Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Urquhart, David
URQUHART, DAVID (1805–1877), diplomatist, born at Braelangwell, Cromarty, in 1805, was the second son of David Urquhart of Braelangwell, by his second wife, Miss Hunter. His father died while David was still a child, and he was brought up by his mother. In 1817 she took him to the continent, where he received his early education. After a year at a French military school he studied at Geneva under Malin, and subsequently travelled in Spain with a tutor. Returning to England in 1821, he spent six months in learning the rudiments of farming, and three or four more as an ordinary workman at Woolwich arsenal, where he acquired some knowledge of gunnery. He matriculated from St. John's College, Oxford, on 31 Oct. 1822. Being prevented by ill-health from continuing his studies there, he was encouraged by Jeremy Bentham, who had a high opinion of his capacity, to travel in the east. In the beginning of 1827 he sailed from Marseilles with Lord Dundonald to take part in the Greek war of independence. On board the brig Sauveur, in company with the steamer Perseverance, he shared in the attack on 28 Sept. 1827 on a Turkish squadron in the bay of Salona. The squadron was destroyed by the two vessels, and their success precipitated the decisive battle at Navarino. Urquhart was afterwards appointed lieutenant on board the frigate Hellas, and took part in the siege of Scio, where he was severely wounded. In November 1828 he left the Greek service, the war being practically at an end.
His elder half-brother, Charles Gordon Urquhart, had also joined the Greeks, and obtained the rank of colonel in the army; he was accidentally killed on 3 March 1828, in the island of Karabusa, of which he had been appointed governor.
In March 1830 David Urquhart was at Argos when the protocol arrived determining the Greek territory. Urquhart decided to examine the frontier personally, and his reports were communicated by his mother to Sir Herbert Taylor, private secretary of William IV. Taylor, impressed by the ability they displayed, submitted them to the king, and transmitted them to the French and Russian governments. In consequence Urquhart was nominated, while he was still abroad, British commissioner to accompany Prince Leopold to Greece. The prince, however, subsequently declined the Greek throne, and the appointment fell through. On his arrival in England Urquhart was immediately presented to the king. In November 1831 he accompanied the ambassador extraordinary, Sir Stratford Canning (afterwards Lord Stratford de Redcliffe) [q. v.], to Constantinople, and he returned with him in September 1832. In 1833, on his own proposition, he was despatched on a secret mission to inquire into the openings for British trade in eastern countries, and to examine the restrictions under which it laboured. Arriving at Constantinople early in 1834, he succeeded in obtaining the implicit confidence of the Turkish government, who were at that time embarrassed by the aggressions of Mehemet Ali. England and France held aloof, and the Turks were obliged to seek help from Russia, who in turn demanded considerable concessions [see Temple, Henry John, third Viscount Palmerston]. The Turkish officials placed such reliance on Urquhart that they kept him immediately informed of all communications made to them by the Russian ambassador. Lord Palmerston, however, took alarm at Urquhart's intimacy with the Porte, and wrote to the ambassador, Lord Ponsonby, to remove him from Constantinople as a danger to the peace of Europe. Urquhart returned home to justify himself, and just before his arrival his pamphlet, ‘England, France, Russia, and Turkey,’ appeared and greatly enhanced his reputation. On his return Urquhart found that Melbourne's ministry had been succeeded by that of the Duke of Wellington. He was unable to persuade the duke to make active intervention against Russia.
Lord Melbourne returned to office in April 1835, and on 23 Sept. Urquhart was appointed secretary of embassy at Constantinople. On his arrival in 1836 he found that since 1831 the Russians had prohibited foreigners from trading with Circassia, although their claim to sovereignty over the country was open to question. Urquhart had visited Circassia in 1834, and at his instigation a British schooner, the Vixen, proceeded to Soudjauk Kalé, where she was seized on 26 Nov. 1836 by a Russian warship. The English government recoiled from pressing Russia to extremities on the question, and as an alternative recalled Urquhart on 10 March 1837 on account of his share in promoting the enterprise. A motion in the House of Commons on 21 June 1838 to inquire into Palmerston's conduct was defeated by a small majority; but Palmerston himself admitted in the debate that Urquhart believed that he was acting in accordance with the secret wishes of the English ministry. In another measure in which he was keenly interested Urquhart was equally unsuccessful. Russia, by the treaty of Adrianople, enjoyed considerable commercial advantages over other nations trading with Turkey. With a view to remedying this state of things, Urquhart, before his departure from England in 1835, drew up a treaty with Turkey, which the government promised to transmit to him in Constantinople. This, however, they had failed to do at the time of his recall. The treaty was ratified in 1838, but in so altered a condition that Urquhart considered it valueless and indignantly repudiated the authorship.
Deprived by the death of William IV of the countenance of the king, and of the support of his private secretary, Sir Herbert Taylor, Urquhart found himself unable any longer to promote directly his views on state policy. He continued, however, to labour with unwearied assiduity, and by his numerous writings powerfully influenced public opinion. Already in 1835 he had founded the ‘Portfolio,’ a periodical devoted to diplomatic affairs. In the first number he published a collection of diplomatic papers and correspondence between the Russian government and its agents, which threw light on the secret policy of the imperial cabinet. They had fallen into the hands of the Polish insurgents in 1830, and had been brought to England by Prince Adam Czartoryski, from whose custody they had passed into that of the foreign office. The publication of these documents caused considerable stir, and, although Palmerston in 1838 disclaimed any responsibility, it would hardly have been possible without his tacit connivance. The ‘Portfolio’ was discontinued in 1836, when Urquhart went to the east; but it was revived in 1843, and continued to appear until 1845.
In 1840 he protested against the exclusion of France from participation in the ‘pacification of the Levant’ by publishing ‘The Crisis; or France before the Four Powers’ (London, 8vo; French edit. Paris, 1840, 8vo). In 1843, in ‘An Appeal against Faction’ (London, 8vo), he censured the conduct of the government in refusing an inquiry into the causes of the Afghan war, and in the same year he took a chief part in drawing up the report of the Colonial Society, which charged the promoters of the Afghan and Chinese wars with conspiracy against England. The society refused to ratify the reports, which appeared in the name of the committee alone. In 1844 Urquhart published in the ‘Portfolio,’ and separately in pamphlet form, a paper entitled ‘The Annexation of the Texas: a Case of War between England and the United States,’ a strong censure of the conduct of the United States government towards Mexico.
On 30 July 1847 Urquhart was returned to parliament for the borough of Stafford, for which he sat until July 1852. During 1848, in conjunction with Thomas Chisholm Anstey [q. v.], he persistently urged upon parliament the necessity of an investigation into Palmerston's conduct in the foreign office. The speeches on the subject were published under the title ‘Debates on Motion for Papers with a view to the Impeachment of the Right Honourable Henry John Temple, Viscount Palmerston.’
At the time of the Crimean war Urquhart strongly deprecated the principle on which English action was based—the substitution of a European protectorate over the Christian subjects of Turkey for that exercised by Russia. He remonstrated against such an interference in the internal affairs of Turkey as contrary to the law of nations, and asserted that the Turks were able unaided to cope with Russia, a prediction verified by the Turkish victories at Oltenitza and Silistria (cf. Times, 11 March 1853). He traversed the country forming societies, under the name of foreign affairs committees, to inquire into the conduct of the government. To ventilate their opinions a journal was founded in 1855 entitled the ‘Free Press,’ a name changed in 1866 to the ‘Diplomatic Review,’ which contained, among other contributions, most of Urquhart's own writings on the subject.
In 1864 he was compelled by his health to leave England for the continent, where he resided partly at Montreux, and partly in a house he had built on a spur of Mont Blanc. Abroad he attempted with his usual energy to revive the study of international law, which he considered to be continually violated by modern states in their dealings with each other. This undertaking brought him into close relations with a number of prominent men, such as Le Play and Bishop Dupanloup, and led to his presence at Rome during the Vatican council of 1869 and 1870. In 1876 his health broke down completely. He died at Naples on 16 May 1877, and was buried at Montreux in Switzerland. On 5 Sept. 1854 he married Harriet Angelina, second daughter of Lieutenant-colonel Chichester Fortescue of Dromisken, co. Louth, and sister of Chichester Samuel Parkinson-Fortescue, first baron Carlingford and second baron Clermont. By her he had two sons and two daughters. She was a constant contributor to the ‘Diplomatic Review’ under the name of ‘Caritas,’ and rendered Urquhart the most valuable assistance in his political and literary labours. She died at Brighton in October 1889.
Urquhart was gifted with a rare enthusiasm which often obscured his judgment, but he impressed men of all opinions and nationalities by his earnestness of purpose and the width of his interests. Although he was popularly known as an extravagant Turcophil, he had a thorough knowledge of the politics of Eastern Europe, which was recognised at home by Disraeli and abroad by statesmen like Thiers and Beust. To Urquhart belongs the distinction of promoting the naturalisation of the Turkish bath in the British Isles. He spoke enthusiastically of the merits of the institution in his ‘Pillars of Hercules’ (London, 1850, 2 vols. 8vo), a narrative of travels in Spain and Morocco. The description arrested the attention of the physician Richard Barter [q. v.], who added the Turkish bath to the system of water cure he had established at Blarney, near Cork. In 1856 Barter edited a pamphlet containing extracts from the ‘Pillars of Hercules,’ under the title ‘The Turkish Bath, with a View to its Introduction to the British Dominions,’ and both he and Urquhart lectured on the subject. Urquhart subsequently superintended the erection of the baths in Jermyn Street, London.
Urquhart was author of numerous treatises, chiefly relative to international policy. His style was admirably lucid. Besides the works already mentioned, the principal are: 1. ‘Turkey and its Resources,’ London, 1833, 8vo. 2. ‘The Spirit of the East: a Journal of Travels through Roumeli,’ London, 1838, 2 vols. 8vo; 2nd ed. 1839; translated into German and published in Eduard Widenmann and Wilhelm Hanff's ‘Reisen und Länderbeschreibungen der älteren und neuesten Zeit,’ 1855–60, lief. 17 and 18. 3. ‘An Exposition of the Boundary Differences between Great Britain and the United States,’ Liverpool, 1839, 4to. 4. ‘Diplomatic Transactions in Central Asia,’ London, 1841, 4to. 5. ‘The Mystery of the Danube,’ London, 1851, 8vo. 6. ‘Reflections on Thoughts and Things,’ London, 1844, 8vo; 2nd ser. 1845. 7. ‘Wealth and Want; or Taxation, as influencing Private Riches and Public Liberty,’ London, 1845, 8vo. 8. ‘Statesmen of France and the English Alliance,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 9. ‘Europe at the Opening of the Session of 1847,’ London, 1847, 8vo. 10. ‘The Mystery of the Danube,’ London, 1851, 8vo. 11. ‘Progress of Russia in the West, North, and South,’ London, 1853, 8vo; 5th edit. in the same year. 12. ‘Recent Events in the East,’ London, 1854, 12mo. 13. ‘The War of Ignorance and Collusion: its Progress and Results,’ London, 1854, 8vo. 14. ‘The Occupation of the Crimea,’ London, 1854, 8vo. 15. ‘The Home Face of the “Four Points,”’ London, 1855, 8vo. 16. ‘Familiar Words as affecting the Character of Englishmen and the Fate of England,’ London, 1855, 12mo. 17. ‘The Lebanon: a History and a Diary,’ London, 1860, 2 vols. 8vo. 18. ‘Materials for a True History of Lord Palmerston,’ London, 1866, 8vo. 19. ‘Appeal of a Protestant to the Pope to restore the Law of Nations,’ London, 1868, 8vo; Latin edit. 1869.[Urquhart's Works; Manuscript Life of Urquhart by Mr. L. D. Collet; private information; Notes and Queries, 9th ser. iv. 3; Addit. MS. 28512, ff. 208–12; Mrs. Bishop's Memoir of Mrs. Urquhart, 1897; Ashley's Life of Palmerston, 1879, ii. 61; Greville Papers, 1888, iii. 334, 413, iv. 122, 123, 164; Doubleday's Political Life of Peel, 1856, ii. 246; Corresp. entre M. Urquhart et l'Evêque d'Orléans [Dupanloup], 1870.]