Mountstuart ElphinstoneFRSE (6 October 1779 – 20 November 1859) was a Scottish statesman and historian, associated with the government of British India. He later became the Governor of Bombay (now Mumbai) where he is credited with the opening of several educational institutions accessible to the Indian population. Besides being a noted administrator, he wrote books on India and Afghanistan.
Born in Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire (now Dunbartonshire) on 6 October 1779, and educated at the Royal High School, Edinburgh, he was the fourth son of the 11th Baron Elphinstone, by Anna, daughter of Lord Ruthven, in the peerage of Scotland. Having been appointed to the civil service of the British East India Company, of which one of his uncles was a director, he arrived at Calcutta (now Kolkata) early in 1796 where he filled several subordinate posts. In 1799, he escaped massacre in Benares (now Varanasi) by the followers of the deposed Nawab of AwadhWazir Ali Khan. In 1801 he was transferred to the Diplomatic Service where he was posted as the assistant to the British resident at the court of the Peshwa ruler Baji Rao II.
In the Peshwa court he obtained his first opportunity of distinction, being attached in the capacity of diplomatist to the mission of Sir Arthur Wellesley to the Marathas. When, on the failure of negotiations, war broke out, Elphinstone, though a civilian, acted as virtual aide-de-camp to Wellesley. At the Battle of Assaye, and throughout the campaign, he displayed rare courage and knowledge of tactics such that Wellesley told him he ought to have been a soldier. In 1804, when the war ended, Elphinstone was appointed British resident at Nagpur. This gave him plenty of leisure time, which he spent in reading and study. Later, in 1807, he completed a short stint at Gwalior.
In 1808 he was appointed the first British envoy to the court of Kabul, Afghanistan, with the object of securing a friendly alliance with the Afghans against Napoleon‘s planned advance on India. However this proved of little value, because Shah Shuja was driven from the throne by his brother before it could be ratified. The most valuable permanent result of the embassy was in Elphinstone’s work titled Account of the Kingdom of Cabul and its Dependencies in Persia and India (1815).
After spending about a year in Calcutta arranging the report of his mission, Elphinstone was appointed in 1811 to the important and difficult post of resident at Pune (formerly known as Poona). The difficulty arose from the general complication of Maratha politics, and especially from the weakness of the Peshwas, which Elphinstone rightly read from the first. The tenuous peace between the Peshwas was broken in 1817 with the Marathas declaring war on the British. Elphinstone assumed command of the military during an important crisis during the Battle of Khadki also called Third Anglo-Maratha War and managed to secure a victory despite his non-military background. As reparations, Peshwa territories were annexed by the British. Elphinstone became the Commissioner of the Deccan in 1818.