Rammohun Roy was a celebrity in Victorian England

On 27 September 1833, Roy died of meningitis in Bristol, where several landmarks – a Hindu architecture-style tomb, statue and a life size portrait – continue to draw many Indians and other followers of his life and work.

Rammohun Roy has been the focus of much academic study, but the new book by American academic Lynn Zastoupil focuses exclusively on his time in England before his death.

The book, titled 'Rammohun Roy and the Making of Victorian Britain', published by Palgrave Macmillan, details how he enjoyed a reception in England that no other previous visitor from India was given.

His celebrity status followed him everywhere. Zastoupil told PTI: "Rammohun enjoyed transnational fame, celebrated in Britain and across the European continent, as well as in the fledgling United States of America. The last two years of his life were spent in Britain, where he enjoyed a reception accorded no previous visitor from the subcontinent".

"Hosted by royalty and nobility, eagerly sought after for dinner invitations and salon gatherings, mobbed by crowds wherever he went—with British newspapers reporting his whereabouts in a manner that foreshadows the treatment of movie or rock stars today—Rammohun was 'the lion of the season,' as several contemporaries noted," he added.
From the moment he arrived in Liverpool, Roy was besieged by visitors and invitations, his social calendar was filled, and his whereabouts were publicised.

A train ride to Manchester was widely reported in local newspapers, while the crowds were large enough to require police intervention.

The book reveals that the royal family enjoyed his company while he was seated near the throne in the House of Lords during the debate on the reform bill.
What he ate or did not eat at festive dinners was also reported.

One of the visitors who waited until midnight to meet Roy but went away disappointed and 'in despair' was Thomas Macaulay, whose 'minutes on education' were to later set the stage for western education in India.

Roy's opinions were represented and misrepresented in print to the point that Rammohun asked 'The Times' not to print any more such accounts.
At least on one occasion, a baby was baptised in his presence and christened Thomas Rammohun Roy in his honour.

Zastoupil, who recently delivered seminars on his research in Bristol, notes that Roy, like other celebrities, was also hounded by gossip and rumour.

He writes: "The son – Rajaram – he adopted and brought with him to Britain had set tongues wagging in Calcutta about a Muslim mistress. In Britain, there was talk of romantic involvement with English women, even a private marriage…Lucy Aikin was linked to Rammohun in this fashion".

Zastoupil told PTI: "The celebration by British reformers of Rammohun as a fellow reformer was serious enough to lead Jeremy Bentham and others to suggest that Rammohun stand for parliament in 1831-1832."

He added: "Although it would take another sixty years for Dadabhai Naoroji to turn the idea of an Indian MP into reality, the fact that the idea was first broached during Rammohun's visit to Britain is an important indicator of his stature.

"My overall conclusion is that Rammohun is not only important to the history of modern India, but also to that of the British Isles; his fame sheds fresh light on the people and forces shaping an emerging Victorian Britain".

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