Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thornton, Edward Parry
THORNTON, EDWARD PARRY (1811–1893), Indian civilian, born on 7 Oct. 1811, was second son of John Thornton of Clapham by his wife Eliza, daughter of Edward Parry. Samuel Thornton [q. v.] was his grandfather. Edward was educated at Haileybury and Charterhouse, and obtained a writership in the Bengal civil service on 30 April 1830. On 2 Aug. 1831 he was appointed assistant under the commissioner of revenue in the Goruckpore division, and on 6 Oct. 1836 he became assistant to the magistrate and collector at Goruckpore. He returned to England on furlough early in 1842, and on proceeding again to India in 1845 was appointed joint magistrate and deputy collector at Muttra, and later in the same year chief magistrate and collector. In 1848 he was transferred in the same capacity to Serampore. In 1849, when Dalhousie was choosing the ablest Indian officials for the task of organising the Punjaub, Thornton was appointed a commissioner and placed at Rawul Pindi in the Jhelum division. In 1852 he distinguished himself by his promptitude and courage in arresting Nadir Khan, a discontented son of the raja of Mandla, who was endeavouring to promote a rising of the hill tribes. He received a bullet wound in the throat while executing his perilous mission, but had the satisfaction of preventing the rising. In May 1857, at the time of the mutiny, Lord Lawrence made Rawul Pindi his headquarters. Thornton was constantly with him, ably seconding his measures, and he afterwards gave interesting details of Lawrence's conduct at that anxious time, which have been preserved in Bosworth Smith's ‘Life of Lord Lawrence.’ After Lawrence had denuded the Punjaub of troops to assist in the operations against Delhi, Thornton was called on to exercise more independent authority. In the beginning of September 1857 the intelligence reached Lady Lawrence at Murri that the tribes in the lower Hazarah country contemplated revolt. She communicated the intelligence to Thornton, who succeeded in arresting the leaders of the conspiracy within a few hours, and by this prompt action prevented any attempt at rebellion. On the conclusion of the mutiny Thornton was appointed judicial commissioner for the Punjaub, and on 18 May 1860 he was made a companion of the Bath in recognition of his services. He retired from the Indian service in 1862.
Thornton's industry was not confined to the discharge of his administrative duties. He possessed considerable ability as an author. In 1833 he published ‘A Summary of the History of the East India Company’ (London, 8vo), and in 1835, a treatise entitled ‘India, its State and Prospects’ (London, 8vo). In 1837 appeared ‘Illustrations of the History and Practices of the Thugs’ (London, 8vo), and in 1840 ‘Chapters of the Modern History of British India’ (London, 8vo), a work which received much praise. During his furlough in England between 1842 and 1845 he completed two works of greater importance. One of these, ‘History of the British Empire in India,’ London, 1841–5, 6 vols.), was written in a lively and interesting manner, and on the whole in an impartial spirit, though sometimes with a bias in favour of the company. A second edition in one volume appeared in 1858. In 1844 he issued in two volumes a ‘Gazetteer of the Countries adjacent to India on the North-West’ (London, 8vo), which was followed in 1854 by a ‘Gazetteer of the Territories under the Government of the East India Company’ (London, 8vo). This work passed through several editions, the last, revised by Sir Roper Lethbridge and Mr. Arthur Naylor Wollaston, appearing in 1886. Thornton also contributed to the eighth edition of the ‘Encyclopædia Britannica’ the articles on Bombay, Bengal, Ganges, Nepaul, and, in conjunction with David Buchanan, those on Afghanistan and Burmah.
Thornton died in London at Warwick Square on 10 Dec. 1893. In 1840 he married Louisa Chicheliana, the daughter of R. Chichely Plowden, by whom he had four sons and two daughters.[India Lists; Burke's Landed Gentry; Times, 12 Dec. 1893; Annual Register, 1893, p. 210; Kaye and Malleson's Hist. of the Indian Mutiny, 1889, i. 39, v. 211; Bosworth Smith's Life of Lord Lawrence, 1885, i. 25, 358, 377, 509, 511, ii. 10, 123, 505.]