Fergusson, James (DNB12)

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FERGUSSON, Sir JAMES (1832–1907), sixth baronet of Kilkerran, governor of Bombay, born on 14 March 1832 in Edinburgh, was eldest of four sons of Sir Charles Dalrymple Fergusson (1800–1849), fifth baronet, of Kilkerran in Ayrshire, by his wife Helen, daughter of David Lord Boyle [q. v.], lord justice-general. Sir David Dalrjrmple, Lord Hailes [q. v.], was father of his father's mother. A younger brother, Charles Dalrymple, who substituted the surname Dalrymple for that of Fergusson, was created a baronet on 19 July 1887. James entered Rugby under Dr. Tait in August 1845, together with George Joachim (afterwards Lord) Goschen, Sir John Stewart, who served with him in the Crimea, and Sir Theodore Hope, afterwards a member of the supreme government in India. At school he gained some reputation in the debating club, and in 1850 he proceeded to University College, Oxford, having in the previous year succeeded his father in the baronetcy. His inclinations turned towards a military career, and leaving Oxford without a degree he entered the grenadier guards. With the 3rd battalion of that regiment he served in the Crimean war, 1854-5. He took part in the battle of Alma and was wounded at Inkerman on 5 Nov. 1854. On that day three of his brother officers were killed and five others wounded in the numerous encounters which the 1st division sustained, under George, duke of Cambridge. Close to him on the field of battle fell his friend and neighbour in Scotland, Colonel James Hunter Blair (Kinglake's Crimea, vol. vi. chap. 6). At the dying man's suggestion, the electors chose Fergusson to take Blair's place in parliament as conservative member for Ayrshire, but he remained with the forces before Sevastopol until May 1855, when Lord Raglan advised him to enter upon his parliamentary duties. On his return home he received his medal from Queen Victoria, and retired from the army on 9 Aug. 1859. Although his active military career was thus brought to an early close, he remained an officer of the Royal Company of Archers, was colonel commanding the Ayr and Wigtown militia from 1858 to 1868, and also served in his county regiment of yeomanry.

In 1857 he lost his seat for Ayrshire, but recovered it in 1859, holding it until 1868. While attending to county business and the duties of a landlord, he devoted himself to his parliamentary work, and was appointed under-secretary of India under Lord Cranborne [see Cecil, Lord Robert, Suppl. II] in the Derby government of 1866. A year later he was transferred in a similar capacity to the home office, where there was need for efficient aid to Gathorne Hardy (afterwards Lord Cranbrook) [q. v. Suppl. II]. The public mind was agitated by trades union outrages, the Fenian movement, and the reform bill. After Disraeli succeeded Lord Derby as prime minister in February 1868 Fergusson was made a privy councillor and governor of South Australia, where he arrived on 16 Feb. 1869. Until 1885 (save for the period 1875-80) his career was identified with the oversea dominions.

In South Australia, which was prosperous and peaceful, the working of responsible government made small demands upon the governor. But Fergusson gave material assistance to his ministers in organising the telegraph system. In 1873 he left South Australia for New Zealand, but after Disraeli became premier (Feb. 1874) Fergusson resigned his post there in 1875, being made K.C.M.G. On his return to England he tried to resume his parliamentary career. His attempts to capture Frome in 1876 and Greenock in 1878 were unsuccessful. But he engaged actively in county affairs, and on 10 March 1880, on the eve of Lord Beaconsfield's fall from power, he accepted the post of governor of Bombay in succession to Sir Richard Temple [q. v. Suppl. II]. When the new governor was installed on 28 April 1880 Lord Lytton had tendered his resignation, Abdur Rahman was discussing terms with Sir Donald Stewart [q. v. Suppl. I] near Kabul, and Ayub Khan was meditating the attack upon Kandahar, which he successfully delivered at Maiwand on 27 July. Thus Fergusson's immediate duty was to push forward supplies and reinforcements through Sind. But his main duties were of an essentially civil character and connected with revenue administration. Before his arrival Sir Theodore Hope had carried through the supreme legislature the Dekhan Agriculturist Relief Act to enable the peasantry to shake off their indebtedness and meet the moneylender on more equal terms. The introduction of so novel an experiment met with opposition from the powerful lending classes and also from lawyers, who considered contracts sacred and the letter of bonds inviolable. New rules of registration were required, fresh courts instituted, and the system of conciliation organised. Fergusson, as a proprietor himself, threw his experience and heart into the work. The Act, which has been since amended, has abundantly vindicated its promoters. In another direction he sought the welfare of the Dekhan peasantry. Temple, while immensely increasing the area of forest reserves, had severely curtailed forest privileges long enjoyed by the cultivating classes in the uplands of the Ghat districts. Fergusson removed some part of the burden of forest conservancy which Temple had thrown on the people. He moreover inculcated moderation in assessing the land revenue and liberality in granting remissions in times of scarcity. To enable the state to deal more readily with famine, he gave attention to the alignment of the new Southern Maratha railway, mainly devised to carry food stuffs into districts liable to failure of the rains. In the same spirit he created the first agricultural department, and inaugurated experimental farms. In other departments he turned to account his experience at the home office. In the face of violent agitation he refused to exercise the clemency of the crown in favour of the high priest of the Vaishnava sect. This holy man had been convicted of complicity in postal robberies, and his religious followers regarded his punishment as an act of impiety. Fond of riding, Fergusson covered long distances in his tours through a province of 123,000 square miles. In earnestness of purpose and indefatigable energy he almost rivalled Sir Richard Temple. He did much to develop the port of Bombay, and took deep interest in education, laying the foundation of the native college at Poona which is called by his name. He was assisted in his government by his colleague, Sir James Peile [q. v. Suppl. II], and at the close of it by (Sir) Maxwell Melvill (1834–1887), a man of rare distinction. With Peile's aid he was able to satisfy Lord Ripon by the steps taken in Bombay to develop rural and urban self- government. If the Bombay government was unable to go as far as that viceroy wished, it went further than any other province in India. Altogether Fergusson's administration in Bombay was successful, and he well merited the honour of G.C.S.I. which he received on 25 Feb. 1885.

Fergusson did not await the arrival of his successor, Lord Reay, but after making arrangements for the Suakin campaign relinquished the government on 27 March 1885, hurrying home to resume a political career. On 9 June 1885 Gladstone resigned, and on 27 Nov. Fergusson was returned as one of the members for Manchester (N.E. division). He held the seat until January 1906. On the return of Lord Salisbury to power on 3 Aug. 1886, Fergusson served from 1886 to 1891 as under-secretary in the foreign office, and was responsible for answering questions and otherwise representing that department in the House of Commons. He performed his duties with stolid discretion. In 1891 he was made postmaster-general, retaining the office until Gladstone's return to power in August 1892. He did not take office again, but at the opening of the new parliament in 1901 he proposed the re-election as speaker of William Court Gully, afterwards Viscount Selby [q. v. Suppl. II]. Meanwhile Fergusson's business capacity found scope as director of the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, the National Telephone Company, and similar concerns. In the interests of the first-mentioned company he went to Jamaica in January 1907 to attend the conference of the British Cotton Growing Association. On the first day of the conference, 14 Jan., Kingston was overtaken by a terrible earthquake, followed by a destructive fire. Fergusson was walking in the street near his hotel, when he was killed by the fall of a wall. He was buried in the churchyard of Half Way Tree, near Kingston, and a memorial service was held on 21 Jan. in the Guards' Chapel, London.

Fergusson was thrice married: (1) at Dalhousie Castle on 9 Aug. 1859 to Lady Edith Christian, younger daughter of James Andrew Ramsay, first marquis of Dalhousie [q. v.]; she died at Adelaide on 28 Oct. 1871, leaving two sons and two daughters; (2) in New Zealand on 11 March 1873 to Olive, youngest daughter of John Henry Richman of Warnbunga, South Australia; she bore him one son, Alan Walter John (1878–1909), and died of cholera at Bombay on 8 Jan. 1882; (3) on 5 April 1893 to Isabella Elisabeth, widow of Charles Hugh Hoare, of Morden, Surrey, and daughter of Thomas Twysden, rector of Charlton, Devonshire. She survived him without issue. His elder son by his first wife. Major-general Sir Charles Fergusson, D.S.O., succeeded him in the title.

Fergusson's friends in Ayrshire, where he was much beloved for his charitable and kindly acts, erected to his memory a statue in bronze at the corner of Wellington Square in Ayr. It was executed by Sir Goscombe John, R.A., and unveiled by the earl of Eglinton in October 1910. In Jamaica, too, his memory is preserved in the restoration of the church of Half Way Tree and a mural tablet.

[The Times, 17 Jan. 1907; Kinglake's Crimea; Colonial and India Office Lists; Administration Reports of Bombay; Lucy's Salisbury and Balfourian Parliaments; and Parliamentary Reports.]

W. L-W.