Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Westland, James
WESTLAND, Sir JAMES (1842–1903), Anglo-Indian financier, eldest of eight children of James Westland, manager of Aberdeen Town and County Bank, Dundee, by his wife Agnes Monro, was born in Dundee on 14 Nov. 1842. The second of his four brothers, William, also had a financial career in India, becoming deputy secretary and treasurer of the Bank of Bengal. James was educated in Aberdeen, at first privately under Dr. Tulloch (1847–53), then at the grammar school (1853-6), and at the gymnasium (1856-7). In 1857 he entered Marischal College, and after some study at a school at Wimbledon passed first into Woolwich in January 1861. But he abandoned the army, and in July 1861 he headed the competitive examination for the Indian civil service, the second place being taken by (Sir) Alexander Mackenzie [q. v. Suppl. II].
Arriving in Calcutta in October 1862, he was assistant magistrate and collector in various Bengal districts until July 1866, when he served as collector, first of Nuddea and afterwards of Jessore. Of Jessore he compiled a valuable survey, officially published in 1874. He went to the Bengal secretariat in July 1869 as junior secretary. Of strong mathematical bent, he was soon transferred to the financial department of the government of India, being made under-secretary from June 1870. Here he revised the civil pension and leave codes, and examined actuarially the various presidency civil funds, embodying his results in a long series of notes and pamphlets. He was appointed officiating accountant-general of Bengal in March 1873, and in the following December went to the central provinces as substantive accountant-general, returning to Bengal at the end of 1876. After serving from November 1877 as inspector of local offices of account, he was appointed accountant and comptroller-general to the government of India in July 1878. In this capacity he reorganised and simplified Indian accountancy work, reducing to codified form the numerous departmental circulars, over which rules for account and treasury officers were dispersed.
After a few months in Egypt (March to June 1885) as head of the Egyptian accounts department in succession to (Sir) Gerald FitzGerald (Lord Cromer's Modern Egypt, vol. i.), Westland returned to India; he was a member of Sir Charles Elliott's Indian expenditure commission in February 1886, acted as secretary of the financial department from September 1886, and was temporary finance member of government (August 1887 to November 1888). He was created C.S.I, in June 1888, and K.C.S.I. in January 1895, was elected a fellow of Calcutta University in January 1893, and was made honorary LL.D. Aberdeen in March 1890.
In July 1889 Westland went to Assam as chief commissioner; but in the following October, on grounds of health, he resigned the service, and turned to sheep-farming in New Zealand. On 27 Nov. 1893, however, he succeeded Sir David Barbour as finance member of the viceroy's council.
Indian finance was then in a critical condition, and Westland had to face a period of deficits. Preparatory to his first budget, he, in March 1894, renewed, at the general rate of 5 per cent., the import duties abandoned in 1882 by Sir Evelyn Baring (now Lord Cromer). But Henry Fowler, afterwards Viscount Wolverhampton [q. v. Suppl. II], secretary of state for India, owing to pressure from Lancashire manufacturers, declined to sanction the inclusion of cotton fabrics and yarns within Westland's schedule, as desired by Indian opinion, until the following December, when a countervailing excise was put on cotton fabrics manufactured at power mills in India. In February 1896 the duties were again revised.. Imported yarns were then freed from duty, and cotton fabrics were charged 3½ instead of the general 5 per cent., with a corresponding excise on 'competing "counts"'—i.e. the finer fabrics—of Indian mills. Commercial opinion in India, with which Westland personally sympathised, remained dissatisfied, and Westland bore the brunt of the discontent.
Westland was more successful in converting the great bulk of the rupee debt, more than ninety crores, from 4 to 3½ per cent, in 1895-6, thereby saving the public exchequer nearly fifty lakhs of rupees in annual interest charges. A vigilant guardian of the public purse, he opposed the heavy additions to capital liabilities involved by the large programmes of railway construction which the viceroy, Lord Elgin, supported, although in respect to the great frontier campaigns of 1897-8 and other additions to military demands, Westland betrayed few economic scruples. In spite of the pressure of deficit at the time, he resisted proposals for a grant from the British exchequer towards the cost of the great 1897-8 famine, on the ground that the financial independence of the government of India would thereby be impaired.
The solution of the currency problem, which was the crucial point of the situation, had been prepared by his predecessor, Sir David Barbour, and Westland pursued the path marked out for him, if with less confidence than was desirable. He saw, however, the gold standard finally established during his rule and the sterling value of the rupee attain the fixed rate of 1s. 4d. In 1894-5 the rate averaged only 13.1d.; but from 1895 it rose steadily each year. Westland remained in office to introduce in March 1899 the first budget of Lord Curzon's government. The 1s. 4d. rate had then been reached, and a few months later the gold standard became a reality, sovereigns and half-sovereigns being made legal tender. Westland found the government poor and left it rich; the lean years of deficit, the strain of which he bore patiently, were followed by years of large surplus and expanding revenue.
On returning to England Westland was nominated to the India council on 2 Aug. 1899. An indefatigable worker, he rather chafed under the comparative leisure of a consultative post. He was not a good platform speaker, and his efforts to inform the public on Indian affairs were failures. He found recreation in the study of astronomy and in chess, and was a great reader of German and French.
He died at his home at Weybridge on 9 May 1903, and was buried at Brookwood cemetery. He married on 23 April 1874 Janet Mildred, daughter of Surgeon-major C. J. Jackson, of the Indian medical service, and was survived by two sons and two daughters.
[Bengal Civil List; India List; Imp. Gazt. of India, vol. iv.; The Times, 16 May 1903; Pioneer (Allahabad), 29 and 31 March 1899; Englishman (Calcutta), 24 March 1899; official papers and private correspondence kindly lent by Lady Westland; personal knowledge.]