1897 – Professor E.B. Cowell

Scope and Content

There is no archival material for this conferment of the Medal. Please see under Related Material for sources of information.

Administrative / Biographical History

Edward Byles Cowell was born in Ipswich in 1826, and became interested in oriental languages at the age of 15, when he found copies of William Jones' work in his local library. Self-taught he starting translating and publishing Sanskrit works. On the death of his father in 1842 he took over the family business, but continued to read voraciously. He married in 1845, and in 1850 entered Magdalen College, Oxford, where he studied for the next six years and catalogued Persian manuscripts for the Bodleian library. He resided in Calcutta from 1856 to 1867, as professor of English history at Presidency College, and from 1858 also as principal of Sanskrit College. In this year he discovered a manuscript of the quatrains (robāʿiyāt) of ʿOmar Ḵayyām in the Asiatic Society's library and sent a copy to London for his friend and Persian student, Edward Fitzgerald.

Having studied Hindustani, Bengali, and Sanskrit with native scholars, he returned to England to take up an appointment as the first professor of Sanskrit at Cambridge. He remained in Cambridge until his death in 1903.

Related Material

The Council Minutes contain information regarding the conferment of the Medal:

  • In the meeting on 11th May 1897 a Committee was designated to select the Medal recipient.
  • On 29 June 1897 it was recorded that the Medal Selection Committee had nominated Professor Cowell to receive the Medal and this was unanimously adopted.

The General Meeting Minutes hold the minutes for the Medal Day held on 25 May 1898.

The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society holds a detailed report of the Medal Day in its Notes for the Quarter: JRAS 1898 (3), pp. 684-693.