John Tilley (diplomat)

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Sir John Anthony Cecil Tilley, GCMG, GCVO, CB, PC (January 1869 – 5 April 1952)[1] was a British diplomat.[2] He was British Ambassador to Brazil from 1921 to 1925, and Ambassador to Japan from 1926 to 1931.[3]

Early life[edit]

Born on 21[4][5] or 31[6] January 1869, Tilley was the ninth child and fourth son of Sir John Tilley, Secretary to the General Post Office,[1] by his third marriage, to Susannah Anderson Montgomerie.[5] She was the grand daughter of Alexander Montgomerie; daughter of William Eglinton Montgomerie of Annick Lodge and Greenville, Ayrshire [7] by his marriage to Susanna Fraser Anderson[8] and great niece of Hugh Montgomerie, 12th Earl of Eglinton.[6] Tilley was the half brother of Arthur Augustus Tilley.[6][9] and godson of Anthony Trollope.[6]

Before being awarded a scholarship to Eton, Tilley attended a preparatory school at Thorpe Mandeville, Northamptonshire,[6] and on 8 October 1887 entered King's College, Cambridge, where he graduated BA in 1890, proceeding MA in 1894.[4] Between 1887 and 1889 he was editor of the Cambridge Review, an undergraduate magazine.[6] He then prepared for the Foreign Office entrance examination. To improve his "moderately good" French he spent three months in a village near Tours, France. He then moved to live with a family in Dresden, Germany, to learn German, where he also learnt some Spanish. From Dresden, he returned to England and attended Scoones where he crammed for the Foreign Office entrance examination[6]

On 7 September 1901 Tilley married Edith Honoria Montgomery-Cuninghame,[6] eldest child of Sir William Montgomery-Cuninghame, 9th Baronet, by his marriage to Elizabeth Hartopp.[1][10]


In 1893, Tilley took the Foreign Office examination and was appointed to the only available vacancy, where he was assigned as a junior to the Eastern Department "…dealing with the affairs of the Near and Middle East, including Russia, the Turkish Empire and Egypt." [6] A year later, he was transferred to the Far Eastern Department.[6] In 1899 he was appointed Second Secretary in Paris and, having done much of the preparatory translation work for the frontier dispute between Great Britain and Venezuela, also Secretary to the British Agent for the Boundary Arbitration (Venezuela Crisis of 1895) between British Guiana and Venezuela, also based in Paris.[6] At the end of 1898, Tilley returned to the Foreign Office to work in the Consular Department.[6]

In 1902, he became Secretary to the Committee on Consular Service,[6] and in 1903 Secretary to the Committee of Imperial Defence.[6] This was a temporary appointment and ended in June 1904 when George Clarke, 1st Baron Sydenham of Combe was appointed permanently to the position.[6] On 3 August 1906 he was appointed Acting First Secretary in His Majesty’s Diplomatic Service [11] In 1906, having obtained an exchange with a member of the Diplomatic Service Tilley was assigned as the First Secretary at the British Embassy in Constantinople, where he remained until 1908. Here he served under Nicholas Roderick O'Conor for whom Tilley felt great affection and admiration.[6]

After promotion early in 1909, he was made Head of the African Department.[6] At the end of 1909, he became British Plenipotentiary at the Brussels Arms Conference and at the beginning of 1910 Delegate to the Conference respecting frontiers between Uganda, German East Africa and Congo, held in Brussels. The representing Minister at this conference was Arthur Henry Hardinge.[6] In 1912 he was Delegate to the African Liquor Conference,which was also held in Brussels. In October 1913 he was promoted to the Chief Clerk at the Foreign Office. He was also appointed Foreign Office representative on the Governing Body at the School of Oriental Studies.[6]

1916 saw the formation of a committee to consider reform of the Diplomatic Service. As Chief Clerk, Tilley was appointed to this committee which resulted in the merger of the Diplomatic and Foreign Office Services and for the first time, allowances were paid to men serving abroad.[6] Between 1919 and 1920 remained in the Foreign Office as Assistant Secretary.[12] Sir John attended Buckingham Palace on 21 December 1920, where he was sworn of his Majesty’s Most Honourable Privy Council of the United Kingdom and took his place on the board accordingly.[13] Between 1921 and 1925 Tilley was a head of mission as British ambassador to Brazil.[14] After a long leave, his final posting, from 1926 to 1931, was as Ambassador to Japan.[15] Tilley’s final ceremonial duty before leaving Japan was to lay the foundation stone of Christ Church, Yokohama, built to replace the original church destroyed in an earthquake.[6] Tilley and his family left Japan on 18 October 1930 taking a long journey via a number of countries home, into retirement[6]

In retirement, he lived at Felsham House, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk, and was appointed a Justice of the Peace for the county.[12]

Selected works[edit]

  • The Foreign Office (1933), 3 editions
  • London to Tokyo (1942), 7 editions, the last in 1973


See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Peerage: Rt. Hon. Sir John Anthony Cecil Tilley, ID#326658
  2. ^ Ian Nish. (2004). British Envoys in Japan 1859-1972, pp. 123-131.
  3. ^ The first British Ambassador to Japan was appointed in 1905. Before 1905, the senior British diplomat had different titles: (a) Consul-General and Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary, which is a head of mission ranking just below Ambassador.
  4. ^ a b "Tilley, John Anthony Cecil (TLY887JA)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge. 
  5. ^ a b Birth Certificate of John Tilley, 1859
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v Tilley, John Anthony Cecil, London to Tokyo (1942), pp. passim
  7. ^ "The Times Archive" in online database (subscription required), accessed 16 May 2011
  8. ^ "Transactions of the Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian & Archeological Society" (Cumberland and Westmoreland Antiquarian and Archaeological Society, 2007), p. 189
  9. ^ Birth Certificates of Arthur Augustus Tilley (1851) and John Tilley (1859)
  10. ^ a b c d e f Dewar, Peter Beauclerk. (2001). Burke’s Landed Gentry of Great Britain, p. 258., p. 258, at Google Books
  11. ^ "Issue number: 27941". London Gazette. 17 August 1906. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h Who Was Who 1951–1960 (A. & C. Black, London: 1984 reprint) ISBN 0-7136-2598-8
  13. ^ "Issue number: 32173". London Gazette. 24 December 1920. Retrieved 10 May 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Kurita, Shunjiro. (1930). Who's Who in Japan, Vol. 13, p. 40.
  15. ^ Hoare, James. (1999). Embassies in the East: the Story of the British Embassies in Japan, China, and Korea from 1859 to the Present, p. 213., p. 213, at Google Books
  16. ^ "Issue number: 33518". London Gazette. 19 July 1929. Retrieved 15 May 2011. 


External links[edit]