Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 3.djvu/48

This page needs to be proofread.
O'Conor
O'Conor
38

and Madrid, he returned to Washington on promotion to be second secretary in 1874, and was transferred in 1875 to Brazil, where he was employed on special duty in the province of Rio Grande do Sul in November 1876. In October 1877 he was removed to Paris, where he had the advantage of serving for six years luider Lord Lyons. In December 1883 he was appointed secretary of legation at Peking, and on the death of the minister. Sir Harry Parkes [q. v.], in March 1885, assumed charge of the legation for a period of fifteen months. He found himself almost immediately involved in somewhat awkward discussions with the Chinese and Korean governments in regard to the temporary occupation of Port Hamilton, a harbour formed by three islands at the entrance to the Gulf of Pechill, of which the British admiral had taken possession as a coaling station, in view of the apparent imminence of an outbreak of war between Great Britain and Russia. The Chinese and Korean governments were not unwilling to agree to the occupation for a pecuniary consideration on receiving assurances that no permanent acquisition was contemplated, but were threatened by Russia with similar occupations elsewhere if they gave their consent. The question was eventually settled, after the apprehension of war with Russia had disappeared, by the withdrawal of the British occupation in consideration of a guarantee by China that no part of Korean territory, including Port Hamilton, would be occupied by any foreign power. The annexation of Upper Burma to the British Indian empire, proclaimed by Lord Duflerin in 1886, gave rise to an equally embarrassing question. The Chinese government viewed the annexation with great jealousy. The new British possession was, along a great portion of the eastern frontier, conterminous with that of China, while on the north it abutted on the vassal state of Tibet. China claimed indeterminate and somewhat obsolete rights of suzerainty over the Burmese, which were still evidenced by a decennial mission from Burma charged with presents to the Emperor. The country contained a considerable and influential Chinese population, and China could easily create trouble by raids into the frontier districts. A friendly arrangement was almost imperative. After a tedious negotiation O'Conor succeeded in concluding an agreement on 24 July 1886, making provision for the delimitation of frontiers by a joint commission, for a future convention to settle the conditions of frontier trade, and agreeing to the continuance of the decennial Burmese mission, in return for a waiver of any right of interference with British authority and rule. Though this agreement was only the preliminary to a series of long and toilsome negotiations, it placed the question in the way of friendly solution. On its conclusion O'Conor, who had been made C.M.G. in Feb. 1886, was created C.B.

After a brief tenure of the post of secretary of legation at Washington, he in Jan. 1887 succeeded (Sir) Frank Lascelles as agent and consul-general in Bulgaria. The principality was at the time in a critical situation. Prince Alexander, whose nerve had been shaken by his forcible abduction, having failed to obtain the Czar's approval of his resumption of power, had abdicated in September 1886, and the government was left in the hands of three regents, of whom the principal was the former prime minister, Stambuloff. For the next few months, in the face of manoeuvres on the part of Russia to prolong the interregnum or procure the selection of a nominee who would be a mere vassal of Russia, vigorous endeavours were made by the regency to obtain a candidate of greater independence, and on 7 July 1887 Prince Ferdinand of Saxe-Coburg was elected, and Stambuloff again became prime minister. O'Conor, who united great shrewdness with a blunt directness of speech, which, although not generally regarded as a diplomatic trait, had the effect of inspiring confidence, exercised a steadying influence on the energetic premier. Excellent relations were maintained between them in the course of five years' residence. Among other results was the conclusion in 1889 of a provisional commercial agreement between Great Britain and Bulgaria.

In April 1892 O'Conor was again appointed to Peking, this time in the position of envoy to the Emperor of China, and to the King of Korea. A notable change in the etiquette towards foreign representatives was made by the court in his reception at Peking; he was formally received with the staff of the legation at the principal entrance by the court officials and conducted to a personal audience with the Emperor in the Cheng Kuan Tien Palace. In July 1894 the disputes between China and Japan as to the introduction of reforms in the administration of Korea led to open war between the two countries, and O'Conor's responsi-