Auckland, Lord

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AUCKLAND, LORD (1784–1849), governor-general of India (1836–1842) George Eden, second baron and first earl of Auckland, arrived in India after long, if undistinguished, service to the Whig Party, previously rewarded by appointment to the Board of Trade (1830), and as First Lord of the Admiralty (1834). As governor-general, he established the universal applicability of general rules for appointments, pensions, and legislation, thus obviating continual recourse for guidance by provincial administrators. He also supported the spread of education, particularly Western medical knowledge, if to little effect. Such minor service was, however, entirely overshadowed by the First Afghan War of 1838 to 1842.

There has been much speculation as to why Auckland waged a disastrous war to remove the Afghan amir Dost Mohammad Barakzai, against the advice of British envoy Alexander Burnes, who had held amicable negotiations with the amir in 1837. It has been argued that the easily led Auckland was persuaded to override Burnes's sound advice by his political secretary, William Macnaghten, who was fatally overconfident in India's military prowess. Auckland had previously acted precipitously in suppressing unrest in Oudh, deposed the rebellious rajas of Satara and Karnul, and annexed the lands of the latter. In a prelude to the Afghan war itself, he had forced the amirs of Sind to accept violations of their sovereignty precluded by previous agreements. He also seized Persian territory in the Gulf, insisting that such aggression was justified by the need to provide for the "safety and integrity of the Anglo-Indian empire."

The sources of Auckland's bellicosity may well have been more political than personal, if also more illusory than real. These included not only fears of Russian intrigues in Herat and Tehran as well as Kabul, but also the presence in India of Shah Shuja Sodozai, a weak refugee-claimant to the throne of Afghanistan, who was expected be more pliant than Dost Mohammad. Auckland, like most British officials, also harbored an almost pathological fear of a Russian invasion of India.

In December 1838, Auckland's "Army of the Indus" marched off with much ceremony for Afghanistan. Its operations began well enough to earn Auckland an earldom, but by late 1841 Macnaghten, in Kabul, was pleading for reinforcements. Auckland delayed the dispatch of a more British forces until Macnaghten had been killed and the Army of the Indus, forced to withdraw from the country, had been virtually annihilated in the Khurd-Kabul Pass. This event is generally considered one of the most ignominious defeats of British arms in India and darkened Auckland's departure for home. Nonetheless, he was reappointed in 1846 as First Lord of the Admiralty, a post he occupied until his death.

Marc Jason Gilbert

See alsoAnglo-Afghan Wars: War One (1838–1842)


Mukharya, P. S. "Centralized Administration under Lord Auckland." Journal of Indian History 54 (December 1976), part III: 761–767.

Trotter, Lionel J. Earl of Auckland. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1893.