Eden, George, Earl of Auckland 1784-1849, statesman and governor-general of India, second son of William Eden, first baron Auckland [qv.], by Eleanor Elliot, sister of the first Earl of Minto, was born at Eden Farm, near Beckenham in Kent, on 25 Aug. 1784. As a younger son he was at first intended for a professional career. He matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford, 3 May 1802, proceeded Bachelor of Arts 1806, and M.A. 1808. He was called to the bar at Lincoln's Inn on 13 May 1809, and was under-teller of the exchequer from 1809 to 1812. His elder brother, William Frederick Eden, M.P. for Woodstock, was found drowned in the Thames on 24 Feb. 1810, and George succeeded to his brother's seat in the House of Commons on 10 March. He sat until the dissolution of 1812, when he was defeated at Oxford, and was re-elected for Woodstock in Nov. 1813. On 28 May 1814 he succeeded his father as second Lord Auckland. His father, in early days the intimate friend of Pitt, supported Addington in 1804. The second Lord Auckland had thus imbibed whig ideas. He voted and spoke consistently with the whig party during the long period succeeding the battle of Waterloo, when it remained in opposition. His constant attendance in the House of Lords and plain common sense commended him highly to whig leaders, and when Lord Grey formed his reform ministry in Nov. 1830 he gave Auckland a seat in his cabinet, with the offices of president of the board of trade and master of the mint. He was also commissioner of Greenwich Hospital from 1829 to 1834. He proved himself a capable official. In July 1834 Earl Grey retired, followed by Sir James Graham, Lord Stanley, the Duke of Richmond, and the Earl of Ripon, and Lord Melbourne had to reconstitute the whig ministry. Auckland was chosen to succeed Sir James Graham as first lord of the admiralty. He went out of office with Lord Melbourne in December 1834, and returned to his old post in April 1835, after Sir Robert Peel's short administration, and was soon after made a G.C.B. But he did not long remain in office, for in September 1835 Lord Melbourne decided to revoke Sir Robert Peel's nomination of Lord Heytesbury to the governor-generalship of India, and on his recommendation the court of directors accepted Auckland as Lord William Bentinck's successor.
When Auckland reached Calcutta in February 1836, he found the government in the hands of Sir Charles (afterwards Lord) Metcalfe, who as senior member of council had acted as governor-general since the departure of Lord William Bentinck. Everything was perfectly quiet in India. Auckland's term of government might have been as uneventful as his predecessor's had he not decided to interfere in the affairs of Afghanistan. His uncle, Lord Minto, had first opened communications with that country in 1809, when he had sent Mountstuart Elphinstone [qv.] to form a defensive alliance with Sháh Shujá in his apprehension of French intrigues. In 1837 Auckland sent Sir Alexander Burnes [qv.] to Cabul on a somewhat similar mission, though his apprehension was rather of Russian than of French intervention. Dost Muhammád, the able usurper, who had driven Sháh Shujá into exile more than twenty years before, received Burnes courteously, but when he found that the English had no idea of helping him to recover Pesháwur from the Sikhs, he promptly dismissed him from his court. It was then that Auckland adopted the policy of driving out Dost Muhammád and reinstating Sháh Shujá on the throne. It was said that this course was forced upon him by his advisers, but he cannot be acquitted of the blame of listening to them, and having allowed the outbreak of a foolish and eventually disastrous war. On 1 Oct. 1838 Auckland issued his manifesto dethroning Dost Muhammád. Sir Henry Fane, the commander-in-chief, refused to have anything to do with the operations, and it was left for Sir John Keane to enter Cabul on 6 Aug. 1839, and place Sháh Shujá on the throne again. The news of these operations was received with enthusiasm in England. Keane was made a peer, and Auckland was created Lord Eden of Norwood, Surrey, and Earl of Auckland, on 21 Dec. 1839. As he received much of the credit accruing to the successful issue of the Afghan campaign of 1839, he must bear the blame of the disasters of 1841. He failed to recognise the weakness of Sháh Shujá and the independent character of the Afghans, and he allowed the garrison of Cabul to be reduced to a dangerously small force under the command of an incompetent general [see Elphinstone, George William Keith]. He was still in office when the catastrophe of November 1841 took place, but was only holding office until the arrival of his successor; for Sir Robert Peel, on taking office in September 1841, had not forgotten the slight put upon his nomination in 1835 by Lord Melbourne, and had at once sent letters to recall Auckland. In February 1842 Lord Ellenborough arrived, and it was left to him to repair the errors of Auckland's administration. Apart from his Afghan policy, Auckland had proved a good governor-general, for he was undoubtedly an able official, and his visit to the north-western provinces during the famine of 1838, and the relief works he sanctioned there, mark an epoch in the history of Indian famines (see Hunter, Imp. Gazetteer of India, x. 391).
On his return to England he allied himself again with the whig party. When Lord John Russell formed his administration in 1846, Auckland entered the cabinet as first lord of the admiralty. But his health had been undermined by his residence in India, and on 30 Dec. 1848 he was seized with a fit while out shooting with a party of friends, and died on 1 Jan. 1849 at the Grange, near Alresford, Hampshire, the seat of Lord Ashburton. At the time of his death he was president of the Royal Asiatic Society, president of the senate of University College, London, vice-president of the Horticultural and Zoological Societies, and a trustee of the British Museum. He was buried at Beckenham on 6 Jan., and as he died unmarried the earldom of Auckland and the barony of Eden became extinct, but he was succeeded as Lord Auckland by his brother, Robert John Eden [qv.], who was consecrated bishop of Sodor and Man in 1847, translated to the bishopric of Bath and Wells in 1854, and died in 1870.
Gent. Mag. February 1849
Higginbotham's Men whom India has known
Journal in India in 1837 and 1838 by the Hon. Eleanor Eden, Lord Auckland's sister. On Auckland's Afghan policy the best book is Sir J. W. Kaye's History of the Afghan War.
Contributor: H. M. S. [Henry Morse Stephens]