Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Bourke, Richard Southwell

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BOURKE, RICHARD SOUTHWELL, sixth Earl of Mayo (1822–1872), viceroy and governor-general of India, was the eldest son of Robert Bourke, fifth earl of Mayo, who succeeded his uncle, the fourth earl, in 1849. The earls of Mayo, like the earls and marquises of Clanricarde, are said to have descended from William Fitzadelm de Borgo, who succeeded Strongbow in the government of Ireland in 1066. Richard, the eldest of ten brothers and sisters, was born in Dublin on 21 Feb. 1822, and spent his earlier years at Hayes, a country house belonging to the family in the county of Meath. He was educated at home, and in 1841 entered Trinity College, Dublin, where, without going into residence, he took an ordinary degree. His father was a strong evangelical. His mother, Anne Jocelyn, a granddaughter of the first Earl of Roden, was a woman of considerable culture, of deep religious feelings, and of strong common sense. Brought up amidst the sports of country life he became a clever shot, an accomplished rider, and a good swimmer. While an undergraduate he spent much of his time at Palmerstown and in London with his granduncle, the fourth Earl of Mayo, whom Praed described as

A courtier of the nobler sort,
    A christian of the purer school,
Tory when whigs are great at court,
    And protestant when papists rule.

In 1845 he made a tour in Russia, and after his return to England published an account of it ('St. Petersburg and Moscow: A Visit to the Court of the Czar, by Richard Southwell Bourke, Esq.,' 2 vols., Henry Colburn, 1846), which gave evidence of acute observation, and met with considerable success. In 1847 he took an active part in the relief of the sufferers from the Irish famine. At the general election in the same year he was elected to parliament as one of the members for the county of Kildare. In the following year he married Miss Blanche Wyndham, daughter of the first Lord Leconfield. In 1849 his granduncle died, and his father succeeding to the earldom, he assumed the courtesy title of Lord Naas. In 1852 he was appointed chief secretary for Ireland in Lord Derby's administration, and held the same office during the subsequent conservative administrations which came into power in 1858 and 1866, retaining it on the last occasion until his appointment as viceroy and governor-general of India shortly before the fall of Mr. Disraeli's government. He succeeded to the Irish earldom on the death of his father in 1867.

During all these years Lord Mayo had a seat in the House of Commons, serving as member for Kildare county from 1847 to 1852, for the Irish borough of Coleraine from 1852 to 1857, and for the English borough of Cockermouth during the remainder of his parliamentary life. His politics were those of a moderate conservative. His policy was eminently conciliatory, combined with unflinching firmness in repressing sedition and crime. While opposed to any measure for disestablishing the protestant church in Ireland, he was in favour of granting public money to other institutions, whether catholic or protestant, without respect of creed, 'established for the education, relief, or succour of his fellow-countrymen.' His view was that no school, hospital, or asylum should languish because of the religious teaching it afforded, or because of the religion of those who supported it. His opinions on these questions and on the land question were very fully stated in a speech made by him in the House of Commons on 10 March 1868, in which he propounded a policy which has been often described as the 'levelling-up policy,' involving the establishment of a Roman catholic university, and such changes in ecclesiastical matters as would meet the just claims of the Roman catholic portion of the community. He was in favour of securing for tenants compensation for improvements effected by themselves, of providing for increased powers of improvement by limited owners, and of written contracts in supersession of the system of parole tenancies.

Lord Mayo's views on all these matters met with full support from his political chief, Mr. Disraeli, who, when announcing to the Buckinghamshire electors the appointment of his friend to the office of viceroy and governor-general of India, declared that 'a state of affairs so dangerous was never encountered with greater firmness, but at the same time with greater magnanimity.' 'Upon that nobleman, for his sagacity, for his judgment, fine temper, and knowledge of men, her majesty has been pleased to confer the office of viceroy of India, and as viceroy of India I believe he will earn a reputation that his country will honour.' The resignation of the ministry had actually taken place before the governor-generalship became vacant; but the appointment was not interfered with by Mr. Gladstone's government, and Lord Mayo was sworn in as governor-general at Calcutta on 12 Jan. 1869.

Under Sir John Lawrence the attention of the government of India and of the subordinate governments had been mainly devoted to internal administrative improvements, and to the development of the resources of the country. With the exception of the Orissa famine no serious crisis had taxed the energies or the resources of the state, and Lord Mayo received the government in a condition of admirable efficiency, with no arrears of current work (Sir John Strachey's Minute on the Administration of the Earl of Mayo, 30 April 1872). But clear as the official file was, and tranquil as was the condition of the empire, several questions of first-rate importance speedily engaged the consideration of the new viceroy. Of these the most important were the relations of the government of India with the foreign states on its borders, and especially with Afghanistan, and the condition of the finances, which, notwithstanding the vigilant supervision of the late viceroy, was not altogether satisfactory.

The condition of Afghanistan from the time of the death of the amír, Dost Muhammad Khán, in 1863, up to a few months before Lord Mayo's accession to office, had been one of constant intestine war, three of the sons of the late amír disputing the succession in a series of sanguinary struggles which had lasted for five years. Sir John Lawrence had from the first declined to aid any one of the combatants in this internecine strife, adhering to the policy of recognising the de facto ruler, and at one time two de facto rulers, when one of the brothers had made himself master of Cabul and Candahar, and the other held Herat. At length, in the autumn of 1868. Shír Ali Khán having succeeded in establishing his supremacy, was officially recognised by the governor-general as sovereign of the whole of Afghanistan, and was presented with a gift of 20,000l., accompanied by a promise of 100,000l. more. It was also arranged that the amír should visit India, and should be received by the viceroy with the honours due to the ruler of Afghanistan. This position of affairs had been brought to the notice of Lord Mayo before his departure from England. While fully realising the difficulties by which the whole question was encompassed, he appears to have entertained some doubts as to the policy which so long had tolerated anarchy in Afghanistan, but cordially approving of the final decision to aid the re-establishment of settled government in that country, he lost no time on his arrival in giving effect to the promises of his predecessor. A meeting with the amír took place at Amballa in March 1869. The amír had come to India bent upon obtaining a fixed annual subsidy, a treaty laying upon the British government an obligation to support the Afghan government in any emergency, and the recognition by the government of India of his younger son, Abdulla Ján, as his successor, to the exclusion of his eldest son, Yakub Khán. None of these requests were complied with. But the amír received from Lord Mayo emphatic assurances of the desire of the government of India for the speedy consolidation of his power, and of its determination to respect the independence of Afghanistan. He was encouraged to communicate frequently and fully with the government of India and its officers. Public opinion differed as to the success of the meeting. The intimation that the government of India would treat with displeasure any attempt of the amír's rivals to rekindle civil war was by some regarded as going too far, and by others as not going far enough; but the prevalent view was that good had been done, and that Shír Ali had returned to Cabul well satisfied with the result of his visit.

On the general question of the attitude of the British government towards the adjoining foreign states, Lord Mayo held that while British interests and influence in Asia were best secured by a policy of non-interference in the affairs of such states, we could not safely maintain 'a Thibetian policy' in the East, but must endeavour to exercise over our neighbours 'that moral influence which is inseparable from the true interests of the strongest power in Asia.' Regarding Russia, he considered that she was not 'sufficiently aware of our power; that we are established, compact, and strong, whilst she is exactly the reverse, and that it is the very feeling of our enormous power that justifies us in assuming that passive policy which, though it may be carried occasionally too far, is perhaps right in principle.' But while entertaining these views, he by no means agreed with the extreme supporters of the 'masterly inactivity' policy. Writing on this subject little more than a month before his death, he said : 'I have frequently laid down what I believe to be the cardinal points of Anglo-Indian policy. They may be summed up in a few words. We should establish with our frontier states of Khelat, Afghanistan, Yárkand, Nipál, and Burma, intimate relations of friendship; we should make them feel that though we are all-powerful, we desire to support their nationality; that when necessity arises, we might assist them with money, arms, and even perhaps, in certain eventualities, with men. We could thus create in them outworks of our empire, and, assuring them that the days of annexation are past, make them know that they have everything to gain and nothing to lose by endeavouring to deserve our favour and support. Further, we should strenuously oppose any attempt to neutralise those territories in the European sense, or to sanction or invite the interference of any European power in their affairs.'

Another point upon which Lord Mayo felt very strongly was the necessity of checking the tendency to aggression on the part of the Persian government. He considered that 'the establishment by Persia of a frontier conterminous with that of the British empire in India would be an event most deeply to be deplored,' and, with a view to the more effectual prevention of any such designs, he urged in a despatch to the secretary of state, which was drafted just before his death, that the British mission at Teherán should be transferred to the control of the secretary of state for India. It may here be mentioned that the appointment, with the consent of the governments of Persia and Afghanistan, of a commission to delimitate the boundary between Persia and the Afghan province of Seistan, which prevented war between the two countries, was one of the latest of Lord Mayo's acts.

Another question which engaged much of the viceroy's attention was that of punitory expeditions against the savage tribes inhabiting various tracts on the frontier. To such expeditions Lord Mayo was extremely averse, except under circumstances of absolute necessity. The Lushai expedition, which took place in the last year of his government, was rendered necessary by the repeated inroads of the tribe of that name upon the Cachar tea plantations.

With the feudatory states within the borders of India Lord Mayo's relations were of the happiest kind. Scrupulously abstaining from needless interference, but never tolerating oppression or misgovernment, he laboured to convince the princes of India that it was the sincere desire of the British government to enable them to govern their states in such a manner as to secure the prosperity of their people and to maintain their own just rights. With this view he encouraged the establishment of colleges for the education of the sons of the chiefs and nobles in the native states. The Mayo College at Ajmír and the Rájkumár College in Káthiáwár were the result of his efforts. Another measure which he contemplated was the amalgamation, many years before advocated by Sir John Malcolm, of the Central India and Rájputána agencies under a high officer of the crown, with the status of a lieutenant-governor.

When Lord Mayo took charge of the government of India, the condition of the finances was not satisfactory. Lord Mayo dealt vigorously with the situation. By reductions of expenditure on public works and other branches of the civil administration, by increasing the salt duties in Madras and Bombay, and by raising the income-tax in the middle of the financial year, he converted the anticipated deficit into a small surplus, and by other measures he so improved the position, that the three following years presented an aggregate surplus of nearly six millions. Among the measures last referred to were the reduction of the military expenditure by nearly half a million without any diminution in the numerical strength of the army, and the transfer to the local governments of financial responsibility for certain civil departments, with a slightly reduced allotment from imperial funds, and with power to transfer certain items of charge to local taxation. For many years over-centralisation had been one of the difficulties of Indian administration. The relations of the supreme government and some of the local governments were altogether inharmonious, and there was no stimulus to avoid waste or to develope the public revenues in order to increase the local means of improvement. This policy, commonly described as the 'decentralisation policy,' has been thoroughly successful, and has since been extended by Lord Mayo's successors.

Another financial reform suggested by Lawrence, and carried into effect by Mayo, was that of constructing extensions of the railway system by means of funds borrowed by the government, in supersession of the plan of entrusting such works to private companies with interest guaranteed by the state. A further economy under this head, for which Mayo's government was solely responsible, was effected by adopting a narrow gauge of three feet three inches for the new state railways. To public works generally Mayo devoted a considerable portion of his time. He took charge personally of the public works department of the government in addition to the foreign department. He effected large savings in the construction of barracks, and endeavoured to economise the expenditure on irrigation by enforcing provincial and local responsibility. The question of providing adequate defences for the principal Indian ports engaged his early and anxious attention. He took great interest in agricultural reform, constituting a new department of the secretariat for agriculture, revenue, and commerce. He passed a land-improvement act, and an act to facilitate by means of government loans works of public utility in towns. The decision that the permanent settlement of the land revenue upon the system established by Lord Cornwallis in Bengal should not be extended to other provinces was mainly due to him. While not opposed to a permanent settlement of the land revenue, he considered that it should be upon the basis, not of a fixed money payment, but of an assessment fixed with reference to the produce of the land. Although under the stress of financial difficulties he temporarily raised the income-tax in his first year of office, the result of his inquiries was that he discarded it as a tax unsuited to India. The equalisation of the salt duties throughout India, and the abolition of the inland preventive line, were measures which he had much at heart. He advocated the development of primary education, and suggested special measures for promoting the education of the Muhammadan population. During the three years of his viceroyalty he saw more of the territory under his rule than had been seen by any of his predecessors. The distances which he travelled over in his official capacity during this period exceeded 20,000 miles.

In the midst of these useful and devoted labours Lord Mayo was suddenly struck down by the hand of an assassin on the occasion of a visit of official inspection to the penal settlement of Port Blair on 8 Feb. 1872. The intelligence of his death was received with the deepest sorrow by all classes throughout India and in England. The queen bore testimony in language of touching sympathy to the extent of the calamity which had 'so suddenly deprived all classes of her subjects in India of the able, vigilant, and impartial rule of one who so faithfully represented her as viceroy of her Eastern empire.' The secretary of state, in an official despatch addressed to the government of India, described the late governor-general as a statesman whose exertions 'to promote the interests of her majesty's Indian subjects,' and to 'conduct with justice and consideration the relations of the queen's government with the native princes and states,' had been 'marked with great success,' and had not been surpassed by the most zealous labours of any of his most distinguished predecessors at the head of the government of India.' Lord Mayo had nearly completed his fiftieth year at the time of his death. He left a widow, four sons, and two daughters.

[Hunter's Life of the Earl of Mayo, London, 1875; a Minute by Sir John Strachey on the administration of the Earl of Mayo as Viceroy and Governor-general of India, dated 30 April 1872; Records of the India Office; The Finances and Public Works of India, 1869-81, by Sir J. Strachey, G..C.S.I., and Lieutenant-general R. Strachey, F.R.S., London, 1882; private papers; personal recollections.]

A. J. A.

Dictionary of National Biography, Errata (1904), p.33
N.B.— f.e. stands for from end and l.l. for last line

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21 ii 31-32 Bourke, Richard S., 6th Earl of Mayo: for during the remainder of his parliamentary life read from 1857 until the dissolution of 1868