Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Metcalfe, Charles Theophilus
METCALFE, CHARLES THEOPHILUS, Baron Metcalfe (1785–1846), provisional governor-general of India, born at the Lecture House, Calcutta, on 30 Jan. 1785, was second son of Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, then a major in the Bengal army. The father afterwards became a director of the East India Company, and was created a baronet on 21 Dec. 1802. Metcalfe's mother was Susannah Selina Sophia, widow of Major John Smith of the East Indian army, and daughter of John Debonnaire of the Cape of Good Hope. At an early age he was sent to a preparatory school at Bromley in Middlesex, and in January 1796 went to Eton, where he showed remarkable powers of application, and a great distaste for all athletic sports. Leaving Eton on 1 April 1800, he was appointed to a Bengal writer-ship on 13 Oct., and in January 1801 arrived at Calcutta. He was the first student admitted to Lord Wellesley's College of Fort William, where he studied oriental languages with some success. On 3 Dec. 1801 he was nominated assistant to the embassy to the Arab States, an appointment which was cancelled a few days afterwards at his own request for that of assistant to the resident with Dowlut Rao Scindiah. Metcalfe's connection with Scindiah's court was, however, brief, as he soon found that he was unable to agree with Colonel Collins, the resident. On 4 Oct. 1802 Metcalfe became an assistant in the chief secretary's office at Calcutta, and was transferred on 4 April 1803 to a similar position in the governor-general's office. In the summer of 1804 Metcalfe was attached to the headquarters of Lake's army in the capacity of political assistant, and as a volunteer took part in the storming of the fortress of Deeg (24 Dec. 1804). He acted successively as political agent to General Smith and General Dowdeswell, and on 10 Jan. 1806 was received in full durbar by Holkar, with whom a treaty had been concluded a few days previously. Metcalfe was appointed first assistant to the resident at Delhi on 15 Aug. 1806, and in August 1808 was despatched on a special mission to Lahore. After a series of tedious negotiations Metcalfe obtained all that he had demanded of Runjeet Singh, who withdrew his troops to his own side of the Sutlej and concluded a treaty of general amity with the British government at Vmritsur on 25 April 1809. By the adroitness with which he overcame the many difficulties of this mission Metcalfe won for himself a considerable reputation as a diplomatist at the age of twenty-four.
From August 1809 to May 1810 Metcalfe acted as Lord Minto's deputy secretary during the governor-general's visit to Madras, and on 15 May 1810 was appointed acting resident to the court of Dowlut Rao Scindiah. On 25 Feb. 1811 he was promoted to the post of resident at Delhi. By his careful administration the industrial resources of the territory were largely developed, while his scheme for; the settlement of Central India largely influenced the policy of the governor-general, Lord Moira (afterwards Marquis of Hastings), In 1816 he refused the post of financial secretary, and on 29 Jan. 1819 became secretary in the secret and political department, and private secretary to the governor-general. Accustomed to an independent command, Metcalfe quickly found his new situation irksome, and on 26 Dec. 1820 was appointed resident at Hyderabad. An attempt made by him to remove the baneful influence of the money-lending firm of William Palmer & Co., which was overshadowing the Nizam's government, brought upon Metcalfe the displeasure of the governor-general, who rejected his scheme for opening a six per cent, loan, guaranteed by the British government, by which the Nizam's huge obligations to Palmer's house and other creditors might be paid off. Soon after Hastings's return to England, where these pecuniary transactions were warmly discussed in the court of proprietors during a six days' debate, the debt due to William Palmer & Co. was discharged, and in less than a year the house became bankrupt.
On the death of his elder brother, Theophilus John, in August 1822 Metcalfe succeeded to the baronetcy. In the following year he was invalided and went to Calcutta, but returned to Hyderabad in 1824. On 26 Aug. 1825 he was appointed resident and civil commissioner in Delhi Territories, and agent to the governor-general for the affairs of Rajpootana. Under his advice the government supported the claims of Bulwunt Singh against the usurpation of his uncle Doorjun Saul, and in January 1826 Bhurtpore was successfully stormed by Lord Combermere, and Doorjun Saul taken prisoner. On 24 Aug. 1827 Metcalfe became a member of the supreme council, which at that time consisted of the governor-general, the commander-in-chief, and two members of the civil service. By a resolution of the court of directors on 14 Dec. 1831, Metcalfe's period of service on the council was extended from five to seven years. He was appointed on the newly created government of Agra on 20 Nov. 1833, but owing to the absence from Bengal of the governor-general (Lord William Bentinck) he was compelled to stay at Calcutta for some time as vice-president of the council and deputy-governor of Bengal. In December 1834 Metcalfe set out for the seat of his government at Allahabad, but no sooner had he got there than he had to return to Calcutta in consequence of Lord William Bentinck's resignation. By virtue of a resolution of the court of directors in December 1833 Metcalfe acted as provisional governor-general during the interval between the departure of Lord William Bentinck and the arrival of Lord Auckland (20 March 1835 to 4 March 1836). The directors wished that Metcalfe should remain in office, but the whig ministry refused to sanction the appointment on the ground that it was not advisable to appoint any servant of the company to the highest office of the Indian government. Before Lord Melbourne had appointed a successor to Lord William Bentinck, there was a ministerial crisis, and Lord Heytesbury [q. v.] was nominated by Sir Robert Peel. But before Lord Heytesbury set out another ministerial crisis occurred, the tory appointment was cancelled, and Lord Auckland was appointed. Metcalfe's short administration is chiefly distinguished by the act of 15 Sept. 1835, which removed the vexatious restrictions on the liberty of the Indian press.
Shortly after the arrival of the new governor-general, Metcalfe was invested with the grand cross of the Bath, 14 March 1836. In the same month (the Agra government having been meanwhile abolished) he was appointed lieutenant-governor of the North-Western Provinces, the headquarters of which were fixed at Agra instead of Allahabad. In filling up the vacant governorship of Madras, Metcalfe was passed over by the directors, who had been greatly displeased by his giving legal sanction to the liberty of the press. In consequence of this slight, Metcalfe resigned his lieutenant-governorship on 1 Jan. 1838 and retired from the service. He reached England in May 1838, and took up his abode at Fern Hill, near Windsor. While making arrangements for contesting Glasgow in the radical interest, Metcalfe was appointed governor of Jamaica (11 July 1839). He was admitted a member of the privy council on 31 July, and on 26 Sept. following was sworn in as governor at Spanish Town. By his conciliatory conduct he speedily effected the reconciliation of the colony to the mother-country, and brought about a better feeling between the proprietors and the emancipated negroes. Having accomplished what he had been sent out to do, Metcalfe resigned his office and returned to England on 2 July
1842. In January 1843 he accepted the government of Canada, and on 30 March following took the oaths at Kingston as governor-general. Owing to the burning question of responsible government and the inflamed state of party spirit in the colony, Metcalfe's position was one of extreme difficulty. His attempts to conciliate all parties displeased the executive council, who were determined to reduce the governor-general to a mere passive instrument in their hands, and were supported in their endeavours by the majority of the representative assembly. In consequence of Metcalfe's refusal to admit their right to be consulted about official appointments, all the members of the council, with one exception, resigned in November 1843. For some time he was without a full council, but after the general election in November 1844, which resulted in a slight majority for the government, he was able to fill up all the vacant places with men of moderate views. Meanwhile, Metcalfe had for a long time been suffering from a malignant growth on his cheek, which at length deprived him of the sight of one eye. Unwilling to leave the government to his successor in a state of embarrassment, he still struggled on at his post. As a 'mark of the Queen's entire approbation and favour' he was created Baron Metcalfe of Fern Hill in the county of Berks on 25 Jan. 1845. Before the year was out he had become physically unfit for work, and having resigned his post he returned to England in December 1845 in a dying state. After patiently enduring still further agony, he died at Malshanger, near Basingstoke, Hampshire, on 5 Sept. 1846. He was buried in the family vault in the parish church of Winkfield, near Fern Hill, where there is a tablet to his memory; the inscription was written by Lord Macaulay.
Metcalfe was an able and sagacious administrator, of unimpeachable integrity and untiring industry. His self-reliance and imperturbable good humour were alike remarkable, though perhaps his undeviating straightforwardness was his most marked characteristic. Mefcalfe did not take his seat in the House of Lords. As he never married, the barony became extinct upon his death, while the baronetcy devolved upon his younger brother, Thomas Theophilus Metcalfe, whose grandson, Sir Theophilus John Metcalfe, is separately noticed. A portrait of Metcalfe by John James Masquerier is preserved at Eton College (see Catalogue of the Third Exhibition of National Portraits at South Kensington in 1868, No. 154). Another by Say, which has been engraved, hangs in the library of the Oriental Club, Hanover Square, London. A third portrait is in the Kingston town-hall, Jamaica. There is a bust by E. H. Baily, R.A., in the Metcalfe Hall, Calcutta, an engraving of which by J. C. Armytage forms the frontispiece to the first volume of Kaye's 'Life and Correspondence,' 1858, and there is a statue by the same sculptor in the Central Park, Kingston, Jamaica. A selection of Metcalfe's early papers, Indian council minutes, and colonial despatches has been edited by Sir J. W. Kaye (London, 1855, 8vo). Two of Metcalfe's speeches delivered in the Jamaica legislature have been separately published (London, 1840, 8vo). Metcalfe is said to have published in 1838 a pamphlet on the payment of the national debt, as well as an anonymous pamphlet entitled 'Friendly Advice to the Conservatives (Life, ii. 230). His essay 'On the best Means of acquiring a knowledge of the Manners and Customs of the Natives of India' is printed in the first volume of 'Essays by the Students of the College of Fort William in Bengal,' &c., Calcutta, 1802, 8vo, pp. 75-90.