1902 Encyclopedia > James Bruce, Earl of Elgin and Kincardine

James Bruce, Earl of Elgin and Kincardine
English politician and colonial administrator
(1811-63)




JAMES BRUCE, EARL OF ELGIN AND KINCARDINE, (1811-1863), was the eighth earl of Elgin and twelfth earl of Kincardine in the peerage of Scotland, and the first Baron Elgin in that of the United Kingdom. The eldest son of Thomas, the seventh earl, by his second marriage he was born in 1811, and succeeded to the peerage in 1841. He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, where he had as companions and rivals his younger predecessors in the office of governor-general of India, Dalhousie and Canning. Mr Gladstone also was one of his juniors at both school and college, and recalls the circumstance that it was from young Bruce he " first learned that Milton had written any prose." As a young man he came into contact with Dr Chalmers, who induced him to speak in public on church extension, and it was to Chalmers's sermon on the " Expulsive Power of a New Affection " that he turned on his deathbed, repeating many passages from it in the last hour. He sat in the House of Commons for Southampton long enough to attach him to the constitutional principles now described as Liberal-Conservative, though he never identified himself with a party.

Lord Elgin began his official career in 1842, at the age of thirty, as governor of Jamaica. He succeeded the great Indian civilian, Lord Metcalfe, who had left the colony in such a state of quietude and prosperity as was possible soon after emancipation. During an administration of four years he succeeded in winning the respect of all classes. He improved the condition of the negroes and conciliated the planters by working through them. In 1846 Lord Grey appointed him governor-general of Canada. Son-in-law of the popular earl of Durham, he was well received by the colonists, and he set himself deliberately to carry out the policy which makes Lord Durham's name remembered there with gratitude to this day. Alike from his political experience in England and his life in Jamaica Lord Elgin had learned that safety lay in acting as the moderator of all parties, while applying fearlessly the constitutional principles of the mother country to each difficulty as it arose. In this his frank and genial manners also aided him powerfully. His assent to the local measure for indemnifying those who had suffered in the troubles of 1837 led the mob of Montreal to pelt his carriage for the rewarding of rebels for rebellion, as Mr Gladstone described it. But long before his eight years' term of service expired he was the most popular man in Canada. His relations with the United States, his hearty support of the self-government and defence of the colony, and his settlement of the free-trade and fishery questions, moreover, led to his being raised to the British peerage.





Soon after his return to England in 1854, Lord Palmer-ston offered him a seat in the Cabinet as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which he declined. But when, in 1856 the seizure of the " Arrow " by Commissioner Yeh plunged England into war with China, he at once accepted the appointment of special envoy with the expedition. On reaching Point de Galle he was met by a force summoned from Bombay to Calcutta by the news of the sepoy mutiny at Meerut on the 11 th May. His first idea, that the somewhat meagre intelligence would justify most energetic action in China, was at once changed when urgent letters from Lord Canning reached him at Singapore, the next port, on the 3d June. H.M.S. "Shannon" was at once sent on to Calcutta with the troops destined for China, and Lord Elgin himself followed it, when gloomier letters from India reached him. The arrival of the " Shannon " gave new life to the handful of white men fighting for civilization against fearful odds, and before the reinforcements from England arrived the back of the mutiny had been broken. Nor was the position in China seriously affected by the want of the troops. Lord Elgin sent in his ultimatum to Commissioner Yeh at Canton on the same day, the 12th December, that he learned the relief of Lucknow, and he soon after sent Yeh a prisoner to Calcutta. By July 1858, after months of Chinese deception, he was able to leave the Gulf of Pecheli with the emperor's assent to the Treaty of Tiensin, whereby concessions were made such as all civilized peoples grant to each other, if only from self-interest. The treaty sanctions the residence of foreign ambassadors in Peking—long secured by the Russians, guarantees pro-tection to Christians, opens the country to travellers with passports, and the Yang-tzse and five additional ports to trade, under a revised tariff. The sum of ¿£650,000 was exacted for losses at Canton, and an equal sum for the expenses of the war. Following the Americans, the apparently successful plenipotentiary visited Japan, and obtained less considerable concessions from its Government in the Treaty of Yeddo. It is true that the negotiations were confined to the really subordinate Tycoon or Shogoon, holding an office since abolished, but that visit proved the beginning of British influence in the most progressive country of Asia. Unfortunately, the Chinese difficulty was not yet at an end. After tedious disputes with the tariff commissioners as to the opium duty, and a visit to the upper waters of the Yang-tzse, Lord Elgin had reached England in May 1859. But when his brother and the allied forces attempted to proceed to Peking with the ratified treaty, they were fired on from the Taku forts at the mouth of the Peiho. The Chinese had resolved to try the fortune of war once more, and Lord Russell again sent out Lord Elgin as ambassador extraordinary to demand an apology for the attack, the execution of the treaty, and an indemnity for the military and naval expenditure. Sir Robert Napier (afterwards Lord Napier of Magdala), and Sir Hope Grant, with the French, so effectually routed the Tatar troops and sacked the Summer Palace that by the 24th October 1860 a convention was concluded, which was " entirely satisfactory to Her Majesty's Government." The treaty and convention have regulated the relations of China with the West to the present time (1878). In the interval between the two visits to China, Lord Elgin held the office of postmaster-general in Lord Palmerston's administration, and was elected lord rector of the university of Glasgow. He had not been a month at home after the second visit when the same premier selected him to be Her Majesty's viceroy and governor-general of India.

Lord Elgin had now attained the object of his honourable ambition, after the office had been filled in most critical times by his juniors and old college companions, the marquis of Dalhousie and the Earl Canning. He succeeded a statesman who had done much to reorganize the whole administration of India, shattered as it had been by the mutiny. Long, too long in grappling with it, as he himself afterwards confessed, Lord Canning had atoned for the sluggishness of his early action by the vigour of his two last years of office, and established his popularity on the firm basis of his land-tenure reforms and his foreign or feudatory policy. Lord Elgin could only develop both, and he recognized this as what he called his " humble task." But, as the first viceroy directly appointed by the Crown, and as subject to the secretary of state for India, Lord Elgin at once gave up all Lord Canning had fought for, in the co-ordinate independence, or rather the stimulating responsibility, of the governor-general, which had prevailed from the days of Clive and Warren Hastings. From his time to the present the old powers of the historic governor-general have been overshadowed by the party influences of the Indian secretary. This subservience was seen in a further blow at the legislature, by which a bill could be published without leave from the Calcutta council, and in the reversal of Lord Canning's measure for the sale of a fee-simple tenure with all its political as well as economic advantages. But, on the other hand, Lord Elgin loyally carried out the wise and equitable policy of his predecessor towards our feudatories with a firmness and a dignity that in the case of Holkar and Oudeypore had a good effect. He did his best to check the aggression of the Dutch in Sumatra, which was contrary to treaty, and he supported Dost Mahomed in Cabul until that aged warrior entered the then neutral and disputed territory of Herat. Determined to maintain inviolate the integrity of our own north-west frontier, Lord Elgin assembled a camp of exercise at Lahore, and marched a force to the Peshawur border to punish those branches of the Yusufzai tribe who had violated the engagements of 1858.





It was in the midst of this " little war" that he died. Soon after his arrival at Calcutta, he had projected the usual tour to Simla, to be followed by an inspection of the Punjab and its warlike ring-fence of Pathans. He even contemplated the summoning of the central legislative council at Lahore. After passing the summer of 1863 in the cool retreat of Peterhoff, Lord Elgin began a march across the hills from Simla to Sealkote by the upper valleys of the Beas, the Ravee, and the Chenab, chiefly to decide the two allied questions of tea cultiva-tion and trade routes to Kashgaria and Tibet. The climbing up to the Rotung Pass (13,000 feet) which separates the Beas valley from that of the Chenab, and the crossing of the frail twig bridge across the Chundra torrent, prostrated him by the time he had descended into the smiling English-like Kangra valley. Thence he wrote his last letter to Sir Charles Wood, still full of hope and not free from anxiety as to the Sittana expedition. At the lovely hill station of Dhurmsala, " the place of piety," he lay on his deathbed, watching the glories of the Himalayan autumn, and even directing Lady Elgin where to select his grave in the little cemetery around the station church, which hangs high on the bluff above the house where he breathed his last. After telegraphing his resignation to the Queen, he lay for a fortnight amid sacred words and holy thoughts, tended by loving and skilful hands, and suddenly gave up the fight with agony on the 20th November 1863. He died of fatty degeneration of the muscular fibre of the heart. He is the second governor-general whose body has a resting-place in India, Lord Cornwallis having found a grave at Ghazeepore, during his second administration. It is vain to speculate what Lord Elgin might have been had he lived to apply the experience gathered during his eventful apprenticeship to Indian administration. Sir John (now Lord) Lawrence, the great Bengal civilian, took up his task. Lord Elgin will be best remembered as the quietly successful governor-general of Canada for eight years.

For his whole career see Letters and Journals of James, Eighth Earl of Elgin (John Murray), edited by Walroncl, but corrected by his brother-in-law, Dean Stanley ; for the China missions see Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's Mission to China and Japan, by Laurence Oliphant, his private secretary; for the brief Indian administratiun see the Friend of India for 1862-63. (G. SM.)




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