Colin Mackenzie

Surveyor General of India
Painting by Thomas Hickey (1816). Suggested identities of the persons from left to right are Dhurmia, a Jain pandit holding a palm-leaf manuscript, Cavelli Venkata Lechmiah, a Telugu Brahmin pandit, Colin Mackenzie in the red uniform of the East India Company and Kistnaji, a peon holding a telescope.

Colonel Colin Mackenzie CB (1754–8 May 1821) was Scottish army officer in the British East India Company who later became the first Surveyor General of India.


  • All great and low, have their troubles, and we little men should not complain if we have our share. The only remedy is to move on in tranquility, guided by truth and integrity to the best of our judgement and avoiding all intrigue and chicanery.
    • Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism. 2018.

Quotes about Colin MackenzieEdit

  • Mackenzie was a pioneer in his field. There was no precedent for his special field of research into the antiquities of India...he stood alone. The results of his work were a topographical survey of over 40,000 square miles, a general map of India and many provincial maps, a valuable memoir in seven volumes containing a narrative of the survey...of historical and antiquarian interest.
    • Prof. T V Mahalingam. Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism
  • For example, Robert W. Wink who talks about the “Jesuit policy of Theft, Confiscation and Purchase” of Indian Books, the particular case of Mackenzie becomes “the most impressive orientalist explorations [that] were collaborative, unofficial and voluntary. Among these, none matched the enormous privately funded venture by Colonel Colin Mackenzie. His teams of Maratha Brahmin scholars begged, bought or borrowed, and copied, from village heads, virtually every manuscript of value they could finally acquired. Collections so acquired, reflecting the civilization of South India, manuscripts in every language, became a lasting legacy – something still being explored.”
    • Robert W. Wink. Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism
  • Mackenzie and his agents certainly collected a wide range of materials. Not the least of their contributions was to set down in writing a large body of oral tradition which might otherwise have been lost.
    • David M Blake. Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism
  • One of the most wide ranging collections ever to reach the Library of the East India Company is formed by the manuscripts, translations, plans, and drawings of Colin Mackenzie, an officer of the Madras Engineers and, at the time of his death in 1821, Surveyor-General of India. Mackenzie spent a lifetime forming his collection which is exceptional, not only for its size, but also for the fact that materials from it are to be found in almost every section of the India Office Collections including Oriental Languages, European Manuscripts, Prints and Drawings, and Maps. Including manuscripts in South Indian languages held in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library in Madras.... According to Mackenzie’s own estimate, no fewer than fifteen Oriental languages written in twenty-one different characters...according to a statement drawn up in August 1822 by the well known orientalist Horace Hayman Wilson who, after Mackenzie’s death, volunteered to undertake the cataloguing of the collection, there were 1,568 literary manuscripts, a further 2,070 Local tracts, 8,076 inscriptions, and 2,159 translations, plus seventy-nine plans, 2,630 drawings, 6,218 coins, and 146 images and other antiquities.
    • David M Blake. Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism
  • ...much patronized, on account of his mathematical knowledge, by the late Lord Seaforth and my late grandfather, Francis, the fifth Lord Napier of Merchistoun. He was for some time employed by the latter, who was about to write a life of his ancestor John Napier, of Merchistoun, the inventor of logarithms, to collect for him... [information] from all the different works relative to India, an account of the knowledge which the Hindoos possessed on mathematics, and of the nature and use of logarithms. Mr Mackenzie, after the death of Lord Napier, became very desirous of prosecuting his Oriental researches in India. Lord Seaforth, therefore, at his request, got him appointed to the engineers on the Madras establishment.
    • Sir Alexander Johnston Testifying before a Select Committee of the House of Commons on the Affairs of the East India Company, Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism
  • is necessary to recall the contemporary climate of [Mackenzie’s] times. To the Occident, the Orient was a dark continent inhabited by semi savages with no civilization or culture. A study of Orientology was the hobby of the eccentric. What was accepted as normal was to join the East India Company, make easy money by means fair or foul and return home to live in comfort or participate in politics on the security of the fortune made in India. That a few of the Company’s servants did not tread this golden path to fortune, but chose on their own, prompted by the love of learning, ‘to discover the east’ for the benefit of...the east itself was a lucky accident of great historical value.
    • Prof. T V Mahalingam. Quoted in S. Balakrishna, Seventy years of secularism. 2018.

External linksEdit

Wikipedia has an article about: