Colvin, Auckland (DNB12)

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

COLVIN, Sir AUCKLAND (1838–1908), Anglo-Indian and Egyptian administrator, born at Calcutta on 8 March 1838, was third son of the ten children of John Russell Colvin [q. v.], lieutenant-governor of the North-Western Provinces, by his wife Emma Sophia, daughter of Wetenhall Sneyd, vicar of Newchurch, Isle of Wight. Three of his brothers, Bazett Wetenhall Colvin, Elliott Graham Colvin, and Sir Walter Mytton Colvin (see below), all passed distinguished careers in India, and a fourth, Clement Sneyd, C.S.I., was secretary of the public works department of the India office in London.

Educated at Eton from 1850, Auckland went in 1854 to the East India College, Haileybury, and arriving in India on 17 Jan. 1858, he was posted to the Agra provinces. After serving the usual district novitiate, Auckland went to headquarters in May 1864 as under secretary in the home, and afterwards in the foreign department of the government of India. He returned to his own province in July 1869 as a settlement officer, and did good work in the revision of the Allahabad district settlement. He officiated as secretary to the government of the North-West Provinces in April 1873, and from the following June as commissioner of excise and stamps. The lieutenant-governor, Sir George Couper [q. v. Suppl. II], resented some brilliant criticism of the local government in the ‘Pioneer’ (Allahabad), which was attributed to Colvin's pen or inspiration. In the spring of 1877 Couper sent Colvin back to district work as collector of Basti. From November 1877 he officiated for a short period as commissioner of inland customs under the government of India, and he was afterwards collector of Bijnaur.

Colvin's opportunity came when in January 1878 he was transferred for employment in Egypt, serving first as head of the cadastral survey, and then from 24 May as British commissioner of the debt, in place of Major Evelyn Baring (now Lord Cromer). Again in June 1880 he succeeded Major Baring as English controller of Egyptian finance, with M. de Blignières as his French colleague. From time to time he acted as British consul-general in Sir Edward Malet's absence, and he was acting for Malet when the mutiny of 9 Sept. 1881 broke out. By his advice and persuasion the timorous Khedive Tewfik confronted Arabi, the rebel leader, in the square of the Abdin palace, and succeeded in postponing the insurrection (cf. Colvin's official minute, 19 Sept.; Cromer, Modern Egypt, i. 206–8). In various ways, and not least by his work as Egyptian correspondent of the ‘Pall Mall Gazette,’ he influenced public opinion at home, and forced the reluctant hands of Gladstone's government towards acceptance of responsibility in Egypt. Mr. Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, Colvin's bitterest opponent, in his ‘Secret History of the English Occupation’ (1907), pays unwilling homage to the resource with which Colvin conducted the struggle. After the British occupation Colvin became financial adviser to the Khedive, who conferred on him the grand cordons of Osmanieh and Medjidie. He was created K.C.M.G. in 1881.

When Lord Cromer became British agent in Egypt, Colvin succeeded him as financial member of the viceroy's council in India in Aug. 1883. Financial difficulties faced him. The war in Upper Burma and the danger of hostilities with Russia, consequent upon the Penjdeh incident, were not only costly in themselves, but were followed by great capital outlay on improving the strategic position on the north-west frontier, and by increases of the British and native armies. With Sir Courtenay Ilbert, then legal member, Colvin minuted against this increase, and after retirement he complained that the military element in the council was disproportionately strong (Final Report of Ind. Expend. Comm. 1900, Cd. 131). The finances were also disturbed by the continued decline in the sterling value of the rupee, while suggestions made by the governor-general in council, at Colvin's instance, for seeking an international acceptance of bimetallism were treated by the cabinet at home, Colvin thought, with scant respect.

Although he caused a committee to be appointed under Sir Charles Elliott [q. v. Suppl. II] to recommend economies, he was compelled not only to suspend the Famine Insurance Fund, and to take toll of the provincial governments, but to increase taxation. In January 1886 he converted some annual licence duties in certain provinces into a general tax on non-agricultural incomes in excess of Rs. 500 per annum. This unpopular proceeding was immortalised in Kipling's 'Departmental Ditties' by 'The Rupaiyat of Omar Kal'vin,' which represents the finance member as plying the begging-bowl among his European countrymen. In his last budget (1887-8) he increased the salt duty by twenty-five per cent, and imposed an export duty on petroleum.

Colvin welcomed his transfer on 21 Nov. 1887 to Allahabad as lieutenant-governor of the North-West Provinces and chief commissioner of Oudh, in succession to Sir Alfred Comyn Lyall [q. v. Suppl. II]. His father had been charged with 'over-governing' the same provinces thirty years before, and the son resembled him in his personal attention to detail. To his influence were due good water supplies and drainage systems in the larger towns of what are now the United Provinces, several new hospitals, and the Colvin Taluqdars' school at Lucknow.

Towards the Indian National Congress he declared himself uncompromisingly hostile, both in allocutions at divisional durbars and in a published correspondence with Mr. A. O. Hume, formerly of his own service, the 'father' of the new movement (1885). Colvin resolutely rallied loyalist opinion against the congress.

Created C.I.E. in Oct. 1883, he was gazetted a K. C.S.I, in May 1892, six months before retirement. In England, Colvin settled at Earl Soham, Framlingham, and took an active part in local affairs and charities. He mainly occupied himself with literature. He wrote the life of his father for the 'Rulers of India' series (1895), warmly defending him against contemporary criticism. His 'Making of Modern Egypt' (1906), while dealing generously with the work of other Englishmen, says nothing of his own part in surmounting the crises of 1881 and 1882. The book was soon overshadowed by Lord Cromer's 'Modern Egypt' (1908). From 1896 onward he was chairman of the Burma railways, the Egyptian Delta railway, and the Khedivial Mail Steamship Company, and was on the boards of other companies. He died at Sutton House, Surbiton, the residence of his 'eldest daughter, on 24 March 1908. He was buried at Earl Soham.

He married on 4 Aug. 1859 Charlotte Elizabeth (d. 1865), daughter of Lieut.-general Charles Herbert, C.B., and had a son, who died in infancy, and three daughters.

Colvon, Sir Walter Mytton (1847-1908), Sir Auckland's youngest brother, born at Moulmain, Burma, on 13 Sept. 1847, was educated at Rugby and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he was captain of the boats. He was called to the bar at the Middle Temple in 1871, went out to Allahabad in the following year, and built up a vast practice as a criminal lawyer. He served for several biennial terms as a nominated member of the provincial legislature. His insight into the manners, customs, and thoughts of the people was of great value to the police commission of 1902-3, of which he was a member. Mainly for this service he was knighted in 1904. He died at Allahabad on 16 Dec. 1908, and was buried in the European cemetery there. There is a tablet to his memory in Milland Church, Hampshire. He married in 1873 Annie, daughter of Wigram E. Money, and had a family of three daughters.

[John Russell Colvin, Rulers of India series; Debrett's Peerage; the India List; Annual Registers for various years from 1882; Lord Cromer's Modern Egypt; Audi Alteram Partem, being two letters on Ind. Nat. Congress Movement, Simla, 1888; Sir A. Lyall, Marquis of Dufferin and Ava; The Times, 26 March 1908; Times of India, 28 March 1908; Pioneer Mail, 3 April and 25 Dec. 1908; family details supplied by Lady Bindon Blood, daughter of Sir Auckland.]

F. H. B.