Montstuart Elphinstone was born on October 6, 1779, in Dumbarton, Dumbartonshire. He entered the Civil Service with the East India Company at Calcutta in 1795. In 1801, he escaped massacre in Benaras by the followers of the deposed Wajid Ali Shah. He transferred to the Diplomatic Service in 1801 and was posted to the court of Peshwa Baji Rao II, became resident at Nagpur in 1804, was sent to the Maratha court at Gwalior in 1807, concluded negotiations with Shah Shuja of Afghanistan about Napoleon's planned advance on India in 1808, and was sent back to the court in Pune in 1811. He was responsible for the defeat of the Peshwa at the Battle of Kirki in November 1817.
He became the Commissioner of the Deccan in 1818 and was the Governor of Bombay between 1819 and 1827. He was reputed to be an enlightened man for his times. Elphinstone returned his kingdom to the Raja of Satara, and their lands to many landowners and temples. He was responsible for the beginning of higher education in Bombay at a time when the opinion in Britain was against educating the "native". Elphinstone College in Bombay was named after him.
He returned to Europe in 1827, and twice refused the Governor Generalship of India, preferring to finish his two-volume work, "History of India" (1841). He died in Surrey on November 20, 1859.