Posted on: 10 January 2013

Digital Rare Book:
Storms and Sunshine of a Soldier's Life : Colin Mackenzie, 1825-1881
By Helen Douglas Mackenzie
Published by David Douglas, Edinburgh - 1884
In Two Volumes

Colonel Colin Mackenzie (1754–1821) was Surveyor General of India, and an art collector and orientalist. He produced many of the first accurate maps of India, and his research and collections contributed significantly to the field of Asian studies.

Mackenzie was born in Stornoway, Outer Hebrides, Scotland, the son of merchant Murdoch Mackenzie.

He began his career as a customs officer in Stornoway, but at age 28, joined the British East India Company as an officer in the engineers. In 1799, he was part of the British force in the Battle of Seringapatam, where Tipu Sultan, Maharaja of Mysore was defeated by the British. He led the Mysore survey between 1800 and 1810. The survey consisted of a team of draftsmen and illustrators who collected material on the natural history, geography, architecture, history, customs, and folk tales of the region.

He later spent two years in Java, during the period of British occupation during the Napoleonic Wars. In 1815 he was appointed the forst Surveyor General of India, a position he held until his death.

He used his military career and salary to support his research into the history, religion, philosophy, ethnology, folklore, art, and mathematics of India and Java. He hired learned Brahmins to assist him with surveys and translations of manuscripts. He researched Indian mathematics and India's system of logarithms.

He died in 1821 in Calcutta (Kolkata), India, and is buried in South Park Street Cemetery. Much of his collection of documents, manuscripts, artifacts, and artworks is now in the British Museum and the Oriental and India Office Collections of the British Library, though part of it remains in the Government Oriental Manuscripts Library in Chennai (Madras).

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