Scottish Sir William Muir, Scholar of Islam and founder of Muir college

The subject of contribution and impact of 200 years plus British rule on India has been  a contentious issue. The English scholars like Alfred Loyal, J. F. Stephen, and W. W. Hunter are of the view that the whole gamut of India's  growth,  modernization, growth of nationalism,  good government administration, modern education,  Judiciary - Law and order was the Legacy of the English to the Indians, Whereas many Indian  leaders have a different view. The English purposely  disturbed the the economic life of India, flourishing handicraft cottage industries, exploitation of people and their lands, etc. Using the modernization of India as a ruse, they improved the British economy. Further, they had sown the seeds of   of communal feelings  among the Hindus and Muslims which ultimately led to partition of India.

If you look at this moot issue with unbiased mind, there are both positive and negative elements on both sides. Leaving aside the oppressive rule by the British, there is no denying the fact that but for the British, India  would not have seen the railways, modern education and better and organized judiciary and administration. Of course, it is true, the British introduced the railways in India for their benefits to export the raw materials from the interior parts to the near-by harbors for export to England from where the finished products, etc., were dumped on the vast Indian market.

There are scores  of British scholars / officers who relentlessly worked hard in many areas and left their imprint firmly behind them. Many of them brought the attention of the western society to India's rich heritage and the beauty of the Indian languages. Sir William Muir who held high posts in British India  is one among them. 

Sir William Muir, KCSI (27 April 1819 – 11 July 1905), a Scottish Orientalist, scholar of Islam, and colonial administrator  was born at Glasgow. Having studied at  Kilmarnock Academy, at Glasgow and Edinburgh Universities, and at Haileybury College in 1837, he sailed to India and joined  the Bengal civil service. By 1840 he had married Elizabeth Huntley, daughter of the Collector (District Administrator) of Cawnpore (Kanpur) and  later by 1847 he was secretary to board of revenue of the North West Provinces based in Agra. Subsequently he became Secretary to the Government of the North West Provinces in 1852, a middle-ranking post. 

During the worst Sepoy Mutiny in 1857-1858, he headed the intelligence service by operating from a secret part of  Agra Fort which was also his hied out during the tumultuous time. He was  Knighted (K.C.S.I.) in 1867 and later in 1868 he became lieutenant-governor of the North Western Provinces, a covetous position.

 In 1874 Muir was appointed financial member of the Viceroy's Council, and retired in 1876, when he became a member of the Council of India in London.
Sir William

Agra Fort. Hotel Dekho
 Above image: Gate to the inside of Agra Fort, where Muir and his family took refuge during the revolt (Sepoy Mutiny) of 1857-1858.

Sir William Muir was a well-known  Orientalist and scholar of Islam. He published several works on Islam.  His chief area of expertise was the history of the time of Muhammad and the early caliphate. Some of his works were debatable. He was a close friend of Syed Ahmed Khan Bahadur, who pioneered modern education for the Muslim community in India and founded Mohamedan Oriental college which became Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India. 

Sir William Muir,Muir Central college - Allahabad univ.
 In the matters of education, Sir William Muir  took keen interest and worked hard to improve the educational scenario in India.
  He was instrumental in founding Muir Central College, which later became part of Allahabad university in Allahabad. The university well was endowed. It is one of the oldest universities in India  established by the English. In 1884 Muir was elected president of the Royal Asiatic Society that published a lot of papers on topics related to Indian languages, etc. This society drew the attention of the richness of Indian languages, in particular, Sanskrit  to the western world.
In 1866  the state of Orissa experienced worst famine and relief operations were not well planned. In 1868 Muir held the view that every District officer should take the responsibility to see that there were no deaths from starvation and later a new famine policy was introduced to effectively deal  with famines.  A strong supporter of Christian missionary work, he was also a Vice-President of the Church Missionary Society. He gave importance to Women's  education and in some of his  speeches, he frequently emphasized  the importance and benefits of female education. Unfortunately at the time, women in the United Kingdom  too had very limited access to  higher education.

Sir William Muir's grave, Dean Cemetery

As for India and it's people, Muir's attitude  was often paternalistic but he did see his duty in India as doing "good" not exploiting and accumulating wealth just like a Karma Yogi.(imagine present day politicians). What, he asked were "Englishmen in India for?" His reply was, "that we should raise and elevate the people, make them the happier and better for our being here."

Muir died on 11 July 1905. He was buried in Dean cemetery.