Show Summary Details

Page of
PRINTED FROM Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single article in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy).

Bendall, Cecillocked

  • W. B. Owen
  • , revised by R. S. Simpson

Bendall, Cecil (1856–1906), Sanskritist, was born on 1 July 1856 in Islington, London, the youngest son in a family of six sons and three daughters of Robert Smith Bendall (d. 1863/4), a tradesman in London, and his wife, Elizabeth Kay, daughter of William Holmes. He was educated at the City of London School (1869–75), gaining a Carpenter scholarship in 1871. On the initiative of the progressive headmaster, Edwin Abbott Abbott, Bendall, who had shown a talent for languages, was taught Sanskrit from 1872/3 by George Frederick Nicholl, afterwards professor of Arabic at Oxford. In 1875 he entered Trinity College, Cambridge, with a Broderers' Company scholarship, and soon won a Sanskrit exhibition also. In 1877 he migrated as a scholar to Gonville and Caius College; he graduated BA in 1879 in the first class of the classical tripos, and then became a fellow of Caius (1879–86). During seven years' residence in the university he read Sanskrit with Edward Byles Cowell, professor of Sanskrit, whose influence decided the direction of his career. After graduating, he turned his whole attention to Sanskrit; in the summer of 1879 he attended Theodor Benfey's lectures at Göttingen on the Veda and on Avestan, and in 1881 gained a first class in the Indian languages tripos at Cambridge. That October he began lecturing on Sanskrit to classics students and to Indian Civil Service candidates studying at Cambridge. He had already published his first work, an annotated abridgement of the Megha-Sutra, with translation (Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, new ser., 12, 1880, 286–311), and in 1883 he completed the Catalogue of the Buddhist Sanskrit Manuscripts in the University Library of Cambridge, which had been initiated by Cowell. In the introduction Bendall showed systematically for the first time how palaeography determined the age of Sanskrit manuscripts.

In 1882 Bendall moved to London to become senior assistant in the department of oriental manuscripts and printed books in the British Museum. He held the post until his retirement, through ill health, in 1898. While at the museum he catalogued both the Sanskrit and Pali books (1893) and the Sanskrit manuscripts (1902). He was from 1883 a member of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland and from 1884 a member of its council. He was a contributor to its Journal. He frequently read papers at the meetings of the International Congress of Orientalists, and was delegate for his university in 1899 and 1902. He also held the chair of Sanskrit at University College, London, from 1885 to 1903.

With the aid of grants from the Worts fund at Cambridge Bendall twice visited Nepal and northern India to acquire manuscripts for Cambridge University Library. On his first visit (1884–5) he obtained some 500 Sanskrit manuscripts and discovered nine historical inscriptions, one of great importance for the early chronology of Nepal; he described the trip in his Journey of Literary and Archaeological Research in Nepal and Northern India (1886). His second visit (1898–9) resulted in the acquisition of some ninety manuscripts (see Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland, 1900, 162–4).

At Esher on 19 July 1898 Bendall married a French woman, Georgette, daughter of Georges Joseph Ignace Jung, and widow of G. Mosse of Cowley Hall, Middlesex; they had no children. She became a member of the Royal Asiatic Society in 1901, was author of Practical Lessons in Cookery for Small Households (1905), and died on 24 December 1910 at her sister's home in Paris.

In 1901 Bendall returned to Cambridge, having succeeded Robert Alexander Neil as university lecturer and lecturer to the Indian Civil Service board. In 1902 he became curator of oriental literature in the university library. On Cowell's death in 1903 he was elected professor of Sanskrit and was made honorary fellow of Caius in 1905. By this time Bendall had become recognized throughout Europe as a scholar of the first rank. He was a sound textual critic, an expert in Indian palaeography and epigraphy, and a vigorous and clear teacher. His special interest was the Sanskrit literature of Mahayana Buddhism, and his magnum opus was his edition of the Śikshāsamuccaya (1897–1902), an important compendium of Mahayana doctrine, which he made from a unique manuscript and an early Tibetan version; he was engaged with W. H. D. Rouse on its translation at his death.

Bendall was slight and delicate, but had a bright and kindly personality, and was self-disciplined but sympathetic towards others. His chief interests from childhood on were music, especially that of Palestrina, Bach, and Handel, and the religious architecture of both Britain and India, as well as English literature. In late 1905 he had to go to Liverpool for surgery. He died on 14 March 1906 at 96 Princes Road, Liverpool, and was buried on 19 March in St Giles cemetery, Cambridge. By his will he left books and a unique palm-leaf manuscript of the Tantrakhana, a collection of Indian folklore, to Cambridge University. His residuary estate after his wife's death was assigned to the foundation of a prize for Sanskrit at Caius and the formation there of an oriental lending library for undergraduates. Part of his valuable musical collection was acquired by the Fitzwilliam Museum.


  • H. T. Francis, In memoriam: Cecil Bendall (privately printed, Cambridge, 1906)
  • E. J. Rapson, ‘Cecil Bendall’, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1906), 527–33
  • Cambridge Review (26 April 1906), 334
  • The Times (15 March 1906), 10d
  • The Times (20 March 1906), 10a
  • The Times (18 June 1906), 4d
  • J. Venn and others, eds., Biographical history of Gonville and Caius College, 2: 1713–1897 (1898), 429
  • J. Venn and others, eds., Biographical history of Gonville and Caius College, 4 (1912), 131
  • WWW, 1897–1915
  • C. Bendall, Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1900), 162–4 [letter]
  • private information (1912)


  • CUL, corresp.
  • CUL, collection of his non-duplicate books and oriental palm-leaf MSS
  • King's Cam., letters to Oscar Browning
  • FM Cam., collection of music


  • sepia drawing, Institute of Oriental Studies, Cambridge

Wealth at Death

£1588 6s. 6d.: probate, 28 April 1906, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

J. Venn & J. A. Venn, , 2 pts in 10 vols. (1922–54); repr. in 2 vols. (1974–8)