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William Erskine (8 November 1773 – 28 May 1852) was a Scottish orientalist and historian.


The grave of William Erskine, St John's Church, Edinburgh

He was born at Argyle Square in Edinburgh[1] the son of David Erskine, a lawyer and Clerk to the Signet, and his wife Jean Melvin. He attended the High School, then studied Law, receiving a doctorate from Edinburgh University.

He went to Bombay (now Mumbai) in 1804 where he was master in equity in the recorder's court.

He married Maitland Mackintosh (1792-1861), daughter of Sir James Mackintosh and his first wife Katherine Stuart, in 1809 in Madras (now Chennai). They had fourteen children, one of whom, Frances, married the statistician and civil servant Thomas Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer. Another daughter, Mary, was head nurse in the Naval Hospital at Therapia during the Crimean War, and looked after Florence Nightingale while she recovered from illness. Erskine's sister-in-law, Mary Mackintosh, married the eminent orientalist Claudius James Rich.

Erskine wrote principally on mediaeval India, but he also completed John Malcolm's biography of Clive of India after Malcolm's death and translated the Baburnama, the memoirs of Zehir-Ed-Din Muhammed Babur, Emperor of Hindustan.

He was removed from office in 1823 by Sir Edward West after being accused of defalcation (misappropriation of funds) and for many of his later years resided in Edinburgh, as well as Pau in South West France. He was Provost of St Andrews, 1836–1839.

He died at 28 Regent Terrace on Calton Hill in Edinburgh.[2] He is buried with his family on the lower south terrace of the churchyard of St John's, Edinburgh.


  1. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1773
  2. ^ Edinburgh Post Office Directory 1852
  •   Lee, Sidney, ed. (1901). "Erskine, William (1773-1852)" . Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co.