Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Robinson, George Frederick Samuel
ROBINSON, GEORGE FREDERICK SAMUEL, first Marquis of Ripon (1827–1909), governor-general of India and statesman, was the second son but sole surviving child of Frederick John Robinson [q. v.], who was created Viscount Goderich on 28 April 1827, and Earl of Ripon on 13 April 1833. His father's elder brother was Thomas Philip Robinson, second Earl de Grey (1781-1859), lord-lieutenant of Ireland from 1841 to 1844. His mother was Lady Sarah Albinia Louisa (d. 1867), daughter of Robert Hobart, fourth earl of Buckinghamshire [q. v.].
Born on 24 Oct. 1827 at 10 Downing Street, during the brief tenure of the office of prime minister by his father, George began life with every advantage that high position and political opportunity could offer. His parents anxiously devoted themselves to his care and education, and they preferred private tuition under their direct supervision to public school or university. From 1883 until he succeeded to his father's earldom in 1859 the boy was known by the courtesy title of Viscount Goderich. His father combined conservative instincts with growing liberal aspirations, and his son was to repeat many of his official experiences. As a boy Goderich discussed with his father the stirring political controversies of the day touching religious disabilities, freedom of speech and of meeting, protection, colonial relations, financial strictness, and franchise reform. Many years later, in Feb. 1886, he asserted 'I have always been in favour of the most advanced thing in the liberal programme' (Dasent's Life of John Delane).
In 1849 Goderich began a public career as attache to the special mission — which proved brief and abortive — of Sir Henry Ellis (1777-185.5) [q. v.] to Brussels to open negotiations for peace between Austria and Piedmont. For the next two years Goderich devoted himself to social and county work. As a young man he was greatly influenced by the Christian socialist movement which F. D. Maurice, Charles Kingsley, and Thomas Hughes initiated in 1849, and with Tom Hughes he formed a lifelong friendship. When the Christian socialists encouraged the strike of engineers in Lancashire and London early in 1852, Goderich showed his sympathy by sending the strikers 500l. In November of the same year the Christian socialists first gave effect to their endeavour to provide working men with opportunities of advanced education at the Hall of Association, in Castle Street East, Oxford Street. Goderich lectured on entomology (Working Men's College, ed. Llewelyn Davies, 1904, p. 16). During 1852, also, he wrote a plea for democracy entitled 'The Duty of the Age' which he submitted to Hughes, Charles Kingsley, and J. M. Ludlow, members of the Christian Socialist Publication Committee, and they passed the manuscript for press. When, however, Frederick Denison Maurice, chairman of the committee, read the tract after an edition was printed off, he condemned its extreme radical tendency and gave orders, which were carried out, for the suppression of the pamphlet (Maurice, Life of F. D. Maurice, ii. 125-30). At a later period Groderich took an active part in inaugurating the volunteer movement, becoming in 1860 honorary colonel of the first volunteer battalion Prince of Wales's own (West Yorkshire regiment) and subsequently receiving the volunteer decoration. Groderich first engaged in active politics in July 1852, when he was returned with James Clay as liberal member for Hidl. Both were however unseated on petition on grounds of treating. In the following April, at a bye-election at Huddersfield, Goderich successfully contested the seat against another liberal. He represented the constituency for four years, till the end of the parliament. On 29 Jan. 1855 he voted for John Arthur Roebuck's motion for an inquiry into the condition of the army and the conduct of the war in the Crimea, and on the fall of Lord Aberdeen's ministry of all the talents and Lord John Russell's failure to form a ministry, he gave his support to Palmerston until the dissolution of 1857 which followed Cobden's defeat of the ministers on Chinese affairs. On 30 March 1857 he was returned without opposition, but with a conservative colleague, Edmund B. Denison, for the West Riding of Yorkshire. His seat had just been vacated by Cobden. During the session he urged an extension of open competition by means of examination for posts in the civil service. His father's death in Jan. 1859 soon removed him to the upper house as Earl of Ripon, and in the following November his uncle's death made him also Earl de Grey.
From this time Earl de Grey and Ripon, whom Earl Granville in a letter (15 Aug. 1884) to Gladstone described depreciatively as 'a very persistent man with wealth,' rapidly advanced in public life (cf. Fitzmaurice, Lord Granville, ii. 364). He received his first recognition from his party by his appointment as under-secretary for war in June 1859, in Pahnerston's second administration. For six months in 1861 (Jan. to July) he filled a similar position at the India office, but he returned to the war office and remained under-secretary until on the death of his chief. Sir George Cornewall Lewis, on 13 April 1863, he succeeded to the headship of the war office, with a seat in the cabinet. He was admitted at the same time to the privy council. On 16 Feb. 1866, shortly after Palmerston's death had made Lord Russell prime minister, Ripon succeeded Sir Charles Wood (afterwards Viscount Halifax) at the India office. Ripon's position as one of the official leaders of the liberal party was thus assured, and when Gladstone formed his first ministry on 9 Dec. 1868, Ripon became lord president of the council, being appointed K.G. next year. On Lord Salisbury's installation as chancellor of Oxford in 1870 Ripon was made hon. D.C.L. During 1870, as president of the coimcil, Ripon was technically responsible for the education bill which his deputy, W. E. Forster, carried with difficulty through the House of Commons. In 1871 a new and vaster responsibility was placed on him. The United States and the United Kingdom at length agreed to appoint a joint high commission for the settlement of American claims against Great Britain, in regard to the depredations of the Alabama and other privateering vessels, which had sailed from English ports to aid the South in the late American civil war. Ripon was appointed chairman, to the disappointment of Lord Houghton and others. His colleagues were Sir Statford Northcote, Sir Edward Thornton, British minister at Washington, Sir John Alexander Macdonald, representative of Canada, and Professor Mountague Bernard. On 8 March 1871 the American case was opened before the commission at Washington. The negotiations proceeded rapidly, and a satisfactory treaty, which among other things referred the American claims to an international tribunal, was signed at Washington on 8 May. Ripon had emphatically declined to discuss indirect losses (see Lang's Sir Stafford Northcote, ii. 9), and an ambiguous clause in the treaty led to subsequent controversy, but the end was a reaffirmation of Ripon's action. For his conduct of the negotiations nothing but praise was due. Northcote wrote enthusiastically of his 'excellent sense, tact, and temper' (Morley's Life of Gladstone, bk, vi. ch. ix.). His services were rewarded by promotion to a marquisate on 23 Jan. 1871. On 19 March 1873 he was made lord-lieutenant of the North Riding.
In Aug. 1873 Ripon caused general surprise by resigning his cabinet office on the ground of 'urgent private affairs.' The 'private affairs' concerned his spiritual struggles, of which his intimate friends were kept in ignorance. Hitherto he had been a zealous freemason, and on 23 April 1870 had become Grand Master of the Freemasons of England. That office he resigned without explanation in Aug. 1874. Next month, on 7 Sept., he was received into the Roman catholic communion at the Brompton Oratory. The step, which caused widespread astonishment, was the fruit of anxious thought. During the conservative administration of 1874-80 Ripon lived much in retirement. But he was active in the affairs of the religious community which he had joined, and was thenceforth reckoned as authoritative a leader of the Roman catholic laity in England as the duke of Norfolk. Both men joined in 1878 in urging on Manning Newman's claims to the cardinal ate (Purcell's Life of Manning, ii. 554). John Hungerford Pollen [q. v. Suppl. II], who had gone through the same religious experiences, became Ripon's private secretary in 1876, and was on confidential terms with him.
On Gladstone's return to power in April 1880 Ripon fully re-entered public life and proved that his religious conversion had in no way impaired his devotion to public duty (cf. Cardinal Bourne, The Times, 12 July 1909). On 28 April he was appointed governor-general of India on the resignation of Lord Lytton. Ripon's health seemed hardly robust enough for the office, but he gained strength after settling in India. He took over charge at Simla on 8 June 1880.
A critical position in Afghanistan at once confronted him. Sir Donald Stewart, after recognising Wall Sher Ali as independent governor of Kandahar, had joined forces with General Roberts at Kabul, expecting to evacuate Afghanistan in the near future. The attitude of the Afghan nobles and people was one of sullen tranquillity, while Lepel Griffin [q. v. Suppl. II], chief political agent of the government of India, was waiting to complete negotiations with Abdur Rahman, who was secretly exciting the nobles to fresh hostilities and demanding assurances as to British intentions with regard both to Kandahar and to his own bearing towards his late allies the Russians. Lord Ripon acted with vigour. Under his orders Abdur Rahman was proclaimed Amir at Kabul on 22 July, after he had been informed (14 June) that he could have no political relations with any foreign power except the English, while if any such power interfered and 'such interference should lead to unprovoked aggression on the Kabul ruler,' he would receive aid in such a manner and at such a time as might be necessary to repel it, provided he followed British advice. This cautious intimation has stood the test of time, and was reaffirmed by Lord Curzon in the formal treaty of 21 March 1905, concluded with Abdur Rahman's son and successor. Meanwhile the imexpected happened. Ayub Khan, Sher All's younger son, who had been holding Herat, took advantage of Stewart's absence, and defeated General Burrows at Mai wand on 27 July 1880. Lord Ripon again showed no wavering. He authorised the march of Roberts from Kabul to Kandahar. The Afghans were routed ; Stewart in September withdrew his troops from Kabul ; and before the year closed Kandahar was evacuated and in due course reunited to Kabul by the Amir. Each step in this policy was fiercely contested at home and in India, but the viceroy carried it out Avithout faltering, and Arithout incurring any of the predicted evil consequences.
The three other main episodes of Ripon's Indian administration — his dealings with the press, his development of schemes of self-government, and the Ilbert bill — call for a more quahfied judgment than Ripon's triumphant policy in Afghanistan. The Vernacular Press Acts, ix. and xvi. of 1878, passed by Lord Lytton's government, were capable of amendment, but to Lord Ripon's strong liberalism they were wholly objectionable as conflicting with British traditions of the freedom of the press, and they were hastily repealed in 1882. Lord Ripon scarcely realised the differences between the conditions attaching to the press in the two countries. The vernacular press of India did not further discussion, but was used by political intriguers to spread false reports and create an attitude of hostility not against a party m the state but against the reign of law and order. None of the effective safeguards which the hostility of public opinion to untruth and extravagance provides in England are available in India. After nearly thirty years' experience, press restrictions 'for the better conduct of the press' were re-imposed by Viscount Morley, a liberal secretary of state for India, in 1910, and Lord Ripon's action in 1882 was proved so far to be too uncompromising. Ripon's efforts to encourage the develop- ment of self-government in India were similarly marred by the tendency to judge India by British standards. The viceroy made clear his point of departure when he annoimced in the 'Gazette of India,' dated 4 Oct. 1882, that ' only by removing the pressure of direct official interference can the people be brought to take sufficient interest in local matters.' In the next few years the provincial governments passed laws entrusting local bodies with education, dispensaries, and the concern of other local requirements, but it was found impossible to expect or seek for self-government in rural or small urban areas without official guidance. The educated classes in India welcomed the reform. But although Ripon gave new force to the transfer of public duties to local boards, little progress was effected, as is showTi by the report of the royal commission on decentralisation presided over in 1907 by Mr. C. E. Hobhouse, a sympathiser with Ripon's aims. Section 806 of the report puts the matter thus : 'Those who expected a complete revolution in existing methods in consequence of Lord Ripon's pronouncement were inevitably doomed to disappointment. The political education of any people must necessarily be slow, and local self-government of the British type could not at once take root in Indian soil.'
In the racial controversy over the 'Ilbert bill' which Ripon's action fanned he showed no better appreciation of Indian conditions. On 23 Feb. 1882 he declared in council that he would 'be very glad if it was possible to place the law in regard to every person not only on the same footing, but to embody it in the very same language whether it relates to Europeans or natives.' At the time the Criminal Procedure Code, which amended and consolidated the law based on Macaiilay's famous Indian Law Commission, was being enacted. By chapter xxxiii. of this Act only magistrates who were justices of the peace, or judges who were European British subjects, or judges of the highest court of appeal, were empowered to try (with jurors or assessors) Europeans and Americans charged with criminal offences. Although there was no general demand for a change of law, on 30 Jan. 1883 Sir Courtenay Ilbert, then legal member, introduced into the council, in the spirit of Lord Ripon's declaration, a bill 'to remove from the Code at once and completely every judicial disqualification which is based merely on race distinctions.' Lord Ripon, in the course of subsequent debates in March 1883, added fuel to the fire by the imputation that the opposition to the bill was 'really opposition to the declared policy of parliament about the admission of natives to the covenanted civil service.' British planters and traders felt that justice and not privilege was at stake. They had no complaint whatever against the admission of Indians by competition. What they feared was trial by inexperienced Indian magistrates. During several months violent and unreasonable speeches and memorials on both sides agitated India. Eventually a compromise which would have been accepted at the outset was arrived at, and jurisdiction over Europeans was given to certain qualified native officials, while the right was reserved of the accused person to trial by a jury of which half should be Europeans. There was no further attempt to 'remove at once and completely every judicial disqualification.'
Apart from these errors of somewhat hasty language which, while gratifying native feeling, had the unfortunate effect of alienating the Anglo-Indian population, Ripon's administration was excellent. He was a good man of business, hard-working, of transparent honesty, and loyal to his colleagues in council and his subordinates. Ably served by Sir Evelyn Baring (afterwards Earl Cromer), he developed the system of provincial settlements introduced by Lord Mayo in 1871. Local governments were no longer limited to a fixed grant, they were encouraged to be careful in collection and economical in expenditure by being entrusted with the whole product of some sources of revenue and a share in other receipts. Although the Bengal Tenancy Act was not passed until 1885, that important measure was made ripe by Lord Ripon for legislation. In education important reforms were introduced as the result of the comprehensive report of the commission of 1882 which he appointed. He left India in December 1884, having prepared the ground for the reception of the Amir of Afghanistan at Rawalpindi in April 1886, by his successor, Lord Dufferin.
At home, tory opponents had attacked Ripon's ’policy of sentiment,' and on his return he spoke vigorously in defence of his Indian administration (cf. Ripon's speech at National Liberal Club on 29 Feb. 1885). He at once resumed his place among the liberal leaders. Gladstone's brief return to office, Feb. to Aug. 1886, brought him back to the cabinet as first lord of the admiralty. He supported Gladstone's home rule policy, and was rewarded by the bestowal on him of the freedom of the city of Dublin in 1898. Lord Morley received the distinction at the same time. In Gladstone's fourth ministry of 1892, and in that of Lord Rosebery of 1894, he took charge of the colonial office. His approval of the Matabele war of 1894 strained the allegiance of many of his own party. When the unionists resumed office in 1895, Ripon entered on a period of comparative inactivity. On Mr. Balfour's resignation and the formation of the ministry of Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, 5 Dec. 1905, Lord Ripon accepted the privy seal with the post of leader of the party in the lords, which the recent illness of Lord Spencer had left vacant. The task which devolved upon him at the advanced age of seventy-eight was no light one. Supporters of the liberal party in the house were few, while the opposition was powerfully represented. The liberal measures which had to be recommended to the chamber were peculiarly distasteful to the majority of its members. The House of Lords rejected the government's education bill of which Lord Crewe had charge in 1907, the licensing bill in 1908, and other measures. Lord Ripon faced his difficulties with characteristic tact and courage, and while he endeared himself by his geniality and good-humour to his small band of followers he commanded the respect of his ftxes. He seldom spoke at great length, but the clear and pithy sentences in which he wound up the debates, and embodied his long experience of business and the traditions of the upper house, carried weight. Within the cabinet his wide knowledge of foreign and colonial affairs was of value to his party on its resumption of power after long exclusion. The death of Lord Kimberley in 1902, the enforced withdrawal of Lord Spencer in the same year, and the retirement of Lord Rosebery from official life gave him exceptional prestige. On 9 Nov. 1906 he replied for the government, in the absence, through mourning, of Campbell-Bannerman, the prime minister, at the lord mayor's annual banquet. In 1908, when Mr. Asquith succeeded Campbell-Bannerman, Lord Ripon at length retired. He resigned the leadership of the upper house to Lord Crewe on 14 April 1908, and the office of lord privy seal on 8 Oct. At a lunch given to him at the Savoy Hotel by the Eighty Club on 24 Nov. 1908 he delivered his farewell address to his political friends. In reviewing his fifty-six years of public life he said 'I started at a high level of radicalism. I am a radical still.' On 9 July 1909 he died of heart failure at Studley Royal, Ripon, His body was placed in the vault beneath the church of St. Mary the Virgin in Studley park on 14 July, and a solemn requiem mass was sung at Westminster Cathedral in the presence of a large congregation.
On 8 April 1851 he married his cousin, Henrietta Anne Theodosia, eldest daughter of Henry Vyner of Gautby Hall, Horncastle, and granddaughter of Thomas Philip, second Earl de Grey. He was succeeded in the title by his only son, Frederick Oliver, Earl de Grey (b. 29 Jan. 1852). Portraits were painted by Sir Edward Poynter, P.R.A., in 1886; by Sir Hubert von Herkomer (for presentation) in 1894; and by G. F. Watts, R.A., in 1896. Cartoon caricatures by 'Ape' and 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1869 and 1892 respectively.
[Obituary notice in The Times, 10 July 1909; Morley's Gladstone; A. Lang's Sir Stafford Northcote; Evelyn Ashley's Lord Palmerston; A. I. Dasent's John T. Delane; Herbert Paul's Hist. of Modern England; A. D. Elliot's Lord Goschen, 1911; Sketches and Snapshots, by G. W. E. Russell; The Gladstone Government, by A Templar, 1869; Moral and Material Progress Reports of India; Parliamentary Papers; Gazetteer of India; information from Lord Fitzmaurice. Lord Ripon's papers have been entrusted to Mr. Lucien Wolf for the purpose of writing his biography.]