Childers, Hugh Culling Eardley (DNB01)

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CHILDERS, HUGH CULLING EARDLEY (1827–1896), statesman, was born at the house of his uncle. Sir Culling Eardley Eardley, in Brook Street, London, on 25 June 1827. His great-grandfather on both sides, Sir Sampson Gideon, afterwards Lord Eardley (1744–1824), was son of Sampson Gideon [q. v.]; having married Maria, daughter of Sir John Eardley Wilmot [q. v.], he assumed the name Eardley, and was created Baron Eardley in the Irish peerage in 1789, but on the death without issue of his two sons, the peerage became extinct. Lord Eardley also left three daughters. Of these the second,Charlotte Elizabeth, married Sir Culling Smith, first baronet, of Bedwell Park, Hertfordshire, and was mother of Sir Culling Eardley Eardley [q. v.] and of Hugh Childers's mother, Maria Charlotte. Lord Eardley's third daughter, Selina, married Colonel John Walbanke Childers of Cantley, near Doncaster, and was mother of John Walbanke Childers, M.P. for Cambridgeshire in 1833 and for Malton from 1835 to 1852, and of the Rev. Eardley Childers (d. 1831). The latter married his first cousin, Maria Charlotte (d. 1860), daughter of Sir Culling Smith. The issue of this marriage was Hugh Childers and a daughter who died young.

Hugh Childers was educated at Cheam school from 1836 to 1843 under Charles Mayo (1792-1846) [q. v.] On 9 April 1845 he was admitted a commoner at Wadham College, Oxford, but in May 1847 he migrated to Trinity College, Cambridge. He appeared as a senior optime in the mathematical tripos, and graduated B.A. in February 1850. Very shortly after leaving Cambridge he married, on 28 May 1850, Emily, third daughter of G. J. A. Walker of Norton, Worcestershire, and, preferring a career in the colonies to the bar, he sailed on 10 July for Melbourne, where he arrived on 26 Oct. 1850. He was furnished with excellent letters of introduction to the governor, Charles Joseph Latrobe [q. v.], and was appointed, 11 Jan. 1851, an inspector of schools. In September of the same year he became secretary to the education department and emigration agent at the port of Melbourne. His ability for work and organisation was soon noted, and on 11 Oct. 1852 he was given the office of auditor-general, with a seat in the legislative council, and a salary of 1,200l. a year. In this office he practically controlled the revenue of the colony at the early age of twenty-six. On 4 Nov. 1852 he produced his first budget, which provided 10,000l. for a university at Melbourne, and on 11 Jan. 1853 he brought in a bill for the establishment of the university, of which he was made first vice-chancellor. In December 1853 he was appointed collector of customs with a salary of 2,000l., by virtue of which office he obtained a seat in the executive council as well as in the legislative council. With Sir Charles Hotham, Latrobe's successor, Childers's relations were strained, and Hotham wished to dismiss him, but was overruled by the home government. After the conversion of Victoria into a self-governing colony in 1855, Childers was elected, 23 Sept. 1860, to represent Portland in the new parliament. He sat in the first Victorian cabinet as commissioner of trades and customs.

In March 1857 Childers returned to London to fill the newly created post of agent-general for Victoria, but a change of government occurring in the colony the appointment was cancelled beyond the end of the same year. Childers, however, continued to act for the colony in an informal way, and to the end of his life was a staunch advocate of colonial federation. He visited Australia in 1858 on behalf of Messrs. Baring with regard to a proposed loan to the colonies for the purchase of railways by the state. On his return to England in September 1858 Childers determined to devote himself to politics, and at the general election of 1859 stood in the liberal interest for Pontefract, where he possessed some interest through his uncle. Sir Culling Eardley Eardley (formerly Smith), his mother's brother, who represented the borough in 1830. He was the second liberal candidate with Monckton Milnes (afterwards Lord Houghton) as a colleague, and was defeated. A petition was, however, presented against the return of the conservative, William Overend (1809-1884). Although the petition was withdrawn, another contest followed in January 1860, when Childers was elected. He continued to represent Pontefract until the general election of 1885. His peculiar colonial experience soon attracted attention to his abilities in the House of Commons. His first speech on the working of the ballot, 9 Feb. 1860 (published 1860; 2nd ed. 1869), was notable, owing to his knowledge of the act as passed in Victoria, and brought him early under the notice of Lord Palmerston. On the question of transportation to the colonies becoming urgent, he was appointed chairman of the select committee considering the question, and was also a member of the royal commission inquiring into penal servitude in 1863; his efforts were largely instrumental in procuring the abolition of transportation. In April 1864 he succeeded (Sir) James Stansfeld [q. v. Suppl.] as a civil lord of the admiralty, under the Duke of Somerset, the first lord in Lord Palmerston's administration, and from the first showed himself to be a strong supporter of economy and reform in dockyard administration. In August 1865 he was appointed financial secretary to the treasury, and cemented a friendship with Gladstone, then chancellor of the exchequer, whose policy rather than that of Palmerston he was from the first inclined to support. He was thenceforth until the end of his life a devoted follower and admirer of Gladstone, who well rewarded his loyalty. During his tenure of office as financial secretary his most important work was the passing of the Audit Act of 1865, for which he was mainly responsible (Alg. West, Recollections, ii. 209; Lord Welby in Times, February 1896; Life of Childers, i. 1 28-9). He retired from office on the fall of the liberal government (June 1866). In 1867 he acted on the royal commission appointed to investigate the condition of the law courts.

On the formation of Gladstone's first administration in December 1868 Childers was appointed first lord of the admiralty, and was admitted to the privy council. During his term of office he proved himself an active administrator, and carried out a number of far-reaching reforms. His main efforts aimed at promoting economy and increased efficiency in the existing administrative body. By an order in council, February 1870, he carried into effect new regulations for promotion and retirement, and revised and reduced the list of officers. In dockyard management he effected some material economies and improvements, and in the matter of shipbuilding determined on the building of an annual tonnage in peace time. His administrative reforms at the admiralty tended to substitute individual for board responsibility, and to enlarge the powers of the first lord (Sir J. Briggs, Naval Administration). He was the first to aim at making England's fleet equal to that of any two other maritime powers (Life, i. 172-173), and in 1869 he came to the conclusion that it would be prudent to purchase the Suez Canal shares; that was afterwards done by Disraeli (ib. i. 230). In March 1871 Childers resigned office, his health being materially affected on the loss of his second son, Leonard, in the foundering of the Captain, 7 Sept. 1871 [see Coles, Cowper Phipps]. The public confidence in his administration was such that his retirement was described in the 'Times' newspaper as constituting 'a national calamity.' Recovering his health by a period of travel on the continent, he again took office in August 1872 as chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster. On this occasion (15 Aug.) he was re-elected for Pontefract after a contest which was the first to take place after the passing of the Ballot Act. When, however, the administration was remodelled in 1873, Childers retired from office, making way for Bright.

In opposition Childers was not prominent in the House of Commons. Except when he was personally affected, his energies were rather directed to the commercial undertakings in which he was interested than to the conduct of party warfare. In July 1875 he went to Canada on Lord Dufferin's invitation to settle a land dispute in Prince Edward Island, but the sudden death of his wife in November following withdrew him for a time altogether from public life. In 1880, when Gladstone came again into power, he gave new proof of his confidence in Childers, appointing him secretary of state for war. In this capacity he was responsible for the administration of the war office during the Transvaal war of 1881 and the Egyptian campaign of 1882. He was not slow to display at the war office qualities similar to those he had exhibited at the admiralty. The introduction of the territorial system into army organisation and the linking of line and militia battalions had already been recommended by Colonel Stanley's committee in 1875, and this recommendation the new secretary for war determined to carry into law. He produced his scheme of army reform in a speech in the House of Commons on 3 March 1881 (published 1881), and the bulk of his proposals were carried into effect. Despite very considerable opposition, originating from the service itself, the single battalion regiments with their numerical designations were now done away with and replaced by an entirely new organisation on a territorial basis. The popularity of the service was at the same time enhanced by the granting of greater inducements in the way of pay, pension, and rank to non-commissioned officers, and by the abolition of flogging. With the object of securing greater efficiency in the ranks, the period with the colours was extended from six to seven or eight years if abroad, and efforts were made to gradually raise the age for enlistment. The new organisation thus instituted proved successful, and afforded a means, before lacking, of making a more effective use of the militia and volunteer forces.

After the close of the Tel-el-Kebir campaign, to the success of which Childers's administration of the war office contributed not a little, he was offered, but declined, a G.C.B.; and at the close of 1882 he was chosen to succeed Gladstone as chancellor of the exchequer. He had established a reputation for financial ability when secretary to the treasury, and during his parliamentary career had exhibited a remarkable capacity for mastering finance accounts and the statistical abstracts (Algernon West, Recoll. ii. 309). A surplus of more than two and a half millions enabled the new chancellor in his first budget, 1883-4, to remit taxation. The income-tax was reduced from 6½d. to 5d., the railway passenger duty on all fares of 1d. per mile and under was abolished by the Cheap Trains Act, 1883, and provision was made by the setting aside of 170,000l. for the introduction of 6d. telegrams. In 1884 revenue and expenditure nearly balanced, and there was little opportunity for financial ingenuity; in his financial statement, however, on 24 April 1884 Childers dealt with the question of light gold, but his gold coinage bill for the conversion of the half-sovereign into a token worth only 9s. was so generally opposed to public opinion that it was abandoned on 10 July. In the same statement he explained his scheme for the conversion of the existing 3 per cents, into a 2½ or a 2¾ per cent, stock. The bill for this purpose was passed on 3 July 1884, but the terms of conversion, though fair and reasonable, failed to attract the banking interest sufficiently, and only a small amount of the new stock was created.

Another important question with which Childers had to deal was the bankuptcy of Egypt. After prolonged negotiations with the powers the London Convention was concluded in March 1885. That convention 'is the organic law of Egyptian finance to the present day' (Sir Alfred Milner) ; it formed the turning point in the fortunes of modern Egypt.

In the budget of 1885-6, introduced on 30 April, heavy new taxation was necessary to provide for a deficit of more than 3,000,000l., and a special vote of credit for 11,000,000l. to meet the preparations for war with Russia consequent upon the Pendjeh incident. Childers attempted to meet his difficulties by increasing the income-tax from 5d. to 8d., altering the death duties, increasing the taxes on spirits and beer, and suspending the sinking-fund ; his proposed division of the burden between direct and indirect taxation was approved in the cabinet by Gladstone, but opposed by Sir Charles Dilke and Mr. Chamberlain. The consideration of the budget was postponed until after Whitsuntide, and this delay, against which Childers protested, gave time for an agitation against it which proved fatal to the government. It was defeated on the inland revenue bill, 9 June 1885, authorising the new taxation on beer, and resigned immediately ; the defeat was, however, due more to unpopularity incurred on account of the government's proceedings in Egypt and the Soudan than to the financial proposals of the chancellor of the exchequer (Lord Selborne, Memorials Personal and Political, ii. 170).

Since 1880 Childers had been gradually inclining towards a policy in Ireland which should harmonise, as far as was safe and practicable, with the aspirations of Irish nationalists. In September 1885 he informed Gladstone that he intended in his election campaign to advocate a wide measure of self-government for Ireland. He failed to retain his seat at Pontefract, but in January 1886 was elected M.P. for South Edinburgh.

Meanwhile Gladstone had adopted his policy of home rule, with which Childers declared his concurrence. Accordingly in Gladstone's short administration of 1886 Childers held office as home secretary. He secured some modifications of detail in Gladstone's first home rule bill during its consideration by the cabinet, and spoke in favour of it on 21 May, but on 7 June the government was defeated.

At the general election of June 1886 he was returned for South Edinburgh, but towards the close of the year his health exhibited signs of failure, from which he sought relief by travels on the continent in 1887, and in India in 1889. At the general election of 1892 he announced his retirement from active politics. In 1894, however, he undertook the chairmanship of the Irish financial relations committee, and had prepared a draft report before his death.

Childers, who enjoyed the reputation of a businesslike administrator, died on 29 Jan. 1896, and was buried at Cantley, near Doncaster. By his first wife, who died in 1875, he had issue four sons and two daughters ; two of the sons predeceased him, Leonard in 1871 and Francis in 1886. He married, secondly, at the British Embassy in Paris on Easter Eve, 1879, Katharine, daughter of the Right Rev. A. T. Gilbert, bishop of Chichester, and widow of Colonel the Hon. Gilbert Elliot ; she died in May 1895.

Two portraits of Childers in oils, by his daughter. Miss Childers, are in the possession of his son. Colonel Spencer Childers, R.E. An engraved portrait of him is given in Sir John Briggs's 'Naval Administration;' portraits of Childers, of both his wives, and of other members of the family, are also reproduced in the ' Life ' by his son.

[Life and Correspondence of II. C. E. Childers, by his son, Lieutenant-colonel Spencer Childers, E.E., C.B., 2 vols. 1901 ; Hansard's Parliamentary Debates; Times, 30 Jan. 1896; Yorkshire Post, 30 Jan. 1896; Spectator, 1 Feb. 1896; Results of Admiralty Organisation as established by Sir J. Graham and Mr. Childers, 1874; Burke's Extinct Peerage, s.v. 'Eardley;' Gardiner's Reg. of Wadham.]

W. C.-r.