Page:Dictionary of National Biography. Sup. Vol II (1901).djvu/28

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Churchill
Churchill
16

the native Indian reformers, who hoped to find in him an advocate of their claims for local self-government. He seems also to have made a favourable impression on the official world. With his usual quickness in acquiring information, he obtained from this short visit a considerable insight into the problems of our eastern administration. In an address delivered to the Cambridge Carlton Club in June 1885, soon after his return, he referred to the difficulties of Indian government in some sentences that touched a higher level of eloquence and philosophic statesmanship than perhaps any other passage of his published speeches.

Lord Randolph's Indian experiences, such as they were, speedily became of practical value to him. When Gladstone's government broke down, in the summer of 1885, and was defeated on Childers's budget on 8 June, the member for Woodstock had some excuse for the passionate excitement ; he displayed. 'He jumped on the green bench where he had been sitting, and standing there, or rather dancing there, he waved his hat madly round and round his head, and cheered in tones of stentorian exultation.' He was certainly entitled to take much of the credit for the victory to himself; for no man had done more to weaken the liberals in parliament or to rouse the spirit of the conservatives in the country. His claim to a place in the new cabinet could not be ignored ; and when the ministry was formed it was seen that the concessions made by Lord Salisbury to the leader of the 'fourth party' were of the most substantial kind. Sir Stafford Northcote was removed to the upper house ; Sir Michael Hicks-Beach was made chancellor of the exchequer and leader of the House of Commons, and Lord Randolph became secretary of state for India.

His career at the India office lasted only from 24 June 1885 to 1 Feb. 1886. But during those few months the young minister showed that he possessed other qualities besides those of the dashing parliamentary gladiator and an astute party organiser. The breadth and comprehensiveness of his views, his grasp of detail, and his resolute industry, astonished the officials of his department. According to all competent testimony he was an admirable administrator, who might, with ampler opportunities, have taken a high place among those statesmen who have been responsible for the affairs of our eastern empire. As it was he accomplished some important work. He assisted in bringing to a satisfactory conclusion the critical negotiations with Russia over the Afghan frontier, and obtained from parliament the vote of credit required to place the Indian defences in order. On 6 Aug. he introduced the Indian budget in a speech which included a virulent attack upon Lord Ripon, the late viceroy, who was charged with gross want of foresight, with negligence, and incapacity. It was alleged that while Russia was steadily advancing the Indian army had been reduced, the strategic defence of the frontier neglected, and ' Lord Ripon slept, lulled by the languor of the land of the lotus.' The financial statement was, however, set forth lucidly, and the speaker's general reflections showed that he had taken a large survey of Indian policy both external and domestic. His tenure of the Indian secretaryship was rendered historically notable by the short Burmese campaign and the acquisition of King Theebaw's dominions. To a large extent this enterprise was Lord Randolph's work. He saw that the rule of the mad despot Theebaw had become impossible, and he boldly and rapidly decided that the annexation of Burma was the only possible solution of the difficulty. His energy was reflected in the swiftness with which the operations were carried out. In November he gave the order to advance ; on 1 Dec. Lord Dufferin announced that the conquest was completed ; and on the 31st of the same month the secretary for India sent out his despatch, detailing what had happened and authorising the annexation. He devoted attention also to the economic development of the peninsula. The formation of the Indian Midland Railway was carried through by him in spite of strenuous and influential opposition. He had promised to move for a parliamentary committee in the session of 1881 to inquire into the whole subject of the administration of India ; but he quitted office too soon to take any steps for the fulfilment of this pledge.

Besides attending sedulously to the duties of his department, Lord Randolph, both during the remainder of the session of 1885 and in the ensuing contest at the polls, spoke frequently on the Irish question. This portion of his career has been often and severely criticised. The debt which the conservatives had incurred to the Irish party for assisting to overthrow the Gladstone administration had to be discharged. Lord Randolph did his share in the liquidation by joining the Parnellites in a furious attack on Lord Spencer and the Irish executive generally, in connection with certain atrocious agrarian murders which had taken place at Maamtrasna. He also made it his special business to defend the refusal