Francis Whyte Ellis (1777–1819) was a British civil servant in
Madras Presidency and a scholar of Tamil and Sanskrit.
2 Dravidian language hypothesis
2.2 The Dravidian Proof
3 Other literary contributions
3.1 St. George College and its press
3.2 Works of Ellis
5 See also
8 External links
Ellis became a writer in the East India Company's service at
1796. He was promoted to the offices of assistant-under secretary,
deputy-secretary, and secretary to the board of revenue in 1798, 1801,
and 1802 respectively. In 1806 he was appointed judge of the zillah of
Machilipatnam, in 1809 collector of land customs in the Madras
presidency, and in 1810 collector of Madras. He died at
cholera on 10 March 1819.
Dravidian language hypothesis
Ellis is the first scholar who classified the
Dravidian languages as a
separate language family.  Robert Caldwell, who is often
credited as the first scholar to propose a separate language family
for South Indian languages, acknowledges Ellis's contribution in his
preface to the first edition of A Comparative Grammar of the Dravidian
or South Indian Family of Languages:
The first to break ground in the field was Mr. Ellis, a Madras
civilian, whose was profoundly versed in the
Tamil language and
literature, and who interesting but very brief comparison, not of the
grammatical forms, but only of some of the vocables of three Dravidian
dialects, is contained in his introduction to Campbell's Telugu
Ellis first published his notion about the South Indian languages
forming a separate language family in a "Note to Introduction" for his
protege Alexandar Duncan Campbell's Telugu Grammar in 1816. The
event which set forth in motion the writing of the "Dravidian Proof"
was the report of the Committee of Examination of Junior Civil
Servants issued in 1811. The committee, chaired by Ellis, wanted the
civil service officers to learn the basic structure of the South
Indian languages, so that they can function effectively wherever they
were stationed in South India. It noted that the common features of
five South Indian "dialects" - High Tamil, Low Tamil, Malayalam,
Telugu and Kannada and recommended the teaching of Tamil as a
representative of all five. The College of Fort St. George and its
press (see below), were given the task of creating grammars and other
text books for the language training. As a part of this effort,
Campbell, then the secretary to the Board of Superintendents of the
college, prepared a work of Telugu grammar in 1816. Two years before,
another work of Telugu grammar had been published by William Carey (an
orientalist missionary from Calcutta) at the
Serampore press, in which
Sanskrit as the source of all South Indian languages. In
his grammar, Campbell set out to disprove Carey and other Calcutta
Charles Wilkins and Henry Thomas Colebrooke
(proponents of the "all indian languages are derived from Sanskrit"
school of thought). Ellis wrote a note to introduction for Campbell's
book in which he offered his "Dravidian Proof".
The Dravidian Proof
Ellis' Dravidian Proof is a step by step attempt to establish the
non-Sanskritic origins of Telugu. Ellis first compared the roots of
Sanskrit and Telugu. Parallel columns of the roots were presented to
show the difference between the two languages. For Sanskrit, the roots
were taken from Dhatupatha and for Telugu, they were taken from a list
compiled by Pattabhirama Shastri. In the second step, Ellis used a
more complex comparative table of Tamil, Telugu and Kannada roots to
show that the languages shared
Cognate roots. In the third and final
step Ellis used a comparative table of words made from the roots of
the three languages to show their relationship as well. Ellis made use
of Telugu scholar Mamadi Venkayya's Andhradipaka as a source for
different types of Telugu words. As a conclusion, Ellis disproved the
prevailing theory that though roots and words might be common to South
Indian languages, the difference in their idioms was great. He
accomplished this by translating the same passages from
English into Tamil, Telugu and Kannada and analysing the sentence
structures of the translations.
Other literary contributions
St. George College and its press
While stationed at Madras, Ellis became interested in the history and
languages of India. He was a member of the Member of the Madras
Literary Society and the founder of the College of Fort St. George
Madras - an institution which had both British and Indian
members. Pattabiram Shasthri, Muthusami Pillai, Udayagiri
Venkatanarayanayya, Chidambara Vaathiyaar and Syed Abdul Khadar were
among Indian scholars who worked in the college. The college was
founded in 1812 and the next year Ellis also helped set up the College
Press by supplying it with a printing press and Tamil types. Telugu
types, printing ink and labour for the venture was supplied by the
Superintendent of Government Press at Egmore. The
supplied the paper. Ellis purchased English types and printing ink for
the Press cheaply. The press commenced publishing in 1813 - its first
work was Constanzo Beschi's (Veeramamunivar) Tamil grammar Kodum
Tamil. Before Ellis's death in 1819, the press published a Tamil
grammar primer Ilakkana surukkam, a Tamil translation of Uttara Kandam
Ramayana (both by Chitthambala Desikar), Ellis' own translation and
Thirukkural and five Telugu works - Campbell's grammar
(with Ellis' Dravidian Proof), tales of Vikkirama, a translation of
Panchatantra and two more grammars. The press continued publishing
books into the 1830s including works in Kannada,
Works of Ellis
Ellis and his friends William Erskine and
John Leyden were oriental
scholars interested in learning about the various aspects of Indian
life and publishing works on Indian languages. Ellis was a capable
administrator and had a good relationship with Indians. He even
adopted their customs and way of dressing. Among Ellis contributions
to oriental scholarship are his works on South Indian property
ownership, Hindu law, a "fake" French
Veda and his commentary on
Thirukkural. In 1814, Ellis wrote an account of the Mirasi land
proprietary system of South India with the help of his Sheristadar
(chief of staff), the Indian scholar Shankarayya. As his
reputation for oriental scholarship grew, he was requested by
Alexander Johnston to research the origins of a French work titled
Ezour Vedam, which was claimed as a translation of a
Sanskrit work and
a Veda. Ellis proved that the "Vedam" was not a translation but an
original work of the
Jesuit priest Roberto de Nobili, written in 1621
for converting Hindus to Christianity. His monograph on the Ezour
Vedam was published posthumously in the Asiatic Journal in 1822.
He delivered a series of lectures on Hindu law at the
Society, which were published after his death. Ellis had a high regard
for Tamil poet-saint
Tiruvalluvar and his Thirukkural. He
translated 18 chapters of the Aratthupaal (one division of Thirukkural
dealing with law and virtue) into English in a non-metrical verse. 13
of those chapters were published by the College press during Ellis'
lifetime. Ellis was also the first scholar to decipher and
explain the first century CE "
Cochin Grants" given to the Anjuvannam
Jewish community in Cochin. In addition to the "Dravidian Proof",
Ellis wrote three dissertations - on Tamil, Telugu, and
When Ellis died in Ramnad, he left some of his papers — philological
and political — to Sir Walter Elliot, on whose death they passed to
G. U. Pope, who had them placed in the
Bodleian Library at Oxford.
According to Sir Walter, many of Ellis' unpublished works were lost
when they were burned by the cook of the
Madurai collector Rous
Petrie. Ellis did not publish them earlier because he wanted to do
so only after becoming a "ripened scholar at forty years". As
an administrator, Ellis was well liked by his Indian subjects. His
Dindigal bears two inscriptions - one in English and the
other in Tamil. The English inscription reads:
Uniting activity of mind with versatility of genius, he displayed the
same ardour and happy sufficiency on whatever his varied talents were
employed. Conversant with the Hindoo languages and Literature of the
Peninsula, he was loved and esteemed by the Natives of India, with
whom he associated intimately.
Iyothee Thass has credited Ellis as being the
forerunner of Tamil revivalism in the 19th century.
List of translators into English
^ a b Trautmann 2006, p. 73
^ The Dictionary of National Biography mentions
Cholera as the cause
of his death. But Trautmann writes he died of accidental
self-poisoning.(Trautmann 2006, p. 76). An obituary published in
Literary Gazette and Journal in 1820 says "a fatal accident
terminated his life"
^ Trautmann 2006, pp. 75–76
^ a b c d Burnell, Arthur Coke (2998). Elements of South-Indian
Palabography. BiblioBazaar. p. 35.
ISBN 978-0-554-90622-5. Check date values in: date= (help)
^ Trautmann 2006, p. 74
^ a b c d Blackburn, Stuart (2006). Print, folklore, and nationalism
in colonial South India. Orient Blackswan. pp. 92–95.
^ a b Trautmann 2006, pp. 151–170
^ a b Trautmann 2006, pp. 80–81
^ a b The
London literary gazette and journal of belles lettres, arts,
sciences, etc. The
London Literary Gazette. 1820. p. 12.
^ Trautmann 2006, p. 98
^ Irschick, Eugune. F (1994). Dialogue and history: constructing South
India, 1795–1895. University of California Press. p. 101.
^ Rocher, Ludo (1984). Ezourvedam: a French
Veda of the eighteenth
century. John Benjamins Publishing Company. pp. 18–20.
^ A stone inscription found on the walls of a well at the Periya
palayathamman temple at Royapettai indicates Ellis' regard for
Thiruvalluvar. It is one of the 27 wells dug on the orders of Ellis in
Madras suffered a severe drinking water shortage. In the
long inscription Ellis praises Thiruvalluvar and uses a couplet from
Thirukkural to explain his actions during the drought. When he was in
charge of the
Madras treasury and mint, he also issued a gold coin
bearing Thiruvalluvar's image. The Tamil inscription on his grave
makes note of his commentary of Thirukkural.Mahadevan, Iravatham. "The
Golden coin depicting Thiruvalluvar -2". Varalaaru.com (in Tamil).
Retrieved 25 June 2010.
^ The original inscription in Tamil written in the Asiriyapa meter and
first person perspective: (The Kural he quotes is in Italics)
சயங்கொண்ட தொண்டிய சாணுறு
ஆழியில் இழைத்த வழகுறு
குணகடன் முதலாக குட கடலளவு
என்பதின் பொருளை என்னுள்
..றாச் செல்லா நின்ற
இங்கிலிசு வரு 1818ம் ஆண்டில்
பிரபவாதி வருக்கு மேற்
பஹுதான்ய வரு த்தில் வார
நக்ஷத்திர யோக கரணம்
சுப திநத்தி லிதனோ
^ Zvelebil, Kamil (1992). Companion studies to the history of Tamil
literature. Brill. p. 3. ISBN 978-90-04-09365-2.
^ Trautmann 2006, p. 156
^ Trautmann 2006, p. 77
^ The Asiatic journal and monthly register for British and foreign
India, China, and Australia Vol 26. Parbury, Allen, and Co. 1828.
^ Mahadevan, Iravatham. "The Golden coin depicting Thiruvalluvar -2".
Varalaaru.com (in Tamil). Retrieved 25 June 2010.
^ Venkatachalapathy, A. R. "A Scholar called Ellis". Kalachuvadu
Magazine (in Tamil). Retrieved 25 June 2010.
Trautmann, Thomas. R. (2006). Languages and nations: the Dravidian
proof in colonial Madras. Yoda Press.
Sreekumar, P. 2009.
Francis Whyte Ellis and the Beginning of
Comparative Dravidian Linguistics. Source: Historiographia
Linguistica, Volume 36, Number 1, 2009, pp. 75–95(21) 
Publisher: John Benjamins Publishing Company
Thomas Trautmann's interview published in Frontline