Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Elliot, Gilbert (1751-1814)

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ELLIOT, Sir GILBERT, first Earl of Minto (1751–1814), governor-general of India, eldest son of Sir Gilbert Elliot, third baronet, of Minto, in Roxburghshire (1722-1777) [q. v.], by Agnes, daughter of Hugh Dalrymple Murray Kynynmound, was born on 23 April 1751, and was educated first under a private tutor, and afterwards (1764-1766)at the Pension Militaire, Fontainebleau, where he was a schoolfellow of Mirabeau, David Hume, then at Paris, acting as his guardian. The winters of 1766 and 1767 he spent in Edinburgh, attending the lectures on civil law, moral and natural philosophy, humanity, history, and rhetoric. In 1768 he entered Christ Church, Oxford, as a gentleman commoner. Here he seems to have chiefly occupied himself with sport and society. Part of 1770 he spent in Paris, where he attracted the notice of Madame du Deffaud and other celebrities, and the vacation of 1773 on the Rhine. In 1769 he had entered Lincoln's Inn, and on 4 May 1774 he was called to the bar. He went the northern circuit, and soon obtained a certain amount of practice. In 1776 he was returned to parliament for Morpeth. Though a whig, he was in favour of the prosecution of the American war, and therefore gave a general support to the government. By 1782, however, he had become convinced that the revolt could no longer be suppressed, and went over to the opposition. About this time he made the acquaintance, which afterwards ripened into friendship, of Burke. Towards the end of the year he was compelled by symptoms of pulmonary disease to leave England for Nice, where he wintered, returning to England completely reinstated in health in the following summer. On his return to London he renewed his acquaintance with Mirabeau, then staying in England, whom he entertained at Bath and Minto. Having on the dissolution of parliament (25 March 1784) lost his seat, he occupied his leisure in preparing, in concert with Burke, the case against Warren Hastings and Sir Elijah Impey. In September 1786 he was returned to parliament for Berwick. On 8 Feb. 1787 he gave notice of motion on the subject of Impey's conduct while chief justice of Fort William. The motion, however, did not come on until 12 Dec. Elliot then in an eloquent speech opened the case against Sir Elijah Impey [q.v.], charging him with perversion of justice in various instances, and particularly in the case of Maharaja Nuncomar, whom he had sentenced to death for forgery. His motion that his complaint against Sir Elijah Impey be received and laid on the table was carried. The proceedings were protracted until 7 May 1788, when Elliot made a second elaborate speech on the question, being supported by Burke. The debate was adjourned and re opened by Elliot the next day. At the close of an animated discussion the motion was lost by 55 to 73. The case against Impey has recently been subjected to careful examination by Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, in two remarkably able volumes, entitled 'The Story of Nuncomar and the Impeachment of Sir Elijah Impey,' in which it is conclusively proved that there was not a tittle of evidence to support the charges 'insinuated rather than alleged' by Elliot. His attack on Impey raised the reputation of Elliot with his party so high that he was put forward on two occasions as a candidate for the speakership, first on 5 Jan. 1789 against Grenville, and secondly on 9 June following against Addington. On both occasions he was beaten. At the general election of 1790 he was returned for Helston, Coniwall. On 10 May 1791 he moved the repeal of the Test Act, so far as it applied to Scotland, but the motion was lost. On the outbreak of the French revolution Elliot declared energetically against the policy of Fox, and exerted himself to detach Lord Portland from the influence of that statesman. On 5 July 1793 he received the degree of D.C.L. from the university of Oxford. In the following September he was appointed civil commissioner at Toulon, where he arrived about the middle of November, and at once opened his commission. By the 20th of the following month, however, Toulon had ceased to be in the possession of the English. Elliot then proceeded to Florence, where he made arrangements for the relief of the refugees from Toulon, and endeavoured to animate the Italian states to a more vigorous resistance to the French. It was now decided, with the consent of the inhabitants, to assume the protectorate of Corsica. Elliot on 19 June 1794 assumed provisionally vice-regal powers, though he did not receive his commission from the British government until 1 Oct. He governed constitutionally, opening the parliament of the island on 25 Nov. 1795. By making Pozzo di Borgo president of the council of state, he alienated General Paoli, who conspired for the expulsion of the British from the island, but was himself expelled by Elliot. Elliot's policy was to make Corsica the centre of British influence in the Mediterranean, and his commission invested him with a general control over the movements of the fleet. It was by his direction that Nelson in July 1796 seized the harbour and forts of Porto Ferraio in the isle of Elba, by way of counterpoise to the recent occupation of Leghorn by the French. In September, however, he received from the Duke of Portland a despatch directing him to withdraw from Corsica, and he accordingly evacuated the island on 26 Oct., and betook himself to Naples, where he met with a splendid reception from the court. Here he remained until 15 Jan. 1797, when he sailed for England, where he landed on 15 March 1798. In the following October he was raised to the peerage by the title of Baron Minto of Minto, in the county of Roxburgh. On 19 March 1799 he delivered in the House of Lords a weighty speech on the union with Ireland, which he supported mainly on the ground that it afforded the only means of effectually controlling the mutual animosities of catholic and protestant. In the following June he was appointed envoy extraordinary and minister plenipotentiary at the court of Vienna, where his strenuous efforts to infuse energy into the conduct of the war with France were unsuccessful. He obtained, indeed, on 20 June 1800 the conclusion of a treaty of alliance, offensive and defensive, by which the emperor engaged, in consideration of a subsidy of 2,000,000l., not to make peace without the consent of his Britannic majesty. This treaty, however, was broken by the treaty of Lunéville on 9 Feb. 1801, and Elliot accordingly was recalled. He arrived in London at the end of November 1801. In February 1803 ho was elected a fellow of the Royal Society and also of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. On the formation of the whig ministry in 1806 Elliot received the office of president of the board of control, and was soon after appointed governor-general of India. He sailed from England early in February, and reached Calcutta at the end of July 1807. He found the company's finances in considerable disorder, but by careful management soon converted a deficit into a surplus, and that without resorting to cheeseparing economy. He recognised the importance of respecting the religious views of the natives, and accordingly soon after his arrival established a censorship of the missionary press at the Danish settlement of Serampore, which had long been a source of danger to the state by reason of the scurrilous libels upon the Mahommedan faith and Hindu mythology which issued from it. He also prohibited for a time the practice of employing native converts in preaching work. These judicious measures raised a vehement outcry in England that the governor-general was suppressing the propagation of the christian religion in India, which was entirely unjustified by the facts. In 1808 it became necessary to take measures for establishing order in the recently annexed province of Bundelkhand, which had fallen into a state of complete anarchy. The country was mountainous, and the reduction of the fastnesses in which the robber chieftains who infested it had established themselves cost several campaigns and a considerable expenditure of treasure. The work was, however, successfully completed in 1813. Elliot also found it necessary to despatch a force against Abd-ul-samad Khan, a military adventurer who had possessed himself of Hariana. This expedition was brought to a successful conclusion in 1809. In order to provide for the defence of the peninsula against an anticipated invasion by the French by way of Persia and Afghanistan, Elliot despatched in 1808 three missions to Persia, Lahore, and Cabul respectively, with the view of establishing offensive alliances with those states. The mission to Persia failed by reason of the hectoring tone adopted by the envoy. Colonel Malcolm; that to Lahore, which was managed with the utmost tact by Charles (afterwards Sir Charles) Metcalfe, ilso failed of its original object, the Raja Ranjit Sing being more occupied with his designs against the Sikhs than with fears of a French invasion. Metcalfe, however, compelled him to sign a treaty ceding his recent acquisitions between the Jumna and the Setlej to the company (25 April 1809). For the mission to Cabul Elliot selected Mountstuart Elphinstone, who on 19 April 1809 concluded a treaty (ratified at Calcutta on 17 June) with Shah Shuja, by which, in consideration of a subsidy, that potentate agreed to resist the advance of any French and Persian force, and to exclude all Frenchmen from his country for ever. This treaty, however, was almost immediately rendered nugatory by the expulsion of Shah Shuja from Cabul by Shah Mahommed. Negotiations were also entered into with Scinde the same year, which ultimately resulted in the conclusion of a treaty of general amity with the ameer of that country and the admission of a resident. The suppression of the dakoits, who for years had infested Lower Bengal, of the pirates of the Persian Gulf, of a mutiny at Madras, and the defence of Berar against a formidable irruption of Pathans under Amir Khan also occupied Elliot's attention during this year. In September he sent a small expedition to Macao to protect that port against the French; but the Chinese declining such protection it was withdrawn. About the same time he annexed the island of Amboyna, and the entire group of the Molucca islands in the following spring. Towards the end of this year (1810) he wrested the isle of Bourbon and the Mauritius from France, and in the spring of 1811 annexed Java, accompanying the expedition himself. For these services he received the thanks of parliament. He returned to Calcutta towards the end of 1811. Attempts were made from time to time during Elliot's administration to compel the Nawab of Oude to introduce reforms into the oppressive fiscal system of that state, but without success; more energetic steps would probably have been taken to that end had he continued longer in office. He was, however, suddenly superseded in 1813, in order that a place might be found for Lord Moira, a personal friend of the regent. Elliot was at the same time created viscount Melgund and Earl of Minto (24 Feb. 1813). Lord Moira arrived in October, and Elliot at once left for England, where he arrived in May 1814. His term of office was marked by a substantial advance in the material prosperity of India, as well as by a considerable extension and consolidation of the power of the company. He had long contemplated the introduction of reforms into the legal system, with the object of securing greater efficiency and despatch; but no substantial step was taken in this direction during his administration. Himself a man of considerable and varied literary culture, he took the liveliest interest in the development of education in India, and projected the establishment of colleges for the Mahommedans at Bhangulpore, Juanpore, and elsewhere, and the reform of the Madrissa or Mahommedan college of Calcutta, and the extension of the curriculum of the college of Fort William, of which he was ex officio visitor. Elliot's strength, which had shown symptoms of decay during the last few years of his vice-royalty, was severely tried by the fatigues incident to the expedition to Java, and soon after his return to England it entirely broke down. He died at Stevenage, while on his way to Minto, on 21 June 1814, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Elliot married, on 3 Jan. 1777, Anna Maria, eldest daughter of Sir George Amyand, by whom he had three sons and three daughters. His eldest son, Gilbert, and second son, Admiral Sir George, are separately noticed.

Elliot's speeches in parliament are usually reported at considerable length in Hansard. For his speech to the parliament of Corsica, on opening the session of 1795, see 'Il grazioso Discorso pronunziato da Sua Eccellenza il Vice-re del Regno di Corsica all' Apertura della Camera di Parlamento in Corte li 25 Novembre 1795,' Corte, 4to. His speech on the union with Ireland was also printed and circulated in the shape of a pamphlet, under the title 'The Speech of Lord Minto in the House of Peers, 11 April 1799, on a motion for an address to his Majesty to communicate the resolutions of the two Houses of Parliament respecting an Union between Great Britain and Ireland,' London, 1799, 8vo, and elicited two replies, one from the Right Hon. Patrick Duigenan in 'A Fair Representation of the present Political State of Ireland, in a course of Strictures on two pamphlets,' &c., London, 1799; the other, 'An Examination into the Principles contained in a pamphlet entitled the Speech of Lord Minto, &c. By the Right Hon. Barry, Earl Farnham,' Dublin, 1800, 8vo, 2nd edit. An address given by Elliot on 15 Sept. 1810, in his capacity of visitor of the college of Fort William, will be found in 'Public Disputation of the Students of the College of Fort William in Bengal, before the Right Hon. Lord Minto, Governor-general of Bengal, and Visitor of the College, together with his Lordship's Discourse,' Calcutta, 1811, 8vo.

[Life and Letters of Sir Gilbert Elliot, first Earl of Minto, from 1761 to 1806... edited by his great-niece, the Countess of Minto, London, 1874, 8vo, 3 vols.; Lord Minto in India; Life and Letters of Gilbert Elliot, first Earl of Minto, from 1807 to 14, edited by his great-niece, the Countess of Minto, London, 1880, 8vo; Parl. Hist, xixxxix, xxxiv; Wilson's Hist, of British India, vol.i.; Gent. Mag. (1814), part ii. 393; Brit. Mus. Cat.]

J. M. R.