Thanks to his successful expeditions and profound knowledge of navigations and geography, he was appointed in 1779 as the first Hydrographer of the East India Company.He was later appointed as the first Hydrographer to the Admiralty in 1795 when the King's Government first created the post.He held this post till 1808,when he was summarily dismissed.Heart broken by this incident,he died 3 weeks later,aged 71 years.

He left Madras in 1765 and returned for a brief two year period in 1775 during the time one of his early benefactors,Lord Pigot was serving his ill fated second term as Governor of Madras(Lord Pigot was overthrown by his own council unceremoniously and died in captivity in 1777).

Whether Alexander Dalrymple was related to the Sam Dalrymple mentioned above is a question that needs an answer though.But given the fact that William Dalrymple mentions that several generations of his family have had Madras connections, it does seem quite likely that Alexander Dalrymple was in some way related to Sam Dalrymple.

I intend to email William Dalrymple for further information!!!


  1. Wow, that's quite a connect, Karthik!

    Best wishes for this quest. Was meaning to wander around to the Dalrymple monument sometime, but you've gone a lot further ahead!!


  2. great digging, Karthik

    As we keep saying, another Muthiah in the making...keep it up

  3. keep it up

    quite a decent digging, Karthik and i really liked it...(incl the hindu's foto)

    another muthiah in the making!