Evelyn Baring was the most influential British administrator in Egypt and remained in his position as British Agent and Consul General for 24 years.
He was born on 26th Feb 1841 the son of the banker and politician Henry Baring of Cromer Hall, Norfolk. His grandfather Sir Francis Baring had founded the famous bank in 1762 and it lasted until 1995 when it collapsed following Nick Leeson's unwise investments.
He graduated from RMA Woolwich at the age of 17 and was commissioned into the Royal Artillery. He served in Corfu where he learned Greek and Italian and had an affair which produced a daughter. He was then posted to Malta and Jamaica as ADC to Sir Henry Storks, followed by Staff College where he graduated first in his class in 1869. At the War Office he realised that military life did not suit him and he went to India to work as private secretary to the viceroy, Lord Northbrook, his cousin.
His work in India impressed his superiors but he was not good at forming friendships with his colleagues who dubbed him 'Vice-Viceroy' and 'Over Baring'. He was a typical colonial administrator, being over-confident and condescending, describing the Indian people as subject races. He had at first entertained ideas of self-determination but came to the conclusion that the British were the most effective rulers, and that strong rule accompanied by reform programmes was the only way to help the indigenous population.
His first tour of duty in Egypt was in 1877 as representative of the British holders of Egyptian Bonds on the recently created Egyptian Public Debt Commission. This was set up to help the Khedive, Ismail Pasha, out of his financial difficulties. Baring realised that the finances were in a worse state than he could have imagined and he set about taking drastic measures to rectify the situation. Ismail Pasha refused to co-operate so Baring resigned and returned to England.
He went back to India in 1880 as a member of the Viceroy's council with responsibility for financial matters but after the British replaced Ismail Pasha and took control of Egypt in 1882 he was appointed Agent and Consul General with plenipotentiary powers. He was now Sir Evelyn Baring having been knighted before taking up his post in 1883. He set about making widespread reforms in administration, bringing in staff from India to be placed in key positions as advisors. He was able to rule the country without interference from the Khedive, Tawfiq Pasha, who was not a strong character. He also encouraged changes in agricultural methods and irrigation which brought about greater prosperity for the Egyptians. His form of government came to be called the Veiled Protectorate. He succeeded in bringing financial solvency to the country which had been bankrupt after Egyptian cotton came to be replaced by American cotton. The Egyptian government allowed its army to be completely overhauled and restyled along British lines, and they were also forced to give up the idea of recapturing the Sudan after the Mahdi had wrested it from Egyptian control.
In 1892 a new Khedive, Abbas Himli II, replaced Tawfiq and tried to rid Egypt of the Veiled Protectorate, but Baring, who was created Lord Cromer in 1892, asserted his authority and managed to intimidate the young Khedive. Throughout his long period of administration, Cromer worked hard at his job, starting early and finishing late with a 2-hour break for exercise in the afternoon. He found time to learn Turkish the language spoken by the Egyptian elite but the ordinary Egyptians spoke Arabic which he never learned. He became more aloof with age and was dismissive of the rising nationalist movement. He worked hard to bring about the Entente Cordiale with France in 1904 which set the seal on the permanent occupation of Egypt.
In 1907 there was an incident in the village of Dinshwai in which a British officer was killed. The reprisals were brutal, causing outrage in Egypt and also in the new Liberal British government under Campbell-Bannerman. Lord Cromer was on home leave at the time but he now felt that the time was right for him to retire. In England he spent his time writing books about Egypt, and speaking on free trade in the House of Lords and opposing women's suffrage. He presided over the Dardanelles Commission in 1916 but his health was deteriorating and he died on 29th Jan 1917. He married his first wife in 1876 but she died in 1898 and he married Lady Katherine Thynne daughter of the 4th Marquess of Bath.
'There was a certain amount of gaiety and entertainment at the Palace. Lord Cromer came up from Cairo with a large party, including his new and comfortable-looking wife, the Gleichens* and others. He stopped at the Palace, and one day a garden party was given in his honour. It was a most picturesque affair. The really charming gardens were filled with natives and sheikhs in every conceivable variety of coloured costumes, with officers of the Egyptian army in white and gold, and scarlet fezzes. We in our bright red tunics. It was an impressive moment when Lord Cromer walked down the Palace steps in the midst of all this magnificence gathered to do him honour, dressed in an ill-fitting khaki tunic and trousers, an old sun helmet and the star of some order in brilliants tacked on his left breast. As he appeared the band played "the King", we all saluted, and the sheikhs and other notables threw themselves full length on the ground. It was a striking example of the prestige of the man and of the country he represents....A few days later Lord Cromer took the whole of his party up the White Nile for a trip to Fashoda without telling any one of them where or how far he was going... On their return there was a banquet at the Grand Hotel (sic), and Lord Cromer announced to an interested universe that the White Nile was open to tourist traffic. The tourist, as a matter of fact, has been with us for some time now. Cooks arrange a 7-day tour from Cairo.'
* Major-General Lord Edward Gleichen, related to Queen Victoria, was the Sudan Agent in Cairo from 1901 to 1903.
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