1902 Encyclopedia > Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough

Edward Law, 1st Earl of Ellenborough
Governor-General of India (1841-44)




EDWARD LAW, EARL OF ELLENBOROUGH, (1790-1871), the eldest son of Baron Ellenborough, noticed above, was born in 1790, was educated at Eton and St John's College, Cambridge, and represented the subsequently dis-franchised borough of St Michael's in the House of Commons, until the death of his father in 1818 gave him a seat in the House of Lords. He was twice married; his only child died young; his second wife was divorced by Act of Parliament in 1830. By the friendship of the duke of Wellington, which he retained all through his Indian career, Lord Ellenborough was appointed lord privy seal, and then president of the Board of Control, in the year 1828. In 1834 and in 1841 for a few weeks he again held the latter office, the duties of which at once made him familiar with the affairs of India, and gave him control over the court of directors. Sir Robert Peel appointed him governor-general with the Queen's approval. He discharged the duties of the high position from the 28th February 1842 to the 15th June 1844, when the directors exercised their power of recalling him. He finally left Calcutta on the 1st August 1844. His Indian administration of two and a half years, or half the usual term of service, was from first to last a subject of hostile criticism. His own letters sent monthly to the Queen, and his correspondence with the duke of Wellington, published in 1874 after his death, enable us to form an intelligent and impartial judgment of his meteor-like career. The events in dispute are his policy towards Afghanistan and the army and captives there, his conquest of Sind, and his campaign in Gwalior. He was fortunate in having as his private secretary Captain (afterwards Sir Henry) Durand, the accomplished engineer officer and statesman, who died in 1871 when lieutenant-governor of the Punjab. Although he was absorbed in military and foreign politics, his administration was fertile in peaceful reforms, due to his colleague, Mr Wilberforce Bird, who purged the police, put down state lotteries, and prohibited slavery, with Ellenborough's hearty support.

The impartial study of Lord Ellenborough's correspond ence in the light of the records and criticisms of the times must confirm the contemporary verdict against him on the questions of Afghanistan and. Sind, and may lead us to approve of his action in Gwalior. All through his brief Indian career, moreover, his severest critics must admire the splendour of his intellect (which put him in the first rank of orators in the House of Lords down almost to the year of his death), the purity of his public patronage, and the energy of his devotion to the service of his country. The same judgment which marked his later criticism of others was wanting when he held the almost irresponsible power of governor-general, to make his rule as useful as it was remarkable. If men like Durand and Wilberforce Bird helped him by the possession of the official and ethical virtues which he lacked, we must not forget that Sir Charles Napier led his Government and himself still farther to that extreme of rashness and impulse which was his bane. And against his only too apparent contempt or indifference for all things not military we must set the statesmanlike views expressed to the Queen and the duke of Wellington on the critical position of Great Britain in the East, and the necessity for strengthening it by military reforms. He repeated what the greater governor-general Wellesley had urged, but in vain, on the East India Com-pany at the beginning of the century, and Dalhousie again in 1854-56. The penalty came in the mutiny campaigns of 1857, as it had been foreshadowed in the Cabul disasters of 1838-42.





It was to retrieve these disasters that Lord Ellenborough was sent out. If he had a difficult task, he found the tide of fortune just on the turn. In his pro-clamation of the 15th March 1842. as in his memorandum for the Queen dated the 18th, he stated with characteristic clearness and eloquence the duty of first inflicting some signal and decisive blow on the Afghans, and then leaving them to govern themselves under the sovereign of their own choice. Unhappily, when he left his council for Upper India, and learned the trifling failure of General England, he instructed Pollock and Nott, who were advancing triumphantly with their avenging columns to rescue the captives, to fall back. Not a word was said of the nine ladies, twenty officers, and fourteen children who were being pursued from prison to prison in the hills, in spite of the heroic efforts of one of their number, Major-General Colin Mackenzie, who still survives, to secure their honourable release. Even such an object as " that of avenging our losses and re-establishing our military character in all its original brilliancy " was declared not now to be justifiable. How this charge was received by the " illustrious " troops of Jellalabad and the advancing conquerors of Ghuznee and Akbar Khan, the Life of Pollock and the journals of the day testify. The shout of indignation was too much even for Ellenborough, but he only added to it derision when he shirked responsibility by directing Pollock and Nott to retire by the roundabout way of Cabul if they could ! The army proved true to the governor-general's earlier proclamation rather than to his later fears; the hostages were rescued, the scene of Sir Alexander Burnes's murder in the heart of Cabul was burned down. Dost Mahomed was quietly dismissed from a prison in Calcutta to the throne in the Bala Hissar, and Ellenborough presided over the painting of the elephants for an unprecedented military spectacle at Eerozepore, on the south bank of the Sutlej. But this was not the only piece of theatrical display which capped with ridicule the horrors and the follies of these four years in Afghanistan. When Sultan Mahmoud, in 1024, sacked the Hindu temple of Somnauth on the north-west coast of India, he carried oif, with the treasures, the richly-studded sandal-wood gates of the fane, and set them up in his capital of Ghuznee. The Mahometan puppet of the English, Shah Shooja, had been asked, when ruler of Afghanistan, to restore them to India; and what he had failed to do the Christian ruler of opposing Mahometans and Hindus resolved to effect in the most solemn and public manner. In vain had Major (now Sir Henry) Bawlinson proved that they were only reproductions of the original gates, to which the Ghuznee Moulvies clung merely as a source of offer-ings from the faithful who visited the old conqueror's tomb. In vain did the Hindu sepoys show the most chilling indifference to the belauded restoration. Ellenborough could not resist the temptation to copy Napoleon's magniloquent proclamation under the Pyramids. The desecrated or fraudulent folding doors—more " glorious trophy of successful warfare" than the heroic hostages whose names Lady Sale's Journals, Mackenzie's martyr-like courage, and Vincent Eyre's book have made im-perishable—were conveyed on a triumphal car to the fort of Agra, and there they lie among the old muskets to this day. That Somnauth proclamation was the first step towards its author's recall, but it had the one good result of calling forth Lord Macaulay's most brilliant philippic in the House of Commons on the 9th March 1843.

Hardly had Ellenborough issued his medal with the legend " Pax Asia? Bestituta " when he was at war with the Ameers of Sind. The tributary Ameers had on the whole been faithful, for Major (afterwards Sir James) Outram con-trolled them. But he had reported the opposition of a few, and Ellenborough ordered an inquiry. His instructions were admirable, in equity as well as energy, and if Outram had been left to carry them out all would have been well. But the duty was intrusted to Sir Charles Napier, with full political as well as military powers. And to add to the evil, Meer Ali Morad intrigued with both sides so effectually that he betrayed the Ameers on the one hand, while he deluded Sir Charles Napier to their destruction on the other. Ellenborough was led on till events were beyond his control, and his own just and merciful instructions were forgotten. Sir Charles Napier made more than one confession like this : " We have no right to seize Sind, yet we shall do so, and a very advantageous, useful, and humane piece of rascality it will be." The battles of Meanee and Dubba, or Hydrabad, followed; and the Indus became a British river from Kurrachee to Mooltan, soon to be " red " to its source in the glaciers that fringe Kashgaria. Yet, writing to the Queen on the 27th June 1843, he formally pronounced his policy "at once just and expedient," after remarking that " it would not be ungrateful to him to be relieved from a government which he has conducted amidst uninterrupted misrepresentations and calumny."





Sind had hardly been disposed of when troubles arose on both sides of the governor-general, who was then at Agra. On the north the disordered kingdom of the Sikhs was threatening the frontier. In Gwalior to the south, the feudatory Mahratta state, there were a strong and large mutinous army, a Ranee only twelve years of age, an adopted chief of eight, and factions in the council of ministers. Instead of citing the authority of the forgotten treaty of Burhanpore, the governor-general might have pled the public security—he did talk of " humanity "—as a reason for demanding that the state should be intrusted to one regent. Our nominee proved incompetent, his rival showed himself a traitor; Tara Ranee was herself little more than a child; and the Praetorians controlled the whole. Ellenborough reviewed the danger in the un-answerable minute of 1st November 1845, and told Sir Hugh Gough to advance. Further treachery and military licence rendered the battles of Maharajpore and Punniar, fought on the same day, inevitable though they were, a surprise to the combatants. The governor-general, on his charger, exposed himself with characteristic rashness in the thick of the fight, and when it was over he regaled the wounded with oranges and gifts. The treaty that fol-lowed was as merciful as it was wise. The pacification of Gwalior also had its effect beyond the Sutlej, where anarchy was restrained for yet another year, and the work of civilization was left to Ellenborough's two suc-cessors. The idol of the army, he did not leave India without a military banquet, which the duke of Wellington, in an official letter to the earl of Ripon, full of curious reminiscences, refused to condemn. Sir Robert Peel's Govern-ment, which had sent him out, made him a viscount and earl, and put him at the head of the Admiralty. When again in his old office, as almost the last president of the Board of Control under Lord Derby, in 1858, he fell into his old impetuosity, by censuring Canning for the con-fiscation of Oudh, which would have been communistic if it had not proved nominal, and, so far, justified by political reasons. To save the Cabinet he resigned. But for this act of rashness, he might have enjoyed the task of carrying into effect the home constitution for the Government of India which he sketched in his evidence before the Select Committee of the House of Commons on Indian Territories on the 8th June 1852. Paying off his old score against the East India Company, he then advocated the abolition of the Court of Directors as a governing body, the opening of the Civil Service to the army, the transference of the government to the Crown, and the appointment of a council to advise the minister who should take the place of the president of the Board of Control. These suggestions of 1852 were carried out by his successor Lord Stanley, now earl of Derby, in 1858, so closely even in details, that Lord Ellenborough must be pronounced the author, for good or evil, of the present home constitution of the Government of India. After his farewell to official life, the clash and the brilliancy of the earl of Ellenborough found a legitimate ex-pression in his vigilant criticisms of Indian, and his broad and eloquent expositions of European, politics in the House of Lords. To the nation he bequeathed, as his only defence, the publication of his letters already referred to, " without introduction or comment." He died at his seat, Southam House, near Cheltenham, on the 22d December 1871, at the age of eighty-one. The barony reverted to his nephew, the earldom becoming extinct. One of the most able, and certainly the most erratic, of all the governors-general, he survived six of his successors. In many features of his character he resembled his distinguished father.

For the vexed facts of Ellenhorough s career, and his always forcibly expressed opinions, see History of the Indian Administration, (Bentley, 1874), edited by Lord Colchester; Minutes of Evidence taken Before the Select Committee on Indian Territories, June 1852 ; volume i. of the Calcutta Review; the Friend of India, during the years 1842-45 ; and a curious little attack on his Gwalior policy by the Maharaja's superintending surgeon, John Hope, The House of Scindea: A Sketch (Longmans, 1863). General Colin Mackenzie's pamphlets and Sir John Kaye's writings throw further light on the treatment of the captives. The numerous books by and against Sir Charles Napier, on the conquest of Sind, should be consulted. (G. SM.)



Search the Encyclopedia:



About this EncyclopediaTop ContributorsAll ContributorsToday in History
Sitemaps
Terms of UsePrivacyContact Us



© 2005-17 1902 Encyclopedia. All Rights Reserved.

This website is the free online Encyclopedia Britannica (9th Edition and 10th Edition) with added expert translations and commentaries