The British Empire Library

Envoy Of The Raj: Career Of Sir Clarmont Percival Skrine

by John Stewart

Courtesy of OSPA

Review by C.T.
This eminently readable and undramatised biography of a distinguished member of the Indian Political Service has been distilled from a mass of meticulously maintained diaries and revealing private letters covering the final momentous decades of the British Indian Empire.

Inspired by a desire to serve King and Country and an insatiable curiosity to explore the far reaches of the Empire, Clarmont Skrine followed his father into the Indian Civil Service and after a few years as a District Officer transferred to the Indian Political Service. Political Officers needed the stamina and constitution of a horse to survive in the harsh terrain and extremes of climate in which they had to live and work; often in the most primitive conditions. This book captures those conditions, together with the grandeur, and paradoxical awesomeness and brooding silence of towering mountains, glaciers, and god-forsaken deserts that lie to India's north defying Man to unravel their timeless secrets.

The Indian Political Service was the buffer between British India on the one hand and on the other the Princely Indian States bound by treaty to Britain, independent and semi-independent forces of the East in China and Persia, and Russian and Afghan ambitions on India. Countering Russian and Afghan machinations, reconciling ferocious and feuding tribal chiefs, and pacifying haughty Indian Princes - happy by virtue of the British presence to enjoy undisturbed their sumptuous life-styles yet secretly resenting British power over them and fearful of their ultimate fate when the political cauldron bubbling in British India spilled over to force British withdrawal - required in Political Officers the wisdom of Solomon and intellectual honesty to an extraordinary degree. Sadly, the unrelenting demands of office, long absences from home and their roots in Britain, and a necessarily constricted and suffocating social life in the midst of ancient and alien societies extracted a heavy price in personal terms from Sons of the Empire like Skrine. And yet, when the Imperial Flag no longer fluttered proudly in the winds of Asia, England, to her eternal discredit, found no real place for the unique talents and experience of those same sons who had done their utmost to keep at bay the ever present forces of chaos and to increase, however infinitesimally, the sum of human happiness in vast stretches of the globe.

British Empire Book
John Stewart.
Porpoise Books


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