Colin Mackenzie lived from 1754 to 1821. He became the Surveyor General of India, and was a collector of art and documents and an orientalist. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
Colin Mackenzie was born in Stornoway in the Western Isles. He began his career as a customs officer working in Stornoway, but at the age of 28 joined the British East India Company as an officer in the engineers. In 1799, he took part in the Battle of Seringapatam, during which Tipu Sultan, the Maharaja of Mysore, was defeated by the British. Between 1800 and 1810, Mackenzie formed part of a team conducting a comprehensive survey of the geography and culture of Mysore, a large state in southern India.
Mackenzie was later appointed Surveyor General of India. He went on to produced some of the first accurate maps of India, and his wider areas of interest and research did much to further knowledge about many aspects of India. He also spent two years working in Java.
But it was India that interested Mackenzie most. He was an avid collector of maps, documents, and artwork, and to further his research he employed assistants to translate manuscripts. He later became especially interested in Indian mathematics and in the Indian system of logarithms. Colin Mackenzie died in Calcutta in 1821 at the age of 67. His extensive collections were left to the British Museum; to the British Library; and to the Indian Government Oriental Manuscripts Library in Madras.