Elgin, James Bruce, Eighth Earl of

Elgin, James Bruce, Eighth Earl of
   Governor-in-chief of British North America, Elgin inherited his earldom and a heavily encumbered estate in 1841. In 1842, he accepted appointment as governor of Jamaica and spent the rest of his career in imperial employment. In Jamaica, he was unable to resolve conflicts between planters and former slaves - now “ apprentices” - caused by the abolition of slavery in the previous decade. In 1846, he went to Canada, where he oversaw the adoption of responsible government. In Canada, he outraged Tory opinion by speaking French in the legislature and by assenting to the Rebellion Losses bill, which in the Tory view rewarded disloyalty. He also oversaw the negotiation of the 1854 reciprocity treaty with the United States. Refusing a cabinet post in Lord Palmerston ’s government, in 1857, Elgin was made plenipotentiary to China and Japan, responsible for opening up trade with those nations with the aid of a large expeditionary force that sailed with him. He was successful in both countries.
   In 1859, however, Chinese forts fired on a British emissary - who happened to be Elgin’s brother - and Palmerston sent Elgin back to China with a combined Anglo- French force which in 1860 sacked the Chinese emperor’s summer palace and entered Peking in triumph. In 1862, he was made Viceroy of India, where he died the following year.
    Checkland, S. G. The Elgins: A Tale of Aristocrats, Pronconsuls and Their Wives. Aberdeeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1988.

Encyclopedia of the Age of Imperialism, 1800–1914. 2014.

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