Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Strachey, John
STRACHEY, Sir JOHN (1823–1907), Anglo-Indian administrator, born in London on 5 June 1823, was fifth son of Edward Strachey by his wife Julia, youngest daughter of Major-General William Kirkpatrick [q. v.]. Sir Edward Strachey [q. v. Suppl. II] and Sir Richard Strachey [q. v. Suppl. II] were elder brothers.
After being educated at a private school at Totteridge, John entered Haileybury in 1840, among his contemporaries being Sir E. Clive Bayley, Sir George Campbell [q. v. Suppl. I], Sir Alexander Arbuthnot [q. v. Suppl. II], W. S. Seton-Karr, and Robert Needham Cust [q. v. Suppl. II]. He was one of the editors of the 'Haileybury Observer,' to which he contributed a vindication of Shakespeare, described as 'displaying a considerable mastery of Coleridge's writings.' He passed out second on the list for Bengal in 1842, having won prizes for classics and English and also the medal for history and political economy. Literature and art were always among his interests.
Appointed to the North West Provinces, he divided his first years of service between the plains of Rohilkhand and the neighbouring hills of Kumaon. At the outbreak of the Mutiny he was absent on furlough in England. Hitherto he had served as an ordinary district officer, without any of the chances that are open to those at headquarters. But after his return to India he was selected for a series of special appointments. Lord Canning nominated him in 1861 president of a commission to inquire into a great epidemic of cholera; and Lord Lawrence made him in 1864 president of the permanent sanitary commission then formed as a result of the report of a royal commission on the health of the army in India. Meanwhile, in 1862, he had been judicial commissioner, or chief judge, in the newly constituted Central Provinces. Lord Lawrence formed so high an opinion of him as to appoint him in 1866 to be chief commissioner of Oudh, at a time when the question of tenant-right there was rousing heated controversy. Strachey succeeded in persuading the taluqdars or landlords to accept a compromise, afterwards enacted by the legislative council, though his private views would have granted much larger privileges to the tenant class. In 1868 he became a member of the governor-general's council, and held office throughout Lord Mayo's viceroyalty. When the news of Lord Mayo's assassination first reached Calcutta in Feb. 1872, he acted for a fortnight as governor-general. With the legal member of the council. Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, he formed an enduring friendship (cf. Leslie Stephen, Life of Sir J. F. Stephen, pp. 245 seq.). In 1874 Strachey was appointed lieutenant-governor of the North West Provinces but he vacated the post in 1876, when Lord Lytton persuaded him to enter the governor-general's council for a second time as finance member.
His lieutenant-governorship of the North West Provinces was too brief to leave a permanent mark, but the measures associated with his name include the creation of a department of agriculture and commerce; a new system of village accounts, by which the record is written up annually instead of only on the occasion of a thirty years' settlement ; the extension of the survey to permanently settled districts ; the attempt to construct railways from provincial resources. It was also his pride that he took the first active steps to secure the conservation of the historic Mogul buildings at Agra.
As finance minister Strachey shares with his brother Sir Richard, whose work in India was closely connected with his own, the credit of extending the decentralisation of provincial finance, started under Lord Mayo in 1871, and of abolishing the customs line across the peninsula, which permitted the equalisation and ultimate reduction of the salt duty. To Strachey and his brother were due too the recognition of a light income tax as a permanent part of the system of taxation ; the creation of a famine insurance fund of incalculable benefit, amounting to a million and a half sterling annually ; and the application of free trade principles to the customs tariff so far as circumstances permitted. Another of Strachey's reforms, which has not been carried out, was the passing of a statute authorising the introduction of the metric standard of weights and measures. Unhappily, Strachey's term of office as finance minister closed prematurely under a cloud. The cost of the war in Afghanistan, owing mainly to a defective system of military accounts, was found to have been under- estimated by no less than twelve millions sterling [see Lytton, Edward Robert Bulwer, first Earl of Lytton]. Strachey, upon whom the responsibility was fixed by the home government, thought it his duty to retire twelve months before his full time. He finally left India at the close of 1880, after thirty-eight years' service. He had been knighted in 1872 and made G.C.S.I. in 1878.
After India, Italy appealed to his sympathies. An ardent supporter of the movement for national unity and liberation, he used to regret that he could not have enlisted under Garibaldi. On his retirement from India he occupied for some time a villa at Florence, where he studied art and architecture. Subsequently he spent the winter there or on the Italian lakes. He was familiar with the language and literature, and Italians were among his intimate friends. Part of this period of rest he devoted to literary work. As early as 1881 he collaborated with bis brother, Sir Richard, in a record of what the two had helped to accomplish in India, under the title of 'The Finances and Public Works of India' (1882), which is a mine of historical information. Again, after settling in England, he in 1884 gave before the University of Cambridge a course of lectures on India, which were published under the title 'India' in 1888, and reached a fourth edition in 1911, being revised by Sir T. W. Holderness after the author's death. In 1885 Strachey was nominated by Lord Randolph Churchill to be a member of the secretary of state's council of India, an office which then lasted for ten years. While actively engaged on the council he found time to follow the example of his friend, Sir James Fitzjames Stephen, and to attempt in 'Hastings and the Rohilla War' (1892), to clear the memory of Warren Hastings from the charges arising from the Rohilla war of 1774.
Strachey, who on the occasion of Lord Curzon’s inauguration as chancellor at Oxford, in June 1907, received the honorary degree of D.C.L., died at his house in Cornwall Gardens, South Kensington, on 19 Dec. 1907, and was buried at Send, near Woking. On 8 Oct. 1856 Strachey married Katherine Jane, daughter of George H. M. Batten, of the Bengal civil service ; she received the imperial order of the Crown of India on its institution in 1878. Of their sons, the eldest. Colonel John Strachey, M.V.O., was controller of the household to Lord Curzon when viceroy of India ; Sir Arthur is mentioned below ; and Charles is principal clerk in the colonial office. A bronze tablet in Send church commemorates him and his wife, who predeceased him by a few months. There is also a tablet in the church of Chew Magna, Somerset, the burial-place of the family. In India the Strachey Hall of the Muhammadan Anglo-Oriental College at Aligarh is named after him as a memorial ; and a tablet in the fort at Agra records that he cleared and restored the Diwan-i-Am, or hall of public audience of the Mogul emperors, in 1876.
Strachey holds an almost unique position in Anglo-Indian administration as minister to no fewer than three viceroys, and as the literary expositor of their domestic and financial policy. With his brother. Sir Richard [q. v. Suppl. II], he exerted the dominant influence in consolidating the new system of government gradually adopted after the catastrophe of the Mutiny. By inheritance and education they belonged to the school of philosophical radicalism represented in John Stuart Mill ; and their best work, much of which came to fruition after the brothers had left India, was accomplished under two viceroys (Mayo and Lytton) who rank as conservatives at home but as active reformers in India. Strachey's valuable literary work in connection with India shows' throughout the mind of a strong man and the pen of a ready writer.Sir Arthur Strachey (1858–1901), second son of Sir John, was born on 5 Dec. 1858. Educated first at Uppingham and afterwards at Charterhouse, he proceeded to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where he graduated in 1880 with a second class in the law tripos, taking later the degree of LL.B. Among his chief friends at the university were James Kenneth Stephen and Theodore Beck. Called to the bar from the Inner Temple in 1883, he went out almost at once to India, to practise before the high court at Allahabad. In 1892 he became public prosecutor and standing counsel to the provincial government. In 1895 he was appointed judge of the high court at Bombay, in which capacity it fell to him to preside at the first trial for sedition of Bal Gangadhar Tilak in 1897. An unfortunate phrase in his charge to the jury, that 'disaffection means simply the absence of affection,' attracted much censure, but the general purport of his language on this point was approved on appeal to a full bench. In 1899 he was promoted to be chief justice of the high court at Allahabad, and knighted. He died at Simla on 14 May 1901. His remains were cremated in Hindu fashion, and the ashes brought home and deposited in the churchyard of Send, near Woking. A bronze tablet to his memory has been placed in the church of Trent, near Yeovil, where much of his boyhood was passed. On 22 Oct. 1885 he married Ellen, daughter of John Conolly, who survived him. There was no issue of the marriage.
[The Times, 20 Dec. 1907; R. Bosworth Smith, Life of Lord Lawrence (1883); Sir William Hunter, Life of Lord Mayo, 1875; Sir Richard Temple, Men and Events of my Time in India (1882); Herbert Paul, Hist. of Modern England, iv. passim; Lady Betty Balfour, Memoir of Lord Lytton.]