CANNING, CHARLES JOHN, Earl (1812–1862), English statesman, governor-general of India during the Mutiny of 1857, was the youngest child of George Canning, and was born at Brompton, near London, on the 14th of December 1812. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1833, as first class in classics and second class in mathematics. In 1836 he entered parliament, being returned as member for the town of Warwick in the Conservative interest. He did not, however, sit long in the House of Commons; for, on the death of his mother in 1837, he succeeded to the peerage which had been conferred on her with remainder to her only surviving son, and as Viscount Canning took his seat in the House of Lords. His first official appointment was that of under-secretary of state for foreign affairs, in the administration formed by Sir Robert Peel in 1841—his chief being the earl of Aberdeen. This post he held till January 1846; and from January to July of that year, when the Peel administration was broken up, Lord Canning filled the post of commissioner of woods and forests. He declined to accept office under the earl of Derby; but on the formation of the coalition ministry under the earl of Aberdeen in January 1853, he received the appointment of postmaster-general. In this office he showed not only a large capacity for hard work, but also general administrative ability and much zeal for the improvement of the service. He retained his post under Lord Palmerston’s ministry until July 1855, when, in consequence of the death of Lord Dalhousie and a vacancy in the governor-generalship of India, he was selected by Lord Palmerston to succeed to that great position. This appointment appears to have been made rather on the ground of his father’s great services than from any proof as yet given of special personal fitness on the part of Lord Canning. The new governor sailed from England in December 1855, and entered upon the duties of his office in India at the close of February 1856. His strong common sense and sound practical judgment led him to adopt a policy of conciliation towards the native princes, and to promote measures tending to the betterment of the condition of the people.
In the year following his accession to office the deep-seated discontent of the people broke out in the Indian Mutiny (q.v.). Fears were entertained, and even the friends of the viceroy to some extent shared them, that he was not equal to the crisis. But the fears proved groundless. He had a clear eye for the gravity of the situation, a calm judgment, and a prompt, swift hand to do what was really necessary. By the union of great moral qualities with high, though not the highest, intellectual faculties, he carried the Indian empire safely through the stress of the storm, and, what was perhaps a harder task still, he dealt wisely with the enormous difficulties arising at the close of such a war, established a more liberal policy and a sounder financial system, and left the people more contented than they were before. The name of “Clemency Canning,” which was applied to him during the heated animosities of the moment, has since become a title of honour.
While rebellion was raging in Oudh he issued a proclamation declaring the lands of the province forfeited; and this step gave rise to much angry controversy. A “secret despatch,” couched in arrogant and offensive terms, was addressed to the viceroy by Lord Ellenborough, then a member of the Derby administration, which would have justified the viceroy in immediately resigning. But from a strong sense of duty he continued at his post; and ere long the general condemnation of the despatch was so strong that the writer felt it necessary to retire from office. Lord Canning replied to the despatch, calmly and in a statesman-like manner explaining and vindicating his censured policy. In April 1859 he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his great services during the mutiny. He was also made an extra civil grand cross of the order of the Bath, and in May of the same year he was raised to the dignity of an earl. By the strain of anxiety and hard work his health and strength were seriously impaired, while the death of his wife was also a great shock to him; in the hope that rest in his native land might restore him, he left India, reaching England in April 1862. But it was too late. He died in London on the 17th of June following. About a month before his death he was created K.G. As he died without issue the title became extinct.
See Sir H. S. Cunningham, Earl Canning (“Rulers of India” series), 1891; and A. J. C. Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lilies (1893).