Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Forsyth, Thomas Douglas

FORSYTH, Sir THOMAS DOUGLAS (1827–1886), Anglo-Indian, born at Birkenhead on 7 Oct. 1827, was the tenth child of Thomas Forsyth, a Liverpool merchant. He was educated at Sherborne and Rugby, and under private tuition until he entered the East India Company's College at Haileybury, where he remained until December 1847. After a distinguished course he embarked for India in January 1848, and arrived at Calcutta in the following March. Here he gained honours in Persian, Hindustani, and Hindi at the company's college, and in September of the same year was appointed to a post under Edward Thornton at Saharunpore. On the annexation of the Punjaub after the second Sikh war in March 1849, he was appointed to take part in the administration of the new province, and was sent by Sir Henry Lawrence, together with Colonel Marsden, as deputy-commissioner over him, to Pakputtun. He was shortly afterwards appointed by Lord Dalhousie to the post of assistant-commissioner at Simla. While holding this post he married in 1850 Alice Mary, daughter of Thomas Plumer, esq., of Canons Park, Edgware. He was next stationed at Kangra, where he remained till 1854, when an attack of brain fever obliged him to return for a time to England. On going back to India he spent a short time as deputy-commissioner, first at Gurdaspur and subsequently at Rawal Pindee, whence he was transferred in 1855 to Umballa. He was here at the outbreak of the mutiny of 1857, and did good service by his vigilance in detecting the first signs of disaffection, and his promptitude in reporting them. After the capture of Delhi he was one of the special commissioners appointed to hunt up the rebels, and in this capacity was principally engaged in examining the papers of the nana of Cawnpore. He arrived at Lucknow in time to see the city evacuated by the rebels, and after this event acted as secretary successively to Outram, Montgomery, and Wingfield, until, in 1860, he was appointed commissioner to the Punjaub. For his services during the mutiny he received the order of companion of the Bath. In 1867 he visited Leh, the capital of Ladakh, with the object of obtaining from the Cashmere officials a removal of the restrictions which prevented the trade between Eastern Turkestan and the Punjaub. On his return he instituted an annual fair at Palumpore, in the Kangra valley, to which he invited traders from Turkestan. The experiences which he gained in this way encouraged him in the idea of promoting amicable relations between the Indian government and the Central Asiatics and Russians. Lord Mayo approved and authorised him to proceed to England, and thence, if possible, to St. Petersburg, with the object of arranging with the Russian government a definition of the territories of the amir of Cabul. In this mission he succeeded in proving that the disputed districts belonged to the amir, and obtained from the Russian government an acknowledgment to that effect. Forsyth returned to India in 1869. At this time the amir of Yarkand and Kashgar, being desirous of establishing relations between his country and India, had sent an envoy to the viceroy with the request that a British officer might be deputed to visit him. Forsyth was accordingly instructed to return with the envoy, without political capacity, for the purpose of acquiring information about the people and country. The journey from Lahore to Yarkand and back, a distance of two thousand miles, was accomplished in six months, but the expedition failed to produce all the results expected from it, owing to the absence of the amir from his capital on its arrival.

In 1872 a serious outbreak of the Kooka sect, the leader of which was a religious enthusiast named Ram Singh, occurred at Malair Kotla. Troops were at once ordered to the disaffected districts, and Forsyth was entrusted with the duty of suppressing the insurrection. His powers on this occasion seem not to have been sufficiently defined, and Cowan, the then commissioner of Loodiana, had anticipated his arrival by executing many of the rebels, a course of action which, though contrary to instructions, Forsyth felt himself bound to support. When the insurrection was put down, an inquiry instituted into the conduct of Forsyth and Cowan resulted in the removal of both from their appointments. Forsyth appealed against this decision to Lord Northbrook, who had recently come out as viceroy, and, though no reversal of the verdict was possible, he was compensated by being appointed in 1873 envoy on a mission to Kashgar. The object of this mission was to conclude a commercial treaty with the amir, and it resulted in the removal of all hindrances to trade between the two countries, and gave reason for the hope that, in spite of physical difficulties, such a trade would eventually be of considerable importance. On his return Forsyth received the order of knight commander of the Star of India.

In 1875 Forsyth was sent as envoy to the king of Burma to obtain a settlement of the question which had arisen between the British and Burmese governments as to the relation of the Karenee States, a question which was settled by an agreement, proposed by the king of Burma, that these states should be acknowledged as independent.

Forsyth left India on furlough in 1876. In the following year he resigned, and occupied himself during the remaining years of his life in the direction of Indian railway companies. In 1879 he formed a company for the purpose of connecting Marmagao, in Portuguese India, with the Southern Mahratta and Deccan countries; and in 1883 he was deputed by the board of directors to visit India and report upon the progress of the works. He died on 17 Dec. 1886 at Eastbourne.

[Autobiography and Reminiscences of Sir Douglas Forsyth, edited by his daughter, Ethel Forsyth, London, 1887.]

E. J. R.