Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Arbuthnot, George

ARBUTHNOT, GEORGE (1802–1865), a distinguished member of the permanent civil service, was the son of Lieutenant-general Sir Robert Arbuthnot [see Arbuthnot, Sir Robert]. He was appointed by Lord Liverpool a junior clerk in the treasury on 18 July 1820, and served in that department until his death on 28 July 1865. He was then holding the appointment of auditor of the civil list, and was also secretary to the ecclesiastical commissioners. On Mr. Arbuthnot's death, the lords commissioners of the treasury, in noticing his 'singular and eminent services,' gave the following account of his official life:— 'On 22 March 1850 Sir Charles Wood made the following communication to the board of treasury: "The chancellor of the exchequer avails himself of this opportunity of bringing before the board the services of Mr. Arbuthnot, who has acted as his private secretary for nearly four years. Mr. Arbuthnot has been thirty years in the treasury, during nearly the whole of which period he has been employed in situations of great trust and responsibility. He acted as private secretary to six successive secretaries, and two assistant secretaries of the treasury. He was appointed in May 1841 to perform the duties of colonial clerk during the illness of Mr. Brande, and has since acted as assistant to that gentleman, and has executed the duties of colonial clerk during Mr. Brande's annual vacation to the entire satisfaction of the board. In February 1843 he was selected by Sir Robert Peel to be one of his private secretaries, and he has received not only from Sir Robert Peel, but from the secretaries of the treasury to whom he acted as private secretary in former years, repeated testimonies of their approbation. On Sir Charles Wood becoming chancellor of the exchequer in July 1846 Mr. Arbuthnot was appointed to his present situation; and Sir C. Wood considers it due to him to record his obligation to him for his constant and zealous exertions at all times, and for the able assistance which he (Sir C. Wood) has received from him in times of great difficulty and on subjects of the greatest moment and importance, and he strongly recommends Mr. Arbuthnot to the board for some distinguished mark of that approbation with which such public services as he has performed must be regarded." My lords have only to add to this just tribute to Mr. Arbuthnot's merits that during the fifteen years which have since elapsed, he has continued his useful career with the same devotion to the public service, and with the still larger opportunities of usefulness which his increased experience afforded him.'

Mr. Arbuthnot's work, as the foregoing minute shows, was not confined to the ordinary business of the treasury. He was constantly consulted on important questions of currency and banking, upon both of which subjects he was regarded as a high authority. As private secretary to Sir Robert Peel at the time when the latter passed through parliament the Bank Charter Act of 1844, Mr. Arbuthnot was intimately associated with the great minister in the framing of that measure, and some years afterwards, when the question of a revision of the act was under consideration, he published a pamphlet containing an able justification of its principles and provisions. In later years he was frequently consulted on questions connected with the Indian currency, when it was proposed to attempt the substitution of a gold for a silver currency in that country; and about the same time he submitted to the lords of the treasury a series of valuable reports upon the currency of Japan in connection with difficulties which had arisen from certain provisions of the treaty executed between the British and Japanese governments in 1858.

Mr. Arbuthnot's paper on Civil Patronage, written in 1854, with reference to alleged defects in the organisation of the permanent civil service, which had been brought to notice in a report made by Sir Stafford Northcote and Sir Charles Trevelyan in the previous year, contains a very able defence of the system of appointment which then prevailed, and a powerful refutation of the arguments advanced in the report in question. His style of writing was singularly vigorous and clear, and the rapidity and energy with which he wrote constituted not the least of his many merits as a public servant.

Mr. Arbuthnot was twice offered the appointment of financial member of the council of the governor-general of India, first on the death of Mr. James Wilson in 1860, and again on the retirement of Sir Charles Trevelyan in 1865, but on both occasions he was compelled by the state of his health to decline the offer.

[Records of her Majesty's Treasury; Report on the Organisation of the Civil Service, published 1854; Pamphlet, entitled 'Sir Robert Peel's Act of 1844, regulating the issue of Bank Notes, vindicated by G. Arbuthnot,' 1857; Arbuthnot's Reports on the Japanese Currency, 1862-3; Macmillan's Magazine, August 1870; Globe, August 1865.]

A. J. A.