Sir John Malcolm lived from 2 May 1769 to 30 May 1833. He was a soldier and diplomat during the expansion of the British Empire. The wider picture in Scotland at the time is set out in our Historical Timeline.
John Malcolm was the son of a farmer, and was born at Burnfoot on the River Esk just north of Langholm. In 1782, at the age of just 13, he joined the army of the East India Company as a junior officer. On arrival in India, Malcolm distinguished himself by the way he set out to learn a range of oriental languages and understand the associated cultures. In 1792 he took part in the siege of Seringapatam in the Kingdom of Mysore in south-western India. He was then appointed by Lord Cornwallis, the colonial governor, to become the Persian interpreter to a British army unit serving with a Persian-speaking native prince.
In 1795, on his return to India after a spell in Britain, he took part in a campaign in South Africa. He then occupied a series of diplomatic and administrative positions in the colonial government of India. In 1800 he was appointed by Lord Wellesley to the post of Ambassador to Persia, where he negotiated a series of treaties that helped cement the British position in the region, which until then had been under threat from the French. On his return to India in 1801 he was appointed private secretary to Lord Wellesley, later to become the Duke of Wellington.
Malcolm became Resident of Gwalior in 1803, in effect the colonial governor of a number of separate Indian principalities. In 1811 he returned to Britain, and was knighted for his services. His History of Persia was published in two volumes in 1815. In 1817 he returned to India, and as a brigadier-general he took part in the British victory at the Battle of Mahidpur the following year. Between 1827 and 1830 he served as Governor of Bombay. On his return to Britain he was elected as Member of Parliament for Launceton in Cornwall. Sir John Malcolm died in 1833 and was buried first in St James's Church, Westminster, subsequently being moved to the family mausoleum in Kensal Green Cemetery in London. He is commemorated by an over life-size statue in the north transept of Westminster Abbey and a monument in his memory on the top of Whita Hill, overlooking Langholm.