Wolff, Henry Drummond Charles (DNB12)

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WOLFF, Sir HENRY DRUMMOND CHARLES (1830–1908), politician and diplomatist, born in Malta 12 Oct. 1830, was only child of the rev. Joseph Wolff [q. v.] by his wife Lady Georgiana, daughter of Horatio Walpole, second earl of Orford. He was named Drummond after Henry Drummond [q. v.], a founder, with his father, of the Irvingite church. After education at Rugby, under Tait, he spent some time abroad in the study of foreign languages. At the age of sixteen he entered the foreign office as a supernumerary clerk, and became a member of the permanent staff in 1849. In June 1852 he was attached to the British legation at Florence, and was left in charge during the autumn of 1852 in the absence of the minister, Sir Henry Bulwer (afterwards Lord Dalling). He returned to the foreign office in 1853, and in 1856 he was attached to Lord Westmoreland's special mission to congratulate Leopold I, King of the Belgians, on the twenty-fifth anniversary of his accession. When the conservatives took office in February 1858, Wolff became assistant private secretary to the foreign secretary the earl of Malmesbury, and in October private secretary to the secretary for the colonies, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton (afterwards Lord Lytton). Having been made C.M.G. and king of arms of the order in April 1859, he was secretary to Sir Henry Storks [q. v.], high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, from June 1859 till the transfer of the islands to Greece in June 1864. Throughout this period Wolff took an active part in various commissions of inquiry set on foot to redress grievances and to promote the material welfare of the islanders. In 1860 he acted as delegate for the islands to the international statistical congress in London; in 1861 he was vice-president of a commission to arrange for Ionian exhibits in the London international exhibition of 1862, and helped in the establishment of an Ionian Institute for the promotion of trade and education. In Oct. 1862 he became K.C.M.G., and subsequently arranged the details of the transfer of the islands to Greece, which was effected in June 1864. On relinquishing his office he received a pension from the Greek government.

For the next few years he travelled much, and was mainly engaged in promoting various financial undertakings, a kind of work for which his wide popularity and his astuteness and fertility of resource gave him great advantages. In 1864 he assisted at Constantinople in arranging for the conversion of the internal debt of Turkey into a foreign loan. In 1866 he laid a project for a ferry across the English Channel before the emperor of the French. Subsequently he aided in the liquidation of a large undertaking entitled the International Land Credit Company, which had come to disaster. In 1870, during the war between France and Germany, he made three expeditions from Spa, where he was staying, into the theatre of the campaign. At the beginning of September, with two English companions, he visited the battlefield of Sedan a day or two after the surrender of the French army, meeting on his return journey the emperor of the French on his way to Germany. A fortnight later Wolff and Henry James (afterwards Lord James of Hereford) visited the battlefields of Gravelotte and Saarbrücken and the environs of Strasburg while invested by the German forces, and came under the fire of the French artillery. Early in Oct. 1870 he proceeded from Spa to Baden, and thence to Strasburg, which had then surrendered, and on to Nancy and Toul. He narrated his experiences in the ‘Morning Post,’ and the narrative was privately printed in 1892 as ‘Some Notes of the Past.’

Meanwhile he was actively interested in party politics. He was one of the select company of contributors to ‘The Owl,’ a short-lived but popular satirical journal, which was started in 1864 by Algernon Borthwick (afterwards Lord Glenesk) but abandoned in 1870 in consequence of the pressure of other work. In 1865 he stood as a conservative for Dorchester, with ‘the most disastrous results.’ Afterwards he purchased from Lord Malmesbury a small building property at Boscombe, near Bournemouth, which he set to work to develop, and at the general election in 1874 he was elected conservative M.P. for Christchurch. He took at once an active part in the House of Commons. He spoke often on foreign policy, especially in connection with the Eastern question. He was prominent in defending the purchase by the British government of the Khedive's shares in the Suez Canal Company. In 1875 he was appointed a member of the copyright commission, and signed the Report presented in 1878, only dissenting on some points of detail. In 1876 he accompanied George Joachim (afterwards Lord) Goschen [q. v. Suppl. II] on a mission of inquiry into Egyptian finance to Egypt, in behalf of the Egyptian bondholders. During the Easter recess in 1878, when the revision of the treaty of San Stefano by a European congress was still in suspense. Wolff visited Paris, Vienna, and Berlin to ascertain the general feeling of European statesmen. In August 1878 he returned to employment under the foreign office, and was made G.C.M.G. Lord Salisbury selected him to be the British member of the international commission for the organisation of the province of Eastern Roumelia. After a preliminary discussion at Constantinople the commission established itself at Philippopolis in October. The Russian and British delegates were often at diplomatic odds, the former being openly hostile to the separation of the newly formed province from Bulgaria and seeking to give to it a fuller freedom from Turkish sovereignty than the treaty of Berlin sanctioned. Wolff appealed to the higher Russian authorities with considerable success. In April 1879 the organic statute was settled and signed. After assisting at the installation of the new governor-general, Aleko Pasha, Wolff returned to his parliamentary duties in England, and in September was created K.C.B. The Eastern Roumelian commission was further directed to draw up schemes for the administration of other European provinces of the Turkish empire, but before this task was approached, Gladstone's second administration began in England, and Wolff resigned (April 1880), being succeeded by Lord Edmond (now Lord) Fitzmaurice.

At the general election in the spring of 1880 Wolff was elected for Portsmouth. At the opening of the new parliament he took a leading part in opposing the claim of Charles Bradlaugh to take the oath, receiving the active support of Lord Randolph Churchill and Mr. (afterwards Sir John) Gorst. In the result these three members formed the combination, subsequently joined by Mr. Arthur Balfour and known under the title of the Fourth Party, which, during the next five years, did much to enliven the proceedings of the House of Commons and to make uneasy the positions both of the prime minister, Mr. Gladstone, and of the leader of the opposition, Sir Stafford Northcote, afterwards earl of Iddesleigh [see Churchill, Lord Randolph, Suppl. I]. Wolff was an active and efficient colleague, taking his full share in parliamentary discussions and being especially useful in reconciling his companions' differences. He was personally responsible for the passing of a bill, which he had introduced in the previous parliament, enabling the inhabitants of seaside resorts to let their houses for short periods without losing their qualification to vote at elections. But his attention was mainly devoted to party warfare. On 19 April 1883, after the unveiling of the statue of Lord Beaconsfield in Parliament Square, he first suggested to Lord Randolph Churchill the formation of a ‘Primrose League,’ to be so named after what was reputed to be the deceased statesman's favourite flower. In the course of the following autumn the league was set on foot. The statutes of the new association were drawn up by Wolff and revised by a small committee. They prescribed a form of declaration by which members undertook ‘to devote their best ability to the maintenance of religion, of the estates of the realm, and of the imperial ascendancy of the British empire,’ and they ministered to the weaker side of human nature by providing a regular gradation of rank with quaint titles and picturesque badges. The league, though at first somewhat scoffed at by the conservative leaders, was soon found to be a most efficient party instrument. In the dissension caused in the conservative party by Lord Randolph Churchill's advocacy of a frankly democratic policy, Wolff sided with his colleague, but he was too astute a politician to favour internal divisions, and was instrumental in procuring the reconciliation, which was effected in the summer of 1884. On Lord Salisbury's return to office in June 1885 Wolff was made a privy councillor, and in August was despatched on a special mission to Constantinople to discuss with the Turkish government the future of Egypt, which since 1882 had been in the military occupation of Great Britain. The British occupation, though accepted as a practical necessity, had not received formal recognition or sanction either from the Sultan or any of the powers. Wolff was instructed to arrange with the Porte the conditions on which the Sultan's authority should in future be exercised in Egypt and the methods for assuring the stability of the Khedive's government. After some months Wolff concluded with the Turkish government in Oct. 1885 a convention providing that the two governments should each send a special commissioner to Egypt who should in concert with the Khedive reorganise the Egyptian army, examine and reform all branches of the Egyptian administration, and consider the best means for tranquillising the Soudan by pacific methods. When these ends were accomplished, the two governments would consider terms for the withdrawal of the British troops from Egypt within a convenient period. Wolff went to Egypt as British commissioner under this convention. Moukhtar Pasha was the Turkish commissioner. At the end of twelve months Wolff returned to England in order to discuss the terms of a further arrangement with Turkey. In Jan. 1887 he proceeded to Constantinople, and there negotiated a second convention, signed on 22 May, which stipulated for the withdrawal of the British forces from Egypt at the end of three years, with the proviso that the evacuation should be postponed in the event of any external or internal danger at that time; that for two years after the evacuation Great Britain was to watch exclusively over the safety of the country; and that subsequently both the Sultan and the British government were each to have the right, if necessary, of sending a force to Egypt either for its defence or for the maintenance of order. In a separate note it was stated that the refusal of one of the Mediterranean great powers to accept the convention would be regarded by the British government as an external danger justifying the postponement of the evacuation. The governments of Austria, Germany, and Italy were favourably inclined to this arrangement, but the French government, which determinedly opposed it, intimated together with the Russian government that if it were ratified they would feel justified in occupying other portions of Turkish territory. The Sultan consequently refused to ratify it.

Wolff returned to England in July 1887. Lord Salisbury in a final despatch observed that the negotiations had defined formally the character of the English occupation and the conditions necessary to bring it to a close. The convention of Oct. 1885 remained in force as a recognition by the Porte of the occupation, and the continued presence of the Turkish commissioner in Egypt, though possibly not in all respects convenient, implied acquiescence in the situation.

Wolff's parliamentary career had been brought to a close by his defeat at Portsmouth in the general election of November 1885, while he was absent in Egypt. For the future his work was entirely in the diplomatic profession. In Dec. 1887 he was appointed British envoy in Persia, and proceeded to Teheran early in the following year. Here his versatile energy found ample occupation in watching the progress and development of Russian policy on the northern frontier, in devising plans for harmonious action by the two powers in lieu of the traditional rivalry between their legations, in promoting schemes for the development of British commercial enterprise, and in encouraging the Persian government in efforts for administrative and financial reform. Among the measures, which he was instrumental in promoting were the issue of a decree in May 1888 for the protection of property from arbitrary acts of the executive and the opening of the Karun river to steam navigation in October following. A concession obtained by Baron Reuter on the occasion of the Shah's visit to England in 1872, which was worded in such vague and comprehensive terms as to seem incapable of practical development, took, under Wolff's guidance, a business-like and beneficial shape in the establishment of the Imperial Bank of Persia. Some other schemes were less successful. A carefully considered project for the construction of a railway from Ahwaz on the Karun river in the direction of Ispahan failed to obtain sufficient financial support, and the concession of the tobacco régie to a group of English financiers, which seemed to promise considerable advantages to the Persian exchequer, excited such fanatical opposition that it was in the end abandoned some time after Wolff's departure from Persia. Wolff received the grand cross of the Bath in Jan. 1889, and was summoned home later in the year to attend the Shah on his visit to England. He accompanied the Persian sovereign during his tour in England and Scotland. On his way back to Teheran in Aug. 1889 Wolff passed through St. Petersburg, where he had an audience of the Emperor of Russia, and urged the importance of an agreement between the two countries on the policy to be pursued in Persia, obtaining an assurance that the new Russian minister at Teheran would be authorised to discuss any proposals, which he might be empowered to put forward for this object. He had intended in 1890 to visit India, but before his departure from Teheran he was struck down by a serious illness, during which his life was at one despaired of. He recovered sufficiently to be brought to England, where he gradually regained strength, but his health was clearly unequal to a return to the arduous duties and trying climate of Teheran. In July 1891, somewhat against his will, he was transferred to Bucharest, and six months afterwards was appointed ambassador at Madrid. That post he held for eight years, till his retirement on pension in Oct. 1900. In June 1893 he effected a provisional commercial agreement with the Spanish government, pending the conclusion of a permanent treaty, and this arrangement was further confirmed by an exchange of notes in Dec. 1894. British relations with Spain gave no cause for anxiety, and Wolff's natural geniality and hospitable instincts secured him a general popularity, which was unimpaired by the war between Spain and the United States, when English public opinion pronounced itself somewhat clearly on the American side. After his retirement he lived for reasons of health quietly in England. He retained, however, his keen, restless interest in public affairs, his gift of amusing conversation, and his apparently inexhaustible fund of anecdote. Through life his good temper was imperturbable, and he delighted in mischievous humour, which was free from malice or vindictiveness. He professed in casual conversation a lower standard of conduct than he really acted upon, and despite his avowed cynicism he was by nature and instinct kind-hearted and always ready to assist distress. He became very infirm in the last few months of his life, and died at Brighton on 11 Oct. 1908.

He married at the British Consulate, Leghorn, on 22 Jan. 1853, Adeline, daughter of Walter Sholto Douglas, by whom he had two sons and a daughter. His widow was awarded a civil list pension of 100l. in 1909. His daughter, Adeline Georgiana Isabel, wife of Col. Howard Kingscote, was a prolific novelist, writing under the pseudonym of ‘Lucas Cleeve.’ Her chief works, which show an easy style and vivid imagination, include ‘The Real Christian’ (1901), ‘Blue Lilies’ (1902), ‘Eileen’ (1903), ‘The Secret Church’ (1906), ‘Her Father's Soul’ (1907). She was a great traveller and an accomplished linguist. She predeceased her father on 13 Sept. 1908 at Château d'Œx, Switzerland. A cartoon portrait of Wolff by ‘Spy’ appeared in ‘Vanity Fair’ in 1881.

[Sir H. D. Wolff published in 1908 two volumes, entitled Rambling Recollections, which give a very entertaining though somewhat discursive account of his varied experiences. Other authorities are The Times, 12 Oct. 1908; Foreign Office List, 1909, p. 405; Winston Churchill's Life of Lord Randolph Churchill, 2 vols. 1906; Harold Gorst's The Fourth Party; art. on the Primrose League in Encycl. Brit. 11th ed.]

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