Auckland, George Eden
Earl of Auckland, Governor-General of India (1784-1849)
Governor-General of India, son of William Eden, First Baron of Auckland, was born at Eden Farm, near Beckenham, in Kent, in August 1784. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, and was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn in 1809. From 1810-13, he represented Woodstock in Parliament. He served as President of the Board of Trade from 1830-34. In 1834, he became the First Lord of Admiralty under Lord Melbourne, who sent him out in April 1836 to India as governor-general.
Auckland’s policy towards the Sikhs was dominated by the prevalent fear of Russian invasion. While keeping up friendly relations with the Sikh sovereign, Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he sought by various measures to contain his influence. The penetration of Russian influence into Persia and Afghanistan was a reality, but the possibility of a Russian advance to India and its ultimate threat to British possessions in India were purely imaginary.
Yet, the despatches of MacNeil and Ellis from Tehran and persistent whispers from the Persian Gulf residency kept the myth alive. The British authority in India overlooked the fact that between the wild mountains of the Hindukush and the River Sutlej lived a strong and well-knit race in friendly alliance with the British and fanatically averse to any foreign intrusion.
The British decided to resuscitate Saddozai power in Afghanistan. The scheme aimed at the overthrow of Dost Muhammad Khan Barakzai and the installation on the throne at Kabul of ex-king Shah Shuja’ with the help of Sikh arms and British resources. This led up to Sir William Macnaghten’s mission to Lahore and the signing of the Tripartite Treaty in June 1838 between Shah Shuja’, Maharaja Ranjit Singh and the British government. Towards the close of November 1838, the British armies assembled at Firozpur. This was the celebrated “Army of the Indus,” as Lord Auckland called it. Further eclat was given to the opening of this campaign by a meeting which had meanwhile been arranged between the governor-general and Maharaja Ranjit Singh and which took place at Firozpur on 30 November 1838.
The Maharaja had been recovering from a serious illness, yet he displayed his wonted high spirits and acuteness of mind on the occasion. Auckland realized that any major military intervention by Sikhs in Afghanistan affairs would lead to their establishing influence at Kabul. So they were excluded from any positive role beyond the Khaibar.
After the first Afghan war, which resulted in a disaster, Auckland was recalled in February 1842. In 1846, Lord John Russel appointed him First Lord of Admiralty. He died on 1 January 1849.