Sir Charles Trevelyan, 1st Baronet
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Sir Charles Edward Trevelyan, 1st Baronet, KCB (2 April 1807 – 19 June 1886) was a British civil servant and colonial administrator. As a young man, he worked with the colonial government in Calcutta, India; in the late 1850s and 1860s he served there in senior-level appointments.
Trevelyan's most enduring mark on history may be the quasi-genocidal anti-Irish racial sentiment he expressed during his term in the critical position of administrating relief for the millions of Irish peasants suffering under the Irish famine as Assistant Secretary to HM Treasury (1840-1859) under the Whig administration of Lord Russell.
During the height of the famine, while up to 10,000 Irish peasants were dying of starvation daily, Trevelyan (who did not like his newly assigned duty, considering it a gross deviation from the laissez-faire system championed by Russell and the Whigs) deliberately dragged his feet in performing his duties in disbursing direct government food and monetary aid to the Irish, infamously stating in a letter to Thomas Spring-Rice, Lord Mounteagle that he personally considered the famine to be an "effective mechanism for reducing surplus population" as well as "the judgement of God", sent to teach the "selfish, perverse and turbulent" Irish people a lesson. Trevelyan never expressed remorse for his comments, even after the full dreadful scope (approximately 1 million lives) of the Irish famine became known, and his actions (or lack thereof) during the famine have been defended vigorously by his grand-daughter, Laura Trevelyan, among other British aristocracy apologists, even though they have since been officially condemned by the Parliament of the United Kingdom itself.
Early life and education
Trevelyan was born in Taunton, Somerset, the son of the Venerable George Trevelyan, Archdeacon of Taunton, and his wife Harriet, daughter of Sir Richard Neave. His paternal grandfather was Sir John Trevelyan, 4th Baronet (see Trevelyan baronets for earlier history of the family) an old ethnically Cornish family originating from St Veep, Cornwall. He was educated at Blundell's School, Charterhouse School and Haileybury, formerly known as the East India Company College.
He was appointed in 1840 as assistant secretary to HM Treasury, and served to 1859, during both the Irish famine and the Highland Potato Famine of 1846-1857 in Scotland. In Ireland, he administered famine relief, whilst in Scotland he was closely associated with the work of the Central Board for Highland Relief. His inaction and personal negative attitude towards the Irish people are widely believed to have worsened the famine. In one letter dated 29 April 1846, Trevelyan wrote:
"Our measures must proceed with as little disturbance as possible of the ordinary course of private trade, which must ever be the chief resource for the subsistence of the people, but, coûte que coûte (at any cost), the people must not, under any circumstances, be allowed to starve."
Meanwhile, the Irish watched with increasing anger as boatloads of homegrown oats and grain departed on schedule from their shores for shipment to England. Food riots erupted in ports such as Youghal, near Cork, where people tried unsuccessfully to confiscate a boatload of oats. At Dungarvan, in County Waterford, British troops were pelted with stones and fired 26 shots into the crowd, killing two people and wounding several others. British naval escorts were then provided for the riverboats.
Trevelyan was Governor of Madras from 1859 to 1860, and Indian Finance Minister from 1862 to 1865. A reformer of the civil service, he is widely regarded as the founder of the modern British civil service.
Marriage and family
On 23 December 1834, while in India, he married Hannah Moore Macaulay, sister of Lord Macaulay (Thomas Babington Macaulay, 1st Baron Macaulay), who was then a member of the supreme council of India, and one of his closest friends. Their only son, who inherited the Baronetcy on his father's death, was Sir George Otto Trevelyan, 2nd Baronet, the statesman. Hannah Macaulay Trevelyan died on 5 August 1873.
Sir Charles married, secondly, on 14 October 1875, Eleanor Anne, daughter of Walter Campbell of Islay.
He entered the East India Company's Bengal civil service as a writer in 1826, having displayed from an early age a great proficiency in Asian languages and dialects. On 4 January 1827, Trevelyan was appointed assistant to Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, the commissioner at Delhi, where, during a residence of four years, he was entrusted with the conduct of several important missions. For some time he acted as guardian to the youthful Madhu Singh, the Rajah of Bhurtpore. He also worked to improve the condition of the native population. He abolished the transit duties by which the internal trade of India had long been fettered. For these and other services, he received the special thanks of the governor-general in council. Before leaving Delhi, he donated personal funds for construction of a broad street through a new suburb, then in course of erection, which thenceforth became known as Trevelyanpur.
In 1831 he moved to Calcutta, and became deputy secretary to the government in the political department. Trevelyan was especially zealous in the cause of education, and in 1835, largely owing to his persistence, government was led to decide in favour of the promulgation of European literature and science among the Indians. An account of the efforts of government, entitled On the Education of the People of India, was published by Trevelyan in 1838. In April 1836 he was nominated secretary to the Sudder board of revenue, an office he held until his return to England in January 1838.
On 21 January 1840, he entered on the duties of assistant secretary to Her Majesty's Treasury in London, and discharged the functions of that office for nineteen years. In Ireland he administered the relief works of 1845–47, when upwards of 734,000 men were employed by the government during the Great Famine. Altogether, about a million people in Ireland are reliably estimated to have died of starvation and epidemic disease between 1846 and 1851, and some two million emigrated in a period of a little more than a decade (1845–55). On 27 April 1848 he was made a KCB in reward of his services.
The Great Famine in Ireland began as a natural catastrophe of extraordinary magnitude, but its effects were severely worsened by the actions and inactions of the Whig government, headed by Lord John Russell in the crucial years from 1846 to 1852. Many members of the British upper and middle classes believed that the famine was a divine judgment - an act of Providence. A leading exponent of the providentialist perspective was Sir Charles Trevelyan, the British civil servant chiefly responsible for administering Irish relief policy throughout the famine years. In his book The Irish Crisis, published in 1848, Trevelyan described the famine as 'a direct stroke of an all-wise and all-merciful Providence', one which laid bare 'the deep and inveterate root of social evil'. The famine, he declared, was 'the sharp but effectual remedy by which the cure is likely to be effected... God grant that the generation to which this great opportunity has been offered may rightly perform its part...' This mentality of Trevelyan's was influential in persuading the government to do nothing to restrain mass evictions — and this had the obvious effect of radically restructuring Irish rural society along the lines of the capitalistic model preferred by British policy-makers.
In 1853 Trevelyan investigated the organisation of a new system of admission into the civil service. The Northcote-Trevelyan Report, signed by himself and Sir Stafford Northcote in November 1853, entitled The Organisation of the Permanent Civil Service, laid the foundation for securing the admission of qualified and educated persons into situations which were previously much at the disposal of aristocratic and influential families.
In 1858 Lord Harris resigned the governorship of the presidency of Madras, and Trevelyan was offered the appointment. Having maintained his knowledge of oriental affairs by close attention to all subjects affecting the interest of India, he entered upon his duties as governor of Madras in the spring of 1859. He soon became popular in the presidency, and in a great measure through his conduct in office, the natives became reconciled to the government. An assessment was carried out, a police system organised in every part, and, contrary to the traditions of the East India Company, land was sold in fee simple to any one who wished to purchase. These and other reforms introduced or developed by Sir Charles won the gratitude and esteem of the Madras population.
All went well until February 1860. Towards the close of 1859, James Wilson was appointed financial member of the legislative council of India. At the beginning of the next year, he proposed a plan of retrenchment and taxation by which he hoped to improve the financial position of the British administration. His plan was introduced in Calcutta on 18 February, and transmitted to Madras. On 4 March, an open telegram was sent to Calcutta implying an adverse opinion of the governor and council of Madras. On 9 March, a letter was sent to Madras stating the central government's objection to the transmission of such a message in an open telegram at a time when native feeling could not be considered stable. At the same time the representative of the Madras government in the legislative council of India was prohibited from following the instructions of his superiors to lay their views upon the table and to advocate on their behalf. On 21 March, a telegram was sent to Madras stating that the bill would be introduced and referred to a committee which would report in five weeks. On 26 March the opinions of Trevelyan and his council were recorded and on his authority, the document found its way into the papers.
On the arrival of this intelligence in England, the governor of Madras was at once recalled. This decision occasioned much discussion both in and out of Parliament. Palmerston, in his place in parliament, while defending the recall, said: ‘Undoubtedly it conveys a strong censure on one act of Sir Charles Trevelyan's public conduct, yet Sir Charles Trevelyan has merits too, inherent in his character, to be clouded and overshadowed by this simple act, and I trust in his future career he may be useful to the public service and do honour to himself.’ Sir Charles Wood, the President of the Board of Control, also said: ‘A more honest, zealous, upright, and independent servant could not be. He was a loss to India, but there would be danger if he were allowed to remain, after having adopted a course so subversive of all authority, so fearfully tending to endanger our rule, and so likely to provoke the people to insurrection against the central and responsible authority’ (Hansard, 11 May 1860, cols. 1130–61; Statement of Sir C. E. Trevelyan of the Circumstances connected with his Recall from India, 1860).
In 1862 Trevelyan returned to India as finance minister. His tenure of office was marked by important administrative reforms and by extensive measures for the development of the natural resources of India by means of public works. In 1862 Colonel Douglas Hamilton was given a roving commission by Sir Charles Trevelyan to conduct surveys and make drawings for the Government of all the hill plateaus in Southern India which were likely to suit as Sanitaria, or quarters for European troops.
On his return home in 1865, he became engaged in discussions of the question of army purchase, on which he had given evidence before the royal commission in 1857. Later he was associated with a variety of social questions, such as charities, pauperism, and the like, and in the treatment of these.
He retained to the last all his native energy of temperament. He was a staunch Liberal, and gave his support to the Liberal cause in Northumberland, while residing at Wallington Hall in that county. He is drawn by Trollope in The Three Clerks, 1857, 3 vols., under the name of Sir Gregory Hardlines. He died at 67 Eaton Square, London, on 19 June 1886.
Legacy and honours
When Walter Calverly Trevalyan died at Wallington on 23 March 1879, both his marriages were childless, and the title descended to his nephew, Sir Alfred Wilson Trevelyan (1831–1891), seventh baronet. Walter C. Trevelyan left the north-country property to his cousin Charles Edward Trevelyan, who lived until 1886.
A biographer from the family notes that Walter changed his will in 1852, having been impressed by his cousin Charles' son; the young George Otto Trevelyan had been one of the couple's visitors and received hints of the secret will. The modest social position of the family was suddenly elevated to one of wealth and property, recorded as an important event in the history of the baronetcy.
The changed will came as a surprise to Alfred Trevelyan, who was advised at the end of a lengthy letter on the evils of alcohol. He issued a costly and unsuccessful challenge for the title and estate.
In addition to works mentioned, Trevelyan wrote the following:
- The Application of the Roman Alphabet to all the Oriental Languages, 1834; 3rd edit. 1858.
- A Report upon the Inland Customs and Town Duties of the Bengal Presidency, 1834.
- The Irish Crisis, 1848; 2nd edit. 1880.
- The Army Purchase Question and Report and Evidence of the Royal Commission considered, 1858.
- The Purchase System in the British Army, 1867; 2nd edit. 1867.
- The British Army in 1868, 1868; 4th edit. 1868.
- A Standing or a Popular Army, 1869.
- Three Letters on the Devonshire Labourer, 1869.
- From Pesth to Brindisi, being Notes of a Tour, 1871; 2nd edit. 1876.
- The Compromise offered by Canada in reference to the reprinting of English Books, 1872.
- Christianity and Hinduism contrasted, 1882.
His letters to the Times, with the signature of Indophilus, he collected with Additional Notes in 1857; 3rd edit. 1858. Several of his addresses, letters, and speeches were also published.
- Trevelyan is referred to in the modern Irish folk song "The Fields of Athenry," about the Great Irish Famine: "Our hero Michael was to be transported for stealing Trevelyan's corn." Because of Trevelyan's policies, the Irish consider him one of the most detested figures in their history, along with Oliver Cromwell, who conquered the country in the 17th century.
- Anthony Trollope admitted that Sir Charles was the model for Sir Gregory Hardlines in his novel The Three Clerks, of 1858.
- BBC History profile
- Article on the Irish famine, Ireland for Visitors
- "Charles Edward Trevelyan", Cork Multitext Project
- Chambers Biographical Dictionary, 1990, ISBN 0-550-16040-X
- Trevelyan, Laura. A Very British Family: The Trevelyans and Their World. I.B Tauris, 2006. 1860649467.
- Cecil Woodham-Smith, 1962. The Great Hunger
- Austin Bourke, "Apologia for a dead civil servant," The Irish Times, 5–6 May 1977
- McRae, Malcolm (1962). "Sir Charles Trevelyan's Indian Letters, 1859-1865". The English Historical Review, (Oxford University Press) 77 (305): 706–712. JSTOR 559670.
- "Trevelyan, Walter Calverley". Dictionary of National Biography. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 1885–1900.
- Trevelyan, Laura (2006-10-31). A very British family: the Trevelyans and their world. I.B.Tauris. pp. 19–21. ISBN 978-1-86064-946-2. Retrieved 23 November 2010.
|Baronetage of the United Kingdom|
George Otto Trevelyan