James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin: Wikis


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The Right Honourable
 The Earl of Elgin 

In office
1847 – 1854
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by The Earl Cathcart
Succeeded by Sir Edmund Walker Head, Bt

In office
21 March 1862 – 20 November 1863
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by The Earl Canning
Succeeded by Sir Robert Napier (acting)

Born 20 July 1811 (1811-07-20)
Died 20 November 1863 (aged 52)
Nationality British
Spouse(s) (1) Elizabeth Cumming-Bruce
(d. 1843)
(2) Lady Mary Lambton
(d. 1898)
Alma mater Christ Church, Oxford

James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine KT, GCB, PC (20 July 1811 – 20 November 1863) was a British colonial administrator and diplomat, he was the Governor General of the Province of Canada, a High Commissioner in charge of opening trades with China and Japan, and Viceroy of India.

Most notably he had helped prevent Canada from becoming unified with United States and ordered the complete destruction of the Old Summer Palace in China.


Early life and education

Lord Elgin was the son of the 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine and his second wife. Elgin's wife, Lady Mary Lambton, was a daughter of the 1st Earl of Durham, a prominent author of the Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839), and niece of the Colonial Secretary the 3rd Earl Grey. He had seven brothers and sisters and four half-sisters and one half-brother from his father's first marriage.[1]

Lord Elgin's father was much improverished by the purchase of the Elgin Marbles. Thomas James acquired the Marbles at great expense, and sold them to the British government for much less.[1]

He was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, graduated with a first in Classics in 1832. While at Oxford he became friends with William Gladstone.[1]


He was elected at the 1841 general election as a Member of Parliament for Southampton, but the election was declared void on petition. He did not stand in the resulting by-election.[2]



He became Governor of Jamaica in 1842, and in 1847 was appointed Governor General of Canada.


Under Lord Elgin, the first real attempts began at establishing responsible government in Canada. In 1848, the moderate reformers of both Canada East and Canada West, Louis-Hippolyte Lafontaine and Robert Baldwin, won their elections, and Lord Elgin asked them to form a government together. Lord Elgin became the first Governor General to remove himself from the affairs of the legislature, leading to the essentially symbolic role that the Governor-General has since had with regards to the political affairs of the country.

As Governor-General, he wrestled with the costs of receiving high levels of immigration in the Canadas, a major issue in the constant debate about immigration during the 19th century.

In 1849 the Baldwin-Lafontaine government passed the Rebellion Losses Bill, compensating French Canadians for losses suffered during the Rebellions of 1837. Lord Elgin signed the bill despite heated Tory opposition and his own personal misgivings, sparking riots in Quebec, during which Elgin himself was assaulted by an English-speaking mob and the Parliament buildings were burned down. The French-speaking minority in the Canadian legislature also unsuccessfully tried to have him removed from his post.

In 1849, the Stony Monday Riot took place in Bytown on Monday September 17. Tories and Reformists clashed over the planned visit of Lord Elgin, one man was killed and many sustained injuries. Two days later, the two political factions, armed with cannons, muskets and pistols faced off on the Sappers Bridge. Although the conflict was defused in time by the military, a general support for the Crown's representative, triumphed in Bytown (renamed Ottawa by Queen Victoria in 1854).

In 1854, Lord Elgin negotiated the Reciprocity Treaty with the United States in an attempt to stimulate the Canadian economy. Later that year, he signed the law that abolished the seigneurial system in Quebec, and then resigned as Governor-General.

China and Japan

In 1857 he became High Commissioner to China and traveled to China and Japan in 1858-59, where he led the bombing of Canton and oversaw the end of the Second Opium War by signing the Treaties of Tianjin on 26 June 1858.

In June 1860 he returned to China to assist with further attacks that were initially led by his brother. On October 18, 1860, Elgin, not having received the Chinese surrender and wishing to spare Beijing itself, ordered the complete destruction of the Yuan Ming Yuan (or Old Summer Palace) outside Beijing in retaliation for the imprisonment, torture, and execution of almost twenty European and Indian prisoners (including two British envoys and a journalist for The Times). The Old Summer Palace was a complex of palaces and gardens eight kilometers northwest of the walls of Beijing; it had been built during the 18th and early 19th centuries and was where the emperors of the Qing Dynasty resided and handled government affairs. An alternative account says that Elgin had initially considered the destruction of the Forbidden City, but fearing that it might interfere with the signing of the Convention of Beijing, which was where it was being negotiated, he opted for the destruction of the Old Summer Palace in its stead.[3] The destruction of the Old Summer Palace took 3,500 British troops to set the palace ablaze and three days for it to burn, an act still considered a painful vandalism and great shame in China. Elgin and his troops also managed to loot many treasures from Yuan Ming Yuan imperial gardens to Britain before the vandalism. Attacks on the Summer Palace, an UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1998, was also carried out as part of the retaliatory act but the extent of destruction were not as great as to Yuan Ming Yuan.

On 24 October 1860 Elgin signed the Convention of Beijing, which stipulated that China was to cede the part of Kowloon Peninsula, and Hong Kong in perpetuity to Britain.

In between Elgin's two trips to China he had visited Japan and signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Japan in August 1858, an unequal treaty that gave Japan semi-colonial status. The negotiation of this treaty was much eased by the recent signing of the Harris Treaty between Japan and United States.

Elgin was ambivalent about the British foreign policy on forcing illegal opium trades on the peoples of the Far East. It was not without internal struggle that he carried out the duty laid by Britain. In a letter to his wife, in regard to the bombing of Canton he wrote, ‘I never felt so ashamed of myself in my life.’ [1]


He became Viceroy of India in 1861, and died in Dharamasala in 1863. He was buried in the churchyard of St. John in the Wilderness.

Grave memorial in Dharamsala


The towns of Kincardine and Port Elgin in the Bruce County in Ontario are named after James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin and 12th Earl of Kincardine. Elgin Road in Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) is named after him. Elgin County in Ontario, Elgin, New Brunswick, and Elgin Street in Ottawa, Ontario are also named after him.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d Oxford Dictionary of National Biography entry on James Bruce, http://www.oxforddnb.com/ Accessed on 20th March 2009.
  2. ^ Craig, F. W. S. (1989) [1977]. British parliamentary election results 1832–1885 (2nd ed.). Chichester: Parliamentary Research Services. p. 279. ISBN 0-900178-26-4.  
  3. ^ Harris, David. Van Slyke, Lyman P. (2000)


  • Wrong, George M. The Earl of Elgin. Toronto : G.N. Morang, 1906. Also digitized by Canadian Institute for Historical Microreproductions 2003.
  • Morison, John Lyle. The eighth Earl of Elgin : a chapter in nineteenth-century imperial history. London : Hodder and Stoughton, 1928.
  • Narrative of the Earl of Elgin's mission to China and Japan, 1857-8-9 (2 volumes), Laurence Oliphant, 1859 (reprinted by Oxford University Press, 1970) {No ISBN}
  • Checkland, S.G. The Elgins 1766-1917 : a tale of aristocrats, proconsuls and their wives. Aberdeen : Aberdeen University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-08-036395-4.
  • Harris, David. Van Slyke, Lyman P. (2000). Of Battle and Beauty: Felice Beato's Photographs of China. University of California Press. ISBN 0899511007.
  • John Newsinger, 'Elgin in China,' The New Left Review, 15 May/June, 2002. pp. 119-40.
  • James L. Hevia, English Lessons: The Pedagogy of Imperialism in Nineteenth-Century China (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003)
  • Moving Here, Staying Here: The Canadian Immigrant Experience at Library and Archives Canada - A letter from Lord Elgin, Governor General of the Canadas, to the Colonial Office

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Abel Rous Dottin
Viscount Duncan
Member of Parliament for Southampton
with Charles Cecil Martyn

Succeeded by
Humphrey St John Mildmay
George William Hope
Political offices
Preceded by
The Lord Colchester
Postmaster General
Succeeded by
The Lord Stanley of Alderley
Government offices
Preceded by
Sir Charles Metcalfe
Governor of Jamaica
Succeeded by
George Henry Frederick Berkeley, acting
Preceded by
The Earl Cathcart
Governor General of the Province of Canada
Succeeded by
Sir Edmund Walker Head, Bt
Preceded by
The Earl Canning
Viceroy of India
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Napier (acting)
Honorary titles
Preceded by
James Erskine Wemyss
Lord Lieutenant of Fife
Succeeded by
James Hay Erskine Wemyss
Academic offices
Preceded by
The Earl Cathcart
Chancellor of King's College
Succeeded by
Peter Boyle de Blaquière as Chancellor of the University of Toronto
Preceded by
Baron Lytton
Rector of the University of Glasgow
Succeeded by
Viscount Palmerston
Peerage of Scotland
Preceded by
Thomas Bruce
Earl of Elgin
Succeeded by
Victor Bruce


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