Soldier & Early Writer of the Sikhs (1763-1839)
William Francklin (1763-1339), from whose writings the following extracts about the Sikhs have been taken, was a talented writer. He was the eldest son of Thomas Francklin and was born in 1763. He was educated at Westminister and Trinity College, Cambridge. Accepted as a cadet in 1781, and admitted on September 9, 1782, he entered the service of the East India Company as an Ensign on January 31, 1783, and was attached to the Bengal Native Infantry. In January 1786 he was granted furlough to travel to Persia and he published his journal on return from that country. On December 20, 1789, he became Lieutenant and was promoted to Captaincy on September 30, 1803.
It was during this period that he wrote his two well known books, History of Reign of Shah Aulum, published in 1798, and Military Memoirs of Mr. George Thomas, published in 1803. Both of these works, in several places, contain references to the Sikhs and their country. I have extracted such of them as contain continuous accounts of the rise and progress of the Sikhs and of their customs, manners and resources, and of the trade in the Panjab. Occasional references to their struggles and relations with the Mughals and the Marathas, and with George Thomas, have not been torn from their context. The inquisitive students of history may consult them in the original books.
As Francklin himself admits, he was not able to collect first hand information about the religion of the Sikhs. He had not even seen James Browne’s book. Published ten years before his History of the Reign of Shah Au/urn was issued. His source of information in most cases was George Thomas who, much against his wish, had not been successful in planting the British flag on the bank of the Sutlej.
As an unsuccessful adventurer, frustrated in his political designs upon the Sikhland, Thomas could not have made an objective study of the Sikhs and their ways, to be conveyed to his biographer. In spite of it, as William Francklin and his informent were contemporary observers, their accounts have their own special value.
Becoming a Major in March 1810, Francklin rose to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel in December 1814 when he was transferred from the 19th Native Infantry to the 22nd. He was the Deputy Paymaster at chunar in 1805-08, and was appointed Regulating Officer of Invalid Tannah Establishments in 1808. He was transferred to Bhagalpur as Regulating Officer in 1814, and he stayed there up to December 1825 when he retired after forty-three years’ service.
Although a soldier by profession, William Francklin was a man of letters and a distinguished scholar of oriental languages and 1iterature. He was for a long time a member of the Asiatic Society of Bengal and made several learned contributions in the form of translations and original papers to the Asiatic Researches. Besides his journal of Persian travels and The History of the Reign of Shah-Aulum and Military Memoirs of Mr. George Thomas, referred to above, he pub1ished his Inquiry Concerning the Site of the Ancient Palibothra, 1815-1822. After his retirement he returned to England where he became a member of the Council and Librarian of the Royal Asiatic Society, London. He died on April 12, 1839, aged 76.