In transcribing the following paragraphs from the Internet Archive online version of The Imperial Gazetteer’s entry on Hindustan, I have expanded the abbreviations for easier reading and added paragraphing and links. This mid-Victorian reference work has substantial sections on both India and Hindustan, and it is not always clear how Victorians distinguished between the two. The title-page bears the date 1856, but internal evidence in various entrees makes clear that the text dates from 1851 or 1852. This discussion of British India has particular importance because it immediately precedes the 1857 Mutiny.— George P. Landow]

The inhabitants of Hindoostan have been estimated to amount to upwards of 150,000,000 (Trigonom. Survey of India, Rep. 1851 , p. 60) by far the greater number of whom are Hindoos; the Mahometans of Arab, Persian, or other descent being vaguely estimated at 10,000,000, and the Europeans, amongst the entire population, at no more than 60,000. The Hindoos are not the aboriginal inhabitants of India; but, having arrived from the northwest, they first occupied that portion of the country to the north of the Nerbudda, called, emphatically, Hindoostan; and subsequently crossed the Nerbudda into the Deccan, or South, where they dispossessed the natives, as before.

Coolies. From Luard’s Views in India. Click on image to enlarge it.

The native tribes, however, were by no means exterminated; and, under the various de nominations of Bheels, Coolies, Catties, Coles, Gonds, &c., they still exist in the peninsula, to the number, it is computed, at the least, of two or three millions. They are mostly of small, active frame, dark-coloured, and with a peculiarly quick and restless eye; uncivilized, or owning only a few importations of Hindoo superstition or civilization. They have little clothing, and few arms, beyond bows and arrows; their ordinary food consists of wild berries and game; they have no repugnance to killing or eating oxen; and they bury their dead, instead of burning them. The aboriginal tribes chiefly inhabit the fastnesses of Gundwana, the Vindhya, and Sautpoora mountain-ranges, and their offsets and continuations, as far east as the hills of Bhaugulpoor (Bengal); they are also to be found on the east frontiers of Bengal, and, in conside rable numbers, in Candeish, Goojerat, and along the line of the west Ghauts. There is, in fact, scarcely any considerable mountain or hill region in India where some of them are not to be found: and the districts they inhabit are the wildest and most unreclaimed portions of the whole peninsula, many of them remaining still unexplored by Europeans.

The Hindoos

Although commonly darker in colour than the rest of the nations composing the Caucasian race, the Hindoos are held to belong to this great division of mankind. They are well formed, and, in some parts of India, as in the Deccan and the upper plain of the Ganges, they are even robust, energetic, and hardy; but the chief bodily character istic of the Hindoos is extreme suppleness and flexibility of the animal fibre; rendering them the best runners, climbers, leapers, and wrestlers in Asia, though incapable of maintaining exertion, or resisting fatigue, for any lengthened period.

The face of the Hindoo is oval; the eyes are uniformly dark brown, with a tinge of yellow in the white; and the hair as constantly long, black, and straight. The upper classes, especially in Hindoostan proper, and eminently so toward the northwest, are nearly as light in colour as the natives of south and central Europe; and they are also far more handsome and tall than the lower classes.

In proportion as we proceed toward the south extremity of the peninsula, the hue of the skin is ob served to darken; until, in the lower castes, it assumes almost the blackness of the negro. The females of the inferior ranks are diminutive, and by no means attractive; but those of the higher are frequently quite the reverse, possessing graceful forms, finely tapered and rounded limbs, soft dark eyes, long fine hair, and a glowing complexion.

As to dress, the labour ing population of both sexes go almost naked; a turban, and a cotton covering around the loins, constituting the whole of their apparel, though the different castes have usually some distinctive peculiarity of costume, indicative of their position in the social scale. Amongst the upper classes, the dress of the females, particularly, is elegant; consisting of a jacket, with half-sleeves, fitting closely to the shape, and often made of rich silk; a flowing garment, of silk or cotton, called a shalice, and so disposed as to fall in graceful folds; embroi dered slippers; and the hands, arms, ankles, and ears, pro fusely ornamented with rings and jewellery. The prevalence of ornament extends throughout nearly all ranks of the population; and it is common to see females adorned with gold armlets, anklets, &c., but with scarcely a shred of clothing.

Subtlety and shrewdness are the most conspicuous mental characteristics of the Hindoos; and they have been properly described as the acutest buyers and sellers in the world. In their manners they are mild and retiring; timidity and indecision are all but universal qualities; and yet, when officered by Europeans, they have proved themselves faithful and obedient soldiers, and courageous in the field. Artifice and deceit, a want of probity and candour, are amongst their conspicuous failings.


Blackie, Walker Graham. The Imperial Gazetteer: A General Dictionary of Geography, Physical, Political, Statistical and Descriptive. 4 vols. London: Blackie & Son, 1856. Internet Archive online version of a copy in the University of California Library. Web. 7 November 2018.

Last modified 10 December 2018