Ripon, Lord

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RIPON, LORD (1827–1909), British politician, viceroy of India (1880–1884). Lord Ripon was one of British India's most liberal and popular viceroys. The first marquis and second earl of Ripon, George Frederick Samuel Robinson was elected to Parliament from Hull in 1852 and served as undersecretary of state for India from 1861 to 1863, then as secretary of state for India in 1866. Eight years later, he converted to Catholicism, and six years afterward became the only Roman Catholic British viceroy of India, presiding over the Raj from 1880 to 1884.

A peace-loving, wise, and kindhearted aristocrat, Ripon was sent to India as Prime Minister William Gladstone's Liberal reflection. He swiftly ended the Second Anglo-Afghan War, which his predecessor, Tory Lord Lytton, Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli's imperial reflection, had started, recognizing Amir Abdur Rahman Khan as Afghanistan's king, and withdrawing all British troops in 1881. He also liberated India's press, repealing the hated Vernacular Press Act of 1878 that Lytton had imposed to silence Indian editorials critical of his autocratic martial imperial rule. Ripon's bravest policy was to appoint and fearlessly support Sir Courtney Ilbert as law member of his council. Brilliant jurist and humanitarian that Ilbert was, he immediately sought to rectify the gross racial inequity of British India's criminal system of jurisprudence, discriminating as it did against all high court judges of Indian birth, who were automatically "disqualified" from trying any criminal case that charged a "European" with unlawful action against an Indian. Ilbert's Criminal Jurisdiction Bill, which would have removed such racial prejudice from the system, was introduced to Lord Ripon's council in February 1883. The viceroy strongly backed his law member. But as soon as the new bill's proposed change was emblazoned in boldest type on the front page of every Anglo-Indian newspaper in Bengal, the British community, civil and judicial, most violently protested. Ilbert and Ripon were tarred as "traitors" to their "race" and nation, and images of both were burned in effigy in Calcutta (Kolkata). Mass meetings filled every hall in the capital, denouncing the Ilbert Bill as "unconstitutional" and demanding its emasculation by requiring that any trial of an Englishman in a "native's" courtroom should be judged by a jury, at least half of whom were of "European blood." The intensity of those anti-Ilbert protests taught generations of Indian nationalists how best to protest against government policies and officials, including the very viceroy. Leaders of India's National Congress, born but two years after Ilbert's Bill was enacted in its disgracefully emasculated form, never forgot those powerful lessons in public protest.

Ripon was so dispirited by the narrow-mindedness of his countrymen that he resigned his office a year before his term would have expired. When he traveled by train from Calcutta across the full breadth of India to Bombay (Mumbai), where a P & O vessel waited to take him home, tens of thousands of bareheaded Indians lined the tracks, bowing to offer silent thanks to the British viceroy who had fought so hard for them that he incurred the enmity of his own people.

Stanley Wolpert

See alsoBritish Crown Raj


Gopal, S. The Viceroyalty of Lord Ripon, 18801884. London: Oxford University Press, 1953.

Seal, Anil. The Emergence of Indian Nationalism. London: Cambridge University Press, 1968.

Sisson, Richard, and Stanley Wolpert, eds. Congress and Indian Nationalism. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.