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Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Bellew, Henry Walter

By D'A. Power, rev. James Falkner

Bellew, Henry Walter (1834–1892), army medical officer, born at Nusserabad in India on 30 August 1834, was the son of Captain Henry Walter Bellew of the Bengal army, assistant quartermaster-general attached to the Kabul army in the First Anglo-Afghan War and the disastrous retreat of 1842. He trained at St George's Hospital, London, and was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in 1855. He served in the Crimean War during the winter of 1854–5, and on 14 November 1855 was appointed assistant surgeon in the Bengal medical service, becoming surgeon in 1867 and deputy surgeon-general on 14 November 1881. He went to India in 1856, and was at once appointed to the corps of guides on the Punjab frontier, but was soon afterwards ordered to join Major Henry Lumsden on his mission to Kandahar, and he was serving in Afghanistan during the Indian mutiny.

Bellew rendered important services to the government by his local knowledge during the Ambela campaign, and as civil surgeon at Peshawar he became well known among the frontier peoples, whose language he spoke, and with whose manners and feelings he was familiar. In 1869 Lord Mayo employed him as interpreter with the amir, Sher Ali, during the durbar at Ambala.

In 1870 Bellew married Isabella Jane, daughter of Major R. Guthrie MacGregor of the Royal Artillery and sister of General Sir George MacGregor; they had two daughters and one son, Robert Walter Dillon, who subsequently served in the 16th lancers. Bellew's wife survived him.

In 1871 Bellew accompanied Sir Richard Pollock on a political mission to Sista, and during 1873–4 he was attached to Sir Douglas Forsyth's embassy to Kashgar and Yarkand. In 1873 he was made CSI, and after acting as sanitary commissioner for the Punjab he was appointed chief political officer at Kabul. The cold and hardships he endured at the siege of Sherpur brought on an illness which obliged him to leave his post. He retired from the service with the rank of surgeon-general in November 1886.

Bellew belonged to the school of dedicated Anglo-Indian officials who helped to build up and consolidate the British empire in India by acquiring a thorough knowledge of indigenous customs and modes of thought. He was passionately fond of oriental studies, and possessed the ability to learn languages with great ease. His views on the history of these languages did not meet with general approval, but the numerous works he wrote and his services to ethnography, grammar, and lexicography deserve acknowledgement. As sanitary commissioner of the Punjab, in the towns and villages he explained and popularized hygienic practices and preventive medicine. As an explorer he supplied data on previously little-known regions. As a political officer on the Punjab frontier he gained the confidence of the local rulers as well as of their subjects.

Bellew's publications included Journal of a Political Mission to Afghanistan in 1857 (1862), A Grammar and Dictionary of the Pukkhto or Pukshto Language (1867), Afghanistan and the Afghans (1879), A New Afghan Question, or, Are the Afghans Israelites? (1881), and The History of Cholera in India from 1862 to 1881 (1885). Bellew died at the Chalet, Farnham Royal, Buckinghamshire, on 26 July 1892, and his body was cremated at Brookwood crematorium.

    Sources: Army List · The Times (29 July 1892) · Indian Lancet (1896) · T. D., Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland (1892), 880–84 · Hart's Army List · Kelly, Handbk

    D'A. Power, ‘Bellew, Henry Walter (1834–1892)’, rev. James Falkner, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004