Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Ibbetson, Denzil Charles Jelf

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search

IBBETSON, Sir DENZIL CHARLES JELF (1847–1908), lieutenant-governor of the Punjab, was born on 30 Aug. 1847 at Gainsborough in Lincolnshire. He sprang from a branch of the Yorkshire family, to which {{DNB lkpl|year=12|Selwin-Ibbetson, Henry John|Henry John Selwin-Ibbetson, first baron Rookwood [q. v. Suppl. II], belonged. His grandfather was commissary general at St. Helena during the captivity of Napoleon, and used his humour and talents of vivid portraiture in drawing caricatures of the great exile and his staff. His father, Denzil John Hart Ibbetson, married Clarissa, daughter of the Rev. Lansdowne Guilding, and at the time of his son's birth was employed as an engineer in the construction of the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire railway. Having subsequently taken holy orders, he became vicar of St. John's, in Adelaide, South Australia. Denzil was educated first at St. Peter's College, Adelaide, and then at St. John's College, Cambridge. In 1868 he passed third in the open competition for the civil service of India, and next year graduated B.A. at Cambridge as a senior optime in the mathematical tripos.

Ibbetson proceeded to India, joining the Punjab commifision at the end of 1870. His future distinction rested upon a thorough grounding in revenue administration and settlement work, which brought him into close touch with the realities of district life and agrarian questions. In December 1871 he was appointed assistant settlement officer at Kamal, and he was placed in independent charge of the settlement operations in 1875. Ibbetson's report. Giving to its accuracy, variety of interest, and lucidity of style, at once brought the writer's name to the front. Published in 1883, it dealt with one portion of the Kamal district, 892 square miles, lying between the Jumna on the east and the high-lying lands of Jind on the west. Its scholarly investigation of tribal organisation and the social life of the villagers, of their agricultural partnerships and systems of cultivation, riveted attention. He received the thanks of government for the 'ability, patience, and skill' with which he had discharged his duty, and the student of India's agrarian problems still turns to Ibbetson's work for information and suggestion. His treatment of the Pimjab census of 1881 displayed the same qualities. His report was a mine of facts in regard to castes, customs, and religions, as well as of high anthropological value. From its pages he afterwards quarried his 'Outlines of Punjab Ethnography' (1883). He entered on a fresh field of labour in the compilation of the 'Punjab Gazetteer' in 1883. In the following year his career took a new direction for some twenty months, as head of the department of public instruction. The comprehensive report of the commission appointed by Lord Ripon to inquire into the state of education had pointed out defects in the administration of the Punjab. Under the direction of Sir Charles Aitchison, Ibbetson introduced the needed reforms. At length in 1887, having completed sixteen strenuous years, Ibbetson took furlough and went to England.

On his return to India at the end of 1888, government lost no time in turning his experience to account. Hitherto he had not worked in the political field, and he was now entrusted with the conduct of British relations with the Kapurthala state. Other special duties entrusted to him were conferences on census operations and jail administration in 1890, followed by an inquiry regarding cantonment administration. But the most fruitful of all his labours was an investigation, commenced in 1891, into the working of the Deccan Agriculturists' Relief Act of 1879. The result was amending legislation of the highest importance, which was calculated to relieve more efficiently the Deccan peasantry of their indebtedness and to prevent the gradual transfer of their incumbered holdings to the trading and money-lending classes. The report of Ibbetson and his colleagues led not merely to an amendment of the Deccan Act itself in 1895, but to a more general alteration throughout the empire of the Indian laws of contract and evidence. Another resultant reform was the introduction into Bombay of a proper record of proprietary rights. In 1896, as secretary to the government of India in the revenue department, he became Lord Elgin's right hand in dealing with agricultural problems, and prepared the ground for the Punjab Land Alienation Act. That Act, ably piloted in 1900 by Sir Charles Rivaz, did not go as far as Ibbetson wished, but it restricted the alienation of land so as to keep its occupation in the hands of the agricultural tribes to the exclusion of the commercial castes. For his services he was made C.S.L in 1896.

Passing from the secretariat to the more congenial task of administration, Ibbetson was in 1898 sent to take charge of the Central Provinces as chief commissioner. The province, then comprising 87,000 square miles, was still staggering under the blow of the famine of 1897 when, in October 1899, another failure of the monsoon occurred in a season of epidemics of fatal diseases. By July 1900 subsistence was required for 2,250,000 of the famished population. A vacancy for a few months on the executive council of the governor-general brought him a change of work without relaxation, and he was compelled to seek rest in furlough.

After his return from England he joined in 1902 the council of Lord Curzon. As a member of that vigorous administration Ibbetson gathered up the fruits of the reports of the famine commissioners of 1898 and 1901, translating their recommendations into rules and regulations for the conduct of future campaigns. Other gigantic schemes of reform resulting from the labours of the irrigation commission of 1902 and the reorganisation of the police department fell upon his shoulders. In addition to these exceptional labours and ordinary duties, he took a leading part in legislative business. Amongst other measures he carried the Co-operative Credit Act of 1904, a Poison Act, the Transfer of Property Amendment, the Punjab Village Sanitation, and the Central Provinces Municipal Acts. In 1903 he was promoted K. C.S.I. In 1905 he temporarily filled the highest position in his service, that of lieutenant-governor of the Punjab, and on the retirement of Sir Charles Rivaz, on 6 March 1907, he was confirmed in that office. The seditious acts of revolutionists had then brought matters to a serious crisis. Famine and devastating plague had laid heavy hands on the peasantry. The vernacular press, used for the purpose by the leaders of revolution, had disseminated false news, which agitated their simple minds. Even the latest triumph of British enterprise in bringing three million acres under canal irrigation was turned against the government. The new irrigation colonies had over-taxed the administrative resources of their rulers, and mistakes had been made. The yeomen peasants were led to believe that these were the result of deliberate policy, and the first-fruits of breach of faith. Foremost among the instigators of the extreme agitation were Lala Lajpat Rai and Ajit Singh. Serious riots broke out in Lahore and Rawalpindi. With prompt vigour, Ibbetson repressed the disorders. He secured the authority of the supreme government for the deportation of the two ringleaders without trial under the regulation of 1818. He applied an ordinance hastily promulgated by the governor-general to the suppression of seditious meetings, and enforced the law against rioters. Troops were kept in readiness, and he employed his police with alert discrimination.

Meanwhile Ibbetson was under the shadow of a fatal malady, but he allowed no bodily infirmity to relax his activity. When at length an operation could not be avoided, he quietly proceeded to London in June 1907, and returned at the earliest moment to his post to disprove false rumours of enforced retirement and allegations of a want of confidence in his policy on the part of superior authority. But the progress of his malady was not to be stayed. He resigned his office on 21 Jan. 1908, and his departure from Lahore called forth public manifestations of sympathy and respect. He died in London on 21 Feb. following, and his body was cremated at Golder's Green. When the news of his death reached the Punjab a public subscription was raised, part of which was applied to a portrait executed by Mr. H. Olivier, which now hangs in the Lawrence Hall at Lahore; a memorial tablet bearing an inscription of just eulogy was also erected to his memory in Christ Church, Simla, at the expense of Lord Curzon.

He married on 2 Aug. 1870 Louisa Clarissa, daughter of Samuel Coulden of the Heralds' College. His widow survived him with two daughters, Ruth Laura and Margaret Lucy; the latter in 1899 married Mr. Evan Maconochie of the Indian civil service.

[Times, 22 Feb. 1908; Pioneer, 23 Feb. 1908; Statesman, Calcutta, 23 Feb. 1908; Administration Reports of the Punjab; Report on the Settlement of the Karnal District, 1883; Census Report of the Punjab, 1881; Outlines of Punjab Ethnography; Gazetteer of the Districts of the Punjab; Reports of Famine Commissions and on the Working of the Deccan Agriculturists Relief Act.]

W. L-W.