Charles Eliot (diplomat)

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The Honourable
Sir Charles Eliot
Sir Charles Norton Edgecumbe Eliot.jpg
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong
In office
Succeeded by Prof. G.P. Jordan
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
In office
Succeeded by Herbert Fisher
Personal details
Born (1862-01-08)8 January 1862
Sibford Gower, Oxfordshire
Died 16 March 1931(1931-03-16) (aged 69)
Strait of Malacca
Spouse(s) never married
Alma mater Cheltenham College
Balliol College, Oxford

Sir Charles Norton Edgecumbe Eliot, GCMG, PC (8 January 1862 – 16 March 1931) was a British knight diplomat, colonial administrator and botanist. He served as Commissioner of British East Africa in 1900–1904. He was British Ambassador to Japan in 1919–1925.[1]

He was also known as a malacologist and marine biologist.[2] He named the sea slug species Chelidonura varians Eliot, 1903.


Eliot was born in the village of Sibford Gower near Banbury, Oxfordshire, England and educated at Cheltenham College and Balliol College, Oxford, where he took a double first in classical moderations and Greats, as well as winning the Craven, Ireland and Hertford scholarships. Remarkably, he also won the Boden Sanskrit Scholarship and the Houghton Syriac prize. He was a noteworthy linguist, with a full knowledge of 16 languages and conversant in 20 more.[3]

Eliot served in diplomatic posts in Russia (1885), Morocco (1892), Turkey (1893), and Washington, D.C. (1899). He also served as British Commissioner in Samoa, and was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) in the New Year honours list 1 January 1900.[4]

British East Africa[edit]

In 1900, he was appointed commissioner of British East Africa, and on 1 January 1902 he was appointed Commissioner, Commander-in-Chief and Consul-General for the East Africa Protectorate, including the mainland dominions of the Sultan of Zanzibar, and also as British Agent and Consul-General for the island dominions of the Sultan.[5] He is credited with having initiated the policy of white supremacy in the British East Africa protectorate (now Kenya).[citation needed]

In April 1902, the first application for land in British East Africa was made by the East Africa Syndicate – a company in which financiers belonging to the British South Africa Company were interested – which sought a grant of 500 square miles (1,300 km2)  sq. m., and this was followed by other applications for considerable areas, a scheme being also propounded for a large Jewish settlement. During 1903 the arrival of hundreds of prospective settlers, chiefly from South Africa, led to the decision to entertain no more applications for large areas of land, especially as questions were raised concerning the preservation for the Maasai of their rights of pasturage. In April 1903, Major Frederick Russell Burnham, the famous American scout and then a Director of the East African Syndicate, sent an expedition consisting of John Weston Brooke, John Charles Blick, Mr. Bittlebank, and Mr. Brown, to assess the mineral wealth of the region. The party, known as the "Four B.'s", travelled from Nairobi via Mount Elgon northwards to the western shores of Lake Rudolph, experiencing plenty of privations from want of water, and of the danger from encounters with the Maasai.[6]

In the carrying out of this policy of colonisation a dispute arose between Eliot and Lord Lansdowne, the British Foreign Secretary. Lansdowne, believing himself bound by pledges given to the East Africa Syndicate, decided that they should be granted the lease of the 500 square miles (1,300 km2) they had applied for; but after consulting officials of the protectorate then in London, he refused Eliot permission to conclude leases for 50 square miles (130 km2) each to two applicants from South Africa. Eliot thereupon resigned his post, and in a public telegram to the prime minister, dated Mombasa, 21 June 1904, gave as his reason:- "Lord Lansdowne ordered me to refuse grants of land to certain private persons while giving a monopoly of land on unduly advantageous terms to the East Africa Syndicate. I have refused to execute these instructions, which I consider unjust and impolitic." On the day Sir Charles sent this telegram the appointment of Sir Donald William Stewart, the chief commissioner of Ashanti (Ghana), to succeed him was announced.

University Administration[edit]

In 1905 Eliot was the first Vice-Chancellor of the newly created University of Sheffield until 1912 when he was appointed the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong; he served there until 1918 when he was recalled to the diplomatic service becoming high commissioner and consul-general in Siberia.[7]


He was the British Ambassador to Japan in 1920–1926: though the position was not renewed, he stayed in Japan, studying the practice of Buddhism there.[7] He regretted the 1921 decision to end the Anglo-Japanese alliance in 1923.[7]

Taken ill with influenza, he decided to return to England, but died on the journey on 16 March 1931 and was buried at sea in the Straits of Malacca.[7] He never married.[7]

Selected works[edit]

In a statistical overview derived from writings by and about Roman Ghirshman, OCLC/WorldCat encompasses roughly 70+ works in 100+ publications in 5 languages and 3,000+ library holdings.[8]

  • The East Africa Protectorate (1905)
  • Turkey in Europe (1908)
  • Hinduism and Buddhism: An Historical Sketch (1921)
  • Japanese Buddhism (1935)
  • A Finnish Grammar (1890)


  • "On Some Nudibranchs from East Africa and Zanzibar, Part V," Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London. 1904 (2): 83–105, Pls. 3–4.
  • "The Nudibranchiata of the Scottish National Antarctic Expedition," Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh 1905 (41): 519–532.
  • "Nudibranchiata, with some remarks on the families and genera and description of a new genus, Doridomorpha," pp. 540–573, pl. 32. In: J. Stanley Gardiner. (1906). The Fauna and Geography of the Maldive and Laccadive Archipelagoes, Being the Account of the Work Carried on and of the Collections Made by an Expedition during the Years 1899 and 1900, vol. 2. p. 563.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Nussbaum, "Eliot, Charles Norton Edgcumbe," p. 174, p. 174, at Google Books; Ian Nish. (2004). British Envoys in Japan 1859–1972, pp. 114–122.
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ Winckworth, Ronald. (1931). "Obituary. Sir Charles Eliot, 1862–1931," Proceedings of the Malacological Society of London, Vol. 19, No. 5, pp. 224–226.
  4. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27154. p. 285. 16 January 1900.
  5. ^ The London Gazette: no. 27403. p. 709. 4 February 1902.
  6. ^ Fergusson, W.N. (1911). Adventure, Sport and Travel on the Tibetan Steppes, p. preface. Charles Scribner's Sons, New York
  7. ^ a b c d e Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, accessed 6 August 2011
  8. ^ WorldCat Identities: Eliot, Charles Sir 1862–1931


External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Henry Hardinge
Governor of Kenya
Succeeded by
Sir Donald William Stewart
Academic offices
Preceded by
New position
Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sheffield
Succeeded by
Herbert Fisher