Allan Octavian Hume was a member of the Indian Civil Service, a political reformer, ornithologist and botanist who worked in British India. He was one of the founders of the Indian National Congress, a political party that was later to lead in the Indian independence movement.
A notable ornithologist, Hume has been called “the Father of Indian Ornithology” and, by those who found him dogmatic, “the Pope of Indian ornithology”.
As an administrator of Etawah (now, in UP), he saw the Indian Rebellion of 1857 as a result of misgovernance and made great efforts to improve the lives of the common people. The district of Etawah was among the first to be returned to normality and over the next few years Hume’s reforms led to the district being considered a model of development. His criticism of Lord Lytton however led to his removal from the Secretariat in 1879.
After retiring from the civil services and towards the end of Lord Lytton’s rule, Hume observed that the people of India had a sense of hopelessness and wanted to do something, noting “a sudden violent outbreak of sporadic crime, murders of obnoxious persons, robbery of bankers and looting of bazaars, acts really of lawlessness which by a due coalescence of forces might any day develop into a National Revolt.”
There were agrarian riots in the Deccan and Bombay. Hume suggested that an Indian Union would be a good safety valve and outlet to avoid further unrest. On 1 March 1883 he wrote a letter to the graduates of the University of Calcutta.
The idea of the Indian Union took shape and Hume initially had some support from Lord Dufferin for this, although the latter wished to have no official link to it. Dufferin’s support was short-lived and in some of his letters he went so far as to call Hume an “idiot”, “arch-impostor”, and “mischievous busy-body.” Dufferin’s successor Lansdowne refused to have any dialogue with Hume.
Many Anglo-Indians were against the idea of the Indian National Congress. The press in India tended to look upon it negatively, so much so that Hume is said to have held a very low opinion of journalists even later in life.
The organizers of the 27th session of the Indian National Congress at Bankipur (26–28 December 1912) recorded their “profound sorrow at the death of Allan Octavian Hume.
He also founded the journal Stray Feathers in which he and his subscribers recorded notes on birds from across India.