A.O. Hume

(1829- 1912)
“Mr. Allan Octavian Hume, whose death took place at his residence in Upper Norwood on July 31, at the age of eighty-three, ranks as one of the chief benefactors to the natural history departments of the British Museum. During the latter portion of his career (1849 to 1882) as a Bengal civilian, the deceased gentleman devoted his leisure and much of his fortune to collecting skins and eggs of Indian birds and heads of Indian big game.” This was how A.O. Hume’s death was recorded in the British Archive.

FOUNDER OF THE INDIAN NATIONAL CONGRESS: The quotation given above is the British view of the contribution of A.O. Hume. This ornithologist was a great friend of India and he served India sincerely. Of all the foreigners doing yeomen service to India, A.O. Hume’s name shines like a star. His greatest contribution to India was his founding the Indian National Congress. Hume, the son of Joseph Hume, a prominent Scottish member of the House of Commons, was a brilliant civil service officer of the British Government, was loyal to his motherland and his government, but was equally sympathetic with the miserable predicament of Indians under the British regime. When he was posted as the Director-General of Agriculture in the Government of India, he came into direct touch with the difficulties in which the farmers and farm workers of rural India lived. He took up the case of these poor people and argued for them in the Government. ‘Hints on Agricultural Reforms in India’ was a report he prepared in which he discusses the urgent need for a change in the law and rule governing the agricultural life in India. It is a valued document relevant even now. Soon Hume was appointed Home Secretary for India in 1870, 13 years after the revolt which the British called ‘the Sepoy Mutiny’. Though the administration was taken over from the East India Company by the Queen herself, the situation in India was moving from bad to worse. More taxations, more police atrocities, and the people continued to live in abject poverty and slavery. This was too much for A.O. Hume and in protest against the government’s administrative policies, he resigned from service and entered into a life of peace, away from the madding police and the warring people, and he spent his time mostly in bird watching. He set up a bird museum in Shimla and contributed it later to the British Museum. ‘The Game Birds of India, Burma and Ceylon’ is one of the famous books he wrote. He also launched a quarterly journal styled ‘Strong Feathers’.

But he had already entered into an endeavor towards the formation of a national organization for forming a bridge between the rulers and the ruled and also for informing people of the happenings across the country. He wrote an open letter in 1883 to the educated leaders of Calcutta “to organize an association for the mental, moral, social and political regeneration of the Indian people”, as recorded by historian R. C Majumdar. Some of the Indian national leaders such as Dadabhai Naoroji, C. S. Subrahmoniya Iyer, Surendranath Banerjea, Dewan Bahadur Raghunatha Rao and others held a meeting in Chennai (the then Madras) and discussed the possibility of forming a national organization. This culminated in the birth of the Indian National Congress.   

Venue: Bombay
Time: Noon
Day: December 28 of 1885.
Presided over by: W.C. Banerjea

This historic first meeting of a political party which decided the destiny of India nominated A.O. Hume as the General Secretary.

It was how the Grand Old Party of India, which spearheaded the country’s movement for freedom, took its first step towards the country’s independent future.

And Hume invited leaders from all over India to go to the sessions of the party to discuss the important issues the people wanted to get solved, and to exchange opinions, and to chalk out plans for the future programs.

If it were an Indian who made all this possible, the authorities would not have allowed this to happen, and the Indian National Congress would never have taken form.

Having achieved his life’s greatest mission as history asked him to do, Allan Octavian Hume returned to England in 1894 and continued his pursuit of ornithology and learning and writing. He passed away in 1912.