Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Mackenzie, Colin
MACKENZIE, COLIN (1753?–1821), colonel in the Madras engineers, Indian antiquary and topographer, born about 1753 in the Island of Lewis, Scotland, was in youth employed by Francis, fifth lord Napier of Merchistoun (d. 1773), to collect information respecting the use of logarithms among the Hindus, for a contemplated, but never completed, memoir of that nobleman's ancestor, John Napier of Merchistoun. In 1781 Kenneth Mackenzie, last earl of Seaforth, procured for Mackenzie (then twenty-eight years of age) a Madras cadetship. Mackenzie landed in India in 1782, and on 16 May 1783 was appointed a second lieutenant in the Madras engineers. His subsequent commissions were: first lieutenant, 16 March 1789; captain, 16 Aug. 1793; major, 1 Jan. 1806; brevet-lieutenant-colonel king's rank, local), 25 Oct. 1809; regimental lieutenant-colonel, 15 Nov. 1810; colonel, 12 Aug. 1819.
Mackenzie arrived in India with letters of recommendation to Lord Macartney, then governor of Madras, and to Samuel Johnston of Carnsalloch, Dumfriesshire, then in the civil service at Madura, and father of Sir Alexander Johnston [q. v.] Johnston had married Hester Napier (d. 1819), one of the fifth. Lord Napier's daughters, and he and his wife invited Mackenzie to Madura. At that ancient seat of Hindu learning he first made personal acquaintance with native scholars, and conceived the idea of forming collections illustrative of Indian history and antiquities.
At the conclusion of the war of 1783 he was employed in the provinces of Coimbatore and Dindighul. Afterwards he was engaged on engineering duties in Madras, Nellore, and Guntoor, He served through the war of 1790-2 against Tippoo Sahib, and, after the peace of Seringapatam, was sent by Lord Cornwallis to investigate the geography of the territory just ceded by the nizam, a region then almost unknown, and of the boundaries of the native states. Official jealousies and petty opposition increased the natural difficulties of this work (Roy. Asiat. Soc. Journ. vol. i.) He was at the siege of Pondicherry in 1793, and was commanding- engineer at the reduction of Ceylon in 1796. On his return from Ceylon he sent in his first map of the Deccan (now British Museum Addit. MS. 26102), He made the campaign against Tippoo Sahib in 1799, end after the fall of Seringapatam was ordered to make a survey of the Mysore territory. He measured five base-lines, each three to five miles long, in different parts of the country, and connected them by triangles.
His system of triangulation was entirely distinct from that of Lambton [see Lambton, William], and the two are said not to have worked at all harmoniously. Mackenzie was employed on this duty until 1806, the result being a survey of forty thousand square miles of country, a series of maps, both general and provincial, and seven volumes of memoirs embodying much statistical and other information. After much search four of these volumes were restored to the India office long afterwards, but three were still missing when the second edition of Markham's 'Indian Surveys' was published in 1878.
Mackenzie was in 1807 appointed surveyor-general of Madras, and while in that capacity suggested the Madras Military Institution, which trained many valuable survey officers. In February 1810 the court of directors voted him a sum of nine thousand pagodas (3,600l.) in recognition of his professional and scientific labours. In 1811 he commanded the engineers at the reduction of Java (gold medal), and remained in that island as commanding-engineer until March 1815. When the order of the Bath was extended to the East India Company's officers, in June 1815, Mackenzie was made C.B. He resumed his surveys and explorations on his return to India, visiting every place of interest between Kistna and Cape Comorin, attended by a staff of native assistants, collecting and copying ancient records. In 1819 he was made surveyor-general of India, and removed with his native assistants to Calcutta. The advantages likely to accrue to oriental history and literature if Mackenzie could be allowed leave to Europe to arrange his collections were strongly pressed upon the court of directors by Sir Alexander Johnston, but before this could be arranged Mackenzie died at his residence near Calcutta on 8 May 1821, aged 68.
His collections were purchased from his widow by Francis Rawdon Hastings [q. v.], marquis of Hastings, then governor-general, for a sum of 10,000l. They are said to have cost Mackenzie 15,000l. His own catalogue, a scholarly, painstaking work, was edited by Horace Wilson, secretary to the Asiatic society of Bengal, and published in 1828. A second and enlarged edition, with biographical notice of Mackenzie, was published at Madras in 1862. Most of Mackenzie's Sanskrit, Arabic, Persian, Javanese, and Burman books, his coins, images, &c., were sent home in three batches in 1823 and 1825, and, with some beautiful specimens of carved stonework forwarded by him in his lifetime, are now in the India Museum at South Kensington. All his manuscripts relating to southern India, and his collection of inscriptions, were lodged in 1828 in the library of the Madras College. There they remained in 'a confused and utterly useless state' until 1830, when the Madras Literary Society suggested that an attempt should be made to extract information from them, which appears to have been dropped for lack of funds. In 1836 the Rev. William Taylor, the orientalist, reported on them in a catalogue of 570 pages. They are now in the Government Oriental MSS. Library of the Presidency College, Madras.
In Dalrymple's 'Oriental Repository' are papers by Mackenzie on routes in Nellore and on the source of the Pennar. The 'Oriental Annual Register,' 1804, contains his 'Life of Hyder Ali' and 'Histories of the Bijayanagar and Unaganda Rajahs.' In 'Asiatic Researches,' vol. ix., he gave an account of his discovery of the religion and monuments of the Jains. He also published some papers in a Batavian journal during his stay in Java. In the British Museum are 'Observations on the Survey of the Nizam's Dominions,' 1787 (Addit. MS. 13582); 'Journal of a March Hyderabad to Seringapatam in 1798–9' (ib. 13663); 'Reports, Letters, &e., Mysore Survey,' 1800–6 (ib. 13660, 14380, ff. 23. 28); 'Drawings of Buildings and Sculptures Hindustan, 1799–1816' (ib. 29324).
[East India Registers; Roy. Asiatic Soc. of London Journal, i. 333–53; Description Cat. of Mackenzie Collections, with Life, 2nd ed. Madras. 1882; Men India has known; Clement Markham's Indian Surveys, 2nd ed. London, 1878, pp. 73–4; Vibart's Hist. of the Madras Sappers and Miners, London, 1882, ii. 107–13; Brit. Mus. Catalogues; Gent. Mag. 1821, pt. ii. p. 378.]