Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Morehead, William Ambrose

MOREHEAD, WILLIAM AMBROSE (1805–1863), Indian official, born in 1805, was the eldest son of Robert Morehead, D.D., and brother of Dr. Charles Morehead [q. v.] He entered the Madras civil service in 1825, in 1828 became assistant to the principal collector of North Arcot, and was appointed later in the year registrar to the Zillah court at Chingleput. In 1832, while sub-collector and joint-magistrate at Cuddapa, Morehead gave evidence of administrative capacity and firmness on the occasion of a fanatical outbreak, in which the head assistant-collector, Mr. Macdonald, was murdered. It devolved upon Morehead to restore order and bring to justice the perpetrators of the crime Subsequently, as civil and sessions judge at Chingleput, he manifested considerable efficiency in judicial work. Consequently in 1846 he was chosen to fill a vacancy on the bench of the court of Sadr Adálut, the highest of the courts of the East India Company, which eventually, in 1862, was amalgamated with the supreme court under the designation of the High Court of Judicature. Morehead speedily justified his selection. In 1850, at the request of the colonial office, two Indian judicial officers, of whom Morehead was one, were sent to investigate certain occurrences which had taken place in Ceylon during the government of Lord Torrington. Morehead conducted this delicate duty with singular tact and independence of judgment.

In 1857, the year of the Indian mutiny, Morehead was appointed a member of the council of the governor of Madras, and held that office until his retirement from the public service in October 1862. On two occasions he acted as governor of the presidency, first on the recall of Sir Charles Trevelyan, and subsequently during the interregnum which took place between the death of Sir Henry Ward and the arrival of Sir William Denison. Morehead's views on the scheme of taxation proposed by Sir James Wilson, and adopted by the government of Lord Canning, for the purpose of establishing a financial equilibrium, were mainly in accord with those held by the governor, Sir Charles Trevelyan. He objected to an income-tax as being specially unsuited to India, and advocated in its stead the retention of an old native tax called the muhtarafa, and an increase in the salt-tax, combined with the establishment of government salt depôts wherever facilities existed for the carriage of salt in large quantities. He also advocate an extension of the stamp duties by requiring bills of exchange, cheques, and receipts above a certain amount to be taxed. But while agreeing with the governor as to the impolicy of the new legislation, Morehead strongly disapproved of the step taken by Sir C. Trevelyan in publishing in the newspapers the minutes which had been recorded on the subject by the members of the local government, and he stated that had Sir Charles Trevelyan informed his colleagues of his intention to take this step, he should have withdrawn his minute and 'refused to accede to its being used in a manner different to that which I intended when I wrote it.' During the following months, when in charge of the government, he rendered to the government of India a thoroughly loyal support, and received the thanks of Lord Canning and his colleagues in the supreme government. On Lord Canning's recommendation he was offered by the secretary of state a seat in the governor-generals council, upon Sir Bartle Frere's appointment as governor of Bombay; but this advancement, owing to the impaired state of his health, he declined. It is understood that Lord Canning also recommended that some other special mark of the queen's favour Should be conferred upon him for his loyal Support of the government of India at a difficult crisis. Morehead held for two years the Office of vice-chancellor of the university of madras, of which he was one of the original fellows.

Morehead finally left India in October 1862, and died in Edinburgh on 1 Dec. 1863. His character was singularly attractive. His keen perception of humour, and the strong sound sense which characterised all he said and did, rendered him a most delightful and instructive companion. He was much beloved by the natives, to whom he was always accessible. His picture hangs in the Madras Banqueting Hall. In the Dean cemetery in Edinburgh, where he was buried, his memory is preserved by a runic cross of polished Peterhead granite, erected by a number of his friends.

[Personal knowledge; Scotsman, 9 Jan. 1866; Parliamentary Return, 24 July 1860, containing correspondence on proposed financial measures in India.]

A. J. A.