George Nathniel Curzon of Kedleston
His journeys took him all over the Far East
Curzon was an English stateman who was born in 1859 at Kedleston Hall in Derbyshire, the eldest son of Baron Scarsdale. After a promising career at Eton he failed to get a first in classics at Oxford but his subsequent brilliance gained him a fellowship of All Souls in 1883. In 1886 he was elected as Conservative MP for Southport. The following year he began a series of journeys which took him to the Far East and gave him a deep insight into oriental affairs as well as establishing links with a number of eastern rulers, all of which made him eminently suitable for work in foreign affairs. He visited the Far East and India (1887-88 and 1892) Russia and the Caucasus (1888-1889), Persia (1889-1890) and Afghanistan and the route of the Oxus (1894) before writing three works on Asiatic Russia (1889), Persia (1892), and the economic problems of the Far East (1894) which won his respect at Westminster at the age of 35, as the leading authority on imperial borders in Asia. He became under-secretary for India (1891) and then was appointed Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Foreign Affairs from 1895 to 1898, where he helped to promote a more aggressive imperial pride and interest in colonial affairs.
The Youngest Viceroy of India
Curzon was created a Baron in 1898 and in January 1898 began a seven year term as Viceroy of India. He was the youngest of all Viceroys and the most active. He seemed to be constantly at war with his officials, but he introduced many reforms. He gave his full attention to the detail of education and its improvement, the public services and communications. He encouraged agricultural schemes, particularly irrigation projects. He strengthened the north west frontier which he organised as a province. He did though create a lot of opposition by dividing Bengal into eastern and western parts, and also by quarrelling with Kitchener, who became Commander-in-Chief in 1903, over he dual control of the Indian army.
Little interest in public affairs after 1905
After 1905 he took little part in public affairs and began to take more interest in art, archaeology and university reform but was called up to the War Cabinet in 1916. He became Foreign Secretary in 1919 and had to deal with the question of Turkish borders which were eventually settled by the Treaty of Lausanne following the Chanak War. Having been created an earl in 1911 he was made a marquess in 1921 although when King George came to select a new Prime Minister in 1923 Curzon was disappointed to be overlooked because he was not sitting in the House of Commons. His haughty arrogance made him many political enemies. At the time of his death he was Lord President of the Council in Baldwin’s second Ministry.
An abrasive character
Curzon was an abrasive character who had great self-belief and faith in his own infallibility. He appeared unapproachable and arrogant to his colonial servants but his energy and courage mark him out as one of the outstanding imperial servants of his time especially as he suffered from a physical handicap – a curvature of the spine from an early age.