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Napier, Francis (1819-1898) (DNB01)

NAPIER, Sir FRANCIS, ninth Baron Napier of Merchistoun in the Scottish peerage, first Baron Ettrick of Ettrick in the peerage of the United Kingdom, and eleventh (Nova Scotia) baronet of Scott of Thirlestane (1819–1898), diplomatist and Indian governor, born in 1819 at Thirlestane in Selkirkshire, was the eldest son of William John Napier, eighth baron Napier of Merchistoun [q. v.] On his father's death on 11 Oct. 1834 he succeeded to the peerage and baronetage at the age of fifteen. He was educated partly by private tutors at Thirlestane and at school at Saxe-Meiningen, and afterwards at Trinity College, Cambridge, which he entered in 1835. He left Cam-bridge without a degree, and passed some time at Geneva under the guardianship of the Rev. Walter Patterson, and there acquired a command of foreign languages which proved to be most useful to him in after-life. He also studied very carefully the writings of Gibbon, which no doubt helped to mould his own style. In 1840 he was appointed to the diplomatic service, and after serving as an attaché at Vienna and at Constantinople, and subsequently as secretary of legation at Naples, and as secretary to the embassy at Constantinople, he was sent as envoy to the United States of America, whence he was transferred to the Hague. From December 1860 to September 1864 he was ambassador at St. Petersburg, and from September 1864 to January 1866 at Berlin. In these various diplomatic posts Lord Napier established a high reputation. Many years ago Edward Robert Bulwer Lytton, first earl of Lytton [q. v.], told the writer of this article that he regarded Napier as the only man of genius in the diplomatic service in his time. When secretary of legation at Naples in 1848 and 1849, he was chargé d'affaires for eighteen months, including the critical period of the Sicilian insurrection. On that occasion the judgment and tact with which he discharged his duties were highly appreciated by Lord Palmerston,then secretary of state for foreign affairs, by whom Napier's talents, as manifested in the higher diplomatic appointments which he subsequently held, were regarded as justifying an expectation that he would rise to the highest offices in the state. Both by Lord Aberdeen and Lord Clarendon his services were much valued. In the United States he was considered to have been the most acceptable envoy they had up to that time received from Great Britain. As ambassador at St. Petersburg he was a persona grata to the emperor Alexander II, who wished to confer upon him the highest Russian order, that of St. Andrew, because he considered that Lord Napier had worked for peace between England and Russia which at that time was threatened. This proposal having to be abandoned, as no British envoy could accept a foreign order, the emperor sat for his portrait, which he presented to Napier. A similar compliment was afterwards paid to him by the king of Prussia.

In January 1866 Napier was appointed governor of Madras. This office he held for six years, having been invited by George Douglas Campbell, eighth duke of Argyll [q.v. Suppl.], then secretary of state for India, to prolong his tenure of the office beyond the usual time. The duties of an Indian governor are very different from those which had previously devolved upon Napier ; but his administration fully justified the promise of his previous career. He went very thoroughly into all the questions which came before him, mastering the facts, and recording his views with a fulness and clearness which left nothing to be desired. A few months after taking charge of the government he found himself confronted by a serious famine in Ganjam, the northern district of the presidency. He at once repaired to the district and visited the affected tracts, stimulating the district officers by his example, and setting on foot the measures which were necessary to meet the calamity. It is not too much to say that there was no branch of the administration to which he did not devote time and attention. Whether it was a question relating to the assessment of the land revenue, or the garrison required to maintain the peace of the presidency, or the strength of the police, or the establishment of municipal and local government all these matters received from Napier full and careful consideration ; but the business to which he devoted special attention was that connected with the public health. Hospitals, dispensaries, and everything relating to the care of the sick and the prevention of disease were to him objects of the deepest interest. As secretary to the embassy at Constantinople he had made the acquaintance and had acquired the friendship of Miss Florence Nightingale, to whom his official position had enabled him to render valuable assistance in carrying out her work. Throughout his residence in India he kept up a correspondence with her on subjects connected with the public health in that country. He also from the first took a great and practical interest in developing public works, and especially works of irrigation. He fully recognised the great value of the irrigation works carried out or devised by Sir Arthur Cotton [q. v. Suppl.] He visited them all at an early period after assuming the government, and during the six years that he remained in India he gave steady encouragement to the completion and development of the various irrigation systems then in operation. It was while Napier was governor of Madras that the Pennár anicut was built, and some progress made with the distributing canals. During that time also the Rushikuliya anicut in Ganjam was projected and planned, and the great work of diverting the Periyár river in Travancore from its natural channel, leading down to the western coast, where the water was not required, into the river Vaigai on the eastern side of the peninsula, was brought by Napier before the government of India and the secretary of state. This remarkable work was successfully completed a few years ago.

Very shortly after Napier's arrival at Madras he visited Calcutta and made the acquaintance of Sir John Lawrence [see Lawrence, John Laird Mair, first Baron Lawrence], with whom he established most friendly relations, as he afterwards did with the Earl of Mayo. Napier from the first recognised the respective positions of the supreme government of India and of the minor governments, and did everything in his power to diminish the friction and the presidential jealousies which are so often detrimental to the efficiency of Indian administration. At the same time, whenever he perceived a tendency to override the legitimate interests of the presidency entrusted to his charge, he did not fail to remonstrate. It may be truly affirmed that at no period in the history of British India, since the days of Sir Thomas Munro [q. v.], were the relations of the government of India and of the Madras government more satisfactory than they were during the six yean in which Napier presided over the government of Madras.

In February 1872, in consequence of the assassination of the Earl of Mayo [see Bourke, Richard Southwell], it devolved upon Napier to assume temporarily the office of governor-general of India. During the time, a little short of three months, that the temporary governor-generalship lasted, no business of very great importance arose, and Napier, on being relieved by Lord Northbrook, returned to England. For his Indian services he was created a baron of the United Kingdom, with the title of Ettrick (16 July 1872). In the same year he took the chair at the meeting of the social science congress which was held at Plymouth. The address which he delivered on that occasion called forth some comment at the time as being unduly socialistic ; but several of the measures which Napier then suggested have been since embodied in the county councils and parish councils acts. In this address, as in many of his utterances, he evinced the greatest sympathy with the condition of the poor, both in the rural and in the urban districts. An address delivered on 29 April 1878 at the annual meeting of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel was, with those of Canon (afterwards Bishop) Lightfoot and Bishop Kelly, published in the same year under the title 'Missions, their Temporal Utility, Rate of Progress, and Spiritual Foundation.' In 1874 he delivered an address on education at the social science congress held at Glasgow. While he continued to live in London he served for some time on the London school board and took an active part in its proceedings. He also served as chairman of the dwellings committee of the Charity Organisation Society. He subsequently took up his residence on his estate in Scotland, and in 1883 he presided over a royal commission which was appointed to inquire into the condition of the crofters and cottars in the highlands and islands of Scotland. This was a congenial duty, which gave full scope to his sympathy with the poor. The report, which was drafted by him, was thorough and exhaustive. It was vehemently attacked in the 'Nineteenth Century' for November 1884 by the late Duke of Argyll, whose criticisms were replied to by Napier in an effective article in a subsequent number of the same review. The report was followed by the appointment of a permanent commission, which deals with all questions concerning the crofters and cottars. During the latter years of his life Napier resided almost entirely in Scotland, acting as convener of his county, and interesting himself generally in local affairs. He was extremely popular with people of all classes on and in the neighbourhood of his estate, to whom he had endeared himself by his kindly and generous nature. He was a LL.D. of Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Harvard. He died very suddenly on 19 Dec. 1898 at Florence, where he and Lady Napier and Ettrick had spent their honeymoon fifty-three years before, and where they had gone to pass the winter. He had married, in 1845, Anne Jane Charlotte, only daughter of Robert Manners Lockwood of Dun-y-Graig in Glamorganshire. Lady Napier, who survives her husband, was appointed a member of the imperial order of the crown of India shortly after it was constituted. Lord Napier left three sons, and was succeeded in his titles and estate by his eldest son, William George.

Napier's career was undoubtedly a very brilliant one up to a certain point. As the representative of Queen Victoria at two of the most important courts in Europe and at Washington, he had discharged his important functions with admirable judgment and tact. His government of Madras had been so successful that he was invited to retain it beyond the usual time. His long official experience and dignified bearing would have seemed to point him out as the most fitting successor to Lord Mayo, whose loss India was at that time deploring. He certainly had shown himself to be possessed of qualifications which few governors-general of India had displayed before being appointed to that high post. He was an eloquent speaker. His reply to an address which was presented to him by the natives of Madras on his departure from India has seldom been surpassed in felicity of diction and pathos. But he was passed over. After his return to England he might have been expected to follow with eminent success a political career. But he was without the pecuniary means of meeting the expenses of parliamentary life, and, although not destitute of ambition, he was too proud to press his claims. Thus it came about that Lord Palmerston's prediction was unfulfilled.

[Foreign Office List for 1898; Phillimore's Life of Admiral of the Fleet Sir William Parker, Bart., G.C.B., vol. iii. London, 1880); Minutes recorded by Lord Napier when Governor of Madras; Address delivered at the Social Science Congress, September 1872; Report of Her Majesty's Commissioners of Inquiry into the Condition of the Crofters and Cottars in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, 1884; Nineteenth Century, November 1884 and March 1885; Longman's Magazine, February 1899; family information and personal knowledge acquired by the writer when closely associated with Lord Napier in the government of Madras.]

A. J. A.