Edwardes, Herbert Benjamin (DNB00)

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EDWARDES, Sir HERBERT BENJAMIN (1819–1868), Indian official, second son of the Rev. B. Edwardes, born at Frodesley, Shropshire, 12 Nov. 1819, was of an ancient Cambrian family, the head of which was made a baronet by Charles II. The mother dying during his infancy Edwardes was taken charge of by an aunt, and sent in his tenth year to a private school at Richmond, where he failed to distinguish himself either as a scholar or as an athlete. In 1837 he began to attend classes at King's College, London, where also he made but moderate progress in classics and mathematics, although more successful in modern languages and a prominent member of the debating society. He also displayed a turn for drawing and wrote English verse. Checked in a desire to enter the university of Oxford, he obtained a cadetship in the Bengal infantry by personal application to a member of the court of directors. Sir R. Jenkins. He proceeded direct to India without passing through the company's military academy, and landed in Calcutta early in 1841. An observer of that day (Lieutenant-colonel Leigh) describes him as then slight and delicate-looking, with fully formed features and an expression of bright intelligence; not given to the active amusements by which most young men of his class and nation are wont to speed the hours, but abounding in mental accomplishment and resource. He was in garrison at Karnál,then a frontier station, in July 1842, a second lieutenant in the 1st Europeans or Bengal fusiliers, now the 1st battalion royal Munster fusiliers. Although the languages of the East were not necessary to an officer so emploved, Edwardes's habits of study were by this time strong, and he soon came to the front as a linguist, passing examinations in Urdu, Hindi, and Persian. In little more than three years after joining his regiment he was pronounced duly qualified for the post of 'interpreter.' The regiment now moved to Sabathu, where he began a series of papers in a local journal, the ‘Delhi Gazette,’ which, under the title of ‘Letters of Brahminee Bull in India to his cousin John in England,’ attracted a good deal of attention among the Anglo-Indian community. Henry Lawrence, then British resident at the court of Khatmandu, was especially struck with the bold political opinions and clear high-spirited style of the young subaltern; and Sir Hugh Gough, the commander-in-chief of the Indian army, with a sagacity not always shown in such cases, selected Edwardes as a member of his personal staff. The headquarters shortly afterwards taking the field for the first Punjab campaign, Edwardes was present as an aide-de-camp to Sir Hugh at the bloody fights of Moodkee and Sobraon.

On the conclusion of the war he obtained his first civil employment. Henry Lawrence was posted at Lahore as resident British minister with the durbar, or council of regency, and in that capacity undertook the task, generous if premature, of teaching the races of the Punjab the art of self-government. Edwardes was made one of Lawrence's assistants on the request of the latter, and was deputed to carry out the undertaking in one of the outlying districts. It was early in 1847 when Edwardes began the reform of civil administration in Bunnoo (Banu, as now spelt by the Indian government), a trans-Indus valley bordering on the territory of the Afghans and mainly peopled by tribes connected with that nation. Backed by a small handy force of Sikh soldiers, he soon made his mark. The numerous fortresses scattered about the valley were demolished, roads were made, canals excavated, local feuds appeased. Fortunate so far, no doubt the young district officer owed as much to his own qualities as to opportunity; and his personal influence was soon acknowledged universally among the rough and wild, but simple, population. Similar victories of peace were at the same time being won by Abbott in Hazára, by Lumsden in the Yusafzai country, and by John Nicholson at Ráwal Pindi. But the well-spring whence this knot of remarkable men derived their inspiration was undoubtedly Lawrence, and that spring was to be closed, for the moment, by his departure for Europe. His substitute was no match for Asiatic craft and intrigue. In April 1848 the unhappy mission of Patrick Alexander Vans Agnew [q. v.]] and Anderson to Multan, ending in the murder of those two officers, by the orders or connivance of Mulraj, fired latent elements of combustion. Edwardes at once grappled with the conflagration. Spontaneously, without British aid or companionship, at first without either money or material, he raised a body of armed tribesmen, and rapidly formed a fairly disciplined and faithful force. Calling to his aid the nawab, or Muhamadan prince, of the neighbouring native state of Bahawalpur, he also established communications with the officer commanding for the durbar of Lahore, Colonel van Cortlandt. On 10 June he received full permission from Lahore to act on his own judgment and responsibility. On the 18th of the same month he routed the rebel troops at Kineyri, near Dehra Gházi Khán. On 3 July, having been joined by Lake, a neighbouring district officer, and further reinforced from Baháwalpur, he inflicted on the enemy a second defeat at Sadusám, in front of Multan. The Diwán Mulráj fell back upon the town and fort, and never left their shelter until General Whish, with the Bombay column, arrived and invested the place. Edwardes took an active part in the siege that followed, and on 22 Jan. 1849 became the medium of the beaten chief's surrender. The services and sufferings of Agnew and Anderson were commemorated by a monument erected by their colleagues, ‘the surviving assistants,’ and the inscription was from Edwardes's pen.

Edwardes's own share in these occurrences met with swift acknowledgment. H. Lawrence, who had long since returned to India, declared that ‘since the days of Clive no man had done as Edwardes.’ Young, alone, untrained in military science and unversed in active war, he had organised victory and rolled back rebellion. This was, indeed, the high-water mark of Edwardes's life and fortune. Distinguished as were some of his later deeds, it is on this, most of all, that his fame must ever rest. From Sir H. Gough and from the government of India he received prompt and hearty commendation. At the instance of the board of control the queen declared him a brevet major and a companion of the Bath, honours rarely, if ever, attained by any subaltern before, and the East India Company presented him with a gold medal, struck specially for the purpose, of which the mould was immediately destroyed. In January 1850 he returned to England, and there found himself the lion of the hour. He was warmly received in his native county of Shropshire. From the university of Oxford he received the degree of D.C.L. In London and at Liverpool he was publicly entertained, and exhibited on both occasions a gift of ready and graceful oratory. In July he married Emma, daughter of James Sidney of Richmond. Before the end of the year he brought out his book, ‘A Year on the Punjab Frontier,’ in which he described his adventures, not without due mention of Lake and Cortlandt, and the Prince of Baháwalpur. In the spring of 1851 he returned to India, and on arrival found a new sphere of civil duty in the deputy-commissionership of the newly created British district of Jullunder (Jalandhar). In February 1853 he was transferred to Hazára, at the western foot of the Cashmere hills, leaving Jullunder with warm praise from his local chief, Donald McLeod, and expressions of regret from the people for whom he had worked nearly two years. McLeod, a trained administrator, selected from the civil service of the north-west provinces for the commissionership, was a man likely to judge soundly, and he reported that Edwardes was the best officer with whom he had ever come in contact.

In his new post a still harder task awaited Edwardes. The Hazára hills and valleys had been ruled by James Abbott, one of the most memorable of the singular group of men who served in the Punjab at that period. He was what H. Lawrence called 'a true knight-errant,' always known among the wild highlanders of Hazára as 'uncle,' and the man who, as Edwardes wrote, had brought the district 'from utter desolation to a smiling prosperity.' Edwardes only remained long enough to found a central cantonment, which he named 'Abbottábád,' in honour of his predecessor, and then, in the month of October, removed to Peshawur, promoted to the difficult and dangerous post of commissioner in succession to the murdered Mackeson. 'In the whole range of Indian charges,' so wrote the governor-general, Dalhousie, in privately informing Edwardes of his appointment, 'I know none which is more arduous than the commissionership of Peshawur.... You hold the outpost of Indian empire. Your past career and your personal qualities and abilities give me assurance that I have chosen well.' For the commissioner in the trans-Indus was far more than a mere prefect. In him, besides the ordinary duties of a commissioner of division, were vested the control of the lawless mountaineers who had bidden defiance to the Moghul emperors in their day of power. And to this were further added the political relations of the British government with the amir of Afghanistán, who was still smarting from past injuries, and whose territories marched with the division for sixty rough miles.

In the discharge of the political part of his duties at Peshawur Edwardes was led to suggest to the government the propriety of a treaty with the amir, and Dalhousie was prepared to give him a free hand for the purpose. But Sir John Lawrence was the chief at Lahore, and his mind was never one that jumped at novelties. On his hesitation becoming known in Calcutta the governor-general proposed that Edwardes, while conducting the negotiations with the court of Cabul, should correspond with himself, directly and without the correspondence being transmitted, as routine and propriety alike required, through the office of the chief. Edwardes declined to avail himself of this flattering irregularity; the letters were duly sent backwards and forwards through Lawrence's office, and there can be little doubt that both the arbitrary ruler at Calcutta and the ardent representative at Peshawur lived to see the benefit of the cautious intermediary. A strict non-interference clause was ultimately introduced into the agreement, and the amir. Dost Muhamad, remained faithful to its engagements under all subsequent trials. Lawrence came, years after, to be himself governor-general, and the policy of non-intervention was continued, only to be once interrupted, down to the days of Lord Dufferin. The circumstances are equally creditable to Lawrence and to Edwardes, and did not serve to ruffle for a moment the friendliness of their mutual relations. 'All the merit of the affair,' so Lawrence wrote to Edwardes, 'whatever it may be, is yours.'

Edwardes was entirely at one with Lawrence as to the question of frontier defence. When the treaty had been concluded, Edwardes wrote to a friend: 'After the doubts and lessons of the [past] ... I have myself arrived at the conclusion that our true military position is on our own side of the passes, just where an army must debouch upon the plain.' From this conclusion he never afterwards deviated. He remained convinced that the best protection of British Indian interests on the frontier was 'a strong, independent, and friendly Afghanistan,' and that there was a distinct feeling among the people of that country 'that the Russians are not as trustworthy as the English.' But he held this conviction without any ill-temper towards Russia, believing that the British government should come to as friendly an understanding as possible with that of the czar. In 1856 the Afghan ruler came down to Peshawur on Edwardes's suggestion, and there executed a supplementary treaty in view of approaching hostilities between the Indian government and the shah of Persia. Shortly after came the great revolt in Upper India, and Edwardes's foresight in helping to make a friend of Dost Muhamad was abundantly justified; all through the revolt of the sepoy army the Afghans remained silent, and even sympathetic, spectators of their neighbours' trouble. On the receipt of the telegram announcing the events of 10 and 11 May at Meerut and Delhi, Edwardes wrote to Sir J. Lawrence, who at first delayed acquiescence in the projects of his more ardent subordinate. But the chief coming as far as Pindi to confer with Edwardes was so far influenced by the arguments laid before him as to give sanction to the levy of a mixed force, and to the formation of a movable column which subsequently maintained order in the Punjab and ultimately aided powerfully in the overthrow of the mutineers in the south of the Sutlej.

Before long a difference arose between these two great public servants, which has been somewhat unduly magnified by some of Edwardes's admirers. Edwardes was, naturally enough, anxious to do all in his power to hold the dangerous post which had been assigned to him by the government of India; Lawrence had to think not only of that, but of the whole Punjab provinces, and even, for a time, of the empire at large. Therefore when Edwardes pressed for reinforcements and asked that some of the troops destined to take part in the siege of Delhi should be diverted for the defence of Peshawur, Lawrence had to answer that Delhi was a big thing, and that there was a possibility that Peshawur might have to be sacrificed to Delhi and to the necessity of concentrating on the hither side of the Indus. The Peshawur authorities were much excited at this suggestion, and referred to Lord Canning at Calcutta, by whom, but not until August, it was decided that Peshawur should be held 'to the last.' It is surely unnecessary that a statesman like Lawrence should be depreciated in order that the very genuine and true services of his able agent should be duly valued. The latest historian sums up the controversy in these words: 'Had things come to the worst elsewhere, it is obvious that such a move would have saved... the Punjab from untold disasters' (Trotter, i. 486).

After a bold and entirely prosperous administration of his charge Edwardes began to feel the consequences of the long trial, and in September 1858 wrote that he was 'quite tired of work.' But he was not able to leave his post for another twelvemonth, and when he did it is to be feared that his health had received permanent injury. In the middle of 1859 he once more came to England, and in the following year was urged to stand as a candidate for the representation of Glasgow in the House of Commons. He declined the invitation, deciding that he would remain in the Indian service. The next two years were passed in England, where Edwardes delivered several addresses on Indian affairs, and received the honour of knighthood, with a step in the order of the Bath. He was also made LL.D. by the university of Cambridge. His health now showed signs of amendment, and in the beginning of 1862 he was back in the Punjab, filling the honourable place of commissioner of Umballa. This is a coveted appointment, involving the privilege of working in mountain air during the summer, and Edwardes's life for the next three years was singularly happy. On 1 Jan. 1865 Edwardes was driven to Europe by a failure both of his wife's health and of his own strength. He left India for ever, regretted by Lawrence, as 'a born ruler of men.'

The short remnant of his days was chiefly spent in London, where Edwardes devoted himself to the cause of public and private benevolence. He was a vice-president of the Church Missionary Society and a supporter of the City Mission, and he took charge of Lawrence's family while his old chief was labouring in India as viceroy. Any spare time was to be devoted to the biography of the viceroy's brother. Sir Henry, a work which Edwardes never lived to complete. He was now promoted major-general and made a commander of the order of the Star of India, receiving further a 'good-conduct pension' of 100l. a year. He threw himself into evangelical movements with characteristic ardour, and his personal charm and fluent language made him a welcome speaker on the platforms of that party. He took a particularly active part in the opposition to ritualism in the Anglican church which marked the period.

In March 1868 came a bad attack of pleurisy. While still convalescent Edwardes was offered the reversion of the lieutenant-governorship of the Punjab. But the expected vacancy did not occur, and Edwardes's health relapsed. On 5 Nov. he came back from Scotland, where he had experienced a short return of strength, and he died in London on 23 Dec. 1868. His memory was honoured by a mural tablet in Westminster Abbey, erected by the secretary of state in council. His fellow students and private friends, by a stained window in King's College chapel, attested their loving admiration, and he was likewise commemorated in his first district, Bunnoo, where the capital town is now known, according to Punjab fashion, as 'Edwardesábád.'

The great characteristic of Edwardes is the combination of bright intelligence with strong prejudices. These, if they sometimes warped his judgment, always inspired and sustained his conduct. His most energetic state paper was attended by no success. After the supression supression of the revolt of 1857 he urged upon the government the duty of publicly supporting the propagation of the gospel in India by projects which were generally condemned at the time, and which are now all but forgotten. This part of Edwardes's public life has been thus summed up by a generally sympathetic writer: 'In his scheme for governing India on christian principles and his subsequent addresses to London audiences the brilliant commissioner of Peshawur betrayed a curious lack of sound statesmanship, an unchristian contempt for that form of justice which aims at treating others as we would be treated ourselves. In this respect he differed widely from John Lawrence, whose fervent piety was largely tempered by his stern love of justice and his sturdy common sense' (Trotter, India under Victoria, 1886).

The epithet of the historian is well chosen. Edwardes was brilliant rather than large-minded. Gay, buoyant, self-relying, he carried the minds of other men with him on most occasions of his life. But his work had something temporary about it. He established few doctrines, and founded no school. On the general frontier question, indeed, his knowledge and experience saved him from rash counsels. But even here his policy was not new, having been founded by Elphinstone and affirmed by later statesmen. Where Edwardes was more of an originator he was less of a success; his extreme zeal for mission work in Afghanistan, for instance, can hardly be said to have been endorsed by events.

It is as a man of action that he deserves unstinted praise. He had a natural military genius, independent of professional training, and a strength of will and talent for administration, which stood in no need of technical instruction. If he was thrown into the world before he had completed his education, he was compensated by being surrounded at an early age by highly formative conditions. Under these he developed his great qualities, and finished his training in the wide school of experience. If untouched by the spirit of the age in Europe, he was all the more qualified for the mastery of Asiatics. With his success and his shortcomings, in his acquirements no less than in his limitations, he is a typical figure in a class to whom the nation owes a debt of gratitude. With the dashing spirit of the cavalier the early Punjab officer united something of the earnestness of the Ironside, but the very qualities which aided them in their rapid rise perhaps hindered them in after life. They were, for the most part, content to see other men build on their foundations.

[The best materials for the study of Edwardes's life and character are furnished by his widow—Memorials of the Life and Letters of Major-general Sir H. Edwardes, K.C.B., &c., London, 1886. For the general history of the time the works cited above may be consulted; also the Histories of the Sepoy Mutiny of Malleson, Kaye, and Holmes; with Mr. Bosworth Smith's Life of John Lawrence and Edwardes and Merivale's Life of Henry Lawrence.]

H. G. K.