The Career and Reputation of Lord Elgin

  • Ronald Hyam


If Balliol College Hall is to qualify for the title of the Valhalla of the British Empire, it lacks one portrait which it ought to have. Viceroy of India (1894–9), colonial secretary (1905–8): surely Elgin should be represented ? All others of its alumni who became proconsuls of the empire are honoured there. The omission of Elgin is hardly accidental. His reputation has suffered a total eclipse.


British Government Total Eclipse Cabinet Minister Indian Politician British Policy 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.

Unable to display preview. Download preview PDF.


  1. 1.
    R. Jebb, The Imperial Conference (1911), ii, 25, quoted by R. B. Pugh in C.H.B.E., iii, 737. The entry in Dictionary of National Biography 1912–21, pp. 71–4: ‘Bruce, Victor Alexander, 9th earl of Elgin’, is very critical of Elgin.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    E. Huxley, White Man’s Country (1953), i, 193;Google Scholar
  3. H. Tinker, Foundations of Local Self-government in India, Pakistan and Burma (1954), p. 60;Google Scholar
  4. S. Gopal, British Policy in India, 1858–1905 (1965), pp. 180, 213;Google Scholar
  5. J. Pope-Hennessy, Lord Crewe, 1858–1945 (1955), pp. 63–4;Google Scholar
  6. J. A. La Nauze, Alfred Deakin: a biography (Melbourne, 1965), ii, pp. 449, 500, 506–7.Google Scholar
  7. 2.
    Deakin, Lugard andJameson expressed their opinions to Austen Chamberlain: see A. Chamberlain, Politics from inside 1906–1914 (1936), pp. 79–80;Google Scholar
  8. C. Petrie, Life and Letters of Sir Austen Chamberlain (1939), i, 198.Google Scholar
  9. 4.
    H. L. Singh, Problems and Policies of the British in India 1885–1898 (1963), p. 5; S. Gopal, British Policy in India, pp. 180–1, both quoting Hamilton papers, Curzon to Hamilton, 5 Apr 1900, 26 Oct 02, and Gopal quoting Curzon papers, Curzon to Selborne, 1900.Google Scholar
  10. 1.
    J. A. Spender, Life, Joumalism and Politics (1927), i, 213.Google Scholar
  11. 1.
    E. Marsh, A Number of People (1939), p. 150.Google Scholar
  12. 6.
    The Amerys made their London home a centre for colonial officials on leave, for dominion statesmen and visitors; crowded receptions were held every week (L. S. Amery, My Political Life, ii (1953), 370).Google Scholar
  13. 2.
    A. Ramm (ed.), Political Correspondence of Mr Gladstone and Lord Granville 1876–1886 (1962), ii, 428, 439, n. 4.Google Scholar
  14. 1.
    G. E. Buckle (ed.), The letters of Queen Victoria, 3rd Series, ii (1931), 300–4, 309, 315–16. R. R. James, Rosebery (1962), p. 290, n. I, quotes Rosebery’s letter to the Queen, 4 Sep 93, in which Rosebery remarked: ‘it seems positively sad to Lord Rosebery that more fit and aspiring men should not be found for this splendid position’, as if it were a comment on Lord Elgin. This is not so. It was rather a comment upon the fitness of Sir Henry Norman, whom Rosebery presumed had accepted. The portion quoted by MrJames is immediately preceded by a sentence which makes this quite clear: ‘Lord Rosebery knows nothing of the new Viceroy, who is obviously too old to undertake the post with safety....’ The misconception which Mr James’s footnote invites, has, unhappily, misled the author of the most recent study of British policy in India: ‘Rosebery had no high opinion of Elgin’s abilities, and presumably urged him to go to India because no one better suited was available’Google Scholar
  15. (S. Gopal, British policy in India, 1858–1905 (1965), p. 180. Dr Gopal also gives the impression that Elgin was made an offer only after Sir Henry Norman had declined).Google Scholar
  16. 2.
    See P. Harnetty, ‘The Indian Cotton Duties Controversy’, English Historical Review, vol. 77 (1962).Google Scholar
  17. 1.
    G.J. Alder, British India’s Northern Frontier 1865–95 (1963), pp. 28–8.Google Scholar
  18. 4.
    VRP. 30/51–3, E to prime minister Rosebery, 7 Jul 95; this letter is reprinted, except for its final paragraph, in C. H. Philips (ed.), The evolution of India and Pakistan 1858–1947 (1962), pp. 464–6; see also VRP. 13/48–51, E to S/S Fowler 10 Apr 95.Google Scholar
  19. 1.
    VRP. 12/60, E to S/S Fowler 10 Jul 94; see also Edith Fowler, Life of H. H. Fowler,first viscount Woluerhampton (1912), pp. 356–63.Google Scholar
  20. 3.
    Elgin’s policy and guiding principles were adopted by Curzon, and reaffirmed in 1904: there was to be no extension in tribal country and no interference whatever with the tribes if it could possibly be avoided. The Liberal government after December 1905 adhered to this policy, as Elgin declared in 1908, after the cabinet approved an expedition against the Zakka Khels, a tribe of raiding and aggressive Pathans (CAB. 41/31/41, 10 Feb 08). In defending government policy on this occasion, Elgin repeated his view that ‘Even without operations for containing territories, we may do a good deal, by helping the promotion of trade and communications, to bring the people to a state of mind and body in which they will not be so liable to make sudden attacks on our posts and garrisons’ (PD. 184/1728–1730, 26 Feb 08). Optimism did not solve the problem of the north-west frontier. In the 1930S Waziristan was the main trouble-spot on the north-west frontier; the tribes were still nomadic, truculent and prone to violence on a major scale. The conventional methods of settlement and control failed consistently when applied to them. A costly and protracted campaign was launched in 1936 to subdue widespread unrest (J.Connell, Auchinleck, a biography (1959), p. 66).Google Scholar
  21. 5.
    ‘I have never known any class of questions to which a man without technical knowledge is more hopelessly at sea than those presented by engineering and railway management’ (Sir Charles Eliot, East Africa Protectorate (1905), p. 215); VRP. 15/132,4 Aug 07.Google Scholar
  22. 6.
    L. C. A. Knowles, The economic development of the British overseas Empire (1924), P. 361.Google Scholar
  23. 6.
    P. E. Roberts, A historical geography of the British dependencies, ed. C. P. Lucas vol. 7, India, pt. 2 (1920),501–2.Google Scholar
  24. 1.
    Sir Mortimer Durand, The Life of Sir George White (1915), pp. 435–6.Google Scholar
  25. 6.
    Earl of Ronaldshay, The Life of Lord Curzon (1923), i, 293.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Ronald Hyam 1968

Authors and Affiliations

  • Ronald Hyam
    • 1
  1. 1.University of CambridgeUK

Personalised recommendations