1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Amherst, William Pitt Amherst, Earl

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AMHERST, WILLIAM PITT AMHERST, Earl (1773–1857), governor-general of India, was the nephew of Jeffrey, Baron Amherst, and succeeded to his title in 1797 by the remainder provided when the patent of nobility was renewed in 1788. In 1816 he was sent as ambassador extraordinary to the court of China, with a view of establishing more satisfactory commercial relations between that country and Great Britain. On arriving in the Peiho he was given to understand that he could only be admitted to the emperor’s presence on condition of performing the ko-tou (kow-tow), a ceremony which Western nations consider degrading, and which is, indeed, a homage exacted by a Chinese sovereign from his tributaries. To this Lord Amherst, following the advice of Sir George T. Staunton, who accompanied him as second commissioner, refused to consent, as Lord Macartney had done in 1793, unless the admission was made that his sovereign was entitled to the same show of reverence from a mandarin of his rank. In consequence of this he was not allowed to enter Pekin, and the object of his mission was frustrated. His ship, the “Alceste,” after a cruise along the coast of Korea and to the Loo-Choo Islands, on proceeding homewards was totally wrecked on a sunken rock in Gaspar Strait. Lord Amherst and part of his shipwrecked companions escaped in the ship’s boats to Batavia, whence relief was sent to the rest. The ship in which he returned to England in 1817 having touched at St Helena, he had several interviews with the emperor Napoleon (see Ellis’s Proceedings of the Late Embassy to China, 1817; M‘Leod’s Narrative of a Voyage in H.M.S.Alceste,” 1817). Lord Amherst held the office of governor-general of India from August 1823 to February 1828. The principal event of his government was the first Burmese war of 1824, resulting in the cession of Arakan and Tenasserim to Great Britain. He was created Earl Amherst of Arakan in 1826. On his return to England he lived in retirement till his death in March 1857.

See A. Thackeray and R. Evans, Lord Amherst (“Rulers of India” series), 1894.