Allan Octavian Hume

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A. O. Hume

Allan Octavian Hume (June 6, 1829 - July 31, 1912) was an early Theosophist, civil servant, political reformer and amateur ornithologist and horticulturalist in British India. He was recipient of some letters from Mahatmas K.H. and M. He was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, a political party that was later to lead the Indian independence movement.

Personal life

A. O. Hume was born in St Mary Cray, Kent, on June 6, 1829.[1] He was the grandson of an East India Company director and son of a well-known political reformer of England and member of the Parliament, Joseph Hume. He was educated at East India Company College, Haileybury, and continued his studies at the University College Hospital, in London, where he studied medicine and surgery.

In 1849 young Hume sailed to India and a year later entered the service of the East India Company (the then governing body in India) in Bengal. In 1853 he married Mary Anne Grindall ("Moggie"), with whom he had a daughter Maria Jane Burnley Hume ("Minnie"). Minnie married Theosophist Ross Scott. Hume's wife Mary died in 1890.

Commemorative stamp issued July 31, 1973.

Hume left India in 1894 and settled at The Chalet, 4, Kingswood Road, Upper Norwood in London. He died at the age of eighty-three on July 31, 1912. His ashes are buried in Brookwood Cemetery. In 1973, the Indian postal department released a commemorative stamp.

Political career

In 1850 Hume joined the Bengal Civil Service and, unlike other Government officials, he undertook the study of native languages. In his early service as a District Officer he began introducing free primary education and creating a local vernacular newspaper, Lokmitra (The People's Friend) in Etawah, the town of present-day Uttar Pradesh.

A few years after he arrived to India Hume had to face the Indian Rebellion of 1857 during which time he was involved in several military actions. His commanding officer, Col. Bannerman, said he was "the pluckiest man he had ever met." For his service Queen Victoria created him a "Companion of the Bath" in 1860, entitling him to use the initials "C.B." after his name.[2]

He was progressive in his ideas about social reform. By 1857 he had established 181 schools with 5186 students including two girls. He advocated women's education, was against infanticide, and enforced widowhood. Later on he founded scholarships for higher education, and maintained that education would play a key role in avoiding revolts like the Indian Rebellion. In 1863 he moved for separate schools for juvenile delinquents rather than imprisonment. His efforts led to a juvenile reformatory.

Hume laid out in Etawah a commercial district known as Humeganj. The high school that he helped build with his own money is still in operation, now as a junior college, and it was said to have a floor plan resembling the letter H. This, according to some was an indication of Hume's imperial ego.[3]

By 1870 he had risen to become Director-General of Agriculture in the central government. But he was having problems with his colleagues, and now his reformist policies became more controversial. He was very outspoken and never feared to criticise when he thought the Government was in the wrong, often intruding into every aspect of administration with his critical opinions.

Hume was critical of the land revenue policy and suggested that it was the cause of poverty in India. Hume proposed to develop fuelwood plantations to provide a substitute heating and cooking fuel so that manure could be returned to the land. He went against the authorities and his superiors were irritated and attempted to restrict his powers. The Government of Lord Lytton dismissed him from his position in the Secretariat. This led him to publish a book on Agricultural Reform in India in 1879. The press declared that his main wrong doing was that he was too honest and too independent. Among the newspapers that protested was The Pioneer, whose editor was Alfred Percy Sinnett, which wrote that this was "the grossest jobbery ever perpetrated." Hume returned to a lesser post on the provincial government, at Allahabad, where he would form a friendship with Mr. Sinnett and would eventually meet Helena Petrovna Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott by the end of that year.

Finally, in 1882, he took an early retirement from the civil service, but remained actively working to improve the Indian national life.

Indian National Congress

Hume's main contribution to Indian life was in founding the Indian National Congress (INC). He had long sympathized with those who suffered under what he regarded as mistaken policies. In 1883 he wrote an open letter to the graduates of Calcutta University, calling upon them to form their own national political movement. That year a political Conference was held at Albert Hall in Calcutta. Hume wanted to see India free from the reactionary bureaucracy but he did not contemplate the separation of India from the British Empire.[4]

It is said that the idea of and All-India Congress was conceived in a private meeting of seventeen men after the 1884 Theosophical Convention held at the International Headquarter of the Theosophical Society, in Adyar.[5]

Mr. Hume took the initiative and in March 1885 it was decided to organize the first session of the INC in Poona, considered to be the most central and suitable place. He was elected General Secretary of the Congress and held that position from 1884-91.[6] The INC became the leader of the Indian Independence Movement, with over 15 million members and over 70 million participants in its struggle against British rule in India. Today, he is widely regarded as the father and founder of the Indian Congress.

His work in ornithology

Signed photo of Hume

Hume was always interested in science. He became an outstanding authority as an ornithologist, for he pursued his hobbies with the same zeal as he pursued his political ideals. Hume has been called "the Father of Indian Ornithology" and, by those who found him dogmatic, "the Pope of Indian ornithology."

He built a systematic plan to survey and document the birds of the Indian Subcontinent. He made several expeditions to collect birds, both on health leave and where work took him, and in the process he accumulated the largest collection of Asiatic birds in the world, which he housed in a museum and library at his home in Rothney Castle on Jakko Hill, Simla.

He made many new identifications, and a number of Indian species were given their common names by him (Hume's Babbler, Hume's Bush Warbler and so on).

He was preparing a massive publication on all the birds of India, but this work was lost in 1885 when all his manuscripts were stolen and sold by a servant as waste paper. This event, as well as a damage of his personal museum and specimens caused by heavy rains in Simla made Hume reduce his interest in ornithology. He wrote to the British Museum wishing to donate his collection on certain conditions that the Museum was unable to meet. It was only after the destruction of nearly 20000 specimens that the Museum authorities visited India in 1884 to take care of the specimens. The Hume collection of birds consisted of 82,000 specimens of which 75,577 were finally placed in the Museum.


On February 25 1879, soon after H. P. Blavatsky and Col. H. S. Olcott landed at Bombay, India, the editor of the influential newspaper The Pioneer, Mr A. P. Sinnett, wrote to them expressing his desire to become acquainted with them, and his willingness to publish any information which they liked to give him about their mission in India. On December 2 of that year the Founders visited Mr and Mrs Sinnett at their house in Allahabad, where they met Mr. Hume.

The following year the Founders visited the Sinnetts at their summer home in Simla, where the psychic phenomena published in the book The Occult World took place. Mr. Hume and his wife were present at the meetings and actively involved in these happenings, as in the case of the "Brooch Incident No. 1" which took place at the Humes' home on October 3, 1880. It was at this time that A. P. Sinnett entered into correspondence with one of the Mahatma K. H.. These remarkable documents have been published in The Mahatma Letters to A. P. Sinnett. After Sinnett showed him the letters he had received from the Master, Hume wrote to Mahatma K. H. and he also received a reply.

On August 21, 1881, both Mr. and Mrs. Hume were admitted as members of the Theosophical Society.[7] On that same day, an Anglo-Indian Branch was formed at Simla, called the "Simla Eclectic Theosophical Society" with Mr. Hume as its president. This Branch collapsed after a few years.

Out of this correspondence with the Mahatmas, Mr. Hume published two works entitled Hints on Esoteric Theosophy where he shared his views on the reality of Theosophy and the Mahatmas. He also started a column in The Theosophist entitled Fragments of Occult Truth, of which he produced three installments.

In the fall of 1882 Hume resigned his post in the Simla Branch of the Society and his relationship with the Theosophical Society and the founders became tense.

Mr. Hume's opinion concerning Blavatsky and the Mahatmas between 1884-85 is reflected in the Hodgson Report:

Mr. Hume's position at present is that 'despite all the frauds perpetrated, there have been genuine phenomena, and that, though of a low order, Madame [Blavatsky] really had and has Occultists of considerably though limited powers behind her; that K.H. is a real entity, but by no means the powerful and godlike being he has been painted, and that he has had some share, directly of indirectly ... in the production of the K.H. letters.'[8]

He eventually lost interest in Theosophy, though he remained a vegetarian (and was a vice president of the British Vegetarian Society). Through his contact with the Mahatmas he acquired a new vision of the possibilities of the Indian national life and became inspired to sponsor the Indian National Congress.[9]

Hume and the Mahatmas

When Mr Sinnett showed Hume the beginning of his correspondence with Mahatma K.H., Hume decided to send a letter himself. This letter is not available, but the Mahatma commented that his "first letter was so sincere, its spirit so promising, the possibilities it opened for doing general good seemed so great, that . . . I carried it to our venerable Chief" [10]

Mr. Hume received as answer a very interesting letter where the Master touches upon several important points. To Hume's question: "What good is to be attained for my fellows and myself (the two are inseparable) by these occult sciences?" the Mahatma K. H. answers addressing Hume's concern about the betterment of Indian natives and his interest and early work in the field of education:

When they [the natives] come to realise that the old "divine" phenomena were not miracles, but scientific effects, superstition will abate. Thus the greatest evil that now oppresses and retards the revival of Indian civilisation will in time disappear. The present tendency of education is to make them materialistic and root out spirituality. With a proper understanding of what their ancestors meant by their writings and teachings, education would become a blessing whereas now it is often a curse.[11]

The Master also addressed Hume interest in science. He explained that the occult science is not interested in mere description of facts but on whatever can result in a moral upliftment of humanity:

Now for us poor and unknown philanthropists, no fact of either of these sciences is interesting except in the degree of its potentiality of moral results, and in the ratio of its usefulness to mankind. And what, in its proud isolation, can be more utterly indifferent to every one and everything, or more bound to nothing, but the selfish requisites for its advancement than this materialistic and realistic science of fact? May I not ask then without being taxed with a vain "display of science" what have the laws of Faraday, Tyndall, or others to do with philanthropy in their abstract relations with humanity viewed as an integral whole? What care they for MAN as an isolated atom of this great and harmonious Whole, even though they may sometimes be of practical use to him?[12]

For this reason the Master did not value much Hume's remarkable work in the field of ornithology:

You are content to spend your life in a work which aids only that same exact science. You cause a waste of cosmic energy by tons, to accumulate hardly a few ounces in your volumes — to speak figuratively. . . Give to your fellow creatures half the attention you have bestowed on your "little birds," and you will round off a useful life with a grand and noble work. [13]

Hume did not appreciate this remark and evidently let the Master know about his feelings. The Master's answer, received in Dec. 1880, reads:

Your “little birds” have, no doubt, since you so believe, done much good in their way and I certainly never dreamt of giving offence by my remark that the human race and its welfare were at least as noble a study, and the latter as desirable an occupation, as ornithology.[14]

It is possible that his loss of interest in ornithology in 1885 and his decision to lead the formation of the Indian National Congress was influenced, at least in part, by the correspondence with the Mahatmas.

As to why the Mahatmas agreed to enter in correspondence with him and Mr. Sinnett, the Master K.H. wrote:

Your sagacity, my kind friend, will have suggested long ago, that it is not so much because of your combined personal virtues — though Mr. Hume I must confess, has run up a large claim since his conversion — or my personal preferences for either of you, as for other and very apparent reasons. Of all our semi-chelas you two are the most likely to utilise for the general good the facts given you. You must regard them received in trust for the benefit of the whole Society; to be turned over, and employed and re-employed in many ways and in all ways that are good. If you (Mr. Sinnett) would give pleasure to your trans-Himalayan friend, do not suffer any month to pass without writing a Fragment, long or short for the magazine, and then, issuing it as a pamphlet — since you so call it.[15]

In 1881 or 1882, Hume received a lengthy letter from Master K.H. that was published in Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series as Letter 43. K. H. is plainly disappointed that Hume chose to study Advaita Vedanta with "a good old swami" rather than paying more attention to the Mahatmas with whom he was already receiving instruction:

You are, of course, at liberty to try and learn something, since it seems that we could teach you nothing. Only since two professors of two different schools — like the two proverbial cooks in the matter of sauce — can succeed but in making confusion still worse confounded, I believe I better retire from the field of competition altogether; at any rate, until you think yourself in a better Position to understand and appreciate our teachings as you express it...

Whenever you need me, and when you have done your study with the ‘Swami’ — then I will be again at your Service.[16]

Hume's feelings and actions along with his moral weakness brought him more and more under undesirable influences, which made him ultimately fail. Master K.H. wrote to A. P. Sinnett:

He is pushed on and half maddened by evil powers, which he has attracted to himself and come under subjection to by his innate moral turbulence. Near him lives a fakir who has an animalizing aura about him; the parting curses — I dare not say they were unjust or unprovoked — of Mr. Fern have produced their effect; and while his own self-painted adeptship is entirely imaginary, he has nevertheless, by the injudicious practice of pranayam, developed in himself to some extent mediumship — is tainted for life with it. He has opened wide the door to influences from the wrong quarter, and is, henceforth almost impervious to those from the right.[17]


The Union Index of Theosophical Periodicals lists 18 articles by or about AO Hume and 6 more under Allan Hume or Allan Octavian Hume.

  • The Game Birds of India in three volumes. Coauthor Marshall. Calcutta: Central Press, 1880 [for third volume]. The third volume was advertised in an early issue of The Theosophist: "This great work - the cheapest of the kind ever published - ought to be in the library of every Native gentleman who has £5 to spare."Editor [probably H. P. Blavatsky], "The Game Birds of India," The Theosophist 1.8 (May, 1880), 214.</ref>

See also

Additional resources


  1. 19011 England Census.
  2. Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 629.
  3. Agricultural Development in British India by Bret Wallach.
  4. Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 631.
  5. B. Pattabhi Sitaramayya, The History of the Indian National Congress. (Madras: Working Committee of the Congress, 1935), 16.
  6. Sven Eek, Damodar and the Pioneers of the Theosophical Movement (Adyar, Madras: The Theosophical Publishing House, 1965), 631.
  7. Theosophical Society General Membership Register, 1875-1942 at See book 1, entries 829, 830 (website file: 1A/30).
  8. Richard Hodgson, Proceedings of the Society for Psychical Research, Volume 3, December 1885, p. 275.
  9. Curupumulage Jinarajadasa, The Golden Book of the Theosophical Society (Adyar, Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1925), 57.
  10. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 11 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 31.
  11. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence Appendix I (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 474.
  12. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence Appendix I (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  13. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence Appendix I (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  14. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 11 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), ???.
  15. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 68 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 202-203.
  16. C. Jinarajadasa, Letters from the Masters of the Wisdom, First Series (Adyar, Chennai, India: Theosophical Publishing House, 2011), 90-99.
  17. Vicente Hao Chin, Jr., The Mahatma Letters to A.P. Sinnett in chronological sequence No. 102 (Quezon City: Theosophical Publishing House, 1993), 349.