The name Thomas Snodgrass will perhaps conjure up for some people an image of an archetypal pen-pushing bureaucrat, and indeed the subject of this tale was a real East India Company civil servant who was appointed writer (clerk) in the Madras Presidency in 1777.
Snodgrass rose to become Collector at Ganjam in Orissa in eastern India, but by 1804 he had left the service under a heavy cloud. The reasons for this can be assumed from the descriptions of a number of files within the India Office Records:
- Mismanagement of the revenue administration of Ganjam District; removal of Thomas Snodgrass as Collector of Ganjam (IOR/F/4/82/1780)
- Snodgrass, Thomas. Apology demanded from, for disrespect towards the Government (IOR/E/4/881, pp. 619-624)
- Snodgrass, Thomas. Enquiry respecting charges of corruption and abuses permitted by, during Collectorship at Ganjam to be completed (IOR/E/4 892, pp. 162, 173-177)
- Memorials from Thomas Snodgrass to the Court of Directors … in defence of his conduct as Collector of Ganjam (IOR/F/4/141/2475)
- Snodgrass, Thomas. Memorial requesting re-admittance to Company’s service not decided upon, and tone of letter severely censured (IOR/E/4/892, pp. 161-169)
Not surprisingly, a difficulty arose later when he tried to claim his pension. How he succeeded in eventually doing so is recounted in the Annals of the Oriental Club, 1824-1858:
“When Mr Snodgrass applied for a pension the East India Company refused to grant it till he satisfied the Directors that there had been no misappropriation of the revenue under his control as Collector. He professed that it was impossible to render an account, his papers having been lost in the wreck of a boat on Lake Chilka. The Hon’ble Court was incredulous; whereupon Mr Snodgrass, meanly attired, posted himself in Leadenhall Street, opposite the India House, and started a new career as a crossing-sweeper. So much sympathy was aroused by the spectacle of a Company’s servant apparently reduced to poverty, that the Court relented and the pension was paid.”
This stunt did not prevent his becoming a founder member of the Oriental Club and also ensured that the Company had to pay him his perhaps ill-gotten pension until he died in 1834.
This article first appeared on the British Library’s Asian and African Studies blog.