Pottinger, Henry (DNB00)
|←Pottinger, Eldred||Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 46
POTTINGER, Sir HENRY (1789–1856), soldier and diplomatist, born at Mount Pottinger, co. Down, on 3 Oct. 1789, was fifth son of Eldred Curwen Pottinger, a descendant of the Pottingers of Berkshire. His mother was Anne, daughter of Robert Gordon, esq., of Florida Manor, co. Down. He was educated at the Belfast academy, which he left when only twelve years old, and went to sea. In 1803 he proceeded to India to join the marine service there, but friends induced Lord Castlereagh in 1804 to substitute for that appointment a cadetship in the native army. Meanwhile he studied in Bombay, and acquired a knowledge of the native languages. He worked well, became an assistant teacher, and on 18 Sept. 1806 was made an ensign, being promoted lieutenant on 16 July 1809.
In 1808 Pottinger was sent on a mission to Sind under Hankey Smith, brother of Sir Lionel Smith. In 1809, when Sir John Malcolm's mission to Persia was postponed, Pottinger and a friend, Captain Charles Christie, offered to explore the country between India and Persia in order to acquire information which was then much wanted. Government accepted the offer. The travellers, disguised as natives, accompanied by a native horse-dealer and two servants, left Bombay on 2 Jan. 1810, journeying by sea to Sind, and thence by land to Khelát. Though immediately recognised as Europeans, and even as having belonged to the embassy at Sind, they safely reached Núshkí, near the boundary between Afghánistán and Balúchistan; here Christie diverged northwards to Herát, and proceeded thence by Yezd to Ispahan, while Pottinger, keeping in a westerly direction, travelled through Kirman (Carmania) to Shiráz, and joined Christie at Ispahan. There Christie was directed to remain, and he was killed in a Russian attack on the Persians in 1812. Pottinger, returning viâ Bagdad and Bussorah, reached Bombay in February 1811. He reported the results of his journey, and in 1816 they were published under the title of ‘Travels in Beloochistan and Sinde.’
He was next appointed to the staff of Sir Evan Nepean [q. v.], governor of Bombay, by whom he was sent as assistant to Mountstuart Elphinstone [q. v.], the British resident at Poona. On 15 Oct. 1821 he was made captain. He served during the Mahratta war, and at its close became collector of Ahmadnagar. He obtained his majority on 1 May 1825, and in the same year he was made resident in Cutch. He was promoted lieutenant-colonel on 17 March 1829, and brevet colonel on 23 Jan. 1834. While resident in Cutch he conducted a mission to Sind in 1831, and subsequently, in 1836, he was appointed political agent in that country, which office he held until 1840, when he was compelled by ill-health to return to England. His success as political agent, and especially in arranging with the Sind ameers for the passage of the Bombay troops, under Sir John Keane, on their way to Afghanistan, was recognised in India and in England, and he was made a baronet on 27 April 1840.
Sir Henry accepted Lord Palmerston's offer of the post of envoy and plenipotentiary in China and superintendent of British trade, thus superseding Captain Charles Elliot [q. v.] A war—known as the opium war—had broken out between England and China in January 1840. It originated in the exclusion by the Chinese government of British opium-traders from Canton. After Captain Elliot, the British representative, had seized the forts about Canton, a preliminary treaty had been drawn up in January 1841, but it was subsequently disavowed by both the Chinese and English governments. Palmerston directed Pottinger to replace this treaty by a satisfactory compact, which should open China to British trade. But before his arrival in China the arrogance of the Chinese had led to a renewal of hostilities. Sir Hugh Gough [q. v.] carried anew the forts about Canton in May 1841, and while he was preparing to attack the town itself, Pottinger reached Macao (9 Aug.). He deemed it essential to the success of his pacific mission to make a further display of force, and he co-operated with Gough and Admiral Sir William Parker (1781–1866) [q. v.] in the capture of Amoy, Chusan, Chintu, and Ningpo. On 13 June 1842 he, with Parker, entered the Yangtze-Kiang river with the object of taking Nanking. After many successes by the way, an assault on that city was imminent in July, when Pottinger announced that the Chinese were ready to treat for peace on a satisfactory basis. The Chinese diplomatists had already found that Pottinger could not be trifled with. An intercepted letter from the chief Chinese negotiator to his government now bore testimony that ‘to all his representations the barbarian, Pottinger, only knit his brows and said “No.”’ Eventually peace was signed on 29 Aug. 1842 on board H.M.S. Cornwallis before Nanking. By this treaty—known as the treaty of Nanking—Hongkong was ceded to England, and the five ports Canton, Amoy, Foochow-Foo, Ningpo, and Shanghai were opened to English traders, and were to receive English consuls. In consideration of his exertions Pottinger was made G.C.B. (2 Dec. 1842), and on 5 April 1843 was appointed the first British governor of Hongkong.
Pottinger returned to England in the spring of 1844, and was received with much distinction. He was made a member of the privy council (23 May 1844), was presented with the freedom of many cities, and the House of Commons voted him 1,500l. a year for life in June 1845. He attained the rank of lieutenant-general in 1851. He was not long out of harness. On 28 Sept. 1846 he succeeded Sir Peregrine Maitland as governor of the Cape of Good Hope. He stayed there less than six months. On 4 Aug. 1847 he returned once more to India as governor of Madras. That post he held till 1854, when he came back to England in broken health. His government of Madras was not a success. He had become somewhat inert and dilatory in the disposal of public business, and failed to recognise the necessity of improvements which were essential to the moral and material progress of the country. He was better fitted to deal firmly with a crisis than to conduct ordinary administrative duties. He died at Malta on 18 March 1856, and was buried at Valetta.
Sir Henry married, in 1820, Susanna Maria (1800–1886), daughter of Captain Richard Cooke of Dublin, whose family was a branch of the Cookes of Cookesborough, co. Westmeath. By her he had three sons, the eldest of whom died in infancy, while the other two successively succeeded to the baronetcy, and a daughter.
Sir Henry's portrait was painted by Sir Francis Grant, P.R.A., and there were three replicas. One is in the Oriental Club, Hanover Square; another became the property of his son; and the third was sent to China as a present.[Dublin University Magazine, clxvi. (October 1846) 426–42; Knight's English Cyclopædia—Biography, iv. 954–8; Webb's Compendium of Irish Biography; Alison's Hist., Index; Parliamentary correspondence relative to Sind, 1836 to 1838 and 1838 to 1843; Knollys's Life of Sir Hope Grant, i. 31, 35, 41; S. Lane-Poole's Life of Sir Harry Parkes, passim; Burke's Peerages; Dodwell and Myles's India Army Lists; information supplied by Pottinger's second son, Sir H. Pottinger, third baronet.]