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George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood

George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood

Sir George Christopher Molesworth Birdwood KCIE, CSI (8 December 1832 – 28 June 1917) was an Anglo-Indian official, naturalist, and writer.



The son of General Christopher Birdwood, he was born at Belgaum, then in the Bombay Presidency, on 8 December 1832. He was educated at Plymouth Grammar School and Edinburgh University, where he took his MD degree. Entering the Bombay Medical Service in 1854, he served in the Persian War of 1856-57, and subsequently became professor at the Grant Medical College, registrar of the university, curator of the museum, and sheriff at Bombay, besides acting as secretary of the Asiatic and Horticultural societies.[1]

His work on the Economic Vegetable Products of the Bombay Presidency reached its twelfth edition in 1868. He interested himself prominently also in the municipal life of the city, where he acquired great influence and popularity. He was obliged by ill-health in 1868 to return to England, where he entered the revenue and statistics department of the India Office (1871–1902).[1]

While engaged there he published important volumes on the industrial arts of India, the ancient records of the India Office, and the first letter-book of the East India Company. He devoted much time and energy to the encouragement of Indian art, on various aspects of which he wrote valuable monographs, and his name was identified with the representation of India at all the principal International Exhibitions from 1857 to 1901.[1][2] That notwithstanding, while chairing the Indian Section of the annual meeting of the Royal Society of Arts in 1910, he declared that there was no "fine art" in India. When a particular statue of the Buddha was adduced as counter-example, Birdwood is said to have responded: "This senseless similitude, in its immemorial fixed pose, is nothing more than an uninspired brazen image. . . . A boiled suet pudding would serve equally well as a symbol of passionless purity and serenity of soul."[3]

His researches on the subject of incense,[4] a good example of his mastery of detail, have made his historical and botanical account of this subject a classic. Nor can his lifelong association with journalism of the best sort be overlooked. From boyhood he was a diligent contributor of special information to magazines and newspapers; in India he helped to convert the Standard into The Times of India, and edited the Bombay Saturday Review; and after his return to London he wrote for the Pall Mall, Athenaeum, Academy, and The Times; and with Thomas Chenery, the editor of The Times, and others he took the initiative (1882) in celebrating the anniversary of Lord Beaconsfield's death as Primrose Day (19 April).[1]

In the dedication to his English translation of Garcia de Orta's book, Clements Markham calls Birdwood the "Garcia da Orta of British India".[5]

He kept up his connection with India by constant contributions to the Indian press; and his long friendships with Indian princes and the leading educated native Indians made his intimate knowledge of the country of peculiar value in the handling of the problems of the Indian empire. In 1846 he was selected Sheriff of Bombay[6] In 1887 he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire; and, besides being given his Doctor of Laws degree by the University of Cambridge, he was also made an officer of the Légion d'Honneur and a laureate of the French Academy.[1] He died in Ealing on 28 June 1917.[7]


  • On the Genus Boswellia [Frankincense Trees] (1870)
  • The Economic Vegetable Products of the Bombay Presidency (1888)
  • The Industrial Arts of India (1888)
  • Reports on the Old Records of the India Office (1891)
  • The Register of Letters and of the Governor and Company of Merchants of London Trading into the East Indies 1600-1619 (1893) with Sir William Foster
  • First Letter Book of the East India Company (1895)


  1. ^ a b c d e Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ Journal of Indian Art, vol. viii. The Life and Work of Sir George Birdwood
  3. ^ Mark Sedgwick, Against the Modern World: Traditionalism and the Secret Intellectual History of the Twentieth Century, Oxford University Press, 2004, page 52. ISBN 978-0-19-515297-5.
  4. ^ Trans. Liun. Soc. xxvii., 1871; Ency. Brit. 9th ed., Incense, 1881; revised
  5. ^ Clements R. Markham (1913). Colloquies on the simples and drugs of India by Garcia da Orta. London: Henry Sotheran and Co.
  6. ^ Dictionary of Indian Biography. p. 43.
  7. ^   Chisholm, Hugh, ed. (1922). "Birdwood, Sir George Christopher Molesworth". Encyclopædia Britannica. 30 (12th ed.). London & New York. p. 456.
  8. ^ IPNI.  Birdw.


Further readingEdit

  • Rao, C. Hayavadana, ed. (1915). "Birdwood, Sir George Christopher Molesworth". The Indian Biographical Dictionary.
  • Cooper, Thompson, ed. (1884). "Birdwood, George Christopher Molesworth". Men of the Time (eleventh ed.).