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Lord Curzon, Viecroy of India., Episode 75 - 26/05/06


Elephant procession through Delhi to the great Durbar held to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.(Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Elephant procession through Delhi to the great Durbar held to celebrate the coronation of Edward VII.
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Curzon was thought the epitome of the British as gentlemen having a good time ruling inferior people - especially in Africa and Asia. Curzon's passion was Asia. He had travelled widely through Persia, Afghanistan and the Far East. As for India, Curzon wrote often and at length to his leader, Lord Salisbury asking to be viceroy.

On the 6 January 1899 Curzon arrived in India to be at 39, the youngest ever viceroy. Immediately he made clear that he deplored the sloth and inefficiency of many of his colleagues and officials. He trod on their sensitivities and scattered their moribund bureaucracies. He spent much of his energies attempting, not always successfully, to "hold the scales even" between the races and religions in India.

Even the radical Indian National Congress applauded some of his judgement, especially when he had punished members of the British army for wrong doings that ended in the death of an Indian - not always an important even in the British community. He personally organized famine relief, began a national irrigation system, attempted to stop poor land workers getting into debt. He reformed the police and education systems and promoted the restoration of India's ancient monuments. It was Curzon who restored the Taj Mahal.

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Historical Figure

Lord Curzon (Getty Images/Hulton|Archive)

Lord Curzon
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Lord Curzon 1859-1925

George Nathaniel, 1st Marquess Curzon, was the eldest son of Lord Scarsdale and born at the family home, Kedlestone Hall, Derbyshire. He was a good, but not brilliant Oxford classicist yet became a fellow of All Souls in 1883, three years before he was elected as the Conservative Member for Southport. Curzon's disability, a spinal curvature, might have restricted the ambitions of some men. He refused to let it get in the way of career. His next four years were totally involved with travelling in Asia and the Far East; the memorable result was the publication between 1889 and 1894 of three acclaimed books: on Asian-Russian, Persia (Iran) and the Far East.

At 32, he began his formal association with India when he became under secretary of state in Salisbury's first Administration. In 1898, after much lobbying, Curzon was appointed Viceroy of India and arrived on the subcontinent early the following year. He often disagreed with his officials and it was a political argument with his new commander-in-chief, Kitchener, which ended his time as viceroy. If he had taken advice from friends, including his wife, Curzon would have left two years earlier and found it easier to pick up a political career. Instead, in 1905 Curzon found himself in some political wilderness.

It wasn't until 1916 that he had a Cabinet job - Lloyd George's new war cabinet in 1916. In 1919 became Foreign Secretary. In 1923, Curzon thought he would become PM, but Baldwin was chosen instead. Curzon died two years later an unfulfilled man, but undoubtedly one of the more remarkable imperial figures of the 20th century.

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Did You Know...

Curzon was so grand that he was once described as someone who spoke to MPs in the Commons like 'a divinity addressing black beetles'.

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Contemporary Sources

Curzon issued his rather grand party invitation to the spectacular Durbar celebrating the coronation of King Edward Vll:
"I now hereby publicly notify under this my hand and seal, as Viceroy and Governor-General of India, that it is my intention to hold at Delhi, on the first day of January nineteen hundred and three, an Imperial Durbar for the purpose of celebrating in His Majesty's Indian dominions this solemn and auspicious event.

To this durbar I propose to invite the governors, lieutenant governors, and heads of administrations from all parts of His Majesty's Indian dominions; the princes, chiefs and nobles of the native states under his Majesty's protection; and representatives, both European and Native, of all the provinces of this great empire.

I also hereby notify that I shall forthwith issue such orders in Council as may be suitable to the occasion, and in conformity with the desire that will be felt by all classes of His Majesty's subjects to demonstrate their loyalty by appropriate public ceremonies and rejoicings."

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