Childhood & Early Life
Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was born on April 18, 1809, at Entally-Padmapukur, Kolkata, India, to a Portuguese father, Francis, a highly respected member of the Anglo-Indian community, and an English mother.
From 6-14 (1) years of age, he studied at ‘Dhurramtallah Academy’, where he was an excellent student. He is said to have won many awards in school and was even mentioned in some local newspapers of the time, like ‘Calcutta Journal’ and ‘India Gazette.’
At the age of 14, he left school to join his father’s business in Kolkata. But he is said to have later migrated to the distant city of Bhagalpur, which was located on the banks of the river Ganga.
From 15-16 years of age, he began composing poetry that was inspired by the beauty of the river Ganga.
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By the time Henry Louis Vivian Derozio was 17 years old, most people thought of him as a highly regarded thinker and an academic.
He began attracting quite a crowd wherever he went, especially brilliant young boys and smart men who were gaining an education at local colleges.
He had become a free thinker by then and openly spoke about his ideas. He taught his followers to question everything in society and think in a free manner. He encouraged them to develop a sense of independence, justice and equality.
His modern thoughts and ideas gave rise to the ‘Young Bengal’ movement, that was the start of the intellectual renaissance in Bengal. His followers soon began to be called ‘Derozians’.
By 1825, inspired by the romantic and Oriental poetry of poets such as Southey and Byron, he had begun composing poems that were being published in several different periodicals and newspapers of the time.
In May 1826, he became a professor of English literature and history at the newly established ‘Hindu College’ in Kolkata.
Besides the curriculum, he also taught his students to question societal norms and set up argument panels to discuss free ideas.
In 1828, with the help of his students, he set a debate and literary club that was christened ‘Academic Association’. Its members included both the foreign as well as local population of Bengal. Topics like philosophy and religion were discussed in detail at this club.
Soon, he was the assistant headmaster of the college. But under the pressure of prominent families whose children studied at ‘Hindu College’, he was fired from his position on account of his free-thinking ideas that challenged established norms and questioned society’s thoughts on religion and culture.
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Thereafter, he became the editor of ‘The East Indian’, an English daily. He also started getting involved in the affairs and development of the Anglo-Indian and Eurasian community of Bengal.
In May 1831, his follower, Krishna Mohan Banerjee, established ‘The Inquirer’, a weekly English newspaper, and in June 1831,‘Jnananvesan’, a Bengali newspaper, was started by Rasik Krishna Mallick and Dakshinaranjan Mukherjee. Both the publications vehemently questioned and attacked orthodox Hindu beliefs.
He is said to have inspired his students to work towards higher and free ideals, which led some of them like Tarachand Chakraborti, to attaining high positions in communities like ‘Brahmo Samaj’.
He is also said to have turned many higher caste Hindus towards Christianity even though, reportedly, he was himself an atheist.
In 1827, his first book titled ‘Poems’ was published.
In 1828, one of his most famous books and his second volume of English poetry, ‘The Fakeer of Jungheera: A Metrical Tale and Other Poems,’ was published.
In 1907, his third book was posthumously published as ‘The Poetical Works of Henry Louis Vivian Derozio’.
Awards & Achievements
On December 15, 2009, the Indian government issued a commemorative postage stamp in his honour.
A school in Agartala, Tripura, India, was renamed to ‘Henry Derozio Academy’ by the local authorities.
To honour the memory of its former academic, the auditorium of ‘Hindu College’ has been renamed to ‘Derozio Hall’.
Family & Personal Life
Though he was of mixed descent, he was very patriotic and always considered himself to be a Bengali and an Indian.
On December 26, 1831, he passed away from cholera at an extremely young age of 22 years.
He was buried at ‘South Park Street Cemetery’ in Kolkata.
Since he was partly of Portuguese origin, his family name was originally ‘D’Rozario' and was also known as ‘De Rozario’.
Many of his followers from the ‘Young Bengal’ movement attained high positions in the fields of journalism, social reform and justice.
He is said to have been fond of acting and successfully performed in many school plays.