Charles Canning, 1st Earl Canning

The Right Honourable
The Earl Canning

Canning c. 1840s by Richard Beard
Governor-General of India
In office
28 February 1856  21 March 1862
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister The Viscount Palmerston
The Earl of Derby
Preceded by The Marquess of Dalhousie
Succeeded by The Earl of Elgin
Postmaster General
In office
5 January 1853  30 January 1855
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister The Earl of Aberdeen
Preceded by The Earl of Hardwicke
Succeeded by The Duke of Argyll
First Commissioner of Woods and Forests
In office
2 March 1846  30 June 1846
Monarch Queen Victoria
Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel, Bt
Preceded by The Earl of Lincoln
Succeeded by Viscount Morpeth
Personal details
Born 14 December 1812 (1812-12-14)
Brompton, London
Died 17 June 1862(1862-06-17) (aged 49)
Grosvenor Square, London
Nationality British
Political party Conservative
Spouse(s) Hon. Charlotte Stuart
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

Charles John Canning, 1st Earl Canning KG GCB KSI PC (14 December 1812 – 17 June 1862), known as The Viscount Canning from 1837 to 1859, was an English statesman and Governor-General of India during the Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Background and education

Born at Gloucester Lodge, Brompton, near London,[1] Canning was the youngest child of George Canning and Joan, Viscountess Canning, daughter of Major-General John Scott. He was educated at Christ Church, Oxford, where he graduated B.A. in 1833, as first class in classics and second class in mathematics.

Political career

In 1836 he entered parliament, being returned as member for the town of Warwick in the Conservative interest. He did not, however, sit long in the House of Commons; for, on the death of his mother in 1837, he succeeded to the peerage and entered the House of Lords. His first official appointment was that of Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the administration formed by Sir Robert Peel in 1841, his chief being the Earl of Aberdeen. This post he held till January 1846; and from January to July of that year, when the Peel administration was broken up, Lord Canning filled the post of First Commissioner of Woods and Forests.

Charles Canning

He served on the Royal Commission on the British Museum (1847–49).[2] He declined to accept office under the Earl of Derby; but on the formation of the coalition ministry under the Earl of Aberdeen in January 1853, he received the appointment of Postmaster General. In this office he showed not only a large capacity for hard work, but also general administrative ability and much zeal for the improvement of the service. He retained his post under Lord Palmerston's ministry until July 1855, when, in consequence of the departure of Lord Dalhousie and a vacancy in the governor-generalship of India, he was selected by Lord Palmerston to succeed to that great position. This appointment appears to have been made rather on the ground of his father's great services than from any proof as yet given of special personal fitness on the part of Lord Canning. The new governor sailed from England in December 1855, and entered upon the duties of his office in India at the close of February 1856. His strong common sense and sound practical judgment led him to adopt a policy of conciliation towards the native princes, and to promote measures tending to the betterment of the condition of the people.

In the year following his accession to office the deep-seated discontent of the people broke out in the Indian Rebellion of 1857. Fears were entertained, and even the friends of the Governor-General to some extent shared them, that he was not equal to the crisis. But the fears proved groundless. He had a clear eye for the gravity of the situation, a calm judgment, and a prompt, swift hand to do what was really necessary and felt that "the only way to consolidate British colonialism in India was to break up the unity shown by the Indians in the mutiny by creating internal hatred." By the union of great moral qualities with high, though not the highest, intellectual faculties, he carried the Indian empire safely through the stress of the storm, and, what was perhaps a harder task still, he dealt wisely with the enormous difficulties arising at the close of such a war, established a more liberal policy and a sounder financial system, and left the people more contented than they were before. The name of Clemency Canning, which was applied to him during the heated animosities of the moment, has since become a title of honour. He was derisively called "Clemency" on account of a Resolution dated 31 July 1857, which distinguished between sepoys from regiments which had mutinied and killed their officers and European civilians, and those Indian soldiers who had disbanded and dispersed to their villages, without being involved in violence. While subsequently regarded as a humane and sensible measure, the Resolution made Cannings unpopular at a time when British popular opinion favored collective and indiscriminate reprisals.

The Earl Canning.
The arrival of Lord Canning at Lahore

While rebellion was raging in Oudh he issued a proclamation declaring the lands of the province forfeited; and this step gave rise to much angry controversy. A secret despatch, couched in arrogant and offensive terms, was addressed to the viceroy by Lord Ellenborough, then a member of the Derby administration, which would have justified the Governor-General in immediately resigning. But from a strong sense of duty he continued at his post; and ere long the general condemnation of the despatch was so strong that the writer felt it necessary to retire from office. Lord Canning replied to the despatch, calmly and in a statesman-like manner explaining and vindicating his censured policy, and in 1858 he was rewarded by being made the first Viceroy of India.

In April 1859 he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his great services during the rebellion. He was also made an extra civil grand cross of the Order of the Bath, and in May of the same year he was raised to the dignity of an Earl, as Earl Canning. By the strain of anxiety and hard work his health and strength were seriously impaired, while the death of his wife was also a great shock to him; in the hope that rest in his native land might restore him, he left India, reaching England in April 1862. But it was too late. He died in London on 17 June. About a month before his death he was created a Knight of the Garter. As he died without issue the titles became extinct.

Prior to the rebellion, Canning and his wife had desired to produce a photographic survey of Indian people, primarily for their own edification. This project was transformed into an official government study as a consequence of the rebellion, after which it was seen as useful documentation in the effort to learn more about native communities and thereby better understand them. It was eventually published as an eight-volume work, The People of India, between 1868 and 1875.[3]

See also


  1. "Charles John Canning, Earl Canning". Community Trees. Retrieved 9 August 2012.
  2. The Life of Sir Anthony Panizzi, Volume 1, by Louis Alexander Fagan, p257
  3. Metcalf, Thomas R. (1997). Ideologies of the Raj. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. p. 117. ISBN 978-0-521-58937-6. Retrieved 26 November 2011.

Further reading

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Edward Bolton King
Sir Charles Greville
Member of Parliament for Warwick
With: Edward Bolton King
Succeeded by
Edward Bolton King
William Collins
Political offices
Preceded by
Viscount Leveson
Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs
Succeeded by
George Smythe
Preceded by
Earl of Lincoln
First Commissioner of Woods and Forests
Succeeded by
Viscount Morpeth
Preceded by
The Earl of Hardwicke
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
The Duke of Argyll
Government offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Dalhousie
Governor-General of India
Succeeded by
The Earl of Elgin
New creation Viceroy of India
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Joan Canning
Viscount Canning
New creation Earl Canning
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