Dufferin, Lord

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DUFFERIN, LORD (1826–1902), first marquis of Dufferin and Ava, viceroy of India (1884–1888) A descendant of the acerbic playwright R. B. Sheridan, Frederick Templeton Blackwood, or Lord Dufferin, possessed enough of his ancestor's literary gifts and political bile to gain a reputation for having "an iron hand inside the velvet glove." Urbane and erudite, if somewhat indolent, Dufferin triumphed in roles where the velvet glove sufficed. He excelled as a diplomat, particularly as British ambassador in St. Petersburg and as governor-general of Canada, leading to his appointment as India's viceroy. The home government expected Dufferin to smooth over the ruffled feathers of the British Indian Civil Service which had revolted against the efforts of his predecessor (Lord Ripon, viceroy 1880–1884) to give Indians an opportunity to gain experience in modern government. Dufferin proved equal to that task. Rudyard Kipling later extolled Dufferin's respect for the men who ruled India, especially Sir Frederick Roberts, British India's commander-in-chief. Roberts, however, exploited Dufferin's favor by pushing the administration into a more active policy along the northwest frontier of India, leading to the deterioration of relations with the amir of Afghanistan and countless "little wars" among the people of that borderland. Dufferin the diplomat anticipated these results, but lacked the ability to impose his will as an administrator, failing to write the comprehensive dispatch on frontier policy sought by his superiors. When the short-lived jingoistic Conservative ministry of Lord Randolph Churchill came to power in 1885, Dufferin obediently fulfilled the prime minister's desire to annex Upper Burma, though the high cost of that venture forced Dufferin to drain India's famine fund and to impose an income tax. These steps alienated Western-educated Indians—whose continued loyalty Ripon had wisely identified as the key to the continuance of the Raj—and led directly to the formation of the Indian National Congress.

The emergence of the Congress alarmed the home government, which urged Dufferin to find some harmless means of answering its critiques of British Indian administration, such as through the appointment of token Indians to the Council of India. He responded by holding a brief dialogue with Congress cofounder Allan Octavian Hume, but Dufferin's own hatred of nationalism among subject-peoples—borne perhaps of his experiences as a harsh northern Irish landlord—resulted in a deeply racist antipathy for its Indian counterpart. He refused to believe that there was "one Indian fit" for any high public office. At the urging of his likeminded subordinates, Dufferin approved of their two-stage plan, which would reform the Provincial Councils of India, but on such harsh terms that India's nationalists would oppose it, thus justifying new draconian antinationalist legislation accompanying the council's reform measure. This scheme was sent to London in draft form; even here, Dufferin was avoiding the role of policy maker. However, to clear the way for his successor and leave "New India" in no doubt as to the government's future political policy, Dufferin closed his term of office with a reactionary speech on St. Andrew's Day to a British audience in Calcutta (Kolkata) that became the standard against which future British antinationalist remarks would be measured.

Marc Jason Gilbert

See alsoBritish Crown Raj


Gilbert, Marc Jason. "Insurmountable Distinctions: Racism and the British Response to the Emergence of Indian Nationalism." In The Man on the Spot: Essays on British Empire History, edited by Roger Long. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995.

Lyall, Alfred. Life of the Marquis of Dufferin and Ava. London: John Murray, 1905.

Martin, Briton. New India, 1885. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.

Nicholson, Harold. Helen's Tower. New York: Harcourt Brace, 1938.