On the Ethnology and Archæology of India

The Journal of the Ethnological Society of London,
new series, vol. i., 1869, pp. 89-93.

Scientific Memoirs III

(Opening address of the President, delivered March 9th, 1869.)

[427] THE Council of the Society over which I have the honour to preside, proposes to direct public attention to the desirableness of subjecting the physical characters, the languages, the civilisation, the religions, in short, the ethnology, of the various peoples over whom the rule of Britain extends, to systematic investigation.

To this end, we propose to hold a series of meetings in this and succeeding sessions, each of which shall be devoted to the ethnology of one or other of the British possessions. On these occasions we earnestly invite the co-operation of persons who have been, or are likely to be, resident in the countries under consideration. We hope that the co-operation we seek will take two forms. On the one hand, we trust that those who, as old residents, possess information, will give it to us for the benefit of the public. And, on the other hand, that those who are going to be residents abroad will attend for the purpose of learning how easy for them it is to serve science and forward the solution of great and interesting problems by the expenditure of a small amount of thoughtful and intelligent attention.

The first of these meetings is that which, by the permission of the Director-General, is held in the Theatre of the Museum of Practical Geology, to-night. It seemed fitting that the greatest of the possessions of the Empire should be the first to claim our attention; and, on seeking for that co-operation which was so essential to the success of our plans among persons familiar with India, we found a store of valuable materials most liberally and kindly thrown open to us.

[428] You have seen the names of the contributors of papers—to every Indian they guarantee the value of those papers. The Indian Museum has been good enough to place its wonderful collection of photographs at our disposal; and, by Dr. Forbes Watson's kindness, they are disposed around this theatre in a manner which makes them accessible to everyone. Other contributions have poured in; and, in short, our one evening necessarily has expanded itself into two.

With this wealth of contributions from Indian veterans, speaking from long practical experience of the country and its people—men whose names you know, and whose contributions you will be anxious to hear—you will probably be inclined to ask whether it was vanity, or simple want of wisdom, which led me to allow myself to be announced to give you a preliminary address. I assure you, so far as I know, neither of these motives had anything to do with a position which I very unwillingly assume. I precede my Indian friends simply as a sort of clearer of jungle, in advance of their elephants. And the particular jungle which I wish to clear is that ignorance of India and all that belongs to it, which characterises the general English mind, and which is one of the many blessings of our peculiar system of education.

I desire to point out to you in as few words as will serve my necessities, the physical conformation of India, the bearing of that physical conformation on its ethnology, and the problem offered by its ethnology. To this end, I have had constructed the map which you see on the wall, in which the physical features of India are made prominent, and the names of places are subordinate—thus reversing the features of the ordinary map.

By the help of this map you will perceive that the country which is known by the name of Hindostan has somewhat the shape of the diamond on a pack of cards, having a north angle at Ladakh, a south angle at Cape Comorin, a west angle near the mouth of the Indus, and an east angle near that of the Ganges.

Let us consider the size of this great diamond. Its north and south measurement is over eighteen hundred miles—three times as great as the distance from the Isle of Wight to the Orkneys. The east and west diameter is more than fifteen hundred miles—as far, Ritter tells us, as from Bayonne to Constantinople. The superficial area is equal to half that of Europe, and the population is fully one-third that of Europe. The south-west and the south-east sides of our Indian diamond are shores of the ocean, separated for the greater part of their length by more than a thousand miles of sea from any other land. The north-eastern boundary is the vast chain of the Himalayas, [429] the most massive and the highest mountains in the world, forming a great wall of snow-peaks a thousand miles long. On the north-west lie the steep and barren cliffs of Beloochistan and Afghanistan, pierced by only two considerable passes, that of Bholan and that of Caubool.

Altogether, it would be difficult to find, in the whole world, another area so vast and so hedged in and cut off from the rest of the world on all sides by natural barriers.

Within its fence of mountain and sea, India itself is subdivided by Nature into two great regions which differ in almost every respect. The first is the "river plain," which extends from the Arabian Gulf to the Bay of Bengal, and bears the waters of the Indus to the west, those of the Ganges to the east. It is a mass of alluvial soil, composed of mud or sand and vegetable debris, which has been brought down from all the adjacent highlands by the affluents of the two great rivers. The water-shed between the two river basins does not rise to a thousand feet above the level of either sea, and lies to the north and west of Delhi. From this region most of the waters flow east to the Jumna and west to the Sutlej but a few streams swell neither of these great torrents, but meet to form a river famous in Hindoo history—the Saraswati, which takes a north-west course, and finally becomes lost in the sands of that great desert which lies west of the Indus.

The India of most people's imaginations—the India of Clive and of Hastings—is that part of the great plain which lies east of the Saraswati, and forms the river basin of the Jumna and of the Ganges. It is one of the most fertile and richly endowed countries in the world, "the land of black antelope," the holy land of Brahminism. There lie Delhi, Lucknow, and Agra; there once flourished the great Hindoo and Mahomedan emperor.

The Western river basin on the other hand, though rich and fertile enough, in its upper region, the Punjab, after the five rivers have joined into the Indus, becomes a long stretch of frightful deserts which bound the river on either hand and bar the passage from west to east.

From the Gulf of Cutch, on the eastern side of the great desert of Sind, a range of moderate elevation—the Arravalli hills—runs northeast to near Delhi. A divergent line drawn east by north from Guierat to near the Ganges, marks the direction of a more lofty range, the Vindhya mountains. Enclosed between them lies a great extent of hilly country, all of whose rivers flow into the Jumna, constituting the provinces of Malwa, Gwalior, and Bundelcund. The Vindhya mountains form the north wall of a great valley, which takes a nearly easterly and westerly direction, and along which, from east to west, [430] flows the river Nerbudda. South of this, again, is a rugged highland about three times as big as France, which occupies all the peninsula beyond the river plain, and is called the Dekhan. On its eastern and western sides the Dekhan falls towards the sea in steep cliffy hills, the eastern and western Ghats, and these, on the south, pass into one another by the range of the Neilgherry hills. The western Ghats are higher than the eastern, and the slope of the whole table land is from the summit of the western Ghats towards the east coast, so that the three great rivers, the Mahanadi, the Godavery, and the Krishna, which drain the table land, all flow into the Sea of Bengal, while only short and insignificant streams pass to the Arabian Sea.

The Dekhan is thus essentially a highland country, full of wild gullies, barren plains, and jungly morasses, as different from the valley of the Ganges as the Isle of Skye from Holland.

The inhabitants of Hindostan are broadly distinguishable into two groups: first, the people of the Dekhan; secondly, the people who inhabit the river plains and northern heights, and have thence overflowed the strips of plain which lie between the Ghats and the sea, and penetrated more or less deeply into the Dekhan itself.

The proper population of the Dekhan has no analogue in northeastern or north-western Asia. They are long headed, dark-skinned, and dark-eyed men, with black wavy hair, devoid of any inclination to woolliness; not unfrequently, they exhibit prominent brow ridges. Examples of them are commonly to be seen in the coolies, who work their way over to this country in Indiamen; and any one who has ever seen an Australian native will be struck with the resemblance between the two. They speak languages known as Dravidian, and where they have been left in their primitive condition are thorough savages.

The rest of the population of Hindostan is allied in physical character and language either to the adjacent peoples in the northwest and the north-east, or exhibits evidence of being the result of the intermixing of such people with the Dravidians.

Thus, on the north and east, the semi-civilised people assume more or less completely the physiognomy and the linguistic peculiarities of the Mongoloid tribes of Thibet and Ultra-Gangetic Asia.

The population of all of the rest of Hindostan, on the other hand, exhibits, in physique and in language, obvious signs of the influence of the pale-faced Aryans, who lie to the north-west, and stretch from the waters of the Indus to those of the North Sea, everywhere speaking languages allied to the Sanscrit, which forms the basis of all the dialects of civilised India.

[431] In Europe, two distinct types of these pale-faced people are to be observed: the one having black eyes and hair, and sallow skins; the other, with yellow hair, blue eyes, and white ruddy skins. Both these types are traceable to the frontiers of Hindostan, the dark among the Afghans, the fair among the Siahposh, who live in the inaccessible valleys of the Hindoo Koosh. But I do not know that there is any evidence to show that the early Aryan settlers in Hindostan possessed one complexion rather than the other; certainly the dark pale type is that which predominates almost exclusively among the high caste Hindoos of the present day.

All the testimony of history, and all the internal evidence afforded by Sanscrit literature, go to prove that the Aryans were originally the kith and kin of the Persians, and that they invaded Hindostan from the north-west, becoming first possessed of Sind, and then, through long ages of battle with the pre-existing population, making their way across the Saraswati, and ultimately to the lower course of the Ganges.

There can be no reasonable doubt that this pre-existing population was in great measure Dravidian, though whether it was already mixed with a Mongoloid element from the north-east or not, does not appear. In part, mixing with the conquerors and modifying their physical characters, their language, and their religion into endless shades of diversity; while, in part, extirpated, and, in part, driven to the shelter of their savage fastnesses among the hills of the Dekhan, the Dravidians remain, like the Celts of Brittany and of Wales, a fragmentary and dispossessed primitive population—the hill tribes of whom we shall hear so much to-night.



1.   THH Publications
2.   Victorian Commentary
3.   20th Century Commentary

1.   Letter Index
2.   Illustration Index

Gratitude and Permissions

C. Blinderman & D. Joyce
Clark University

§ 1. THH: His Mark
§ 2. Voyage of the Rattlesnake
§ 3. A Sort of Firm
§ 4. Darwin's Bulldog
§ 5. Hidden Bond: Evolution
§ 6. Frankensteinosaurus
§ 7. Bobbing Angels: Human Evolution
§ 8. Matter of Life: Protoplasm
§ 9. Medusa
§ 10. Liberal Education
§ 11. Scientific Education
§ 12. Unity in Diversity
§ 13. Agnosticism
§ 14. New Reformation
§ 15. Verbal Delusions: The Bible
§ 16. Miltonic Hypothesis: Genesis
§ 17. Extremely Wonderful Events: Resurrection and Demons
§ 18. Emancipation: Gender and Race
§ 19. Aryans et al.: Ethnology
§ 20. The Good of Mankind
§ 21.  Jungle Versus Garden