Kennedy, Vans (DNB01)
KENNEDY, VANS (1784–1846), major-general, Sanskrit and Persian scholar, was born at Pinmore in the parish of Ayr, Scotland. He belonged to an old Ayrshire family, and was connected with the houses of Cassilis and Eglintoun. His father was Robert Kennedy of Pinmore, and his mother Robina, daughter of John Vans of Barnbarroch, Wigtownshire, who on marrying his cousin assumed the name of Agnew. Robert Kennedy was ruined by the failure of the Ayr bank, and had to sell Pinmore and retire to Edinburgh, where he died in 1790. The care of his numerous children then devolved on the widow, who was a woman of great worth and ability. Major-general Kennedy was her youngest son, and one of his sisters was Grace Kennedy [q. v.]
Kennedy was educated at Edinburgh, at Berkhamsted, and finally at Monmouth, and was noted in youth for his studious habits. On the completion of his fourteenth year he returned to Edinburgh, and, having obtained a cadetship, he sailed for Bombay in 1800. Shortly after his arrival he was employed with his corps, the 1st battalion of the 2nd grenadiers, against the people of the Malabar district, and received a wound in his neck, from the effects of which he suffered all his life. In 1807 he became Persian interpreter to the Peshwa's subsidiary force at Sirur, then commanded by the Colonel W. Wallace (d. 1809) who, according to the 'Imperial Gazetteer of India,' is still worshipped as a saint by the Hindus. While at Sirur Kennedy had frequent opportunities of meeting Sir Barry Close and Sir James Mackintosh, both of whom greatly admired him. In 1817 he was appointed judge-advocate-general to the Bombay army, and on 30 Sept. of the same year he contributed a paper on Persian literature to the Literary Society of Bombay. Mountstuart Elphinstone, who described Kennedy as the most learned man of his acquaintance, gave him the appointment of Maratha and Gujrati translator of the regulations of government, but the post was abolished a few months after Elphinstone's retirement. He held the office of judgeadvocate-general till 1835, when he was removed by Sir John Keane. After that he was appointed oriental translator to the government, and he held this office till his death.
Kennedy was throughout life a student, and he seems to have belonged to the type of the recluse and self-denying scholar. He is described as working sixteen hours a day, and as spending all his money on manuscripts and munshies, and in relieving the wants of others. He contributed several papers to the Bombay branch of the Royal Asiatic Society, and in 1824 he published at Bombay a Maratha dictionary. In 1828 he published in London a quarto volume entitled ‘Researches into the Origin and Affinity of the Principal Languages of Asia and Europe,’ and in 1831 he followed this up by another quarto entitled ‘Researches into the Nature and Affinity of Ancient and Hindu Mythology.’ Both these works exhibit much learning and vigorous and independent thinking, but are now nearly obsolete. The first seems to be the more valuable of the two, and contains some interesting notes, e.g. that at p. 182 on the number of Arabic words in the Shāhnāma. Kennedy also wrote five letters on the Puranas, and had a controversy with Horace Hayman Wilson [q. v.] and Sir Graves Champney Haughton [q. v.] He published at Bombay in 1832 a work on military law, of which a second edition appeared in 1847. He died at Bombay on 29 Dec. 1846, and was buried at the old European cemetery at Back-Bay.
[Biographical Memoir by James Bird, Secretary Bombay branch R.A.S.; Journal of B.B.R.A.S. ii. 430, Bombay, 1848, and N. V. Mandlik's edition of the Transactions of the Literary Society of Bombay, Bombay, 1877, vol. i. p. xv; Preface to Grace Kennedy's Collected Works, Edinburgh, 1827.]