James Tod - Life and Career

Life and Career

Tod was born in Islington, London, on 20 March 1782. He was the second son for his parents, James and Mary, both of whom came from families of "high standing", according to his major biographer, the historian Jason Freitag. He was educated in Scotland, whence his ancestors came, although precisely where he was schooled is unknown. Those ancestors included people who had fought with the King of Scots, Robert the Bruce; he took pride in this fact and had an acute sense of what he perceived to be the chivalric values of those times.

As with many people of Scots descent who sought adventure and success at that time, Tod joined the British East India Company and initially spent some time studying at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich. He left England for India in 1799 and in doing so followed in the footsteps of various other members of his family, including his father, although Tod senior had not been in the Company but had instead owned an indigo plantation at Mirzapur. The young Tod journeyed as a cadet in the Bengal Army, appointment to which position was at the time reliant upon patronage. He was appointed lieutenant in May 1800 and in 1805 was able to arrange his posting as a member of the escort to a family friend who had been appointed as Envoy and Resident to a Sindian royal court. By 1813 he had achieved promotion to the rank of captain and was commanding the escort.

Rather than being situated permanently in one place, the royal court was moved around the kingdom. Tod undertook various topographical and geological studies as it travelled from one area to another, using his training as an engineer and employing other people to do much of the field work. These studies culminated in 1815 with the production of a map which he presented to the Governor-General, the Marquis of Hastings. This map of "Central India" (his phrase) became of strategic importance to the British as they were soon to fight the Third Anglo-Maratha War. During that war, which ran from 1817 to 1818, Tod acted as a superintendent of the intelligence department and was able to draw on other aspects of regional knowledge which he had acquired while moving around with the court. He also drew up various strategies for the military campaign.

In 1818 he was appointed Political Agent for various states of western Rajputana, in the northwest of India, where the British East India Company had come to amicable arrangements with the Rajput rulers in order to exert indirect control over the area. The anonymous author of the introduction to Tod's posthumously published book, Travels in Western India, says that

Clothed with this ample authority, he applied himself to the arduous task of endeavouring to repair the ravages of foreign invaders who still lingered in some of the fortresses, to heal the deeper wounds inflicted by intestine feuds, and to reconstruct the framework of society in the disorganised states of Rajas'han.

Tod's responsibilities were extended quickly: initially involving himself with the regions of Mewar, Kota, Sirohi and Bundi, he soon added Marwar to his portfolio and in 1821 was also given responsibility for Jaisalmer. These areas were considered a strategic buffer zone against Russian advances from the north which, it was feared, might result in a move into India via the Khyber Pass. Tod believed that to achieve cohesion it was necessary that the Rajput states should contain only Rajput people, with all others being expelled. This would assist in achieving stability in the areas, thus limiting the likelihood of the inhabitants being influenced by outside forces. According to Ramya Sreenivasan, a researcher of religion and caste in early modern Rajasthan and of colonialism, Tod's "transfers of territory between various chiefs and princes helped to create territorially consolidated states and 'routinised' political hierarchies." His successes were plentiful and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography notes that Tod was

so successful in his efforts to restore peace and confidence that within less than a year some 300 deserted towns and villages were repeopled, trade revived, and, in spite of the abolition of transit duties and the reduction of frontier customs, the state revenue had reached an unprecedented amount. During the next five years Tod earned the respect of the chiefs and people, and was able to rescue more than one princely family, including that of the ranas of Udaipur, from the destitution to which they had been reduced by Maratha raiders.

Tod was not, however, universally respected in the East India Company. His immediate superior, David Ochterlony, was unsettled by Tod's rapid rise and frequent failure to consult with him. One Rajput prince objected to Tod's close involvement in the affairs of his state and succeeded in persuading the authorities to remove Marwar from Tod's area of influence. In 1821 his favouritism towards one party in a princely dispute, contrary to the orders given to him, gave rise to a severe reprimand and a formal restriction of his ability to operate without consulting Ochterlony, as well as the removal of Kota from his charge. Jaisalmer was then taken out of his sphere of influence in 1822, as official concerns grew regarding his sympathy for the Rajput princes. This and other losses of status, such as the reduction in the size of his escort, caused him to believe that his personal reputation and ability to work successfully in Mewar, by now the one area still left to him, was too diminished to be acceptable. He resigned his role as Political Agent in Mewar later that year, citing ill health. Reginald Heber, the Bishop of Calcutta, commented that

His misfortune was that, in consequence of favouring native princes so much, the government of Calcutta were led to suspect him of corruption, and consequently to narrow his powers and associate other officers with him in his trust, till he was disgusted and resigned his place. They are now satisfied, I believe, that their suspicions were groundless.

In February 1823, Tod left India for England, having first travelled to Bombay by a circuitous route for his own pleasure.

During the last years of his life Tod talked about India at functions in Paris and elsewhere across Europe. He also became a member of the newly established Royal Asiatic Society in London, for whom he acted for some time as librarian. He suffered an apoplectic fit in 1825 as a consequence of overwork, and retired from his military career in the following year, soon after he had been promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel. His marriage to Julia Clutterbuck (daughter of Henry Clutterbuck) in 1826 produced three children – Grant Heatly Tod-Heatly, Edward H. M. Tod and Mary Augusta Tod – but his health, which had been poor for much of his life, was declining. Having lived at Birdhurst, Croydon, from October 1828, Tod and his family moved to London three years later. He spent much of the last year of his life abroad in an attempt to cure a chest complaint and died on 18 November 1835 soon after his return to England from Italy. The cause of death was an apoplectic fit sustained on the day of his wedding anniversary, although he survived for a further 27 hours. He had moved into a house in Regent's Park earlier in that year.

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