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Grant of Rothiemurchus
Part I - Biographical Sketch - Chapter VIII

IT is as well now to say something about Grant’s method of work, especially in India. In the administration of Lord Dalhousie and of all his predecessors, every paper, in every department, Foreign, Home, Financial and Military, had been submitted to the Governor-General first, and was then sent round by his Private Secretary to the various members of Council. Some of the papers were either matters of routine or were of no great value or serious importance. As the Empire expanded, as references increased in number, and as new departments were created under the Council [Public Works, for instance], it became politic and proper to relieve the Head of Government of unnecessary labour and to save time. So, in the administration of Lord Canning, mainly at Grant’s suggestion, the Supreme Council resolved itself into something like a Cabinet In the Foreign Department every letter or reference went direct to the Viceroy. The business of the Home, the Financial, the Military, and the Legislative Departments, was referred in the first place to the Civilian members, to the Military, and to the Legal member. Each of these officials was enabled to dispose at once of a considerable mass of detail, while he was bound to refer every question of significance to the Viceroy. This system ensured despatch and produced other excellent results. Grant’s own method of conducting business, whether as Secretary, Councillor, or Lieutenant-Governor, was something of this kind. Lord Dalhousie, who was as willing to get work out of his subordinates as he was prompt to rebuke unauthorised and impertinent advice on their part, once took occasion to define the sphere and limits which such officials should observe. The Head of any Government and all members of Council might, he said, pen Minutes. Secretaries, and Under Secretaries should prepare Notes; sifting a huge mass of papers, extracting the pith of previous correspondence, and, without appearing to dictate, suggesting the points for decision and the precedents for departmental action. Such a Note was a precis and something more. Grant used to remark that the careful preparation of a change. And these grand swelling projects, though constantly debated and criticised, were apt to end in failure or smoke, while much good might have been effected by a moderate instalment of reform.

[“Note” on the above lines might, in India and elsewhere, have saved us from many a false step in finance and in civil and military administration. For years Grant insisted on the paramount necessity of looking carefully into what had taken place before, if you were to estimate the chances and contingencies of the future. And in all the discussions and controversies it might be said of him, as it was said of Chancellor Thurlow by Dr Johnson, that “he laid his mind fairly alongside” of his opponent In dealing with a colleague or a subordinate he never acted on any assumed or inherent superiority of position. He was ready to meet each argument by another, and to convince by reason and logic. And if in the course of a debate, oral or written, his distinctions might occasionally seem too finely drawn, his conclusions were clear and consistent, and generally convinced or silenced his opponents.

No man was more ready to accept fulness and completeness of reform in any one department, but he more than once remarked, pathetically, that he had in all his long career seen many desirable alterations and improvements indefinitely postponed, on the plea that they would soon form part of some contemplated structural and organic.

This seems the proper place to insert the following extract from a long and confidential letter from Lord Dalhousie, showing the very high value which, eventually, the Governor-General set on Grant’s co-operation and judgment A large portion of the letter is taken up with the affairs of Pegu, which had been conquered by our forces in the second Burmese War of 1852-53. The main question then at issue was, whether the King of Burma could be induced to sign a formal treaty, ceding the Province of Pegu to the British Government; and the Governor - General discusses at length the matter of possible compensation to the King, in the event of such a cession, very much as the same subject has been discussed by European statesmen in regard to other countries in our own time. As a matter of history no such treaty was ever signed, and we hold the Province of Pegu, and its seaboard (connecting the two Provinces of Tenasserim and Arracan originally ceded after the campaign of 1824-26) by mere right of conquest. Lord Dalhousie, it should be observed, was writing from Coonoor in the Nilgiris, where he had gone for his health in the hot season of 1855. Grant was, of course, at Calcutta, where the senior member of council acted as President of that body in the absence of the Governor-General On some of the points on which Lord Dalhousie invites Grant’s free opinion, he was not bound to have consulted his colleague at all.

“Coonoor, 28/A May 1855.

“My Dear Grant,

“I have to thank you for your letter of 16th inst, and am glad of the opportunity of speaking to you on one or two matters, whereanent I wish to consult you.

“If your slip about the military works was originally ‘ free and easy,’ as you say, Baker had duly stiffened it, with a proper portion of departmental starch, before he sent it on : for I observed nothing which need have given you the trouble of writing about it; although I have reason to be glad you thought there was, since I have profited by the supposed necessity.

“P. has flared up most unusually and most needlessly about this Pegu foray. He seems to me to have felt himself in the position of the well-known gentleman who had no case, and to have set about ' abusing the opposite attorney,’ accordingly. If you are to be thought Quaker-like, you will see that I am still more drab-coloured, and wear my brim even broader than you. I hold that we have no ground of quarrel; and that if we had, it would be absurd to use it as such.

“Well—I think the Cabul Treaty was a good job. They ought to think so in England, and I hope they will. Our friend from the Caucasus, I see, is going to assault us all about the 5 per cent loan; and with the innate love of fair play belonging to a true Briton of the 'country party' he means not to wait either for explanation or defence. That won’t do us much harm, I think.

“I hope you will look after the expenditure at Headquarters. If N. and others are going too fast, they must be stopped. We may be absurd, but we must not spend money which we not only have not got, but which we can’t get

“I was sure of what you all would think of the Peshawur Brigade business. Is it not enough to exasperate one? And the people talk of a civilian arrogantly interfering in military matters with the C. in C.

“Assuming that the mission will go to Ava as was intended, I want to get your opinion as to the instructions which should be given to the Envoy regarding a treaty. You know my opinion of the intrinsic value of such an article ; but the people at Home have always been anxious for it, and I think we are bound to do our utmost to obtain it Again, / do not think the King will ever sign a treaty; but, for the same reason as before, I think we are bound to try and induce him to do so.

“The Court lately authorised us to give up Mengdun, but the time for this cession has passed away. The King hinted at it last year, and he was told that if he wished for it he must complete the transaction before the end of the year. He did not do so. His Envoys said, and could be got to say, not a word about it It is now too late. The

Mengdun people are fairly settled under our rule; they are the beslf disposed toward it of any in Pegu. We ought not, and we must not, now agree to give them up to Burma again. Moreover, it would not be for our advantage to fix a time with the King, and then to give way upon it.

“In all former drafts we have insisted upon having either a specific cession of the Province of Pegu, or an indirect recognition of our possession of it As this seems to be unpalatable beyond endurance, and as (since the period when this provision in the treaty was much desired) the Governor-General has had an opportunity of informing the King’s Ambassadors that the Provinces of Pegu would never be restored to Burma, I think we might now forego all demand for an article containing either cession of Pegu or recognition of our possession of it and might content ourselves with designating Phayre ‘Commissioner of Pegu’ in the preamble.

"In that case the treaty would contain simply the usual ‘perpetual peace and friendship’ clause, and the general permission for international trade which was contemplated in the former draft.

“But looking to the anxiety which this King seems really to feel for the increase of trade with his dominions, and having regard to the desire for some treaty at Home, to which I have already alluded, it is worth while to consider whether a treaty might not be negotiated on the basis of commercial concessions on both sides. It has been often said that the King frets over the establishment of customhouses on the Meaday frontier. Many among ourselves have deprecated their establishment at all; and nobody has defended them except upon considerations of revenue, and of the hold which they give us over the Court of Ava in the absence of any personal treaty.

"If a treaty were to be concluded, those who rely on the efficacy of such an instrument would consider that we had secured every political advantage which a line of customhouses could confer; while I, who set no store by the treaty, would feel that practically we had not loosened our hold over the Court of Ava, because, if commercial intercourse were admitted by the treaty, we should still retain the power of closing the river, and thus of stopping all such intercourse, whenever sufficient cause of offence shquld be given us.

“The objection on the score of loss of revenue could not be so readily met It is evident from the progressive improvement of the returns that we should sacrifice a good many lacs a year before long, if we were to abolish the frontier line. Can anything we could gain compensate for that loss? I think nothing less than the desired treaty would compensate for the loss, but upon the whole, that the Home Government would think the price to be paid not too much for a treaty with Burma. What think you?

“If there are to be concessions, how far are we to carry them? We cannot, of course, give up the sea-customs; because we can’t afford so heavy an additional sacrifice of revenue; and besides, to abolish all customs in Pegu would be to make it a smuggling depdt for all India, far more formidable than Moulmein ever was. But we might offer to abolish all duties now imposed at the Meaday frontier upon articles going up or down.

“This concession could not be without an equivalent; and I see none that we could require, except that as we bind ourselves to take no customs duties on the Irrawaddy, the King should bind himself to take no customs duties on that river either.

“I have said there must be an equivalent I think so, because the sacrifice of so much revenue merely to obtain a Treaty of Amity, would betoken more anxiety on that subject than it would be politic in us to betray.

"You will perceive also that I have limited the internal free-trade to the Irrawaddy. This seems necessary, because there is no port on the Sitang; and although from the difficulty of access to that river, no great loss might be incurred by it, still a large current of smuggled trade might be got up, under the encouragement given by the removal of all custom-houses on that river.

"I presume that on all teak timber, whatever its place of origin, the present duty would be taken at the port of export

“Even if this agreement should be made, and even though it should be worded in the most general terms, it would still create a chance and cause of collision beyond what now exists. For, if the King should agree to take no duties on the Irrawaddy, a cause of quarrel will arise on every occurrence of the very probable event of an unauthorised exaction of duty, or fee, or dustoorit, or whatever name might be given to it, by a Governor or other smaller functionary along the river course.

“The risk, however, might be met by an article declaring that on the infraction of this agreement by either of the contracting parties, it should be competent to the other party to close the river to all trade until the grievance should be removed and reparation made.

“It will occur to you at once that recourse might be had by us to this remedy, without the authority of an article in the treaty. The advantage, however, of putting it into the treaty seems to me to consist in this, that it would provide a specific remedy for a specific grievance, which remedy would be short of war, and not to be extended to that extreme measure unless we pleased.

“No doubt, if such a treaty were concluded, the balance of advantage would still be on our side. But that is the natural effect of our holding possession of all the seaports by which trade can now have access to Burma; and it is the necessary consequence of the Burmese folly and arrogance, which led to their incurring so heavy a penalty as to be dependent on those they injured for access to the ocean. Taking the position of affairs as they stand, the withdrawal of all duties upon the river by the King would not, I think, be more than an equivalent for our withdrawal of the duties we levy at Meaday.

“Such are my notions at present 1 have inflicted upon you an unmerciful letter in expounding them; but the subject is one of moment, and interesting to you, I know.

“There is another, and a very different subject on which I want your mind. W. B. O’Shaughnessy has done real and right good work for India. I would fain get him some handle before I leave India. The question is, what shall it be? He has not sate upon a covenanted throne, and moulded a rude kingdom into a model province, like John Lawrence. He has not actually created a vast work of genius, like Cautley. But he has adapted the creation of the West to the peculiarities of the East with a genius of his own, and has given us to our hand, for everyday use, the greatest discovery of modem times, over a vast space, in brief time, and with marvellous success. What shall be done unto him? The offer of a knighthood only would make him hang himself, or assassinate us, or both. Money alone would be pleasant How think you ?

“I spare you more. One word only to thank you for your enquiry after my health. I have not advanced, rather gone back, during the last ten days; but still I am better than I was, and thankful accordingly.—Always yours sincerely.”

It is hardly possible, with the materials at my disposal, to deal with this memoir from any other than the official side. Grant was not in any sense a Bureaucrat, or what in Anglo-Indian phraseology is denominated a “ Bahadur.” He did not hastily bestow his confidence, and he was not lavish of praise in his dealings with his subordinates, but no man in such a position was more ready to acknowledge good service and devotion to the State, and his mode of conducting business once understood, no unpleasantness could arise. But it must be admitted that he was not much given to private correspondence, though he was fortunate in the attachment of many friends, and in the devotion of his school of followers. Of demi-official letters there is abundance, as the extracts about the Mutiny prove. Letters to friends and relatives are comparatively few. Writing to an old Indian subordinate, from Jamaica, in 1874, he gravely tells him—

“Understand my principles; they are that everybody whom I wish to hear from is bound to write to me, but I am not bound to write to anybody. I should like to know what you are doing, saying, and writing. For me, in consequence of sins committed in some previous ‘yug’ (Hindu form for era), I am to stay here till next year, if I keep above ground so long. Now that I have this one year more, I begin almost to regret it But I have a College and a canal on the stocks, and I do not like to go away and shut up for good (or bad) till they are launched. By-the-bye, do you know a Principal ? He must be a rara avis; such a man as I remember is described in a French old rural economy book, the ‘Mai son Rustique,’ as fit to take charge of the turkeys—an incomparable man in a small way. The bulk of the scholars will be young Browns and Blacks in training for the ministry of all denominations. But there will be, I doubt not, an upper crust I am under articles not to have Theologism; Presbyterianism and other ‘isms’ being forbidden, it is a fair demand not to allow Theologism. Yet science must be the mainstay of the College. And I incline to think that it would be well if the Principal filled the Chair of Natural Science. Anyhow, he must be a very sensible, tacty, pleasant, and above all, lucky man. He will have a first-rate house and £700 or £800 a year. If a good man really, the last sum, probably. My notion is to have three men.

1. Natural Science.
2. Mathematics and Mechanics.
3. Letters and Languages.

“Some lecturers and masters could be got here for Chemistry. My notion also is to have only English, including Literature and General History, in the necessaries; providing for Latin (possibly Greek) and one or two modem languages.”

When in England on leave for a short period about the same time, he writes to the same correspondent: “I shall be delighted to receive (but not further to circulate) a box of grouse, with any coloured label,” an official joke which all Anglo-Indians will understand.

Though not what may be termed a literary man, he did not confine his reading to newspapers and to Blue Books. He was familiar with the best classical English writers, and with French Literature; and like Dr Arnold, Archbishop Whately, and Dean Stanley, he always returned with the keenest relish to his favourite Waverley Novels. After the termination of his service in Jamaica, the remainder of his life was passed mainly on the Rothiemurchus estate, to which he succeeded on the death of his elder brother, and which he did much to improve. Grant married, in 1835, Henrietta Chichele Plowden, daughter of Trevor Chichele Plowden, Bengal, C.S. Grant left five sons and three daughters, and died on 6th January 1893, and his eldest son, John Peter Grant, of the Bengal Civil Service, did not long survive his father. The estate is now held by John Peter, fourth of the name, Advocate of the Scotch Bar, Sheriff-Substitute of Nairn, and grandson of the Lieutenant-Governor. Of Grant’s family the eldest daughter, Elinor, married Sir James Colvile, Chief Justice of the Old Supreme Court of Calcutta, and after his retirement from that post in 1859, Member of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. His second daughter, Jane, married Richard Strachey, R.E., now General Sir R. Strachey, G.C.S.I. He gave most valuable assistance as Secretary to Grant, when at Benares and Allahabad in 1857. It is hoped that this narrative may be accepted as correct in all essentials by the few surviving Civil or Military servants of the Company and the Crown, who served under Grant in India and Jamaica. And to men of a younger generation, his principles, his actions, and his State papers may be recommended for study and adoption in the treatment of unlooked-for incidents, necessary changes, and permanent Reforms which concern the character of the Civil Service, the welfare of India, agricultural, mercantile, and social, and the dignity and credit of England as an Imperial and Asiatic Power.

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