Clerk, Sir George Russel
British Diplomat (1800-1889)
Son of John Clerk, entered the service of the East India Company as a writer in 1817. After various appointments in Calcutta, Rajputana and Delhi, he became political agent at Ambala in 1831. He was appointed agent to the Governor-General at the North-West Frontier Agency in 1840.
In this capacity, he shaped British policy towards the Sikhs during the days following the death of Maharaja Ranjit Singh. For almost a decade, as political agent at Ambala, he had been responsible for British political relations with the Sutlej states. Clerk possessed a legal mind, and his adjudications of territorial disputes among the Sutlej Sikh chiefs became the basis of a new body of laws. Likewise, his contribution to the interpretation of the laws of succession and inheritance of the Sikhs was significant as is illustrated by his Memorandum on the Sutlej States.
As political agent at Ludhiana, Clerk attempted to restore friendly relations with the Sikh court after the acrimonious recall of his predecessor, Sir Claude Martine Wade. As his confidential reports reveal, he had an intimate knowledge of developments in Sikh politics. He visited Lahore frequently. But he started taking an overt interest in court factionalism.
In October 1839, his encouragement to one of the rival parties led to the assassination by Dhian Singh of Maharaja Kharak Singh’s favourite Chet Singh. He encouraged Sher Singh against Mai Chand Kaur in her claim to the throne, nodding significantly, at the same time, to the Jammu rajas desire for succession to the State of Lahore.
In 1844, Clerk was appointed LieutenantGovernor of North-West Frontier Province. From 1847 to 1848, he was Governor of Bombay. He was Under Secretary of the Board of Control (1856-58) and Under Secretary of State for India (1863-76). He died in London on 25 July 1889.