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Taylor, Philip Meadowsfree

(1808–1876)
  • Richard Garnett
  • , revised by David Washbrook

Philip Meadows Taylor (1808–1876)

by Charles Grey, 1840

Taylor, Philip Meadows (1808–1876), army officer and official in the Hyderabad service and novelist, was born in Liverpool on 25 September 1808. His father, Philip Meadows Taylor, was a merchant in Liverpool, and was descended from John Taylor (1694–1761) of Norwich; his mother was Jane Honoria Alicia, daughter of Bertram Mitford of Mitford Castle, Northumberland. At the age of fifteen, Taylor was sent out to India to enter the house of Mr Baxter, a Bombay merchant, with the promise of being made a partner when he should come of age. On arriving, however, he found that the condition of Baxter's affairs had been much misrepresented, and took up the offer of a commission in the service of the nizam of Hyderabad which was procured for him in November 1824 by Mr Newnham, chief secretary to the Bombay government, a relative of his mother's. After a short period of military service he obtained civil employment and taught himself surveying, engineering, Indian and English law, botany, and geology. Before long, however, he was obliged to return to the army, and was promoted adjutant in the nizam's service in 1830. At about this time he appears to have married. His autobiography inaccurately gave 1840 as the date of his marriage, but is otherwise reticent of details.

Independently of Colonel William Henry Sleeman, Taylor became interested in the detection and suppression of thuggee, and turned his inquiries to account in his first novel, The Confessions of a Thug, which was published in 1839 on his return to England on furlough and proved a great success. After his return to India he acted as a correspondent for The Times (1840–43). In 1841 he was commissioned by the resident of Hyderabad to pacify the rebellious state of Shorapur, which he continued to administer during the minority of the raja, until 1853. Taylor was then transferred to Berar, recently ceded by the nizam, where he organized surveying operations and road building. On the outbreak of the Indian mutiny in 1857 Taylor was dispatched to the district of Buldana in north Berar, which he kept in order until British forces reappeared. He was also able to supply General Whitlock's Madras division with the means of transport which enabled it to capture the Karwi treasure, subsequently the object of much litigation, and out of which Taylor himself never received a rupee. In the same year (1858) he was appointed commissioner of his old district of Shorapur, which his former pupil the raja had forfeited by rising against the British government.

In 1860 Taylor's health failed, and he returned to England, where he wrote five more Indian novels. He also wrote an autobiography, published in 1877, after his death, the letterpress for several illustrated works on India, and a students' manual of Indian history. He was made a companion in the Order of the Star of India in 1869. In 1875 his sight failed, and on the advice of physicians he decided to spend the winter in India, where, however, he was further debilitated by an attack of jungle fever. He died at Menton, France, on his way home, on 13 May 1876.

Meadows Taylor's modest background and work in the service of an Indian prince guaranteed that he would not leave a large mark on the annals of British Indian history. However, as a man of letters, he occupied a unique position among Anglo-Indian writers. His Confessions of a Thug is a classic adventure novel, which inspired the young of several imperial generations and was much imitated by other colonial fiction writers for over a century.

Sources

  • M. Taylor, The story of my life, ed. A. M. Taylor, 2 vols. (1877)
  • M. Taylor, Confessions of a thug, 3 vols. (1839)

Archives

  • BL, agreements, accounts, and corresp. with Richard Bentley, Add. MSS 46613, 46650–46551
  • BL, Layard MSS
  • NL Scot., corresp. with Blackwoods
  • NL Scot., letters to J. S. S. Stuart

Likenesses

  • C. Grey, pen sketch, 1840, NG Ire. [see illus.]
  • J. Kirkwood, etching (after C. Grey), BM, NPG; repro. in Dublin University Magazine, 18 (1841)
  • W. Taylor, lithograph (after his portrait), NG Ire.
J. Burke, A general [later edns A genealogical] and heraldic dictionary of the peerage and baronetage of the United Kingdom [later edns the British empire] (1829–)