Open main menu
This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
186
CANNING, GEORGE

Lord Canning filled the post of commissioner of woods and forests. He declined to accept office under the earl of Derby; but on the formation of the coalition ministry under the earl of Aberdeen in January 1853, he received the appointment of postmaster-general. In this office he showed not only a large capacity for hard work, but also general administrative ability and much zeal for the improvement of the service. He retained his post under Lord Palmerston’s ministry until July 1855, when, in consequence of the death of Lord Dalhousie and a vacancy in the governor-generalship of India, he was selected by Lord Palmerston to succeed to that great position. This appointment appears to have been made rather on the ground of his father’s great services than from any proof as yet given of special personal fitness on the part of Lord Canning. The new governor sailed from England in December 1855, and entered upon the duties of his office in India at the close of February 1856. His strong common sense and sound practical judgment led him to adopt a policy of conciliation towards the native princes, and to promote measures tending to the betterment of the condition of the people.

In the year following his accession to office the deep-seated discontent of the people broke out in the Indian Mutiny (q.v.). Fears were entertained, and even the friends of the viceroy to some extent shared them, that he was not equal to the crisis. But the fears proved groundless. He had a clear eye for the gravity of the situation, a calm judgment, and a prompt, swift hand to do what was really necessary. By the union of great moral qualities with high, though not the highest, intellectual faculties, he carried the Indian empire safely through the stress of the storm, and, what was perhaps a harder task still, he dealt wisely with the enormous difficulties arising at the close of such a war, established a more liberal policy and a sounder financial system, and left the people more contented than they were before. The name of “Clemency Canning,” which was applied to him during the heated animosities of the moment, has since become a title of honour.

While rebellion was raging in Oudh he issued a proclamation declaring the lands of the province forfeited; and this step gave rise to much angry controversy. A “secret despatch,” couched in arrogant and offensive terms, was addressed to the viceroy by Lord Ellenborough, then a member of the Derby administration, which would have justified the viceroy in immediately resigning. But from a strong sense of duty he continued at his post; and ere long the general condemnation of the despatch was so strong that the writer felt it necessary to retire from office. Lord Canning replied to the despatch, calmly and in a statesman-like manner explaining and vindicating his censured policy. In April 1859 he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his great services during the mutiny. He was also made an extra civil grand cross of the order of the Bath, and in May of the same year he was raised to the dignity of an earl. By the strain of anxiety and hard work his health and strength were seriously impaired, while the death of his wife was also a great shock to him; in the hope that rest in his native land might restore him, he left India, reaching England in April 1862. But it was too late. He died in London on the 17th of June following. About a month before his death he was created K.G. As he died without issue the title became extinct.

See Sir H. S. Cunningham, Earl Canning (“Rulers of India” series), 1891; and A. J. C. Hare, The Story of Two Noble Lilies (1893).


CANNING, GEORGE (1770–1827), British statesman, was born in London on the 11th of April 1770. The family was of English origin and had been settled at Bishop’s Canynge in Wiltshire. In 1618 a George Canning, son of Richard Canning of Foxcote in Warwickshire, received a grant of the manor of Garvagh in Londonderry, Ireland, from King James I. The father of the statesman, also named George, was the eldest son of Mr Stratford Canning, of Garvagh. He quarrelled with and was disowned by his family. He came to London and led a struggling life, partly in trade and partly in literature. In May 1768 he married Mary Annie Costello, and he died on the 11th of April 1771, exactly one year after the birth of his son. Mrs Canning, who was left destitute, received no help from her husband’s family, and went on the stage, where she was not successful. She married a dissolute and brutal actor of the name of Reddish. Her son owed his escape from the miseries of her household to another member of the company, Moody, who wrote to Mr Stratford Canning, a merchant in London and younger brother of the elder George Canning. Moody represented to Mr Stratford Canning that the boy, although full of promise, was on the high road to the gallows under the evil influence of Reddish. Mr Stratford Canning exerted himself on behalf of his nephew. An estate of the value of £200 a year was settled on the boy, and he was sent in succession to a private school at Hyde Abbey near Winchester, to Eton in 1781, and to Christchurch, Oxford, in 1787. After leaving Eton and before going to Oxford, he was entered as a student at Lincoln’s Inn. At Eton he edited the school magazine, The Microcosm, and at Oxford he took the leading part in the formation of a debating society. He made many friends, and his reputation was already so high that Sheridan referred to him in the House of Commons as a rising hope of the Whigs. According to Lord Holland, he had been noted at Oxford as a furious Jacobin and hater of the aristocracy. In 1792 he came to London to read for the bar. He had taken his B.A. in 1791 and proceeded M.A. on the 6th of July 1794.

Soon after coming to London he became acquainted with Pitt in some uncertain way. The hatred of the aristocracy, for which Lord Holland says he was noted at Oxford, would naturally deter an ambitious young man with his way to make in the world, and with no fixed principles, from attaching his fortune to the Whigs. Canning had the glaring examples of Burke and Sheridan himself to show him that the great “revolution families”—Cavendishes, Russells, Bentincks—who controlled the Whig party, would never allow any man, however able, who did not belong to their connexion, to rise to the first rank. He therefore took his place among the followers of Pitt. It is, however, only fair to note that he always regarded Pitt with strong personal affection, and that he may very naturally have been influenced, as multitudes of other Englishmen were, by the rapid development of the French Revolution from a reforming to an aggressive and conquering force. In a letter to his friend Lord Boringdon (John Parker, afterwards earl of Morley), dated the 13th of December 1792, he explicitly states that this was the case. Enlightened self-interest was doubtless combined with honest conviction in ranking him among the followers of Pitt. By the help of the prime minister he entered parliament for the borough of Newtown in the Isle of Wight in July 1793. His maiden speech, on the subvention to the king of Sardinia, was made on the 31st of January 1794. It is by some said to have been a failure, but he satisfied himself, and he soon established his place as the most brilliant speaker on the ministerial side. It may be most conveniently noted here, that his political patrons exerted themselves to provide for his private as well as his official prosperity. Their favour helped him to make a lucrative marriage with Miss Joan Scott, who had a fortune of £100,000, on the 8th of July 1800. The marriage was a very happy one, though the bulk of the fortune was worn away in the expenses of public and social life. Mrs Canning, who survived her husband for ten years, was created a viscountess in 1828. Four children were born of the marriage—a son who died in his father’s lifetime, and was lamented by him in very touching verse; another a captain in the navy, drowned at Madeira in 1827; a third son, Charles (q.v.), afterwards created Earl Canning; and a daughter Harriet, who married the marquess of Clanricarde in 1825.

The public life of Canning may be divided into four stages. From 1793 to 1801 he was the devoted follower of Pitt, was in minor though important office, and was the wittiest of the defenders of the ministry in parliament and in the press. From 1801 to 1809 he was partly in opposition, partly in office, fighting for the foremost place. Between 1809 and 1822 there was a period of comparative eclipse, during which he was indeed at times in office, but in lesser places than he would have been