Elliot, Henry George (DNB12)

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ELLIOT, Sir HENRY GEORGE (1817–1907), diplomatist, born at Geneva on 30 June 1817, was second son of Gilbert Elliot, second earl of Minto [q. v.], by his wife Mary, eldest daughter of Patrick Brydone of Coldstream, Berwickshire. His eldest sister, Lady Mary, married on 18 September 1838 Sir Ralph Abercromby, who was British minister at Turin and the Hague. Another sister, Lady Frances, on 20 July 1841 became the second wife of Lord John Russell [q. v.]. Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he took no degree, Elliot served as aide-de-camp and private secretary to Sir John Franklin [q. v.] in Tasmania from 1836 to 1839, and as precis writer to Lord Palmerston at the foreign office in 1840. Entering the diplomatic service in 1841 as attache at St. Petersburg, he was promoted to be secretary of legation at the Hague 1848, was transferred to Vienna in 1853, and in 1858 was appointed British envoy at Copenhagen. On the accession of Francis II to the throne of the Two Sicilies on 22 May 1859, the British government decided on resuming diplomatic relations with the court of Naples. These had been broken off by Lord Palmerston's government in 1856, in consequence of the arbitrary and oppressive character of the administration and the refusal of the government of King Ferdinand II to pay any attention to the joint representations of England and France. Elliot was in England on a short leave of absence early in 1859, and Lord Malmesbury, then foreign secretary, despatched him on a special mission to congratulate King Francis II on his accession, with instructions to hold out the expectation of the re-establishment of a permanent legation, if a more liberal and humane policy were pursued in the new reign, and also to dissuade the king from allying himself with Victor Emanuel in the war which had broken out between Piedmont and France on one side and Austria on the other. Elliot's brother-in-law, Lord John Russell [q. v.], who succeeded Lord Malmesbury at the foreign office in June, instructed Elliot to remain on at Naples, and eventually on 9 July appointed him permanent minister. In regard to neutrality, he was instructed not to press that course, if the public opinion of Naples so strongly favoured alliance with Piedmont as to render neutrality dangerous to the dynasty. Elliot's efforts to obtain constitutional reform and abandonment of the arbitrary methods of the previous reign were approved and supported, but had no substantial result. Francis II after some faint signs of a disposition to improve the methods of rule returned to the old methods. Elliot's representations seem on one occasion to have been instrumental in obtaining the release of a certain number of prisoners, who were being detained indefinitely without trial, but generally speaking the advice and the warnings given by him partly on his own initiative and partly under instructions from his government were neglected. The result was not slow in coming. Early in 1860 Garibaldi, with a force of 1000 volunteers, seized Sicily in the name of King Victor Emanuel. In August he advanced on Naples, and handed over the fleet, which surrendered to him, to the Piedmontese admiral. The British government decided on maintaining an attitude of non-inter- vention, despite the appeals of France to oppose Garibaldi. The favourable disposition which the British government manifested towards the progress of Italian unity was largely attributable to the reports of Sir James Hudson [q. v.], the envoy at Turin, and of Elliot regarding the condition of public feeling in Italy. On 10 Sept. Elliot, in pursuance of instructions from Lord John Russell, had an interview with Garibaldi in the cabin of Admiral Munday on board H.M.S. Hannibal, which was then stationed in the Bay of Naples. Elliot stated that he was instructed to remain at Naples for the present, and endeavoured to dissuade Garibaldi from any ulterior intention of attacking Venice (cf. Walpole's Life of Lord John Russell, ii. 322 seq.). Garibaldi was not much impressed by the arguments of the British minister. But the resistance offered by Francis II's forces at Capua hampered Garibaldi's plans. In October a portion of the Piedmontese army under King Victor Emanuel joined the Garibaldian forces, and finally drove King Francis and his troops into Gaeta, which surrendered after a three months' siege. On 21 October a plebiscite in Sicily and Naples gave an enormous majority of votes for Italian unity under King Victor Emanuel. The formal ceremony of annexation took place at Naples on 8 Nov. Thenceforward the British legation had no raison d'etre, and Elliot left for England a few days later. For some time he was without active employment.

On the death of Sir Thomas Wyse [q. v.], British minister at Athens, in April 1862, he was sent on a special mission to Greece, where discontent against the rule of King Otho was assuming dangerous proportions, and had manifested itself in a mutiny of the garrison of Nauplia. Here again his instructions were to urge the necessity of a more liberal system of administration and of the observance of the rules of constitutional government. He was also to make it clear that the British government would not countenance aggressive designs against Turkey. He returned in July, Peter Campbell Scarlett [q. v.] having received the appointment of minister. During his short residence at Athens he had been greatly impressed with the unpopularity of the king, and his fore-bodings were soon justified. In October a provisional government deposed the king. The British government declined the offer of the crown to Prince Alfred, but promised, if a suitable candidate were chosen, and if the constitutional form of government were preserved and all attempt at aggression against Turkey were abandoned, to cede the Ionian Islands. Elliot was seat back to Athens on special mission to arrange matters with the provisional government on this basis. Prince William, second son of King Christian of Denmark, was on 30 March 1863 unanimously elected as King George I. Elliot returned to England in the following month. In September of the same year he succeeded Sir James Hudson as British envoy to the king of Italy, taking up his residence at Turin. The foreign secretary, Lord John Russell, was freely charged, both in private correspondence and in the press, with un-justly superseding Hudson to make a place for Elliot, his own brother-in-law. 'The Times ' had already suggested (13 March 1860) such an intention on Lord John's part, and a warm political controversy, which Hudson did much to fan, followed the announcement in 1863 of Elliot's appointment. But the imputation of jobbery has no justification. Hudson's retirement was quite voluntary, and he in the first instance warmly approved the choice of his successor (Walpole's Lord John Russell, ii. 423 seq. ; G. Elliot's Sir James Hudson and Lord Russell, 1886). In May 1865 Elliot moved from Turin to Florence, which had been made the capital of the kingdom, and there his sister and Lord John Russell visited him in November 1866. In July 1867 he was appointed ambassador at Constantinople and sworn a privy councillor. At his new post he was almost at once engaged in the discussion over the troubles in Crete in 1868-9, and the consequent rupture of diplomatic relations between Turkey and Greece. In the winter of 1869 he was British representative at the opening of the Suez Canal, and was made G.C.B.

On 6 June 1870 a great fire broke out in Pera, in which the British embassy house was almost completely destroyed. Lady Elliot and her children narrowly escaped with their lives, and all the ambassador's private property was destroyed, though he and the staff succeeded in saving the government archives and much of the furniture of the state rooms. With the Russian ambassador at Constantinople, General Ignatieff, Elliot was often in conflict, and was held by the aggressive party in England to be no match for Russian ambition, but in the view of Lord Granville, the foreign secretary, Elliot by his 'quiet firmness ' well held his own against all Russian intrigue in the sultan's court (FitzMaurice, Lord Granville, ii. 412-3).

In 1875 an insurrection in Herzegovina which rapidly spread to Bosnia commenced the series of events issuing successively in the outbreak of war between Russia and Turkey in April 1877, the treaty of San Stefano, and the congress of Berlin in 1878. In 1876 Servia and Montenegro declared war against Turkey, and an insurrectionary movement commenced in Bulgaria. The Turkish authorities, being insufficiently provided with regular troops, proceeded to enrol irregulars and ' Bashi-Bazuks,' who resorted at once to savage massacres, which became notorious under the term of ' the Bulgarian atrocities.' The British embassy at Constantinople and the consular officers in the vicinity were at the time much criticised for their delay in reporting these events, which first became known through the public press. There was, in fact, no British consular officer very close to the spot, but it was not till January 1876 that the fact became known that a despatch from the British consul at Adria- nople to the consul-general at Constanti- nople, which mentioned the receipt of re- ports of appalling massacres, had not been communicated to either the ambassador or the foreign office by the consul-general, who was at the time suffering from a mortal illness. As soon as it appeared that there was solid foundation for the rumours, both the consul at Adrianople and secretary of the British embassy were sent to investigate the facts, and on receipt their reports the ambassador was instruct to protest in the strongest manner agaii the barbarities perpetrated, and to demai the arrest and punishment of those respon- sible. In reply to attacks which were made on him, as not having been sufficiently alive to the danger of such occurrences, Elliot was able to show that he had con- stantly and urgently warned both the Porte and his own government of the con- sequences which were certain to attend the employment of irregular forces. Ne tiations for the conclusion of peace betwe Turkey, Servia, and Montenegro wei carried on by the ambassador und< instructions from the British government in September 1876, and as these prove unsuccessful, he was instructed on 5 as a last resource to demand the conclusk of an armistice for at least a month, at the end of which a conference was to be called at Constantinople to consider the whole question. Failing compliance with this request, he was instructed to withdraw from Constantinople. The reply of the Porte was as usual unsatisfactory, but a Russian ultimatum delivered in October procured an armistice of two months, and on the proposal of Great Britain a con- ference met at Constantinople in December, to which the marquis of Salisbury, then secretary of state for India, was sent as first British plenipotentiary, Elliot beii associated with him. In the meanwl the supreme authority in the Turkisl empire had twice changed hands. On 29 May 1876 the Sultan Abdul Aziz w deposed in pursuance of a fetvah obtaii from the Sheikh-ul-Islam, and shoi afterwards he committed suicide or wi assassinated. He was succeeded by nephew Murad, who was in his turn remove as incompetent on 31 Aug., and replaced ty his brother Abd-ul-Hamid II. The deliberations of the conference resulted in the presentation to the Turkish govei in January 1877 of proposals for the pacification of the disturbed provinces, including supervision of these measures by international commission supported by force of 6000 Belgian and Swiss gendarme After ten years' experience of Turkish ways Elliot entertained little hope that the scheme would be accepted by the Porte, or that if accepted it would be found practicable in execution. He had moreover considerable faith in the sincerity and capacity of the new grand vizier, Midhat Pasha, and in his power to carry through the measures of reform which he was introducing. But the suggestion, which was made in some organs of the press, that he failed to give Lord Salisbury, the senior British plenipotentiary, full and loyal support, or that he encouraged the Turkish government to resist the demands of the powers, was warmly repudiated by him, and must be dismissed at once by all who had any knowledge of his character. The proposals of the conference were refused by the Turkish government, who simultaneously with the opening of the conference had proclaimed the grant of a constitution to the empire, with representative institutions. The conference consequently separated without result. A further conference held in London in March 1877 presented demands which were again refused, and war was declared by Russia on 24 April. Elliot, whose health had suffered much during the continued strain, was granted leave of absence at the end of February, being replaced by the appointment of Sir A. H. Layard [q. v. Suppl. I] as special ambassador ad interim. At the close of the year Elliot was appointed ambassador at Vienna, where he took part in the critical negotiations which ensued between the conclusion of the treaty of San Stefano and the meeting of the congress at Berlin. In March 1880 he reported to his government the resentment caused in Vienna by Gladstone's attack, during his Midlothian campaign, on the Austrian government, and their desire for some disavowal, which Gladstone subsequently made (FitzMaurice, Life of Lord Granville, ii. 200-3). Elliot remained at Vienna till his retirement on pension in January 1884. The rest of his life was passed mainly in England. In February 1888 he caused general surprise by publishing in the 'Nineteenth Century' his recollections of the events connected with the deposition and death of Sultan Abdul Aziz, and the efforts made for constitutional reform by Midhat Pasha. The article gave great umbrage to the reigning Sultan, whose subsequent policy he severely criticised. He died at Ardington House, Wantage, on 30 March 1907. His portrait by von Angeli is at Minto House, Hawick. A good photogravure is in 'The British Museum of Portraits'; a set is in the art library of the Victoria and Albert Museum. A cartoon portrait by 'Spy' appeared in 'Vanity Fair' in 1877. He married on 9 Dec. 1847 Anne (d. 1899), second daughter of Sir Edmund Antrobus. By her he had one son, Sir Francis Edmund Hugh Elliot, G.C.V.O., K.C.M.G., British minister at Athens, and one daughter.

[The Times, 1 April 1907, which contains some inaccuracies; Foreign Office List, 1908, p. 397; Cambridge Modern History, xi. 390, 611, xvi. 381; papers laid before Parliament; Nineteenth Century, February 1888. Elliot printed for private circulation a volume of Diplomatic Recollections, which is cited in Mr. G. M. Trevelyan's Garibaldi and the Thousand, and his Garibaldi and the Making of Italy, together with letters from Elliot to Lord John Russell.]