Allan Octavian Hume

British Ornithologist and Founder of the Indian National Congress

Allan Octavian Hume, CB ICS (4 June 1829 – 31 July 1912) was a member of the Imperial Civil Service (later the Indian Civil Service), a political reformer, collector of Madurai & administrator southern Bombay harbour ports. He was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress. A notable ornithologist, Hume has been called "the Father of Indian Ornithology" and, by those who found him dogmatic, "the Pope of Indian ornithology".

Allan Octavian Hume
Allan Octavian Hume (1829–1912)
(scanned from a Woodburytype)
Born(1829-06-04)4 June 1829
Died31 July 1912(1912-07-31) (aged 83)
Alma materUniversity College Hospital
East India Company College
Known forCo-founder of Indian National Congress
Father of Indian Ornithology
Mary Anne Grindall (m. 1853)
ChildrenMaria Jane "Minnie" Burnley
Parent(s)Joseph Hume (father)
Maria Burnley (mother)

As an administrator of Etawah, he saw the Indian Rebellion of 1857 as a result of misgovernance and made great efforts to improve the lives of the common people. The district of Etawah was among the first to be returned to normality and over the next few years Hume's reforms led to the district being considered a model of development. Hume rose in the ranks of the Indian Civil Service and, in 1871 to the position of secretary to the Department of Revenue, Agriculture, and Commerce under Governor-General Lord Mayo.

He left India in 1894 to live in London from where he continued to take an interest in the Indian National Congress. After retiring from the civil services and towards the end of Lord Lytton's rule, Hume observed that the people of India had a sense of hopelessness and wanted to do something, noting "a sudden violent outbreak of sporadic crime, murders of obnoxious persons, robbery of bankers and looting of bazaars, acts really of lawlessness which by a due coalescence of forces might any day develop into a National Revolt." Concerning the British government, he stated that a studied and invariable disregard, if not actually contempt for the opinions and feelings of our subjects, is at the present day the leading characteristic of our government in every branch of the administration. The idea of the Indian Union took shape and Hume initially had some support from Lord Dufferin for this, although the latter wished to have no official link to it. It has been suggested that the idea was originally conceived in a private meeting of seventeen men after a Theosophical Convention held at Madras in December 1884. Hume took the initiative, and it was in March 1885, when the first notice was issued convening the first Indian National Union to meet at Poona the following December.

He attempted to increase the Congress base by bringing in more farmers, townspeople and Muslims between 1886 and 1887 and this created a backlash from the British, leading to backtracking by the Congress. Hume was disappointed when Congress opposed moves to raise the age of marriage for Indian girls and failed to focus on issues of poverty. Some Indian princes did not like the idea of democracy. In 1892, he tried to get them to act by warning of a violent agrarian revolution but this only outraged the British establishment and frightened the Congress leaders. Disappointed by the continued lack of Indian leaders willing to work for the cause of national emancipation, Hume left India in 1894. Many Anglo-Indians were against the idea of the Indian National Congress. The press in India tended to look upon it negatively, so much so that Hume is said to have held a very low opinion of journalists even later in life. A satirical work published in 1888 included a character called "A. O. Humebogue".

The organizers of the 27th session of the Indian National Congress at Bankipur (26–28 December 1912) recorded their "profound sorrow at the death of Allan Octavian Hume, C.B., father and founder of the Congress, to whose lifelong services, rendered at rare self-sacrifice, India feels deep and lasting gratitude, and in whose death the cause of Indian progress and reform sustained an irreparable loss."