Henry Creswicke Rawlinson

Birth: 1810


Sir Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1810-1895), English soldier and orientalist, was born at Chadlington, Oxfordshire, on the 11th of April 1810. In 1827 he went to India as cadet under the East India Company; and after six years' life with his regiment as subaltern, during which time he had become proficient in the Persian language, he was sent to Persia in company with some other English officers to drill and reorganize the Shah's troops.

It was at this time that he was first attracted to the study of inscriptions, more particularly those in the hitherto undeciphered cuneiform character. In the course of the two years during which he was in its immediate neighbourhood he transcribed as much as he was able of the great cuneiform inscription at Behistun; but the friction between the Persian court and the British government ended in the departure of the British officers.

He was appointed political agent at Kandahar in 1840. In that capacity he served for three years, his political labours being as meritorious as was his gallantry during various engagements in the course of the Afghan War; for these he was rewarded by the distinction of C.B. in 1844. A fortunate chance, by which he became personally known to the governor-general, led to his being appointed, at his own desire, as political agent in Turkish Arabia; thus he was enabled to settle in Bagdad, where he devoted much time to the cuneiform studies which attracted him. He was now able, under considerable difficulties and with no small personal risk, to make a complete transcript of the Behistun inscription, which he was also successful in deciphering and interpreting.

Having collected a large amount of invaluable information on this and kindred topics, in addition to much geographical knowledge gained in the prosecution of various explorations (including visits with Layard to the ruins of Nineveh), he returned to England on leave of absence in 1849. He remained at home for two years, published in 1851 his memoir on the Behistun inscription, and was promoted to the rank of lieutenant-colonel. He disposed of his valuable collection of Babylonian, Sabaean, and Sassanian antiquities to the trustees of the British Museum, who also made him a considerable grant to enable him to carry on the Assyrian and Babylonian excavations initiated by Layard.

In 1851 he returned to Bagdad. The excavations were carried on under his direction with valuable results, among the most important being the discovery of material that greatly contributed to the final decipherment and interpretation of the cuneiform character. An accident with which he met in 1855 hastened his determination to return to England, and in that year he resigned his post in the East India Company. On his return to England the distinction of K.C.B. was conferred upon him, and he was appointed a crown director of the East India Company. The remaining forty years of his life were full of activity-political, diplomatic, and scientific-and were mainly spent in London.

In 1858 he was appointed a member of the first India Council, but resigned in 1859 on being sent to Persia as envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary. The latter post he held only for a year, owing to his dissatisfaction with circumstances connected with his official position there. Previously he had sat in Parliament as M.P. for Reigate from February to September 1858; he sat again as M.P. for Frome, 1865-68. He was appointed to the Council of India again in 1868, and continued to serve upon it until his death. He was a strong advocate of the forward policy in Afghanistan, and counseled the retention of Kandahar.

His views were more particularly expressed in England and Russia in the East, 1875. He was a trustee of the British Museum from 1876 till his death. He was created G.C.B. in 1889, and a Baronet in 1891; was president of the Geographical Society from 1874 to 1875, and of the Asiatic Society from 1878 to 1881; and received honorary degrees at Oxford, Cambridge, and Edinburgh. He married, in September 1862, Louisa Caroline Harcourt Seymour, who bore him two sons and died in 1889. He died in London on the 5th of March 1895.

His published works include (apart from minor contributions to the publications of learned societies) four volumes of cuneiform inscriptions, published under his direction between 1870 and 1884 by the trustees of the British Museum; The Persian Cuneiform Inscription at Behistun, 1846-51, and Outline of the History of Assyria, 1852, both reprinted from the Asiatic Society's journals; A Commentary on the Cuneiform Inscriptions of Babylon and Assyria, 1850; Notes on the Early History of Babylonia, 1854; England and Russia in the East, 1875. He contributed to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (9th edition) the articles on Bagdad, the Euphrates and Kurdistan, and several other articles dealing with the East; and assisted in editing a translation of Herodotus by his brother, Canon George Rawlinson.

See G. Rawlinson, Memoir of Henry Creswicke Rawlinson (1898).


1911 Encyclopaedia Britannica, Volume 22. pgs. 928-929.

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