Letters and Journals of James, Eighth Earl of Elgin
by James, Eighth Earl of Elgin
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Having been consulted by the family and friends of the late Lord Elgin as to the best mode of giving to the world some record of his life, and having thus contracted a certain responsibility in the work now laid before the public, I have considered it my duty to prefix a few words by way of Preface to the following pages.

On Lord Elgin's death it was thought that a career intimately connected with so many critical points in the history of the British Empire, and containing in itself so much of intrinsic interest, ought not to be left without an enduring memorial. The need of this was the more felt because Lord Elgin was prevented, by the peculiar circumstances of his public course, from enjoying the familiar recognition to which he would else have been entitled amongst his contemporaries in England. 'For' (if I may use the words which I have employed on a former occasion) 'it is one of the sad consequences of a statesman's life spent like his in the constant service of his country on arduous foreign missions, that in his own land, in his own circle, almost in his own home, his place is occupied by others, his very face is forgotten; he can maintain no permanent ties with those who rule the opinion, or obtain the mastery, of the day; he has identified himself with no existing party; he has made himself felt in none of those domestic and personal struggles which, attract the attention and fix the interest of the many who contribute in large measure to form the public opinion of the time. For twenty years the few intervals of Lord Elgin's residence in these islands were to be counted not by years, but by months; and the majority of those who might be reckoned amongst his friends and acquaintances, remembered him chiefly as the eager and accomplished Oxford student at Christ Church or at Merton.'

The materials for supplying this blank were, in some respects, abundant. Besides the official despatches and other communications which had passed between himself and the Home Government during his successive absences in Jamaica, Canada, China, and India, he had in the two latter positions kept up a constant correspondence, almost of the nature of a journal, with Lady Elgin, which combines with his reflections on public events the expression of his more personal feelings, and thus reveals not only his own genial and affectionate nature, but also indicates something of that singularly poetic and philosophic turn of mind, that union of grace and power, which, had his course lain in the more tranquil walks of life, would have achieved no mean place amongst English thinkers and writers.

These materials his family, at my suggestion, committed to my friend Mr. Theodore Walrond, whose sound judgment, comprehensive views, and official experience are known to many besides myself, and who seemed not less fitted to act as interpreter to the public at large of such a life and character, because, not having been personally acquainted with Lord Elgin, or connected with any of the public transactions recorded in the following pages, he was able to speak with the sobriety of calm appreciation, rather than the warmth of personal attachment. In this spirit he kindly undertook, in the intervals of constant public occupations, to select from the vast mass of materials placed at his disposal such extracts as most vividly brought out the main features of Lord Elgin's career, adding such illustrations as could be gleaned from private or published documents or from the remembrance of friends. If the work has unavoidably been delayed beyond the expected term, yet it is hoped that the interest in those great colonial dependencies for which Lord Elgin laboured, has not diminished with the lapse of years. It is believed also that there is no time when it will not be good for his countrymen to have brought before them those statesmanlike gifts which accomplished the successful accommodation of a more varied series of novel and entangled situations than has, perhaps, fallen to the lot of any other public man within our own memory. Especially might be named that rare quality of a strong overruling sense of the justice due from man to man, from nation to nation; that 'combination of speculative and practical ability' (so wrote one who had deep experience of his mind) 'which peculiarly fitted him to solve the problem how the subject races of a civilised empire are to be governed;' that firm, courageous, and far-sighted confidence in the triumph of those liberal and constitutional principles (in the best sense of the word), which, having secured the greatness of England, were, in his judgment, also applicable, under other forms, to the difficult circumstances of new countries and diverse times.

'It is a singular coincidence,' said Lord Elgin, in a speech at Benares a few months before his end, 'that three successive Governors-General of India should have stood towards each other in the relationship of contemporary friends. Lord Dalhousie, when named to the government of India, was the youngest man who had ever been appointed to a situation of such high responsibility and trust. Lord Canning was in the prime of life; and I, if I am not already on the decline, am nearer to the verge of it than either of my contemporaries who have preceded me. When I was leaving England for India, Lord Ellenborough, who is now, alas! the only surviving ex-Governor-General, said to me, '"You are not a very old man; but, depend upon it, you will find yourself by far the oldest man in India."' To that mournful catalogue was added his own name within the brief space of one year; and now a fourth, not indeed bound to the others by ties of personal or political friendship, but like in energetic discharge of his duties and in the prime of usefulness in which he was cut off, has fallen by a fate yet more untimely.

These tragical incidents invest the high office to which such precious lives have been sacrificed with a new and solemn interest. There is something especially pathetic when the gallant vessel, as it were, goes down within very sight of the harbour, with all its accumulated treasures. But no losses more appeal at the moment to the heart of the country, no careers deserve to be more carefully enshrined in its grateful remembrance.


Deanery, Westminster: March 4,1872.




Birth and Parentage—School and College—Taste for Philosophy—Training for Public Life—M.P. for Southampton—Speech on the Address—Appointed Governor of Jamaica.



Shipwreck—Death of Lady Elgin—Position of a Governor in a West Indian Colony such as Jamaica—State of Public Opinion in the Island—Questions of Finance, Education, Agriculture, the Labouring Classes, Religion, the Church—Harmonising Influences of British Connexion—Resignation —Appointment to Canada.



State of the Colony—First Impressions—Provincial Politics—'Responsible Government'—Irish Immigrants—Upper Canada—Change of Ministry—French Habitans—The French Question—The Irish—The British—Discontents; their Causes and Remedies—Navigation Laws—Retrospect—Speech on Education.



Discontent—Rebellion Losses Bill—Opposition to it—Neutrality of the Governor—Riots at Montreal—Firmness of the Governor—Approval of Home Government—Fresh Riots—Removal of Seat of Government from Montreal —Forbearance of Lord Elgin—Retrospect.



Annexation Movement—Remedial Measures—Repeal of the Navigation Laws —Reciprocity with the United States—History of the Two Measures—Duty of Supporting Authority—Views on Colonial Government—Colonial Interests the Sport of Home Parties—No Separation!—Self-Government not necessarily Republican—Value of the Monarchical Principle—Defences of the Colony.



The 'Clergy Reserves'—History of the Question—Mixed Motives of the Movement—Feeling in the Province—In Upper Canada—In Lower Canada—Among Roman Catholics—In the Church—Secularisation—Questions of Emigration, Labour, Land-tenure, Education, Native Tribes—Relations with the United States—Mutual Courtesies—Farewell to Canada—At Home.



Origin of the Mission—Appointment of Lord Elgin—Malta—Egypt—Ceylon —News of the Indian Mutiny—Penang—Singapore—Diversion of Troops to India—On Board the 'Shannon'—Hong-Kong—Change of Plans—Calcutta and Lord Canning—Return to China—Perplexities—Caprices of Climate—Arrival of Baron Gros—Preparation for Action.



Improved Prospects—Advance on Canton—Bombardment and Capture—Joint Tribunal—Maintenance of Order—Canton Prisons—Move Northward—Swatow —Mr. Burns—Foochow—Ningpo—Chusan—Potou—Shanghae—Missionaries.



Advance to the Peiho—Taking of the Forts—The Peiho River—Tientsin —Negotiations—The Treaty—The Eight of Sending a Minister to Pekin —Return southward—Sails for Japan.



Embark for Japan—Coast Views—Simoda—Off Yeddo—Yeddo—Conferences—A Country Ride—Peace and Plenty—Feudal System—A Temple—A Juggler —Signing the Treaty—Its Terms—Retrospect.



Delays—Subterfuges defeated by Firmness—Revised Tariff—Opium Trade—Up the Yangtze Kiang—Silver Island—Nankin—Rebel Warfare—The Hen-Barrier —Unknown Waters—Difficult Navigation—Hankow—The Governor-General —Return—Taking to the Gunboats—Nganching—Nankin—Retrospect—More Delays—Troubles at Canton—Return to Hong-Kong—Mission completed —Homeward Voyage



Lord Elgin in England—Origin of Second Mission to China—Gloomy Prospects—Egypt—The Pyramids—The Sphinx—Passengers Homeward bound —Ceylon—Shipwreck—Penang—Singapore—Shanghae—Meeting with Mr. Bruce —Talien-Whan—Sir Hope Grant—Plans for Landing.



The Landing—Chinese Overtures—Taking of the Forts—The Peiho—Tientsin —Negotiations broken off—New Plenipotentiaries—Agreement made—Agreement broken—Treacherous Seizure of Mr. Parkes and others—Advance on Pekin —Return of some of the Captives—Fate of the rest—Burning of the Summer Palace—Convention signed—Funeral of the murdered Captives—Imperial Palace—Prince Kung—Arrival of Mr. Bruce—Results of the Mission.



Leaving the Gulf—Detention at Shanghae—Kowloon—Adieu to China—Island of Luzon—Churches—Government—Manufactures—General Condition—Island of Java—Buitenzorg—Bantong—Volcano—Soirees—Retrospect—Ceylon—The Mediterranean—England—Warm Reception—Dunfermline—Royal Academy Dinner —Mansion House Dinner.



Appointed Viceroy of India—Forebodings—Voyage to India—Installation —Deaths of Mr. Ritchie, Lord Canning, General Bruce—The Hot Season —Business resumed—State of the Empire—Letters: the Army; Cultivation of Cotton; Orientals not all Children; Missionaries; Rumours of Disaffection; Alarms; Murder of a Native; Afghanistan; Policy of Lord Canning; Consideration for Natives.



Duty of a Governor-General to visit the Provinces—Progress to the North- West—Benares—Speech on the Opening of the Railway—Cawnpore—Grand Durbar at Agra—Delhi—Hurdwar—Address to the Sikh Chiefs at Umballa —Kussowlie—Simla—Letters: Supply of Labour; Special Legislation; Missionary Gathering; Finance; Seat of Government; Value of Training at Head-quarters; Aristocracies; against Intermeddling—The Sitana Fanatics —Himalayas—Rotung Pass—Twig Bridge—Illness—Death—Characteristics —Burial-place.




&c. &c.




[Sidenote: Birth and parentage.]

James, eighth Earl of Elgin and twelfth Earl of Kincardine, was born in London on July 20, 1811. His father, whose career as Ambassador at Constantinople is so well known in connection with the 'Elgin Marbles,' was the chief and representative of the ancient Norman house, whose hero was 'Robert the Bruce.' From him, it may be said that he inherited the genial and playful spirit which gave such a charm to his social and parental relations, and which helped him to elicit from others the knowledge of which he made so much use in the many diverse situations of his after-life. His mother, Lord Elgin's second wife, was a daughter of Mr. Oswald, of Dunnikier, in Fifeshire. Her deep piety, united with wide reach of mind and varied culture, made her admirably qualified to be the depositary of the ardent thoughts and aspirations of his boyhood; and, as he grew up, he found a second mother in his elder sister, Matilda, who became the wife of Sir John Maxwell, of Pollok. To the influence of such a mother and such a sister he probably owed the pliancy and power of sympathy with others for which he was remarkable, and which is not often found in characters of so tough a fibre. To them, from his earliest years, he confided the outpourings of his deeper religious feelings. One expression of such feeling, dated June 1821, may be worth recording as an example of that strong sense of duty and affection towards his brothers, which, beginning at that early age, marked his whole subsequent career. 'Be with me this week, in my studies, my amusements, in everything. When at my lessons, may I think only of them; playing when I play: when dressing, may I be quick, and never put off time, and never amuse myself but in playhours. Oh! may I set a good example to nay brothers. Let me not teach them anything that is bad, and may they not learn wickedness from seeing me. May I command my temper and passions, and give me a better heart for their good.'

[Sidenote: School and college.]

He learned the rudiments of Latin and Greek under the careful teaching of a resident tutor, Mr. Fergus Jardine. At the age of fourteen he went to Eton, and thence, in due time, to Christ Church, Oxford, where he found him self among a group of young men destined to distinction in after-life —Lord Canning, James Ramsay (afterwards Lord Dalhousie), the late Duke of Newcastle, Sidney Herbert, and Mr. Gladstone.

There is little to record respecting this period of his life; but a touching interest attaches to the following extracts from a letter written by his brother, Sir Frederick Bruce, in November, 1865.

'My recollections of Elgin's early life are, owing to circumstances, almost nothing. In the year 1820 he went abroad with my father and mother, and was away for two years. From that time I recollect nothing until he went to Eton; and his holidays were then divided between Torquay, where my eldest brother was, and Broomhall;[1] and of them my memory has retained nothing but the assistance in his later holidays he used to give me in classical studies.

We were together for about a year and a half at Oxford. But he was so far advanced in his studies, that we had very little in common to bring us together; and I hardly remember any striking fact connected with him, except one or two speeches at the Union Club, when in eloquence and originality he far outshone his competitors.[2]

'I do not know whether Mr. Welland is still alive: he probably, better than anyone, could give some sketch of his intellectual growth, and of that beautiful trait in his character, the devotion and abnegation he showed o poor Bruce[3] in his long and painful illness.

'He was always reserved about his own feelings and aspirations. Owing to the shortness of his stay at Oxford, he had to work very hard; and his friends, like Newcastle and Hamilton, were men who sought him for the soundness of his judgment, which led them to seek his advice in all matters. He always stood to them in the relation of a much older man. He had none of the frailties of youth, and, though very capable of enjoying its diversions, life with him from a very early date was "sicklied o'er with the pale cast of thought." Its practical aspect to him was one of anxiety and difficulty, while his intellect was attracted to high and abstract speculation, and took little interest in the every-day routine which is sufficient occupation for ordinary minds. Like all men of original mind, he lived a life apart from his fellows.

'He looked upon the family estate rather as a trust than as an inheritance—as far more valuable than money on account of the family traditions, and the position which in our state of society is given to a family connected historically with the country. Elgin felt this deeply, and he clung to it in spite of difficulties which would have deterred a man of more purely selfish views.'

'It is melancholy to reflect,' adds Sir F. Bruce, 'how those have disappeared who could have filled up this gap in his history.' It is a reflection even more melancholy, that the loved and trusted brother, who shared so many of his labours and his aspirations, no longer lives to write that history, and to illustrate in his own person the spirit by which it was animated.

The sense of the difficulties above referred to strongly impressed his mind even before he went to Oxford, and laid the foundation of that habit of self-denial in all personal matters, which enabled him through life to retain a feeling of independence, and at the same time to give effect to the promptings of a generous nature. 'You tell me,' he writes to his father from college, 'I coin money. I uncoined your last order by putting it into the fire, having already supplied myself.'

About the middle of his Oxford career, a studentship fell vacant, which, according to the strange system then prevalent, was in the gift of Dr. Bull, one of the Canons of Christ Church. Instead of bestowing it, as was too commonly done, on grounds of private interest, Dr. Bull placed the valuable prize at the disposal of the Dean and Censors, to be conferred on the most worthy of the undergraduates. Their choice fell on James Bruce. In announcing this to a member of the Bruce family, Dr. Bull wrote: 'Dr. Smith, no less than the present college officers, assures me that there is no young man, of whatever rank, who could be more acceptable to the society, and none whose appointment as the reward of excellent deportment, diligence, and right-mindedness, would do more good among the young men.'

A letter written about this time to his father shows that the young student, with a sagacity beyond his years, discerned the germs of an evil which has since grown to a great height, and now lies at the root of some of the most troublesome questions connected with University Education.

In my own mind I confess I am much of opinion, that college is put off in general till too late;[4] and the gaining of honours therefore, becomes too severe to be useful to men who are to enter into professions. It was certainly originally intended that the degrees which require only a knowledge of the classics should be taken at an earlier age, in order to admit of a residence after they were taken, during which the student might devote himself to science or composition, and those habits of reflection by which the mind might be formed, and a practical advantage drawn from the stores of knowledge already acquired. By putting them off to so late an age, the consequence has been, that it has been necessary proportionably to increase the difficulty of their attainment, and to mix up in college examinations (which were supposed to depend upon study alone) essays in many cases of a nature that demands the most prolonged and deep reflection. The effect of this is evident. Those who, from circumstances, have neither opportunity nor leisure thus to reflect, must, in order to secure their success, acquire that kind of superficial information which may enable them to draw sufficiently plausible conclusions, upon very slight grounds; and [of] many who have this form of knowledge, most will eventually be proved (if this system is carried to an excess) to have but little of the substance of it.

He had meant to read for double honours, but illness, brought on by over- work, obliged him to confine himself to classics. All who know Oxford are aware, that the term 'Classics,' as there used, embraces not only Greek and Latin scholarship, but also Ancient History and Philosophy. In these latter studies the natural taste and previous education of James Bruce led him to take a special interest, and he threw himself into the work in no niggard spirit.[5] At the Michaelmas Examination of 1832, he was placed in the first class in classics, and common report spoke of him as 'the best first of his 'year.' Not long afterwards he was elected Fellow of Merton. He appears to have been a candidate also for the Eldon Scholarship, but without success. In a contest for a legal prize it was no discredit to be defeated by Roundell Palmer.

[Sidenote: Taste for philosophy.]

Some of his contemporaries have a lively remembrance of the eagerness with which, while still a student, he travelled into fields at that period beyond the somewhat narrow range of academic study. Professor Maurice at one time, Dr. Pusey at another, were his delighted companions in exploring the dialogues of Plato. Mr. Gladstone 'remembers his speaking of Milton's prose works with great fervour when they were at Eton together;' and adds the confession—interesting alike as regards both the young students—'I think it was from his mouth I first learned that Milton had written any prose,' This affection for those soul-stirring treatises of the great advocate of free speech and inquiry he always retained: they formed his constant companions wherever he travelled; and there are many occasions in which their influence may be traced on his thought and language. 'I would rather swallow a bushel of chaff than lose the precious grains of truth which may somewhere or other be scattered in it,' was a sentiment which, though expressed in much later life, was characteristic of his whole career. In this spirit he listened with deep interest to the roll of theological controversy then raging at Oxford, though he was never carried away by its violence.

In after life he had little leisure to pursue the philosophic studies commenced at Oxford; but they took deep and permanent hold on his mind, and formed in fact the groundwork of his great practical ability. This is well stated by Sir Frederick Bruce:—

In Elgin (to use the distinctions of Coleridge, whose philosophy he had thoroughly mastered) the Reason and Understanding were both largely developed, and both admirably balanced. And in this combination lay the secret of his success in so many spheres of action, so different in their characteristics, so alike in their difficulties. The process he went through was always the same. He set himself to work to form in his own mind a clear idea of each of the constituent parts of the problem with which he had to deal. This he effected partly by reading, but still more by conversation with special men, and by that extraordinary logical power of mind and penetration which not only enabled him to get out of every man all he had in him, but which revealed to those men themselves a knowledge of their own imperfect and crude conceptions, and made them constantly unwilling witnesses or reluctant adherents to views which originally they were prepared to oppose. To test the accuracy of their statements and observations, and to discriminate between what was fact and what was prejudice or misconception, he made use of the higher faculty of cultivated Reason, which enabled him, by his deep insight into the universal principles of human nature, of forms of government, &c., to bring to the consideration of particular facts the light of an a priori knowledge of what was to be expected under particular circumstances. The result was, that in an incredibly short time, and with little apparent study or effort, he attained an accurate and clear conception of the essential facts before him, and was thus enabled to strike out a course which he could consistently pursue amidst all difficulties, because it was in harmony with the actual facts and the permanent conditions of the problem he had to solve.

[Sidenote: Training for public life.]

The years which followed the completion of his academical studies—those golden years which generally determine the complexion of a man's future life—were not devoted in his case to any definite pursuit; for though he entered himself of Lincoln's Inn in June, 1835, he does not appear to have ever embarked in the professional study of law.

The scanty notices which remain of this period show him chiefly residing at Broomhall, where, in his father's absence, he takes his place in the affairs of the county of Fife; commands his troop of yeomanry; now presides at a farmers' dinner, for which be has written an appropriate song; now, at the request of Dr. Chalmers, speaks at a public meeting in favour of church extension. At one time we hear of long solitary rides over field and fell, during which the thoughts and feelings that stirred in him would take the shape of a sonnet or a poem, to be confided to one of his sisters; at another time he is keeping up a regular correspondence on abstruse questions of philosophy with his brother Frederick, still at Oxford.

In these pursuits, as well as in the somewhat harassing occupation of disentangling the family property from its embarrassments, be was preparing himself for future usefulness by the exercise of the same industry and patience, the same grasp both of details and of general purpose, which be showed in the political career gradually dawning upon him. It was observed that, whatsoever his hand found to do, he did it with all his might, as well as with a judgment and discretion beyond his years, and a tact akin to genius. He was undergoing, perhaps, the best training for the varied duties to which he was to be called—that peculiarly British 'discipline of mind, body, and heart' to which observers like Bunsen attribute the effectiveness of England's public men.

As early as 1834, when he had barely completed his twenty-third year, he published a Letter to the Electors of Great Britain, with the view of vindicating the policy and the position of the Tory leaders, more especially of the Duke of Wellington. A similar motive, the desire of protesting against a monopoly of liberal sentiments by the Whigs, and showing in his own person that a Tory was not necessarily a narrow bigot, impelled him to offer himself as a candidate at the election of 1837, on the occurrence of an unexpected vacancy in the representation of Fifeshire. But, coming forward at a moment's warning, he never had any chance of success, and was defeated by a large majority.

[Sidenote: M.P. for Southampton.]

In the year 1840, George, Lord Bruce, the eldest son of Lord Elgin by his first wife, died, unmarried, and James became heir to the earldom. On April 22, 1841, he married Elizabeth Mary, daughter of Mr. C.L. Cumming Bruce. At the general election in July of the same year he stood for the borough of Southampton, and was returned at the head of the poll. His political views at this time were very much those which have since been called 'Liberal Conservative.' Speaking at a great banquet at Southampton he said—

I am a Conservative, not upon principles of exclusionism—not from narrowness of view, or illiberality of sentiment—but because I believe that our admirable Constitution, on principles more exalted and under sanctions more holy than those which Owenism or Socialism can boast, proclaims between men of all classes and degrees in the body politic a sacred bond of brotherhood in the recognition of a common warfare here, and a common hope hereafter. I am a Conservative, not because I am adverse to improvement, not because I am unwilling to repair what is wasted, or to supply what is defective in the political fabric, but because I am satisfied that, in order to improve effectually, you must be resolved most religiously to preserve. I am a Conservative, because I believe that the institutions of our country, religious as well as civil, are wisely adapted, when duly and faithfully administered, to promote, not the interest of any class or classes exclusively, but the happiness and welfare of the great body of the people; and because I feel that, on the maintenance of these institutions, not only the economical prosperity of England, but, what is yet more important, the virtues that distinguish and adorn the English character, under God, mainly depend.

[Sidenote: Speech on the Address.]

Parliament met on August 19, and, on the 24th, the new member seconded the amendment on the Address, in a speech, of great promise. In the course of it he professed himself a friend to Free Trade, but Free Trade as explained and vindicated by Mr. Huskisson:—

He should at all times be prepared to vote for a free trade on principles of reciprocity, due regard being had to the interests which had grown up under our present commercial system, without which, as he conceived, the rights of the labouring classes could not be protected. Much had been on various occasions said about the interests of the capitalists and the landlords, but unless the measures of a Government were directed equally to secure the rights of the working classes, they never should be supported by a vote of his. It was true that the landlord might derive some increased value to his property from the increase of factories and other buildings upon it, and that the capitalist might more advantageously invest his capital, or he might withdraw it from a sinking concern; but the only capital of the labourer was his skill in his own particular walk, and it was a mockery to tell him that he could find a satisfactory compensation elsewhere.

But the most characteristic part of his speech was that in which he commented on the 'harsh, severe, and unjust terms' in which it had been the fashion to designate those who had taken an opposite view on these questions to that taken by Her Majesty's Government:—

In a day (he said) when all monopolies are denounced, I must he permitted to say that, to my mind, the monopoly which is the most intolerable and odious is the pretension to the monopoly of public virtue.

The amendment was carried by a large majority. Lord Melbourne resigned, and Sir Robert Peel became Prime Minister. About the same time, by the death of his father and his own succession to the peerage, the young Lord's brief career in the House of Commons was closed for ever; no Scottish peer being eligible, according to the commonly received opinion, to sit in the Lower House. He appears, indeed, to have had at one time an idea of pressing the question; but he abandoned this intention on finding that it had been entertained twenty-five years before by Lord Aberdeen, and given up by him on the ground, that the majority of the Scottish Peers looked upon the proposal as lowering to their body, and as implying inferiority on their part to the English Peers.

[Sidenote: Governor of Jamaica.]

At this time it seemed as if the fair promise of eloquence and statesmanship had been shown to public life only to be withdrawn from it; but a path was about to be opened, leading to a new field of action, distant, indeed, and often thankless, but giving scope for the exercise of gifts, both of mind and character, which can rarely be exhibited in a Parliamentary career. In March 1842, at the early age of thirty, he was selected by Lord Stanley, who was then Secretary for the Colonies, for the important post of Governor of Jamaica.

[1] The family seat In Fifeshire.

[2] The most distinguished of all those competitors has borne his testimony to the truth of this expression. 'I well remember,' Mr. Gladstone wrote after his death, placing him as to the natural gift of eloquence at the head of all those I knew either at Eton or at the University.'

[3] His elder brother.

[4] 'We are disposed, in fact, to regard the question, of University extension, in this sense, as depending entirely on the possibility of reducing the time required for a University degree, and we should like to see more attention paid to this point.... The opinion is strongly and widely entertained, that students now stay too long at the Public Schools and Universities, and that voting men ought not to be engaged in the mere preparatory studies of their life up to the age of twenty-three or twenty-four.'—Times, May 22, 1869.

[5] There remains a memorandum in his handwriting of a systematic course of study to be pursued for his degree, in which two points are remarkable—1st, the broad and liberal spirit in which it is conceived; 2ndly, that the whole is based on the Bible. Ancient History, together with Aristotle's Politics and the ancient orators, are to be read 'in connection with the Bible History,' with the view of seeing 'how all hang upon each other, and develops the leading schemes of Providence.' The various branches of mental and moral science he proposes, in like manner, 'to hinge upon the New Testament, as constituting, in another line, the history of moral and intellectual development.'




[Sidenote: Shipwreck.] [Sidenote: Death of Lady Elgin.]

Lord Elgin sailed for Jamaica in the middle of April 1842. The West Indian steamers at that time held their rendezvous for the collection and distribution of the mails not, as now, at St. Thomas, but at a little island called Turk's Island, a mere sandbank, hedged with coral reefs. The vessel in which Lord Elgin was a passenger made this island during the night; but the captain, over anxious to keep his time, held on towards the shore. They struck on a spike of coral, which pierced the ship's side and held her impaled; fortunately so, for she was thus prevented from backing out to sea and foundering with all hands, as other vessels did. Though the ship itself became a total wreck, no lives were lost, and nearly everything of value was saved; but from the shock of that night Lady Elgin, though apparently little alarmed at the time, never recovered. Two months afterwards, in giving birth to a daughter, now Lady Elma Thurlow, she was seized with violent convulsions, which were nearly fatal; and though, to the surprise of the medical men, she rallied from this attack, her health was seriously impaired, and she died in the summer of the following year.

[Sidenote: Position of a Governor in a West Indian colony]

There are probably few situations of greater difficulty and delicacy than that of the Governor of a British colony which possesses representative institutions. A constitutional sovereign, but with frail and temporary tenure, he is expected not to reign only but to govern; and to govern under the orders of a distant minister, who, if he has one eye on the colony, must keep the other on home politics. Thus, without any power in himself, he is a meeting-point of two different and generally antagonistic forces—the will of the imperial government and the will of the local legislature. To act in harmony with both these forces, and to bring them into something of harmony with each other, requires, under the most favourable circumstances, a rare union of firmness with patience and tact. But the difficulties were much aggravated in a West Indian colony in the early days of Emancipation.

[Sidenote: such as Jamaica.]

Here the local legislature was a democratic oligarchy, partly composed of landowners, but chiefly of overseers, with no permanent stake in the country. And this legislature had to be induced to pass measures for the benefit of those very blacks of whose enforced service they had been deprived, and whose paid labour they found it difficult to obtain. Add to this that, in Jamaica, a long period of contention with the mother-country had left a feeling of bitter resentment for the past, and sullen despondency as regards the future. Moreover, the balance had to be held between the Church of England on the one hand, which was in possession of all the ecclesiastical endowments, and probably of all the learning and cultivation of the island, and, on the other hand, the various sects, especially that of the Baptists, who, having fought vigorously for the Negroes in the battle of Emancipation, now held undisputed sway over their minds, and who, as was natural, found it difficult to abandon the position of demagogues and agitators.

Lord Elgin was at once fortunate and unfortunate in coming after the most conciliatory and popular of governors, Sir C. Metcalfe. The island was in a state of peace and harmony which had been long unknown to it; but the singular affection, which Metcalfe had inspired in all classes, made them look forward with the most gloomy forebodings to the advent of his successor.

[Sidenote: State of opinion in the island.]

Moreover, to use Lord Elgin's own language, a tone of despondency with reference to the prospects of the owners of property had long been considered the test of a sincere regard for the welfare of Jamaica. He who had been most successful in proclaiming the depression under which the landed and trading interests laboured, had been held to be in the popular acceptation of the term the truest friend to the colony.

Nothing could be more alien to the spirit of inquiry and enterprise which leads to practical improvement. In an enervating climate, with a proprietary for the most part non-resident, and a peasantry generally independent of their employers, much encouragement is requisite to induce managers to encounter the labour and responsibility which attends the introduction of new systems; but, by reason of the unfortunate prepossession above described, the announcement of a belief that the planters had not exhausted the resources within their reach, had been considered a declaration of hostility towards that class.

And truly (wrote Lord Elgin himself) the onus probandi lay, and pretty heavily too, upon the propounder of the obnoxious doctrine of hope. Was it not shown on the face of unquestioned official returns, that the exports of the island had dwindled to one-third of their former amount? Was it not attested even in Parliament, that estates, which used to produce thousands annually, were sinking money year after year? Was it not apparent that the labourers stood in a relation of independence towards the owners of capital and land, totally unknown to a similar class in any fully peopled country? All these were facts and indisputable. And again, was it not equally certain that undeserved aspersions were cast upon the planters? Were they not held responsible for results over which they could exercise no manner of control? and was it not natural that, having been thus calumniated, they should be somewhat impatient of advice?

From the day of Lord Elgin's arrival in the colony, he was convinced that the endeavour to work a change on public opinion in this respect, would constitute one of his first and most important duties; but he was not insensible to the difficulties with which the experiment was surrounded. He felt that a new Governor, rash enough to assert that all was not yet accomplished which ingenuity and perseverance could achieve, might have perilled his chance of benefiting the colony. Men would have said, and with some truth, 'he knows nothing of the matter; his information is derived from A. or B.; he is a tool in their hands; he will undo all the good which others have effected by enlisting the sympathies of England in our favour.' He would have been deemed a party man, and become an object of suspicion and distrust.

It was soon found, however, that the new Governor was as anxious as his predecessor had been to conciliate the good will and promote the interests of all ranks of the community in a spirit of perfect fairness and moderation. The agitation of vexed constitutional questions he earnestly deprecated as likely to interrupt the harmony happily prevailing between the several branches of the legislature, and to divert the attention of influential members of the community from the material interests of the colony to the consideration of more exciting subjects. 'I do not underrate,' he said, 'the importance of constitutional questions, nor am I insensible to the honour which may be acquired by their satisfactory adjustment. In the present crisis of our fortunes, however, I am impressed with the belief that he is the best friend to Jamaica who concentrates his energies on the promotion of the moral well-being of the population, and the restoration of the economical prosperity of the island.'

[Sidenote: Questions of finance]

The finances of the colony were at this time in a state to require the most careful treatment. At a moment when the recent violent change in the distribution of the wealth of the community had left the proprietary body generally in a depressed condition, the Legislature had to provide for the wants of the newly emancipated population, by increasing at great cost the ecclesiastical and judicial establishments; and at the same time it was necessary that a quantity of inconvertible paper recently set afloat should be redeemed, if the currency was to be fixed on a sound basis. Under these conditions it was not easy to equalise the receipts and expenditure of the island treasury; and the difficulty was not diminished by the necessity of satisfying critics at home. Before long an occasion arose to test Lord Elgin's tact and discretion in mediating on such questions between the colony and the mother-country.

Towards the end of 1842 a new tariff was enacted by the legislature of the island. When the Act embodying it was sent home, it was found to violate certain economical principles recently adopted in this country. An angry despatch from Downing Street informed Lord Elgin that it was disapproved, and that nothing but an apprehension of the financial embarrassments that must ensue prevented its being formally disallowed. In terms almost amounting to a reprimand, it was intimated that the adoption of such objectionable enactments might be prevented if the Governor would exercise the legitimate influence of his office in opposing them; and it was added, 'If, unfortunately, your efforts should be unsuccessful, and if any such bill should be presented for your acceptance, it is Her Majesty's pleasure and command that you withhold your assent from it.'

Lord Elgin replied by a temperate representation, that it was but natural that traces of a policy long sanctioned by the mother-country should remain in the legislation of the colony; that the duties in question were not found injuriously to check trade, while they were needed to meet the expenditure: moreover, that the Assembly was, and always had been, extremely jealous of any interference in the matter of self-taxation: lastly, that 'while sensible that the services of a Governor must be unprofitable if he failed to acquire and exercise a legitimate moral influence in the general conduct of affairs, he was at the same time convinced that a just appreciation of the difficulties with which the legislature of the island had yet to contend, and of the sacrifices and exertions already made under the pressure of no ordinary embarrassments, was an indispensable condition to his usefulness.'

The Home Government felt the weight of these considerations, and the correspondence closed with the revocation of the peremptory command above quoted.

[Sidenote: Education.]

The object which Lord Elgin had most at heart was to improve the moral and social condition of the Negroes, and to fit them, by education, for the freedom which had been thrust upon them; but, with characteristic tact and sagacity, he preferred to compass this end through the agency of the planters themselves. By encouraging the application of mechanical contrivances to agriculture, he sought to make it the interest not only of the peasants to acquire, but of the planters to give them, the education necessary for using machinery; while he lost no opportunity of impressing on the land-owning class that, if they wished to secure a constant supply of labour, they could not do so better than by creating in the labouring class the wants which belong to educated beings.

The following extracts from private letters, written at the time to the Secretary of State, contain the freshest and best expression of his views on these and similar questions of island politics:—

In some quarters I am informed, that less desire for education is shown now by the Negroes than during the apprenticeship; and the reason assigned is, that it was then supposed that certain social and political advantages would accrue to those who were able to read, but that now, when all is gained, and all are on a par in these respects, the same zeal for learning no longer prevails. It has been suggested that a great impulse might be given in this direction, by working on the feeling which existed formerly; confining the franchise for instance to qualified persons who could read, or by some other expedient of the same nature. This being an important constitutional question, I have not thought it right to give the notion any encouragement; but I submit it as coming from persons who are, I believe, sincere well-wishers to the Negro. It is not very easy to keep children steadily at school, or to enforce a very rigid discipline on them when they are there. Parents who have never been themselves educated, cannot be expected to attach a very high value to education. The system of Slavery was not calculated to strengthen the family ties; and parents do not, I apprehend, exercise generally a very steady and consistent control in their families. The consequence is, that children are pretty generally at liberty to attend school or not as they please. If the rising generation, however, are not educated, what is to become of this island? That they have withdrawn themselves to a considerable extent from field labour is, I think, generally admitted. It is therefore undoubtedly desirable that all legitimate inducements should be held out, both to parents and children, to encourage the latter to attend school.

In urging the adoption of machinery in aid of manual labour, one main object I have had in view has ever been the creation of an aristocracy among the labourers themselves; the substitution of a given amount of skilled labour for a larger amount of unskilled. My hope is, that we may thus engender a healthy emulation among the labourers, a desire to obtain situations of eminence and mark among their fellows, and also to push their children forwards in the same career. Where labour is so scarce as it is here, it is undoubtedly a great object to be able to effect at a cheaper rate by machinery, what you now attempt to execute very unsatisfactorily by the hand of man. But it seems to me to be a still more important object to awaken this honourable ambition in the breast of the peasant, and I do not see how this can be effected by any other means. So long as labour means nothing more than digging cane holes, or carrying loads on the head, physical strength is the only thing required, no moral or intellectual quality comes into play. But, in dealing with mechanical appliances, the case is different; knowledge, acuteness, steadiness are at a premium. The Negro will soon appreciate the worth of these qualities, when they give him position among his own class. An indirect value will thus attach to education.

Every successful effort made by enterprising and intelligent individuals to substitute skilled for unskilled labour; every premium awarded by societies in acknowledgment of superior honesty, carefulness, or ability, has a tendency to afford a remedy the most salutary and effectual which can be devised for the evil here set forth.

[Sidenote: Agriculture.]

With the view of awakening an interest in the subject of agricultural improvements, Lord Elgin himself offered a premium of 100l. for the best practical treatise on the cultivation of the cane, with a special reference to the adoption of mechanical aids and appliances in aid or in lieu of mechanical labour. In forwarding to Lord Stanley printed copies of eight of the essays which competed for the prize, he wrote as follows:—

Much, I believe, is involved in the issue of this and similar experiments. So long as the planter despairs,—so long as he assumes that the cane can be cultivated and sugar manufactured at profit only on the system adopted during slavery,—so long as he looks to external aids (among which I class immigration) as his sole hope of salvation from ruin—with what feelings must he contemplate all earnest efforts to civilise the mass of the population? Is education necessary to qualify the peasantry to carry on the rude field operations of slavery? May not some persons even entertain the apprehension, that it will indispose them to such pursuits? But let him, on the other hand, believe that, by the substitution of more artificial methods for those hitherto employed, he may materially abridge the expense of raising his produce, and he cannot fail to perceive that an intelligent, well-educated labourer, with something of a character to lose, and a reasonable ambition to stimulate him to exertion, is likely to prove an instrument more apt for his purposes than the ignorant drudge who differs from the slave only in being no longer amenable to personal restraint.[1]

One of the measures in which Lord Elgin took the most active interest was the establishment of a 'General Agricultural Society for the Island of Jamaica,' and he was much gratified by receiving Her Majesty's permission to give to it the sanction of her name as Patroness.

I am confident (he writes to Lord Stanley) that the notice which Her Majesty is pleased to take of the institution will be duly appreciated, and will be productive of much good.

You must allow me to remark (he adds) that moral results of much moment are involved in the issue of the efforts which we are now making for the improvement of agriculture in this colony. Not only has the impulse which has been imparted to the public mind in Jamaica been beneficial in itself and in its direct effects, but it has, I am firmly persuaded, checked opposing tendencies, which threatened very injurious consequences to Negro civilisation. To reconcile the planter to the heavy burdens which he was called to bear for the improvement of our establishments and the benefit of the mass of the population, it was necessary to persuade him that he had an interest in raising the standard of education and morals among the peasantry; and this belief could be imparted only by inspiring a taste for a more artificial system of husbandry. By the silent operation of such salutary convictions, prejudices of old standing are removed; the friends of the Negro and of the proprietary classes find themselves almost unconsciously acting in concert, and conspiring to complete that great and holy work of which the emancipation of the slave was but the commencement.

[Sidenote: The labouring classes.]

On a general survey of the state of the labouring classes, taken after he had been a little more than a year in the island, he was able to give a most favourable report of their condition, in all that concerns material prosperity and comfort of living.

The truth is (he wrote) that our labourers are for the most part in the position of persons who live habitually within their incomes. They are generally sober and frugal, and accustomed to a low standard of living. Their gardens supply them in great measure with the necessaries of life. The chief part, therefore, of what they receive in money, whether as wages or as the price of the surplus produce of their provision grounds, they can lay aside for occasional calls, and, when they set their minds on an acquisition or an indulgence, they do not stickle at the cost. I am told that, in the shops at Kingston, expensive articles of dress are not unusually purchased by members of the families of black labourers. Whether the ladies are good judges of the merits of silks and cambrics I do not pretend to decide; but they pay ready money, and it is not for the sellers to cavil at their discrimination. The purchase of land, as you well know, is going on rapidly throughout the island; and the money thus invested must have been chiefly, though not entirely, accumulated by the labouring classes since slavery was abolished. A proprietor told me the other day that he had, within twelve months, sold ten acres of land in small lots, for the sum of 900l. The land sold at so high a price is situated near a town, and the purchasers pay him an annual rent of 50s. per acre, for provision grounds on the more distant parts of the estate. Again, in most districts, the labourers are possessed of horses, for which they often pay handsomely. A farm servant not unfrequently gives from 12l. to 20l. for an animal which he intends to employ, not for purposes of profit, but in riding to church, or on occasions of festivity.

Whence then are these funds derived? That the peasantry are generally frugal and sober I have already observed. But they are assuredly not called to tax their physical powers unduly, in order to achieve the independence I have described. Although the estate I lately visited is well managed, and the best understanding subsists between employer and labourers, the latter seldom made their appearance in the field until some time after I had sallied forth for my morning walk. They work on the estate only nine days in the fortnight, devoting the alternate Fridays to the cultivation of their provision grounds, and the Saturdays to marketing and amusements. On the whole, seeing that the climate is suited to their constitutions, that they experience none of the drawbacks to which new settlers, even in the most fertile countries, are subject, that they are by disposition and temperament a cheerful race, I much doubt whether any people on the face of the globe enjoy as large a share of happiness as the Creole peasantry of this island. And this is a representation not over-charged, or highly coloured, but drawn in all truth and sobriety of the actual condition of a population which was, a very few years ago, subjected to the degrading, depressing influences of slavery. Well may you and others who took part in the work of emancipation rejoice in the success of your great experiment.

But was it possible to indulge the same feelings of exultation when contemplating their condition morally, and marking the indications of advance towards a higher state of civilisation? In the island itself controversy was rife as to the degree in which such results had been already achieved, and the promise of further progress. Some of the more enthusiastic and ardent of that class of persons who had been the zealous advocates of the interests of the Negro population at a former period, were now disposed to judge most hardly of their conduct. Their very sympathy with the victims of the system formerly prevailing, led them to conceive unbounded hopes of the benefits, moral and social alike, which a change would effect; the admirable behaviour of the peasantry at the time of emancipation, confirmed such anticipations; and they were now beginning to experience disappointment on finding that all they looked for was not immediately realised. These feelings, however, Lord Elgin did not share.

On the whole (he said) I feel confident that the moral results consequent on the introduction of freedom, have been as satisfactory as could in reason have been expected; and, notwithstanding the very serious pecuniary loss which this measure has entailed in many quarters, few indeed, even if they had the power to do so, would consent to return to the system which has been abandoned. It is gratifying in the highest degree to observe the feelings now subsisting between those who lately stood to each other in the relation of master and slave. Past wrongs are forgotten, and in the every-day dealings between man and man the humanity of the labourer is unhesitatingly recognised.

[Sidenote: Religion.]

We have seen how zealously Lord Elgin exerted himself to realise his own hopes for the prosperity of the colony, by encouraging the spread of secular and industrial education. Not that he regarded secular education as all-sufficient. His sympathies[2] were entirely with those who believe that, while 'it is a great and a good thing to know the laws that govern this world, it is better still to have some sort of faith in the relations of this world with another; that the knowledge of cause and effect can never replace the motive to do right and avoid wrong; that our clergymen and ministers are more useful than our schoolmasters; that Religion is the motive power, the faculties are the machines: and the machines are useless without the motive power.'[3] But, as a practical statesman, he felt that the one kind of education he had it in his power to forward directly by measures falling within his own legitimate province; while the other he could only promote indirectly, by pointing out the need for it, and drawing attention to the peculiar circumstances of the island respecting it. The following are a few of the passages in which he refers to the subject:—

[Sidenote: The Church.]

Much has been done by the island legislature—more, I think, than could reasonably have been looked for under the circumstances—towards making provision for the religious necessities of the population. But the daily formation of small mountain settlements, and the consequent dispersion of large numbers in districts remote from the established places of worship, adds greatly to the difficulty of extending to all these humanising and civilising influences. The Church can keep its footing here only by the exhibition of missionary zeal and devotion, tempered by a spirit of Christian benevolence and conciliation. I regret to say that some of the unhappy controversies which are vexing the Church in England have broken out here of late. Discussions of this nature are singularly unprofitable where the people need to be instructed in the very rudiments of Christian knowledge, and where it is so desirable to keep well with all who profess to have a similar object in view.

A single bishop in a colony, where large funds are provided by the State for Church purposes, and where he is beyond the reach of the public opinion of England, exercises a very great and irresponsible authority. If a zealous man, of extreme views on points of doctrine, the clergy of the diocese, looking to him alone for advancement in their profession, are apt to echo his sentiments; and the wide folding doors of our mother Church, which she flings open for the reception of so many, to use Milton's words, 'brotherly dissimilitudes that are not vastly disproportioned,' are contracted, to the exclusion, perchance, of some whom it were desirable to retain in our communion. If, on the other hand, he be a man of but moderate piety, ability, and firmness, the importunity of friends at a distance, who may wish to provide for dependents or connections, and other considerations which need not be enumerated, may tempt him to lower the standard of ministerial qualification, of which he is, of course, the sole judge. It requires a person of much Christian principle, and singular moderation, discretion, and tact, to administer powers of this nature well. I have every hope that the bishop whom you have sent us will prove equal to the task. For the sake of humanity and civilisation, as well as for the interests of the island, I fervently trust that I may not be disappointed in my expectations on this head.

The complex and thwarting currents of interest and opinion that may exist in a colony respecting the maintenance of a State Church are well illustrated in the following extracts:—

Very soon after I arrived here, I felt satisfied that the conflicts of party in the colony would ere long assume a new character. I perceived that the hostility to the proprietary interests, which was supposed to actuate certain classes of persons who had much influence with the peasantry, was on the decline. Should a state of quiescence prove incompatible with the maintenance of their hold on their flocks, analogy led me to anticipate that the Established Church would, in all probability, become an object of attack.

Considering the facility with which the franchise may be acquired, it is not a little remarkable that the constituency should have hitherto increased so slowly. This phenomenon has not escaped the notice of the opponents of the union of Church and State, and they have ascribed it to the true cause. They are sensible that all uneducated population in easy circumstances, without practical grievances, are not likely to be intent on the acquisition of political privileges. They have, therefore, undertaken to supply them with a grievance, in order to whet their appetite for the franchise, and also to provide them with guides who shall instruct them in the proper use of it. But in attempting to carry this scheme into effect they have encountered an obstacle, which has, for the time, entirely frustrated their intentions. The more educated and intelligent of the brown party listen with disapprobation to the tone in which the Baptist ministers and their adherents arrogate to themselves exclusively the title of friends and leaders of the black population. Many persons of this class have already embarked in public life; some, as members of Assembly, have taken part in those transactions which are the object of the bitterest denunciations of the Anti-Church party. A few are Churchmen, others Wesleyans. The prospect of a Baptist oligarchy ruling in undivided sway disquiets them. They have their doubts as to whether, in the present stage of our civilisation, the peasantry of this Island would evince much discrimination in their selection of a religion if left in that matter entirely to themselves. In the chequered array of colours which our religious world even now presents, comprising every shade, from Roman Catholicism and Judaism, to Myalism, and providing spiritual gratification for every eye, they still think it, on the whole, desirable that predominance should be given to some one over the rest. Many have experienced the bounty of the legislature, which has been most liberal in affording aid to all sects who have applied for it. They are not, therefore, as yet ready for the overthrow of the Church Establishment. But I will not take upon myself to affirm that, as a body, they are prepared to incur political martyrdom in its defence.

But apart from the difficulties—social, moral, and religious—at which we have glanced, there was enough in the political aspect of affairs to fill the Governor of Jamaica with anxiety. The franchise being within the reach of every one who chose to stretch out a hand and grasp it, might at any time be claimed by vast numbers of persons who had recently been slaves, and were still generally illiterate. And the Assembly for which this constituency had to provide members exercised great authority within its own sphere. It discharged a large portion of the functions which usually devolve upon an Executive Government; it initiated all legislative measures, besides voting the supplies from year to year. What hope was there that a body so constituted would wield such powers with discretion?

[Sidenote: Harmonising influence of British institutions.]

Lord Elgin's answer to this question shows that he already cherished that faith in the harmonising influence of British institutions on a mixed population, which afterwards, at a critical period of Canadian history, was the mainspring of his policy.

A sojourner in this sea of the Antilles, who is watching with heartfelt anxiety the progress of the great experiment of Negro emancipation (an experiment which must result in failure unless religion and civilisation minister to the mind that freedom which the enactments of law have secured for the body), might well be tempted to view the prospect to which I have now introduced you with some feelings of misgiving, were he not reassured by his firm reliance on the harmonising influence of British connexion, and the power of self- adaptation inherent in our institutions. On the one side he sees the model Republic of Hayti—a coloured community, which has enjoyed nearly half a century of entire independence and self-rule. And with what issues? As respects moral and intellectual culture, stagnation: in all that concerns material development, a fatal retrogression. He beholds there, at this day, a miserable parody of European and American institutions, without the spirit that animates either: the tinsel of French sentiment on the ground of negro ignorance: even the 'sacred right of 'insurrection' burlesqued: a people which has for its only living belief an ill-defined apprehension of the superiority of the white man, and, for the rest, blunders on without faith in what regards this world or that which is to come.

He turns his eyes to another quarter and perceives the cluster of states which have formed themselves from the breakup of the Spanish continental dominions. What ground of consolation or hope does he discover there?

These illustrations of the working of free systems constructed out of the wreck of a broken-down African Slave Trade are not indeed encouraging; but neither do they, in my opinion, warrant despair. I believe that by great caution and diligence, by firmness and gentleness on the part of the parent state, and much prudence in the instruments which it employs, a people with a heart and soul may be built up out of the materials in our hands. I regard our local constitution as a fait accompli, and have no desire to remove a stone of the fabric. I think that a popular representative system is, perhaps, the best expedient that can be devised for blending into one harmonious whole a community composed of diverse races and colour, and this conviction is strengthened when I read the observations of Sir H. Macleod and Governor Light, on the coloured classes in Demerara and Trinidad. In colonies which have no assemblies, it would appear that aspiring intellects have not the same opportunity of finding their level, and pent up ambitions lack a vent.

In studying the play of the various forces at work around him, and in endeavouring to direct them to good issues, Lord Elgin found the best solace for the domestic sorrow which darkened this period of his life. He lived chiefly in retirement, at a country-house called Craigton, in the Blue Mountains, with his sister, now Lady Charlotte Locker, and his brother Robert, who was also his most able and efficient secretary; seeing little society beyond that occasioned by official intercourse and receptions, which were never intermitted at Spanish Town, the seat of Government. The isolation and monotony of this position, broken only once by a conference held with some of the neighbouring Governors on a question of common interest respecting immigration, could not fail to be distasteful to his active spirit; and when it had lasted over three years, it was not unnatural that he should seek to be relieved from it. Early in 1845 we find him writing to Lord Stanley as follows:—

[Sidenote: Resignation.]

I am warned by the commencement of the year 1845 that I have filled the situation of Governor of Jamaica for as long a time as any of my predecessors since the Duke of Manchester. The period of my administration has not been marked by striking incidents, but it has been one of considerable social progress. Uninterrupted harmony has prevailed between the colonists and the local Government; and it may perhaps, without exaggeration, be affirmed, that the spirit of enterprise which has proceeded from Jamaica during the past two years has enabled the British West Indian colonies to endure, with comparative fortitude, apprehensions and difficulties which might otherwise have depressed them beyond measure. Circumstances have, however, occurred since my arrival in the colony, unconnected with public affairs, which have materially affected my views in life, and which made me contemplate with much repugnance the prospect of an indefinitely prolonged sojourn in this place. Without dwelling at any greater length on these painful topics, I venture to trust that you will acquit me of undue presumption when I assure you, that in my present forlorn and isolated position, nothing enables me to persevere in the discharge of my duties, except the hope that my humble services may earn for me your confidence and the approbation of my Sovereign, and prove not altogether unprofitable to the community over whose interests I am appointed to watch.

He remained, however, at his post for more than a year longer, and quitted it in the spring of 1846 on leave of absence, with the understanding that he should not be required to return to Jamaica.

[Sidenote: Appointment to Canada.]

During nearly the whole period of his government the seals of the Colonial Office had been held by Lord Stanley, to whom he owed his appointment; and at the break-up of the Tory party, in the beginning of 1846, they passed into the hands of his old schoolfellow and college friend, Mr. Gladstone. But he had scarcely arrived in England when a new Secretary arose in the person of Lord Grey, to whom he was unknown except by reputation. It is all the more creditable to both parties that, in spite of their political differences, Lord Grey should first have endeavoured to induce him, on public grounds alone, to retain the government of Jamaica, with the promise of his unreserved confidence and most cordial support; and shortly afterwards, should have offered to him the still more important post of Governor-General of British North America. 'I believe,' wrote his Lordship, in making the offer, 'that it would be difficult to point out any situation in which great talents would find more scope for useful exertion, or are more wanted at this moment, and I am sure that I could not hope to find anyone whom I could recommend to Her Majesty for that office with so much confidence as yourself.'

So splendid an offer, made in a manner so gratifying, might well overcome any reluctance which Lord Elgin felt to embark at once on a fresh period of expatriation, and to resume labours which, however cordially they may be appreciated by a minister, are apt to meet with little recognition from the public.

He accepted it, not in the spirit of mere selfish ambition, but with a deep sense of the responsibilities attached to it, which he portrayed in earnest and forcible words at a public dinner at Dunfermline:—

To watch over the interests of those great offshoots of the British race which plant themselves in distant lands; to aid them in their efforts to extend the domain of civilisation, and to fulfil that first behest of a benevolent Creator to His intelligent creatures—'subdue the earth;' to abet the generous endeavour to impart to these rising communities the full advantages of British laws, British institutions, and British freedom; to assist them in maintaining unimpaired, it may be in strengthening and confirming, those bonds of mutual affection which unite the parent and dependent states—these are duties not to be lightly undertaken, and which may well claim the exercise of all the faculties and energies of an earnest and patriotic mind.

It was arranged that he should go to Canada at the end of the year. In the interval he became engaged to Lady Mary Louisa Lambton, daughter of the first Earl of Durham. They were married on November 7th, and in the first days of the year 1847 he sailed for America.

[1] It is impossible not to be struck with the applicability of these remarks to the condition of the agricultural poor in some parts of England, and the question of extending among them the benefits of education.

[2] Vide inf. p. 156.

[3] See the speech of Mr. W.E. Forster, at Leeds, May 20, 1869.




[Sidenote: View of the state of Canada.]

In passing from Jamaica to Canada, Lord Elgin went not only to a far wider sphere of action, but to one of infinitely greater complication. For in Canada there were two civilised populations of nearly equal power, viewing each other with traditionary dislike and distrust: the French habitans of the Lower Province, strong in their connexion with the past, and the British settlers, whose energy and enterprise gave unmistakable promise of predominance in the future. Canada had, within a few miles of her capital, a powerful and restless neighbour, whose friendly intentions were not always sufficient to restrain the unruly spirits on her frontier from acts of aggression, which might at any time lead to the most serious complications. Moreover, in Canada representative institutions were already more fully developed than in any other colony, and were at this very time passing through the most critical period of their final development.

[Sidenote: Rebellion of 1837.] [Sidenote: Lord Durham's Report.] [Sidenote: Lord Sydenham.] [Sidenote: Sir C. Bagot.] [Sidenote: Lord Metcalfe.]

The rebellion of 1837 and 1838 had necessarily checked the progress of the colony towards self-government. It has since been acknowledged that the demands which led to that rebellion were such as England would have gladly granted two or three hundred years before; and they were, in fact, subsequently conceded one after another, 'not from terror, but because, on seriously looking at the case, it was found that after all we had no possible interest in withholding them.'[1] But at the time it was necessary to put down the rebels by force, and to establish military government. In 1838 Lord Durham was sent out as High Commissioner for the Adjustment of the Affairs of the Colony, and his celebrated 'Report' sowed the seeds of all the beneficial changes which followed. So early as October 1839, when Poulett Thomson, afterwards Lord Sydenham, went out as Governor, Lord John Russell took the first step towards the introduction of 'responsible government,' by announcing that the principal offices of the colony 'would not be considered as being held by a tenure equivalent to one during good behaviour, but that the holders would be liable to be called upon to retire whenever, from motives of public policy or for other reasons, this should be found expedient.'[2] But the insurrection was then too recent to allow of constitutional government being established, at least in Lower Canada; and, after the Union in 1840, Lord Sydenham exercised, partly owing to his great ability, much more power than is usually enjoyed by constitutional governors. He exercised it, however, in such a manner as to pave the way for a freer system, which was carried out to a great extent by his successor, Sir Charles Bagot; who, though bearing the reputation of an old-fashioned Tory, did not scruple to admit to his counsels persons who had been active in opposing the Crown during the recent rebellion; acting on 'the broad principle that the constitutional majority had the right to rule under the constitution.'[3] Towards the end of 1842, Sir C. Bagot found himself obliged by continued ill-health to resign; and he was succeeded by Lord Metcalfe—a man, as has been before noticed, of singularly popular manners and conciliatory disposition, but whose views of government, formed in India and confirmed in Jamaica, little fitted him to deal at an advanced age with the novel questions presented by Canada at this crisis. A quarrel arose between him and his Ministry on a question of patronage. The ministers resigned, though supported by a large majority in the Assembly. With great difficulty he formed a Conservative administration, and immediately dissolved his Parliament. The new elections gave a small majority to the Conservatives, chiefly due, it was said, to the exertion of his personal influence; but the success was purchased at a ruinous cost, for he was now in the position, fatal to a governor, of a party man. Even from this situation he might perhaps have been able to extricate himself: so great was the respect felt for his rare qualities of mind and character. But a distressing malady almost incapacitated him for the discharge of public business, and at length, in November 1845, forced him to resign. At this time there was some apprehension of difficulties with America, arising from the Oregon question, and, in view of the possibility of war, Mr. Gladstone, who was then at the Colonial Office, appointed Lord Cathcart, the commander of the forces, to be Governor-General.

[Sidenote: Lord Cathcart.]

When the Whig party came into power, and Lord Grey became Secretary for the Colonies, the Oregon difficulty had been happily settled, and it was no longer necessary or desirable that the colony should be governed by a military officer. What was wanted was a person possessing an intimate knowledge of the principles and practice of the constitution of England, some experience of popular assemblies, and considerable familiarity with the political questions of the day.'[4] After much consideration it was decided to offer the post to Lord Elgin, though personally unknown at the time both to the Premier and to the Secretary for the Colonies.

[Sidenote: Principles of Colonial Government.]

The principles on which Lord Elgin undertook to conduct the affairs of the colony were, that he should identify himself with no party, but make himself a mediator and moderator between the influential of all parties; that he should have no ministers who did not enjoy the confidence of the Assembly, or, in the last resort, of the people; and that he should not refuse his consent to any measure proposed by his Ministry, unless it were of an extreme party character, such as the Assembly or the people would be sure to disapprove.[4] Happily these principles were not, in Lord Elgin's case, of yesterday's growth. He had acted upon them, as far as was possible, even in Jamaica; and in their soundness as applied to a colony like Canada he had that firm faith, grounded on original conviction, which alone could have enabled him to maintain them, as he afterwards did, single-handed, in face of the most violent opposition, and in circumstances by which they were most severely tested.

[Sidenote: Crossing the Atlantic.]

It was fortunate that Lord Elgin had arranged to leave his bride in England, to follow at a less inclement season; for he had an unusually stormy passage across the Atlantic—'the worst passage the ship had ever made.'

Writing on the 16th of January to Lady Grey he says:

Hitherto we have had a very boisterous passage. On the 13th we had a hurricane, and were obliged to lie to—a rare occurrence with these vessels. It was almost impossible to be on deck, but I crept out of a hole for a short time, to behold the sea, which was truly grand in its wrath; the waves rolling mountains high, and the wind sweeping the foam off their crests, and driving it, together with the snow and sleet, almost horizontally over the ocean. We lay thus for some hours, our masts covered with snow, pitching and tossing, now in the trough of the sea, and now on the summit of the billows, without anxiety or alarm, so gallantly did our craft bear itself through these perils.

The ship is very full, with half a million of specie, and a motley group of passengers: a Bishop, an ex-secretary of Legation and an ex-consul, both of the United States; a batch of Germans and of Frenchmen; a host of Yankees, the greater part being bearded, which is, I understand, characteristic of young America, particularly when it travels; some specimens of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Canada, and the Rocky Mountains, not to mention English and Scotch. Every now and then, at the most serious moments, sounds of uproarious mirth proceed from a party of Irish, who are playing antics in some corner of the ship. Considering that we are all hemmed in within the space of a few feet, and that it is the amusement of the great restless ocean to pitch us constantly into each other's arms, it is hard indeed if we do not pick up something new in the scramble.

[Sidenote: First impressions.]

On the 25th of January he landed at Boston, and proceeding next day by railway and sleigh, reached Montreal on the 29th. On the 31st he wrote from Monklands, the suburban residence of the governor, to Lady Elgin:—

Yesterday was my great day. I agreed to make my entrance to Montreal, for the purpose of being inaugurated. The morning was unpropitious. There had been a tremendous storm during the night, and the snow had drifted so much that it seemed doubtful whether a sleigh could go from hence to town (about four miles). I said that I had no notion of being deterred by weather. Accordingly, I got into a one-horse sleigh, with very small runners, which conveyed me to the entrance of the town, where I was met by the Mayor and Corporation with an address. I then got into Lord Cathcart's carriage, accompanied by the Mayor, and a long procession of carriages was formed. We drove slowly to the Government House (in the town), through a dense mass of people—all the societies, trades, &c., with their banners. Nothing could be more gratifying. After the swearing in, at which the public were present, the Mayor read another address from the inhabitants. To this I delivered a reply, which produced, I think, a considerable effect, and no little astonishment on some gentlemen who intended that I should say nothing. I have adopted frankly and unequivocally Lord Durham's view of government, and I think that I have done all that could be done to prevent its being perverted to vile purposes of faction.

Various circumstances combined to smooth, for the time, the waters on which Lord Elgin had embarked. The state of political parties was favourable; for the old Tories of the British 'Family Compact' party were in good humour, being in enjoyment of the powers to which they claimed a prescriptive right, while the 'Liberals' of the Opposition were full of hope that the removal of Lord Metcalfe's disturbing influence would restore their proper preponderance. Something also was due to his own personal qualities. Whereas most of his immediate predecessors had been men advanced in years and enfeebled by ill-health, he was in the full enjoyment of vigorous youth—able, if need were, to work whole days at a stretch; to force his way through a Canadian snow-storm, if his presence was required at a public meeting; to make long and rapid journeys through the province, ever ready to receive an address, and give an impromptu reply. The papers soon began to remark on the 'geniality and affability of 'his demeanour.' 'He is daily,' they said, 'making new 'friends. He walks to church, attends public meetings, 'leads the cheering, and is, in fact, a man of the people.' Before long it was added, 'Our new governor is 'the most effective speaker in the province;' and, thanks to his foreign education, he was able to speak as readily and fluently to the French Canadians in French as to the English in English. Added to this, his recent marriage was a passport to the hearts of many in Canada, who looked back to the late Lord Durham as the apostle of their liberties, if not as a martyr in their cause.

[Sidenote: Provincial politics.]

But though the surface was smooth, there was much beneath to disquiet an observant governor. It was not only that the Ministry was so weak, and so conscious of its weakness, as to be incapable even of proposing any measures of importance. This evil might be remedied by a change of administration. But there was no real political life; only that pale and distorted reflection of it which is apt to exist in a colony before it has learned 'to look within itself for the centre of power.' Parties formed themselves, not on broad issues of principle, but with reference to petty local and personal interests; and when they sought the support of a more widespread sentiment, they fell back on those antipathies of race, which it was the main object of every wise Governor to extinguish.

The following extracts from private letters to Lord Grey, written within a few months of his arrival, reflect this state of things. Though the circumstances to which they refer are past and gone, they may not be without interest, as affording an insight into a common phase of colonial government.

Hitherto things have gone on well with me, much better than I hoped for when we parted. I should have been very willing to meet the Assembly at once, and throw myself with useful measures on the good sense of the people, but my ministers are too weak for this. They seem to be impressed with the belief that the regular Opposition will of course resist whatever they propose, and that any fragments of their own side, who happen not to be able at the moment to get what they want, will join them. When I advise them, therefore, to go down to Parliament with good measures and the prestige of a new Governor, and rely on the support of public opinion, they smile and shake their heads. It is clear that they are not very credulous of the existence of such a controlling power, and that their faith in the efficiency of appeals to selfish and sordid motives is greater than mine.

Nevertheless, we must take the world as we find it, and if new elements of strength are required to enable the Government to go on, it is I think very advisable to give the French a fair opportunity of entering the Ministry in the first instance. It is also more prudent to enter upon these delicate negotiations cautiously and slowly, in order to avoid, if possible, giving the impression that I am ready to jump down everybody's throat the moment I touch the soil of Canada.

I believe that the problem of how to govern United Canada would be solved if the French would split into a Liberal and a Conservative party, and join the Upper Canada parties which bear corresponding names. The great difficulty hitherto has been that a Conservative government has meant a government of Upper Canadians, which is intolerable to the French, and a Radical government a government of French, which is no less hateful to the British. No doubt the party titles are misnomers, for the radical party comprises the political section most averse to progress of any in the country. Nevertheless, so it has been hitherto. The national element would be merged in the political if the split to which I refer were accomplished.

The tottering Ministry attempted to strengthen its position by a junction with some of the leaders of the 'French' party; but the attempt was unsuccessful:

I cannot say that I am surprised or disheartened by the result of these negotiations with the French. In a community like this, where there is little, if anything, of public principle to divide men, political parties will shape themselves under the influence of circumstances, and of a great variety of affections and antipathies, national, sectarian, and personal; and I never proposed to attempt to force them into a mould of my own forming.

You will observe that no question of principle or of public policy has been mooted by either party during the negotiation. The whole discussion has turned upon personal considerations. This is, I fancy, a pretty fair sample of Canadian politics. It is not even pretended that the divisions of party represent corresponding divisions of sentiment on questions which occupy the public mind; such as Voluntaryism, Free Trade, &c., &c. Responsible government is the only subject on which this coincidence is alleged to exist. The opponents of the Administration are supposed to dissent from the views held by Lord Metcalfe upon it, though it is not so clear that its supporters altogether adopt them. That this delicate and most debatable subject should furnish the watchwords of party is most inconvenient.

In enumerating the difficulties which surround such questions as Union of the provinces, Emigration, &c., you omit the greatest of them all; viz.: the materials with which I have to work in carrying out any measures for the public advantage. There are half a dozen parties here, standing on no principles, and all intent on making political capital out of whatever turns up. It is exceedingly difficult, under such circumstances, to induce public men to run the risk of adopting any scheme that is bold or novel.

Keenly alive to the evil of this state of things, Lord Elgin was not less sensible that the blame of it did not rest with the existing generation of Canadian politicians, but that it was the result of a variety of circumstances, some of which it was impossible to regret.

Several causes (he wrote) co-operate together to give to personal and party interests the overweening importance which attaches to them in the estimation of local politicians. There are no real grievances here to stir the depths of the popular mind. We are a comfortable people, with plenty to eat and drink, no privileged classes to excite envy, or taxes to produce irritation. It were ungrateful to view these blessings with regret, and yet I believe that they account in some measure for the selfishness of public men and their indifference to the higher aims of statesmanship.

[Sidenote: Responsible government.]

The comparatively small number of members of which the popular bodies who determine the fate of provincial administrations consist, is also, I am inclined to think, unfavourable to the existence of a high order of principle and feeling among official personages. A majority of ten in an assembly of seventy may probably be, according to Cocker, equivalent to a majority of 100 in an assembly of 700. In practice, however, it is far otherwise. The defection of two or three individuals from the majority of ten puts the administration in peril. Thence the perpetual patchwork and trafficking to secure this vote and that, which (not to mention other evils) so engrosses the time and thoughts of ministers, that they have not leisure for matters of greater moment. It must also be remembered that it is only of late that the popular assemblies in this part of the world have acquired the right of determining who shall govern them—of insisting, as we phrase it, that the administration of affairs shall be conducted by persons enjoying their confidence. It is not wonderful that a privilege of this kind should be exercised at first with some degree of recklessness, and that, while no great principles of policy are at stake, methods of a more questionable character for winning and retaining the confidence of these arbiters of destiny should be resorted to. My course in these circumstances is, I think, clear and plain. It may be somewhat difficult to follow occasionally, but I feel no doubt as to the direction in which it lies. I give to my ministers all constitutional support, frankly and without reserve, and the benefit of the best advice that I can afford them in their difficulties. In return for this I expect that they will, in so far as it is possible for them to do so, carry out my views for the maintenance of the connexion with Great Britain and the advancement of the interests of the province. On this tacit understanding we have acted together harmoniously up to this time, although I have never concealed from them that I intend to do nothing which may prevent me from working cordially with their opponents, if they are forced upon me. That ministries and Oppositions should occasionally change places, is of the very essence of our constitutional system, and it is probably the most conservative element which it contains. By subjecting all sections of politicians in their turn to official responsibilities, it obliges heated partisans to place some restraint on passion, and to confine within the bounds of decency the patriotic zeal with which, when out of place, they are wont to be animated. In order, however, to secure these advantages, it is indispensable that the head of the Government should show that he has confidence in the loyalty of all the influential parties with which he has to deal, and that he should have no personal antipathies to prevent him from acting with leading men.

I feel very strongly that a Governor-General, by acting upon these views with tact and firmness, may hope to establish a moral influence in the province which will go far to compensate for the loss of power consequent on the surrender of patronage to an executive responsible to the local Parliament. Until, however, the functions of his office, under our amended colonial constitution, are more clearly defined— until that middle term which shall reconcile the faithful discharge of his responsibility to the Imperial Government and the province with the maintenance of the quasi-monarchical relation in which he now stands towards the community over which he presides, be discovered and agreed upon, he must be content to tread along a path which is somewhat narrow and slippery, and to find that incessant watchfulness and some dexterity are requisite to prevent him from falling, on the one side into the neant of mock sovereignty, or on the other into the dirt and confusion of local factions.

Many of his letters exhibit the same conviction that the remedy for the evils which he regretted was to be found in the principles of government first asserted by Lord Durham; but there is a special interest in the expression of this sentiment when addressed, as in the following extract, to Lord Durham's daughter:—

I still adhere to my opinion that the real and effectual vindication of Lord Durham's memory and proceedings will be the success of a Governor-General of Canada who works out his views of government fairly. Depend upon it, if this country is governed for a few years satisfactorily, Lord Durham's reputation as a statesman will be raised beyond the reach of cavil. I do not indeed know whether I am to be the instrument to carry out this work, or be destined, like others who have gone before me, to break down in the attempt; but I am still of opinion that the thing may be done, though it requires some good fortune and some qualities not of the lowest order. I find on my arrival here a very weak Government, almost as much abused by their friends as by their foes, no civil or private secretary, and an immense quantity of arrears of business. It is possible, therefore, that I may not be able to bear up against the difficulties of my situation, and that it may remain for some one else to effect that object, which many reasons would render me so desirous to achieve.

[Sidenote: Irish immigration,]

With these cares, which formed the groundwork of the texture of the Governor's life, were interwoven from time to time interests of a more temporary character; of which the first in date, as in importance, was connected with the flood of immigration consequent on the Irish famine of 1847.

During the course of the season nearly 100,000 immigrants landed at Quebec, a large proportion of whom were totally destitute, and must have perished had they not been forwarded at the cost of the public. Owing to various causes, contagious fever of a most malignant character prevailed among them, to an unexampled extent; the number confined at one time in hospitals occasionally approached 10,000: and though the mortality among children was very great, nearly 1,000 immigrant orphans were left during the season at Montreal, besides a proportionate number at Grosse Isle, Quebec, Kingston, Toronto, and other places.

In this manner 'army after army of sick and suffering people, fleeing from famine in their native land to be stricken down by death in the valley of the St. Lawrence, stopped in rapid succession at Grosse Isle, and there leaving numbers of their dead behind, pushed upwards towards the lakes, in over-crowded steamers, to burthen the inhabitants of the western towns and villages.'[5]

The people of Canada exerted themselves nobly, under the direction of their Governor, to meet the sudden call upon their charity; but he felt deeply for the sufferings which it entailed upon the colony, and he did not fail to point out to Lord Grey how severe was the strain thus laid on her loyalty:—

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