1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Cromer, Evelyn Baring, 1st Earl

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

CROMER, EVELYN BARING, 1st Earl (1841–  ), British statesman and diplomatist, was born on the 26th of February 1841, the ninth son of Henry Baring, M.P., by Cecilia Anne, eldest daughter of Admiral Windham of Felbrigge Hall, Norfolk. Having joined the Royal Artillery in 1858, he was appointed in 1861 A.D.C. to Sir Henry Storks, high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, and acted as secretary to the same chief during the inquiry into the Jamaica outbreak in 1865. Gazetted captain in 1870, he went in 1872 as private secretary to his cousin Lord Northbrook, Viceroy of India, where he remained until 1876, when he became major, received the C.S.I., and was appointed British commissioner of the Egyptian public debt office. Up to this period Major Baring had given no unusual signs of promise, and the appointment of a comparatively untried major of artillery as the British representative on a Financial Board composed of representatives of all the great powers was considered a bold one. Within a very short time it was recognized that the Englishman, though keeping himself carefully in the background, was unmistakably the predominant factor on the board. He was mainly responsible for the searching report, issued in 1878, of the commission of inquiry that had been instituted into the financial methods of the Khedive Ismail; and when that able and unscrupulous Oriental had to submit to an enforced abdication in 1879, it was Major Baring who became the British controller-general and practical director of the Dual Control. Had he remained in Egypt, the whole course of Egyptian history might have been altered, but his services were deemed more necessary in India, and under Lord Ripon he became financial member of council in June 1880. He remained there till 1883, leaving an unmistakable mark on the Indian financial system, and then, having been rewarded by the K.C.S.I., he was appointed British agent and consul-general in Egypt and a minister plenipotentiary in the diplomatic service.

Sir Evelyn Baring was at that time only a man of forty-two, who had gained a reputation for considerable financial ability, combined with an abruptness of manner and a certain autocracy of demeanour which, it was feared, would impede his success in a position which required considerable tact and diplomacy. It was a friendly colleague who wrote—

“The virtues of Patience are known,
But I think that, when put to the touch,
The people of Egypt will own, with a groan,
There’s an Evil in Baring too much.”

When he arrived in Cairo in 1883 he found the administration of the country almost non-existent. Ismail had ruled with all the vices, but also with all the advantages, of autocracy. Disorder in the finances, brutality towards the people, had been combined with public tranquillity and the outer semblance of civilization. Order, at least, reigned from the Sudan to the Mediterranean, and such trivial military disturbances as had occurred had been of Ismail’s own devising and for his own purposes. Tewfik, who had succeeded him, had neither the inclination nor character to be a despot. Within three years his government had been all but overthrown, and he was only khedive by the grace of British bayonets. Government by bayonets was not in accord with the views of the House of Commons, yet Ismail’s government by the kourbash could not be restored. The British government, under Mr Gladstone, desired to establish in Egypt a sort of constitutional government; and as there existed no single element of a constitution, they had sent out Lord Dufferin (the first marquess of Dufferin) to frame one. That gifted nobleman, in the delightful lucidity of his picturesque report, left nothing to be desired except the material necessary to convert the flowing periods into political entities.[1] In the absence of that, the constitution was still-born, and Sir Evelyn Baring arrived to find, not indeed a clean slate, but a worn-out papyrus, disfigured by the efforts of centuries to describe in hieroglyph a method of rule for a docile people.

From that date the history of Sir Evelyn Baring, who became Baron Cromer in 1892, G.C.B. in 1895, viscount in 1897, and earl in 1901, is the history of Egypt, and requires the barest mention of its salient points here. From the outset he realized that the task he had to perform could only be effected piecemeal and in detail, and his very first measure was one which, though severely criticized at the time, has been justified by events, and which in any case showed that he shirked no responsibility, and was capable of adopting heroic methods. He counselled the abandonment, at least temporarily, by Egypt of its authority in the Sudan provinces, already challenged by the mahdi. His views were shared by the British ministry of the day and the policy of abandonment enforced upon the Egyptian government. At the same time it was decided that efforts should be made to relieve the Egyptian garrisons in the Sudan and this resolve led to the mission of General C. G. Gordon (q.v.) to Khartum. Lord Cromer subsequently told the story of Gordon’s mission at length, making clear the measure of responsibility resting upon him as British agent. The proposal to employ Gordon came from the British government and twice Sir Evelyn rejected the suggestion. Finally, mistrusting his own judgment, for he did not consider Gordon the proper person for the mission, Baring yielded to pressure from Lord Granville. Thereafter he gave Gordon all the support possible, and in the critical matter of the proposed despatch of Zobeir to Khartum, Baring—after a few days’ hesitation—cordially endorsed Gordon’s request. The request was refused by the British government—and the catastrophe which followed at Khartum rendered inevitable.

The Sudan crisis being over, for the time, Sir Evelyn Baring set to work to reorganize Egypt itself. This work he attacked in detail. The very first essential was to regulate the financial situation; and in Egypt, where the entire revenue is based on the production of the soil, irrigation was of the first importance. With the assistance of Sir Colin Scott Moncrieff, in the public works department, and Sir Edgar Vincent, as financial adviser, these two great departments were practically put in order before he gave more than superficial attention to the rest. The ministry of justice was the next department seriously taken in hand, with the assistance of Sir John Scott, while the army had been reformed under Sir Evelyn Wood, who was succeeded by Sir Francis (afterwards Lord) Grenfell. Education, the ministry of the interior, and gradually every other department, came to be reorganized, or, more correctly speaking, formed, under Lord Cromer’s carefully persistent direction, until it may be said to-day that the Egyptian administration can safely challenge comparison with that of any other state. In the meantime the rule of the mahdi and his successor, the khalifa, in the temporarily abandoned provinces of the Sudan, had been weakened by internal dissensions; the Italians from Massawa, the Belgians from the Congo State, and the French from their West African possessions, had gradually approached nearer to the valley of the Nile; and the moment had arrived at which Egypt must decide either to recover her position in the Sudan or allow the Upper Nile to fall into hands hostile to Great Britain and her position in Egypt. Lord Cromer was as quick to recognize the moment for action and to act as he had fifteen years earlier been prompt to recognize the necessity of abstention. In March-September 1896 the first advance was made to Dongola under the Sirdar, Sir Herbert (afterwards Lord) Kitchener; between July 1897 and April 1898 the advance was pushed forward to the Atbara; and on the 2nd of September 1898, the battle of Omdurman finally crushed the power of the khalifa and restored the Sudan to the rule of Egypt and Great Britain. In the negotiations which resulted in the Anglo-French Declaration of the 8th of April 1904, whereby France bound herself not to obstruct in any manner the action of Great Britain in Egypt and the Egyptian government acquired financial freedom, Lord Cromer took an active part. He also successfully guarded the interests of Egypt and Great Britain in 1906 when Turkey attempted by encroachments in the Sinai Peninsula to obtain a strategic position on the Suez Canal. To have effected all this in the face of the greatest difficulties—political, national and international—and at the same time to have raised the credit of the country from a condition of bankruptcy to an equality with that of the first European powers, entitles Lord Cromer to a very high place among the greatest administrators and statesmen that the British empire has produced. In April 1907, in consequence of the state of his health, he resigned office, having held the post of British agent in Egypt for twenty-four years. In July of the same year parliament granted £50,000 out of the public funds to Lord Cromer in recognition of his “eminent services” in Egypt. In 1908 he published, in two volumes, Modern Egypt, in which he gave an impartial narrative of events in Egypt and the Sudan since 1876, and dealt with the results to Egypt of the British occupation of the country. Lord Cromer also took part in the political controversies at home, joining himself to the free-trade wing of the Unionist party.

Lord Cromer married in 1876 Ethel Stanley, daughter of Sir Rowland Stanley Errington, eleventh baronet, but was left a widower with two sons in 1898; and in 1901 he married Lady Katherine Thynne, daughter of the 4th marquess of Bath.

  1. In 1892 Lord Dufferin wrote to Lord Cromer: “These institutions were a good deal ridiculed at the time, but as it was then uncertain how long we were going to remain, or rather how soon the Turks might not be reinvested with their ancient supremacy, I desired to erect some sort of barrier, however feeble, against their intolerable tyranny.” In 1906 Lord Cromer bore public testimony to the good results of the measures adopted on Lord Dufferin’s “statesmanlike initiative.” Such results were, however, only possible in consequence of the continuance of the British occupation.