Bergne, John Henry Gibbs (DNB12)

BERGNE, Sir JOHN HENRY GIBBS (1842–1908), diplomatist, born in London on 12 Aug. 1842, and descended from a French family originally resident in Auvergne, which settled in England after the French revolution, was elder son of John Brodribb Bergne, a valued member of the foreign office for fifty-six years (1817–1873), who acquired a high reputation both at home and abroad as an authority on matters connected with treaties and diplomatic precedent. Educated at schools at Brighton and Enfield and at London University, where he passed the first B.A. examination, John Henry entered the foreign office as a clerk on the diplomatic establishment after passing a competitive examination in 1861, was appointed an assistant clerk in 1880, and promoted to be superintendent of the treaty department in 1881. He held that office until 1894, when he became superintendent of the commercial department and examiner of treaties. This position he held for eight years, doing much valuable work in the development of the commercial department and particularly in the arrangement of its relations with the board of trade, and in introducing a more regular and complete system of reports on commercial and industrial subjects from diplomatic and consular officers in foreign countries. He was occasionally employed abroad on business which came within the sphere of his permanent work, and on which he was possessed of special knowledge. In 1875 he assisted the British agent before the international commission, which sat under Article XXII of the treaty of Washington, to assess the amount to be paid by the United States to Great Britain in return for the fishery privileges accorded to the citizens of the United States under Article XVIII of that treaty, and on the meeting of the commission at Halifax in 1877 he acted as secretary and protocolist to it. In September 1887 he was appointed secretary to Mr. Joseph Chamberlain's special mission to Washington to adjust certain questions relating to the North American fisheries. For his services he received the K.C.M.G. in 1888, having been made C.M.G. in 1886. In 1885 he had been second British delegate at the international copyright conference held at Berne, and signed the convention which was there agreed upon (9 Sept. 1886). While at Washington in 1887 he was deputed to discuss the copyright question with the United States department of state. In May 1896 he signed at Paris as British delegate the additional act to the international copyright convention of 1886. He was appointed a member of the departmental committee on trade marks in 1888, and was sent as British delegate to the conference on industrial property held at Rome in 1888, at Madrid in 1890, and at 'Brussels in November 1897 and again hi 1900. From 1898 onwards he was constantly employed in the negotiations for the abolition of bounties on the export of sugar, was one of the British delegates at the conferences held in Brussels on this question in 1899 and 1901, and signed the convention concluded on the latter occasion 5 March 1902. In 1903 he was appointed the British delegate on the permanent commission established under Article VII. of that convention, and attended the various meetings of the commission, furnishing reports which were laid before parliament and which were marked by his usual power of terse, lucid explanation. He served as a member on the royal commission for the Paris exhibition of 1900. He retired from the foreign office on a pension on 1 Oct. 1902, but his employment on the special subjects of which he had an intimate acquaintance continued. He received the C.B. in 1902 and the K.C.B. in the following year. In November 1908 he served as British delegate at the international copyright conference at Berlin, and died there of a chill on 15 Nov.

Though scarcely an author in the ordinary sense of the term, Bergne rendered important services to the Authors' Society, of which he became a member in 1890, and after his retirement from the foreign office served on the committee of management, and copyright sub-committee, acting as chairman of the general committee (1905-7). He contributed to the 'Quarterly Review,' 'Blackwood's Magazine,' 'The Spectator,' and other periodicals articles on subjects with which he was professionally well acquainted (including the 'Halifax Fishery Commission,' the 'Law of Extradition,' 'Anglo-American Copyright,' and 'Queen's Messengers'). He was also an accomplished mountaineer and well-known member of the Alpine Club from 1878 to death. His father had been known as an expert numismatist; he was himself a collector of Oriental china.

He married in 1878 Mary à Court, daughter of Rev. S. B. Bergne, and had two sons, the elder of whom was killed in an accident near Saas Fee in Switzerland in January 1908; the younger, Evelyn, survives.

[The Times, 16 Nov. 1908; Author, 1 Dec. 1908; Alpine Journal, xxiv. 499-501; Foreign Office List, 1909, p. 397.]

S.