Dictionary of Indian Biography/Burnes, Sir Alexander


Political: son of James Burnes: born May 16, 1805, connected with the family of the poet Burns: educated at Montrose Academy: entered the E. I. Co.'s military service at 16: Interpreter at Surat in 1823: transferred to Cutch in 1825: sent, in 1830, on a mission, with a gift of horses, to Ranjit Singh at Lahore, and to explore the country: in 1832, travelled, under the orders of Government, in N. India, Afghanistan, Bokhara and Persia: in England in 1833–5, was lionized as a traveller: received the medal of the Royal Geographical Society, and elected member of learned Societies: on return to India, he succeeded, by negotiation at Hyderabad (Sind), in warding off war with the Amirs, who agreed to a survey of the Indus: in 1836, Burnes was sent on a mission, nominally commercial, but really political, to Dost Muhammad, Amir of Kabul: his discovery of Russia's intrigues, and the arrival of a Russian agent at Kabul, led to his advice, that Dost Muhammad, the reigning Amir, should be supported: but this advice was not accepted, the Amir's requests were rejected, and, by the second Afghan war. Shah Shuja was to be reinstated. Burnes was sent to Sind and Beluchistan, to prepare the way of the British Army: he was made, later, Political Agent at Kabul under the Envoy Sir W. H. Macnaghten: Shah Shuja was re-made Amir: Burnes was knighted, made Lt-Colonel: and C.B.: for 2 years, at Kabul, he had a subordinate position: the Afghan mob rose, not without warning, on Nov. 2, 1841; and Burnes was assassinated. It came to light, in 1861, that some of Burnes' despatches from Kabul, in 1839, had been altered, so as to convey opinions opposite to his. The matter was brought before Parliament, on an application for an inquiry: but Lord Palmerston's Government resisted the motion, which was defeated on the ground of the interval of time that had passed since the occurrence.