Sir William Wilson Hunter (July 15, 1840 - February 6, 1900), British publicist, son of Andrew Galloway Hunter, a Glasgow manufacturer, was born at Glasgow.
He was educated at Glasgow University (BA 1860), Paris and Bonn, acquiring a knowledge of Sanscrit, and passing first in the final examination for the Indian Civil Service in 1862. Posted in the remote district of Birbhum in the lower provinces of Bengal, he began collecting local traditions and records, which formed the materials for his publication, entitled The Annals of Rural Bengal, a book which did much to stimulate public interest in the details of Indian administration. He also compiled A Comparative Dictionary of the Non-Aryan Languages of India, a glossary of dialects based mainly upon the collections of Brian Houghton Hodgson, which testifies to the industry of the writer but contains much immature philological speculation. In 1872 he brought out two attractive volumes on the province of Orissa and its far-famed temple of Jagannath.
In 1869 Lord Mayo asked Hunter to submit a scheme for a comprehensive statistical survey of the Indian Empire. The work involved the compilation of a number of local gazetteers, in various stages of progress, and their consolidation in a condensed form upon a single and uniform plan. The conception was worthy of the gigantic projects formed by Arthur Young and Sir John Sinclair at the close of the 18th century, and the fact that it was successfully carried through between 1869 and 1881 was owing mainly to the energy and determination of Hunter.
The early period of his undertaking was devoted to a series of tours which took him into every corner of India. He himself undertook the supervision of the statistical accounts of Bengal (20 vols, 1875-1877) and of Assam (2 vols., 1879). The various statistical accounts, when completed, comprised no fewer than 128 volumes. The immense task, of condedsing this mass of material proceeded concurrently with their compilation, an administrative feat which enabled The Imperial Gazetteer of India to appear in 9 volumes in 1881 (2nd ed., 14 vols, 1885-1887; 3rd ed., 26 vols, including atlas, 1908).
Hunter adopted a transliteration of vernacular place-names, by which means the correct pronunciation is ordinarily indicated; but hardly sufficient allowance was made for old spellings consecrated by history and long usage. Hunter's own article on India wam published in 1880 as A Brief History of the Indian Peoples, and has been widely translated and utilized in Indian schools. A revised form was issued in 1895, under the title of The Indian Empire: its People, History and Products.
In 1882 Hunter, as a member of the governor-general's council, presided over the commission on Indian Education; in 1886 he was elected vice-chancellor of the university of Calcutta. In 1887 he retired from the service, was created KCSI, and settled at Oaken Holt, near Oxford. He arranged with the Clarendon Press to publish a series of Rulers of India, to which he himself contributed volumes on Dalhousie (1890) and Mayo (1892). He had previously, in 1875, written an official Life of Lord Mayo, in two volumes. He also wrote a weekly article on Indian affairs for The Times.
But the great task to which he applied himself on his settlement in England was a history upon a large scale of the British Dominion in India, two volumes of which only had appeared when he died, carrying the reader barely down to 1700. He was much hindered by the confused state of his materials, a portion of which he arranged and published in 1894 as Bengal Manuscript Records, in three volumes. A delightful story, The Old Missionary (1895), and The Thackerays in India (1897), a gossipy volume which appeals to all readers of The Newcomes, may be regarded as the relaxations of an Anglo-Indian amid the stress of severer studies.
In the winter of 1898-1899, in consequence of the fatigue incurred in a journey to the Caspian and back, on a visit to the sick-bed of one of his two sons, Hunter was stricken down by a severe attack of influenza