Edward Green Balfour
was a Scottish surgeon, orientalist
Oriental studies is the academic field of study that embraces Near Eastern and Far Eastern societies and cultures, languages, peoples, history and archaeology; in recent years the subject has often been turned into the newer terms of Asian studies and Middle Eastern studies...
and pioneering environmentalist in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...
best known for the Cyclopaedia of India
several editions of which were published after 1857.
Life and career
Balfour was the second son of Captain George Balfour of the East India Company marine service and Susan Hume (who was a sister of the radical MP Joseph Hume
Joseph Hume FRS was a Scottish doctor and Radical MP, born in Montrose, Angus.-Medical career:He studied medicine at the University of Edinburgh and moved to India in 1797...
). His elder brother was Sir George Balfour (1809–1894). After studying at Montrose Academy
Montrose Academy is a state secondary school in Montrose, Angus, Scotland. Its history extends as far back as the 16th century grammar school with evidence of schooling in Montrose found as early as 1329. In 1815 Montrose Academy was built and established as an exclusive fee-paying school...
he studied surgery at Edinburgh university and joined the Royal College of Surgeons in 1833. A family friend arranged a commission as an assistant surgeon in the Madras medical service in India and he set sail for India in 1834. On the way he visited Mauritius
Mauritius , officially the Republic of Mauritius is an island nation off the southeast coast of the African continent in the southwest Indian Ocean, about east of Madagascar...
and witnessed ecological destruction about which Bernardin de Saint-Pierre had written.
On arrival in India he was attached to a European regiment. He became an assistant surgeon in 1836. His ability with languages particularly Hindi
Standard Hindi, or more precisely Modern Standard Hindi, also known as Manak Hindi , High Hindi, Nagari Hindi, and Literary Hindi, is a standardized and sanskritized register of the Hindustani language derived from the Khariboli dialect of Delhi...
and later Persian
Persian is an Iranian language within the Indo-Iranian branch of the Indo-European languages. It is primarily spoken in Iran, Afghanistan, Tajikistan and countries which historically came under Persian influence...
helped in his transfer into a sepoy
A sepoy was formerly the designation given to an Indian soldier in the service of a European power. In the modern Indian Army, Pakistan Army and Bangladesh Army it remains in use for the rank of private soldier.-Etymology and Historical usage:...
regiment. This led him to be posted to smaller areas and he spent the next ten years travelling around southern India. He was stationed with the Madras and Bombay armies, staff-surgeon at Ahmednagar
Bellary is a historic city in Bellary District in Karnataka state, India.-Origins of the city's name:There are several legends about how Bellary got its name....
from 1862–1872, deputy Surgeon-General in Burma and the Straits Settlements
The Straits Settlements were a group of British territories located in Southeast Asia.Originally established in 1826 as part of the territories controlled by the British East India Company, the Straits Settlements came under direct British control as a crown colony on 1 April 1867...
, the Andamans and the Mysore division. During his travels he collected information on health and environmental issues. He was among the first to recognise the possibility of famine due to deforestation and wrote on the links between water and forest cover in Notes on the influence exercised by trees in inducing rain and preserving moisture
(in the Madras Journal of Literature and Science 25(1849):402-448) as well as reports to the famine commission (The influence exercised by trees on the climate and productiveness of the Peninsula of India
. Famine Commission IV.). He was influenced by the works of Alexander Gibson
Alexander Gibson was a Scottish surgeon and botanist who worked in India.He was born in Kincardineshire and studied at Edinburgh. He went to India as a surgeon in the Honourable East India Company...
and Jean Baptiste Boussingault
Jean-Baptiste Joseph Dieudonné Boussingault was a French chemist who made significant contributions to agricultural science, petroleum science and metallurgy.-Biography:...
and the East India Company heeded his warning and took up early forest conservation schemes soon after 1840.
In 1848 Balfour returned to Madras and he was given medical charge of the governor's bodyguard. This gave him more time to writing and other interests and he also took up additional appointments as agent to the court of the nawab of the Carnatic. From 1858 to 1861 he served on a commission to look into the debts of the nawab. In 1850, he also served as assistant assay master at the Madras mint.
In 1852 he became a full surgeon and on 24 May he married Marion Matilda Agnes Gilchrist who was the daughter of a fellow surgeon in Madras.
Health and statistics
Balfour widely used statistics to make judgements on matters of health. His works included Statistical data for forming troops and maintaining them in health in different climates and localities
(Quarterly Journal of the Statistical Society of London, 8, 1845:192-209) and his Remarks on the abstract tables of the men discharged from the military
(Quarterly J. of the Statistical Society of London 1851, 14:348-356) which was read by his uncle Joseph Hume to the Statistical Society of London. In this work he dismissed the common belief of humans adjusting in time with new climates and suggested that different races had different tolerances to climate and disease. He showed using statistics that Europeans fared better in the hills of India.
From 1871 to 1876 he was Surgeon-General and headed the Madras Medical Department.
Balfour was keen on collections and information organization. He founded the Government Central Museum at Madras in 1850 and in 1856 he created the nucleus for the Madras Zoological Gardens in the People's Park. He became the first officer in charge of the museum in Madras. By 1879 the museum was attracting 180000 people per year and in 1886 as much as 230,000. Women visitors were also encouraged by special days. There were pressures to move the museum to the college but Balfour firmly believed that the museum needed to be "...open to all classes, and contains articles calculated to amuse and instruct all classes". He encouraged contributions to the museum stating that "every specimen that may be sent will be acceptable". By 1853, the Museum received about 19,830 specimens. In 1866 he started the Mysore Museum. He was a secretary to the Madras Central Committee for the Great Exhibition of 1851 and the Paris Exhibitions of 1855 and 1868, the Internation Exhibition of London (1862) and the Vienna Exhibition (1872).
Local languages and education
Balfour took a special interest in languages and he translated many works from Persian to English as well as English works (such as on astronomy) into Hindi, Tamil and Telugu. He was sceptical of the state of indigenous scientific language and in his Cyclopaedia
he suggested that indigenous people were so close to subsistence that they did not have the time or means to reflect accurately on their surroundings.
Recognising the importance of women in matters of public health, he personally translated Dr. T. Conquest's Outlines of Midwifery
into Hindi and arranged for translations into Kannada, Tamil and Telugu. He also attempted to influence the government to open medical schools with teaching in Tamil, Telugu and Malayalam but failed. He later worked towards encouraging European women to enter into medical service in India since he believed that women could move freely within a large segment of Indian society. This move succeeded and in 1875, Mary Scharlieb
Dame Mary Scharlieb, DBE was a pioneer British female physician in the late 19th/early 20th centuries.- Biography :Born as Mary Anne Dacomb Bird, she was raised with her grandparents, following her mother's death, in a strict Evangelical Christian household. She attended a boarding school in...
was admitted to the Madras Medical College
The Madras Medical College is an educational institution located in Chennai, India. It was established on February 2, 1835. It is the oldest medical college in India, along with the Medical College Kolkata.-History:...
as its first woman applicant. Balfour continued to write about India after retiring to England in 1876. He openly held anti-colonialist sentiments which Richard Grove suggests as being linked to the radical ideas of his uncle Joseph Hume, opinions that were also expressed by his cousin Allan Octavian Hume
Allan Octavian Hume was a civil servant, political reformer and amateur ornithologist in British India. He was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, a political party that was later to lead the Indian independence movement...
Cyclopaedia of India and other works
Balfour's works on collating information about various aspects of life in India led to the publication of the Cyclopaedia of India, the first edition in 1857. The book incorporated a lot of research of Dietrich Brandis
Sir Dietrich Brandis, KCIE, FRS was a German forester who worked in India. He is considered the father of tropical forestry.-Early life:...
. It grew into a five volume work in 1871-83. The work also was used by William Theobald
William Theobald was a malacologist and naturalist on the staff of the Geological Survey of India in Burma. That organization then covered Burma, as it was at the time still a part of British India....
in his major revision of Mason's Burmah
Francis Mason , American missionary and a naturalist, was born in York, England. His grandfather, also Francis Mason, was the founder of the Baptist Society in York, and his father, a shoemaker by trade, was a Baptist lay preacher there.-Early life:After working with his father as a shoemaker for...
Some subjects needed more coverage and he produced for instance the first work on the agricultural pests of India, in which he drew inspiration from the work of Eleanor Ormerod.
He wrote in the Agricultural pest of India
- The agricultural pests of India, and of eastern and southern Asia, vegetable and animal, injurious to man and his products (1887)
- The Vydian and the Hakim, what do they know of medicine? (1875)
- The Timber Trees, Timber and Fancy Woods, as also, the Forests (1862)
- The Cyclopaedia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia (First published 1857)
- Statistics of cholera (1849)(Original from Harvard University)
- Catalogue of the Government Central Museum (1855) Google books
- Cholera (Are there towns or villages in India where cholera has never appeared from the period of its first outbreak in 1817?) being a series of letters from Assistant Surgeon Edward Balfour. Fort St. George Gazette Press. (1852)
- Remarks on the Abstract Tables of the Men Discharged from the Military Service of the East India Company. (1851) online
- Additional Observations on the Means of Maintaining Troops in Health. Journal of the Statistical Society of London, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Feb., 1849), pp. 33–42 JSTOR link
- Observations on the means of preserving the health of troops by selecting healthy localities for their Cantonments. London (1845)