Born on 29 January 1803 in Derbyshire, James Outram was the son of Benjamin Outram, a civil engineer. When his father died in 1805, his mother, daughter of a Scottish writer on agriculture, moved to Aberdeenshire in Scotland in 1810. James Outram was educated at Marischal College, Aberdeen and was sent to Bombay (now Mumbai) as a cadet in 1819. Within a very short time, in July 1820, he became acting adjutant to the first battalion of the 12th regiment on its embodiment at Poona. Subsequently, he fought bravely in the 1st Afghan War (1839–1842) and Sind (1842–1843).
In 1854 he was appointed Resident at Lucknow, and against the wishes of its inhabitants, annexed Oudh on behalf of the East India Company.
However, as the social and political situation that followed after the annexation of Oudh, was not to the entire satisfaction of the East India Company or the British Government, they tried to pacify the situation and tried to bring it under control by creating a reign of terror in the minds of the locals by glorifying the heroic deeds of James Outram.
James Outram was not only a brilliant soldier, but a shrewd diplomat too. With his bravery and intelligence, he brought about many triumphs in military operations to serve the interest of the British and in recognition of his extraordinary services he was conferred upon the dignity of a baronet.
Apart from his military talent and dedication to the duties, there was another interesting trait of his character. He had the habit of collecting books and periodicals, designed to serve the needs of the British troops in India. He gifted that invaluable collection to the Soldiers’ Library at Fort William, before he left the country. Not only that, he was also instrumental in the establishment of the Soldiers’ Institute at Dum Dum and donated the major part of Rupees 10,000, that he receives as a parting gift from the British community in Calcutta, for the development of the Institution.
The Institution, considered to be one of the earliest of its kind, had the aim to create an honest mental setup of the ordinary soldiers, so that they could avoid the possible temptations to which they were particularly exposed. The Institute, opened with high spirit, soon after his departure on July 16, 1860, was named after him, as the Outram Institute. However, subsequently it was merged with the Fort William soldiers’ library and lost its own identity.