Knight fought for a free of government restraint or
intimidation. An ardent critic of colonial rule, he made the
press a ‘fourth estate’ – a part of the political process in
India. This volume documents the making of the reformer editor,
taking us through his London background and start in Bombay;
the first editorship and creation of the Times of India; the
ill-fated move to Calcutta, the launching of the Statesman; the
London venture; and finally the mature editor coming to terms
with the empire.
Against a backdrop of key events of Indian history from 1857
onwards, Robert Knight’s editorial responses, and his personal
life are all lucidly intertwined in this biography. Edwin
Hirschmann elaborates on the connections of the world of
newsprint with the colonial establishment and Indian people. He
also provides a fresh approach to the Orientalism debate by
deploying the narrative of an Englishman, involved in the age
of the emerging public communication system.
This book will interest scholars and students of modern Indian
history, literature, journalism, practicing journalists as well
general readers interested in biographies.
I soon discovered why, as I began excavating archives, the
files of Knight’s newspapers, and other remote sources.
Knight’s editorial views and their vehement and pungent style
provoked the enmity of many of his Anglo-Indian countrymen,
including three consecutive viceroys. He scorned the view that
Indian people were a part of the body of the buccaneering
seizure of India by the East India Company; he saw them as
equal citizens of Victoria’s global empire and encouraged them
to work for of political rights, a free press, and economic
justice. He applauded the formation of the Indian National
Congress in 1885 and pointed the way for it.
During the course of this forty-year project, I have had the
support and assistance of many many people whom I must thank.
Undoubtedly the first and foremost is late B.J. Kirchner.
Without Bernard Kirchner’s help and his enthusiastic
encouragement, I could never have undertaken this project. A
retired editor of the Statesman, he had married into the Knight
family and introduced me to them. Principal among them was
Hindu (Knight) Kidd, youngest and only surviving child of
Robert. She too urged me to search out the story of her
father’s life. She was 93 when we met; she had been fifteen
when her father died and knew little of his controversies, but
she remembered some crucial childhood details which enabled me
There were Knight’s grandchildren, Imogen (‘Grace’) de Morgan,
Catherine, Lady Peake, George Knight (who thoughtfully provided
a family tree), and his brother, Robert (‘Ivan’) Knight. And
the great-grandchildren: Joan Young, Evelyn (‘Ive’) Knight.
Michael Peake, the Rev. Canon Jeremy Peake, and, especially
helpful in recent decades, Deirdre (‘Sally’) Godwin-Austen. One
great-nephew who filled in some important blanks was Jamie R.
I have had many years of support from my home institution,
Towson University, in Maryland, USA, its Albert S. Cook
Library, and my History Department colleagues, especially Karl
Larew, Ronn Pinceo, Patricia Romero, and Wayne McWilliams.
There was financial supportat various times from the American
Institute of Indian Studies, National Endowment for the
Humanities, and US Educational Foundation in India (and its
I am also grateful to many professional colleagues, of whom the
foremost has been S.R. Mehrotra, of Shimla, who over the
decades has even shared research finds with me. Also Edward S.
Moulton, whose advice and encouragement have been most helpful;
Morman G. Barrier, Marc Jason Gilbert, Uma Dasgupta, T.J.S.
George. Aroon Tikekar, Nilufer Bharuchia, Julie Codell, and my
guru of old, Robert Eric Frykenberg.
There were the libraries and other institutions which extended
their cooperation and hospitality: India National Library,
Kolkata; National Archives of India, New Delhi; the state
archives of Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal, and Maharashtra;
British Library, London; US Library at Johns Hopkins
University; Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi, Nehru Memorial
Museum and Library, New Delhi; Asiatic Society of Bombay; and
the university libraries at University of Bombay; London School
of Economics, Yale University, and University of Manchester.
There was the staff of the Statesman in Calcutta, headed by the
late C.R. Irani, who helped the search for elusive details of
There were my helped and patient editors at Oxford University
The helpers were many, but all errors of omission and
commission belong to only one.
Finally a note on chapterization. I have deliberately kept the
expression ‘The Making…’ in all the chapter titles as I feel
this is the best way to show continuity in Robert Knight’s
life, how it remains constant, how it remains constant, how it
evolves and changes. Theses are not isolated episodes; they
show how changing circumstances tested his beliefs in human
freedom and dignity, his hatred of oppression and injustice,
his faith in Christianity and private enterprise, his growing
doubts about imperialism, etc. At each stage of his life he had
to amalgamate new events into his existing beliefs.
Control of the populace required control of public opinion, and
this required control of mass communications. As long as the
mass media – the newspapers – explained the news from the
rules’ point of view, political events could be kept under
official control. However, the empire was jeopardized when a
dissident such as Robert Knight presented his view of current
events, and in the process dispelled the hallo of omniscience
and omnipotence of the empire. The papers which Knight created
– the Times of India in Bombay and the Statesman in Calcutta –
vigorously criticized the Raj as long as he controlled them.
The Raj was an ill-matched hybrid of British and Indian
concepts and practices. The very thin end of the wedge had been
the trading operations of the East India Company, which led to
the gradual takeover of political power in the subcontinent
(never actually a ‘conquest of India’). Even before the
takeover had been completed, however, British opinion (as
expressed through Parliament’s charter revision acts) demanded
that the Raj curb its authoritarian appetites and recognize the
rights of its subjects. This was implemented by officials in
India in a most reluctant and dilatory manner.
One reason for these demands was the growing numbers of Britons
settling in India after 1820, due to increasing security and
easier transport. Some of these were independent businessmen
and professionals, who felt that the Magna Carta accompanied
them whenever they traveled within ‘their’ empire. Another
reason was the view that god-fearing Englishmen, by seizing
political rule, had also accepted some responsibility for the
welfare of their subjects. As early as 1783, Edmund Burke had
denounced the British predators in India as ‘birds of prey and
passage’ who swooped to plunder. Thomas B. Macaulay, in the
bubbly benevolence of his 1835 ‘Minute on Indian Education’,
urged the Raj to thrust India into the modern world by
providing English education instead of its own.
The British settlers were not walled off from their Indian
neighbours, and ideas and influences spread. The British
interest in community news led to the first newspaper in India,
Hickey’s Bengal Gazette, in Calcutta, in 1780. It published
official announcements, advertising, local gossip, and other
items of local interest. It was soon shut down by authorities,
but others followed. Indians had local purposes, but they soon
saw the advantages of the new print technology, and the first
Indian-run newspaper began in 1816. Like their English
contemporaries, they met immediate local needs, whether these
were market prices, religious discourses, or caste/community
announcements. With such a fragmented audience, these early
newspapers were necessarily fragile and ephemeral. Only with
sturdier roots could they brave the displeasure of the Raj.
Robert Knight broke the path them. More than anyone else, he
made the press a ‘fourth estate’ in India, a part of the
political process. He was the principal founder and first real
editor of both, the Times of India in Bombay and the Statesman
in Calcutta, which under him grew into the foremost newspapers
of western and eastern India, respectively. He often attacked
and provoked the Raj, alienating most of his countrymen, but
spreading ideas and critical attitudes to England-knowing
Indians like ripples on a pond. Therefore, his angry challenges
of official policy and conduct gave Indians a sense of
grievance and purpose which helped pave the way the development
of Indian nationalism in the years which followed. Personally,
it cost him dearly.
This study of Knight shows the reactions of a young Englishman
with a head full of liberal ideals when he encountered the
realities of India. One can see a true believer in the mission
and benevolence of British rule gradually sinking into
disillusion and even despair. Knight worked to improve the
newspapers press of India and develop it into a sturdier and
more respected part of the political scene, despite the
obstructions he faced. Yet, a study of his life shows how this
idealistic man caught in a double-bind grappled again and again
with the puzzle of whether imperial rule of one nation by
another is ever justified. In fact, his imperial rule of one
nation by another is ever justified. In fact, his writings led
to the exposure of ‘scandals of empire’ in those times, rather
than in historical hindsight.
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