Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Raverty, Henry George

RAVERTY, HENRY GEORGE (1825–1906), soldier and Oriental scholar, born at Falmouth on 31 May 1825, was the son of Peter Raverty of co. Tyrone, a surgeon in the navy. His mother belonged to the family of Drown of Falmouth. Educated at Falmouth and Penzance, at fifteen or sixteen he showed an inclination for the sea, but a short voyage as a passenger from Penzance disillusioned him, and he resolved to become a soldier. The interest of Sir Charles Lemon secured him a cadetship. and he sailed for India. Appointed to the Welsh fusiliers, he very soon (in 1843) exchanged into the 3rd Bombay native infantry. With his regiment he was present at the siege of Multan in 1848; served in Gujarat, and in the first frontier expedition in 1850 against tribes on the Suwat border. For his services at Multan and Gujarat he received a medal with two clasps, and a medal with one clasp for the north-west frontier. Raverty held a civil appointment as assistant-commissioner in the Punjab from 1852 to 1859. He was promoted major in 1863 and retired from the army next year.

Settling in England, first near Ottery St. Mary, and afterwards at Grampound Road, Cornwall, Raverty pursued till the end of his long life various Oriental studies which he had begun in India. Although he lacked academic training, he was gifted with scholarly Instincts, and devoted himself to linguistic, historical, geographical, and ethnological study on scientific lines. In India he first learned Hindustani, Persian, Gujarati, and Marathi, and for his knowledge of these languages gained the 'high proficiency' prize of 1000 rupees from his government. A 'Thesaurus of English Hindustani Technical Terms' (1859) proved his linguistic aptitude in Hindustani. His transference to the north-west frontier at Peshawar in 1849 had meanwhile directed his chief attention to the Pushtu or Afghan language, history, and ethnology. To the 'Transactions' of the Geographical Society of Bombay, Raverty contributed in 1851 'An Account of the City and Province of Peshawar,' illustrated with maps and sepia sketches. In order to acquire practical knowledge of the Pushtu tongue he had to collect, arrange, and systematise almost the whole of the needful grammatical and lexical material. Raverty thus became 'the father of the study of Afghan.' His fiirst efforts proved comprehensive and final. In 1855 he published his 'Grammar of the Pushto or Language of the Afghans,' which Dr. Dom, the eminent orientalist of St. Petersburg, warmly commended. In 1860, besides a second and improved edition of the Grammar (3rd edit. 1867), he published his monumental 'Dictionary of the Pushto or Afghan Language' (2nd edit. 1867), and his admirable anthology of Pushtu prose and poetry entitled 'Gulshan i Roh.' He was as well acquainted with the Pushtu literature as with the spoken language. In 1862 there followed 'Selections from the Poetry of the Afghans from the Sixteenth to the Nineteenth Century' in an English translation. After leaving India, in 1864, he published 'The Gospel of the Afghans, being a Critical Examination of a Small Portion of the New Testament in Pushtu'; in 1871 a translation of ’Æsop's Fables' into Pushtu, and in 1880 a 'Pushtu Manual.' Between 1881 and 1888 he issued in four instalments his ponderous work 'Notes on Afghanistan and Baluchistan,' in which he describes as many as three and twenty routes in those countries. Besides its geographical and topographical information, the book contains an important contribution to the ethnology of those regions, and much concerning the manners and customs of the tribes and clans. The 'Notes' were prepared at the request of the marquis of Salisbury when secretary of state for India in 1875–6.

Simultaneously Raverty was working at his translation of the 'Tabakat i Nasiri,' which was published in 1881. It is a rendering from Persian into English of Minhaj ibn Siraj's work on general history, with special reference to the Muhammadan dynasties of Asia, and particularly those of Ghur, Ghaznah (now parts of Afghanistan), and Hindustan. By his critical remarks and copious illustrative notes derived from his wide reading of other native authors, Raverty vastly enhanced the historical value and completeness of Minhaj's work.

Other of Raverty's valuable studies appeared chiefly in the 'Journal of the Asiatic Society,' Bengal. Among these papers were 'Remarks on the Origin of the Afghan People' (1854); 'Notes on Kafiristan and the Siah - Posh Kafir Tribes' (1858); 'On the Language of the Siah-Posh Kafirs of Kafiristan' (1864); 'An Account of Upper Kashghar and Chitral' (1864); 'Memoir of the Author of the Tabakat i Nasiri' (1882); 'The Mihran of Sind and its Tributaries — a Geographical Study' (1892); and 'Tibbat three hundred and sixty-five Years ago ' (1895). 'Muscovite Proceedings on the Afghan Frontier' was reprinted from the 'United Service Gazette' in 1885.

Raverty died at Grampound Road, Cornwall, on 20 Oct. 1906. He married in 1865 Fanny Vigurs, only daughter of Commander George Pooley, R.N. She survived him without issue.

Raverty, whose frankness in controversy cost him many friends, received small recognition in his lifetime from his fellow-countrymen, but his immense labours gave him a high reputation among foreign Oriental scholars. At his death Raverty had seven important works either completed in manuscript or in preparation, viz.:

  1. 'A History of Herat and its Dependencies and the Annals of Klhurasan from the earliest down to modern Times,' based upon the works of native historians, which are treated with critical acumen; the six bulky quarto volumes of MS., the result of fifty years' research, are now at the India office.
  2. 'A History of the Afghan People and their Country' (the whole material collected and the composition just commenced).
  3. 'A brief History of the Rise of the Isma'iliah Sect in Africa.'
  4. 'A History of the Mings and Hazarahs of Afghanistan and other Parts of Central Asia.'
  5. 'A Translation of the Ta'rikh i Alfi from the Persian.'
  6. 'The Gospels in Pushtu' (completed).
  7. 'An Engliah-Pushto Dictionary' (not completed).

[The Times, 26 Oct. 1906; Buckland's Dict. of Indian Biog.; Journal of the Royal Asiatic Soc, 1907, pp. 251–3; papers kindly lent by Major Raverty's widow.]

E. E.