Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Cairnes, William Elliot

CAIRNES, WILLIAM ELLIOT (1862–1902), captain, military writer, born at Galway on 18 Sept. 1862, was son of John Elliot Cairnes [q. v.], the economist, by Eliza Charlotte, daughter of George Henry Minto Alexander. After education at Blackheath proprietary school, University College school, and the International College, Isleworth, he was commissioned as lieutenant in the militia (royal Irish rifles) on 16 Sept. 1882. From the militia he obtained a commission as lieutenant in the 3rd dragoon guards on 14 May 1884, was transferred to the South Staffordshire regiment a week later, and to the royal Irish fusiliers on 16 July 1884. He served with the second battalion of that regiment at several home stations. Promoted captain on 21 May 1890, he became on 31 March 1897 adjutant of the 1st volunteer battalion of the Yorkshire light infantry. This appointment prevented his going to South Africa with his regiment, both battalions of which served in the Boer war. He found scope however for his abilities and military knowledge at home, by writing on military subjects. Though stationed at Wakefield, he joined the staff of the 'Westminster Gazette' in November 1899, and till April 1901 he wrote a daily article on the war in progress as 'military correspondent.' His articles were among the best of their kind. In 1900 he published anonymously 'An Absent-minded War,' which was widely read for its pungent and well-informed criticism. Its sarcasm, if not always just, fell in with the public mood; and the epigrams were often happy. Other books by Cairnes, dealing with military questions in a more constructive way, did not find so much favour, though they showed more solid qualities. In April 1901 a committee was appointed to consider the education and training of officers of the army, with Mr. Akers-Douglas as chairman, and Cairnes as secretary. In their report, in March 1902, the committee stated that Cairnes's knowledge, tact and ability had greatly facilitated their inquiry. He was also secretary to the military court of inquiry into the remount department. These duties and his literary activity taxed his strength. He died of pneumonia in London on 19 April 1902. He married in June 1884 Mamie, daughter of M. McClelland of Glendarragh, co. Londonderry. She survived him, with one daughter.

In addition to 'An Absent-minded War' he published anonymously 'The Army from within' (1901) and 'A Commonsense Army' (1901); also under his own name, 'The Coming Waterloo' (1901) and 'Lord Roberts as a Soldier in Peace and War' (1901). He wrote in the 'National' and 'Contemporary' Reviews, in 'Harper's Magazine,' and occasionally in 'The Times.' He was a clever draughtsman, able to illustrate his articles, and he took out several patents for inventions.

[Army and Navy Gazette, 26 April 1902; The Times, 22 April 1902; private information.]

E. M. L.