Portal, Gerald Herbert (DNB00)

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PORTAL, Sir GERALD HERBERT (1858–1894), diplomatist, second son of Melville Portal of Laverstoke, Hampshire, and Lady Charlotte Mary Elliot, daughter of the second Earl of Minto, was born at Laverstoke on 13 March 1858, and educated at Eton, where he played in the school cricket team. He entered the diplomatic service on 12 July 1879, and, after the usual period of probation in the foreign office, was sent to Rome on 29 June 1880. He became third secretary of legation on 22 July 1881.

In June 1882 Portal had the good fortune to be temporarily attached to the consulate-general at Cairo, at a critical period in the history of British relations with Egypt. He was present at the bombardment of Alexandria, and for his services on that occasion received a medal with clasp and the khedive's star. He became a favourite with Sir Evelyn Baring (afterwards Lord Cromer), the British representative, and in April 1884 was confirmed as third secretary at Cairo. On 1 April 1885 he was promoted second secretary. For some weeks in the summers of 1886 and 1887 he took charge of the residency during Lord Cromer's absence, and conducted its affairs with credit.

On 17 Oct. 1887 Portal was ordered to attempt a reconciliation between the king of Abyssinia and the Italian government. On 21 Oct. he left for Massowah. To succeed in such a mission was almost impossible, but he made every effort, and showed rare judgment and coolness in travelling through a disturbed country. He returned on 31 Dec., without effecting his purpose, but with a considerably enhanced reputation. He was made C.B., and in ‘My Mission to Abyssinia’ (1888) he gave an account of the expedition.

Returning to his duties at the Cairo agency, Portal was chargé d'affaires in the autumn of 1888. From 30 April to 14 Nov. 1889 he acted as consul-general at Zanzibar, and on 10 March 1891 was permanently appointed to the agency there, under the scheme of the British protectorate, which was then inaugurated. To these duties he added those of consul-general for German East Africa on 2 June 1891, and for the British sphere on 11 Feb. 1892. He vigorously entered upon the duties of his new post, and reformed the administration. He was made K.C.M.G. on 4 Aug. 1892.

On 10 Dec. 1892 Portal was directed to visit Uganda, and to report whether that part of Africa should be retained by the British or evacuated. The journey was attended by great difficulty and hardship. In the course of it Portal lost, on 27 May 1893, his elder brother, Capt. Melville Raymond Portal (b. 1856), North Lancashire regiment, who was with him as chief military officer. Portal arrived at the coast again on 21 Oct. 1893, and reached London in November. He had sent in his reports on the country, and had completed the greater part of a book relating his experiences, when he was struck down by fever, the result of his hardships, and died at 5B Mount Street, Grosvenor Square, London, on 25 Jan. 1894. His book on ‘The British Mission to Uganda’ was published a few months later. His recommendation that Uganda should be retained by the British government was ultimately adopted.

Portal was a man of handsome presence and athletic mould, and possessed tact, firmness, and daring. He married, on 1 Feb. 1890, Lady Alice Josephine Bertie, daughter of the seventh Earl of Abingdon.

[Times, 26 Jan. 1894; Foreign Office List, 1893; Memoir prefixed to British Mission to Uganda.]

C. A. H.