Wolverhampton BTW

Augustus Prinsep

Prinsep, Augustus, 1803—1830

by Benjamin Colbert

Augustus Prinsep was born 31 March 1803, son of John Prinsep (1746-1830) and Sophia Elizabeth Prinsep, née Auriol (c.1760-1850). In 1819, his father supported his successful petition to enroll in Haileybury College in Hertfordshire, the first port of call for East India Company civil servant trainees. He made rapid progress and was soon appointed a writership, joining several of his older brothers in India where they had established successful and lucrative careers. By 6 February 1822, Prinsep had joined the Judicial Department as ‘Assistant to the Magistrate and to the Collector of Zilla Tirhoot’, and he received several more postings in this department throughout the 1820s.

On 17 January 1828, Augustus Prinsep met his wife-to-be at the East India Company factory port of Kedgeree [Kijri], among a party of voyagers from England whom he had gone to receive. The 23-year-old Elizabeth Acworth Ommanney was cousin to and travelling companion of Marianne Jane (Reeves) James, the wife of the newly appointed Lord Bishop of Calcutta, John Thomas James (1786-1828; ODNB). Frequently in each other’s company during the ensuing months, the couple were married, Bishop James officiating, at Calcutta Cathedral on 6 June.

Later that June, the Prinseps accompanied the Bishop and his family at the outset of a planned tour of the Upper Provinces, away from the heat in which the Bishop’s health was deteriorating; the party had planned to spend Christmas together at Sherghati, where Augustus Prinsep had been recently appointed zillah judge. That Christmas was not to be and the Prinseps parted company with their friends at Bhagalpur in late July.

By the time that Bishop James died in August 1828, the Prinseps were installed in Sherghati, where Augustus contracted tuberculosis and began his own decline. Persuaded by his physicians to undertake a recuperative sea voyage, he embarked on a year-long voyage to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania) from March 1829. According to one biography, Elizabeth Prinsep travelled separately, joining her husband at Singapore (‘Elizabeth Acworth Prinsep’), by then having given birth to their first child, Georgiana, who did not survive. They arrived in Hobart Town on 22 September, where they remained until March 1830, the entire voyage giving rise to Augustus’s posthumous Journal of a Voyage (1833) edited by his widow and partly illustrated by her drawings.

Despite its literary and artistic produce, the voyage did not have its desired effect, and Augustus’s failing health necessitated a second voyage, this time including a period of leave to return to England. Augustus and Emily shipped aboard the ‘Duke of Lancaster’ bound for Cape Town. While off the Cape and eight days before Elizabeth was to deliver their second daughter, Augusta Emily Becher Prinsep (1830-1909), Augustus Prinsep died at sea, 10 October 1830.

In addition to her edition of the Journal of a Voyage, Elizabeth Prinsep also published with Smith, Elder, and Co. an edition containing Augustus’s fiction, The Baboo, and Other Tales Descriptive of Society in India (2 vols., 1834), the title work containing scenes based upon their journey up-river in the company of the Bishop's party. According to Augustus’s brother, Henry Thoby Prinsep, The Baboo had been left unfinished, and he himself supplied the five or six final chapters. Besides these posthumous works, members of the Prinsep family were also likely to have been the source of a tract published in The Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society (1846) entitled ‘On the traces of Feudalism in India, and the condition of Lands now in a comparative state of Agriculture’.


Allbrook, Malcolm. Henry Prinsep’s Empire: Framing a Distant Colony. Canberra: ANU Press, 2014. Print.

‘Births, Marriages, Deaths’. Asiatic Journal 4 (Feb. 1831): 114. Print.

Brief Memoirs of the Late Right Reverend John Thomas James, D.D. Lord Bishop of Calcutta; Particularly during His Residence in India; Gathered from His Letters and Papers, by Edward James. London: J. Hatchard and Son, 1830. Print.

‘Elizabeth Acworth Prinsep’. Design and Art, Australia Online: Database and E-Research Tool for Art and Design Researchers. Web. 29 Aug. 2017.

Prinsep, Henry Thoby. ‘Three Generations in India, 1770-1904’. TS. British Lib., London.


Title Published
The Journal of a Voyage from Calcutta to Van Diemen`s Land 1833

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