Alfred Comyn Lyall

Portrait of Alfred Comyn Lyall.

Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall GCIE KCB PC (4 January 1835 – 11 April 1911) was a British civil servant, literary historian and poet.

Early life

He was born at Coulsdon in Surrey, the second son of Alfred Lyall and Mary Drummond Broadwood, daughter of James Shudi Broadwood. He was educated at Eton. His elder brother was already serving with the military in India, and this may have influenced him towards a career in that direction. He attended Haileybury College with that purpose in mind. In 1862 he married Cora Cloete, daughter of Peter Cloete. He died while on a sojourn to Fairford, the home of Tennyson in Freshwater, Isle of Wight.

Indian career

After Eton and Haileybury, he joined the Indian Civil Service in 1856, and served a long career in India. He landed at Calcutta in January 1856. After four months of training he was posted as an Assistant Magistrate at Bulandshahr in Doab, a part of the North-West Provinces. He was there when the Indian Rebellion of 1857 occurred: his house was burned down and he was nearly killed when fleeing as his horse was shot from under him. He joined the Khaki Risala of Volunteers, an irregular European cavalry unit. He helped "pacify" Bulandshahr. In May 1858 he was transferred to Shahjehanpur where he helped "restore order". In April 1861 he returned to England for about eighteen months. On his return to India he was appointed Assistant Magistrate at Agra. In 1864 he was appointed District Manager of Nagpur at Hoshungabad in the Central Provinces, before being appointed Commissioner in Berar in 1867. He was now earning £3000 a year. He went on to become Home Secretary to the Government of India in 1873 and the Governor-General's agent in the state of Rajputana the following year. His next post was as Foreign Secretary to Government of India from 1878 to 1881 (during this period he helped negotiate peace and a monarchy in Afghanistan). He was then appointed Lieutenant-Governor of North West Provinces, and Chief Commissioner of Oudh (North-West Provinces) from 1882 to 1887 (he introduced a degree of local self-government to that area). He also founded the University of Allahabad and became its first Chancellor. He was made an honorary fellow of King's College, Cambridge in 1893.[1] He was made a member of the Privy Council in 1902, having served on the India Council from 1888 to 1902.

Lyall's ideas regarding the development and organisation of society in India were developed principally during the time he spent working in the Central Provinces, Berar and Rajputana between 1865 and 1878. He was, in the opinion of Crispin Bates, "one of the more programmatic of nineteenth century writers on Indian history" and his writings on the subject are "somewhat dubious".[2]


He was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE) in 1887, Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) in 1881 and Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE) in 1896.


His Verses Written in India was published in 1889. He wrote a number of other books on poetry. He wrote also books on Indian history, Warren Hastings, and Alfred Lord Tennyson. His literary achievements brought him advanced degrees, a D.C.L. from Oxford (1889) and an LL.D. from Cambridge (1891), an Honorary Fellow of King's College, Cambridge (1893), and membership in the British Academy (1902).

A more comprehensive list of his known publications is given below:


He married Cornelia Arnoldina Cloete (c. 1836 – 1913) at Stoke-by-Clare, Suffolk on 12 November 1862. They had four children (two sons and two daughters). Their second daughter Mary Evelina (1868–1948) married the Indian civil servant John Ontario Miller (1857–1943). His uncles included George Lyall (1779–1853) Chairman of the East India Company in 1830 and William Rowe Lyall (1788–1857) Dean of Canterbury (1845–1857). His brother James Broadwood Lyall (1838–1916) also served in the Indian Civil Service, becoming Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab. His sister Mary Sybilla (1836–1891) was married to Francis James Holland (1828–1907) Canon at Canterbury Cathedral.


  1. "Lyall, Sir Alfred Comyn (LL891SA)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. Bates, Crispin (1995). "Race, Caste and Tribe in Central India: the early origins of Indian anthropometry". In Robb, Peter. The Concept of Race in South Asia. Delhi: Oxford University Press. pp. 240–242. ISBN 978-0-19-563767-0. Retrieved 2011-12-09.
  3. Schulte, Ed. (1890). "Warren Hastings by Alfred Lyall; English Men of Action". Historische Zeitschrift. 65 (2): 365–366. JSTOR 27597463.

Further reading

External links

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Government offices
Preceded by
Sir George Ebenezer Wilson Couper
Lieutenant Governor of the North-Western Provinces and Chief Commissioner of Oudh
17 April 1882 – 21 November 1887
Succeeded by
Sir Auckland Colvin
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