Wednesday, February 6, 2019

Montagu and the Indian tiger

‘When they came after the tiger, throwing at it hand grenades, firing blank cartridges, and so forth, in order to move it and prevent it charging back, flying foxes were disturbed from the trees, peacocks moved backwards and forwards, parrots flew about; four sambhur passed before my first shot at the tiger, but I am afraid I did not see them. It is a very artificial form of sport, but it gave me sufficient thrill to last me a lifetime.’ This is Edwin Montagu, an early 20th century British Liberal politician born 140 years ago today, best remembered for his stint as Secretary of State for India, or perhaps for his marriage to Venetia. Though the marriage was one of social convenience (she had had an illegitimate child beforehand, and continued to have affairs after), they remained together throughout Montagu’s short life; and it was Venetia that edited Montagu’s India diaries for publication.

Montagu was born in London to Samuel Montagu, 1st Baron Swaythling, a rich banker and his Jewish wife Ellen, on 6 February 1879. He was educated at Clifton College boarding school and the City of London School before studying biology at University College London and Trinity College, Cambridge. In 1902, he was elected president of the Cambridge Union. The following year he joined a firm of solicitors, but was soon more interested in politics than the law. He became friends with Raymond Asquith, son of H. H. Asquith, and was recruited as a speaker for the Liberal Party. Then, in the 1906 general election, he was elected Member of Parliament for Chesterton. Asquith, who was made Chancellor of the Exchequer, appointed Montagu as his parliamentary private secretary.

In 1910, Asquith, by now Prime Minister, promoted Montagu to the post of Under-Secretary of State for India, to Financial Secretary to the Treasury, and then to Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster (with a seat in the Cabinet). In 1915, he was sworn of the Privy Council, and a year later was appointed Minister of Munitions. Although initially left out of David Lloyd George’s coalition government at the end of 1916, he was appointed Secretary of State for India in mid-1917, a position he had sought, and which he then held until 1922. Wikipedia says, he was primarily responsible for the Montagu-Chelmsford Reforms which led to the Government of India Act 1919, committing the British to the eventual evolution of India towards dominion status.

In 1915, Montagu married Venetia Stanley, a friend of Asquith’s daughter, after she had converted to Judaism. For several years prior to the marriage, she had been courted by Asquith as well as Montagu. The union was not a conventional one (Venetia had several affairs); it did however produce one daughter, though historians believe Montagu was not the father. A 2012 book, Bobbie Neate’s Conspiracy of Secrets, suggests that the marriage was one of social convenience, to cover Montagu’s homosexuality, and Venetia’s earlier affair with Asquith (which had produced an illegitimate child - Louis Stanley, who was Neate’s stepfather). Montagu is also remembered for his strident anti-zionist stance, and his opposition to the Balfour Declaration of 1917 (for more on this see How I saved the Balfour papers!). Montagu lost his seat in the 1922 general election which delivered a landslide for the Conservatives. He died soon after, in 1924, aged only 45, from an unknown cause. Further information is available at Wikipedia, Liberal History, Spartacus, or the Zionism website.

From his first day on the sub-continent as Secretary of State for India - having arrived in Bombay in late 1917 - Montagu kept a detailed diary. His main purpose was to keep the Prime Minister, Lloyd George, informed of his progress: batches of his diary were regularly sent back to London by mail. After his death, Montagu’s wife, Venetia, edited the diary which was published by William Heinemann in 1930 as An Indian Diary (freely available at Internet Archive). In a short preface, Venetia explains: ‘Now that India is looming so largely in the public eye, I have thought it a fitting time to give this document to the world, hoping that it may help to make a little clearer the great part which the writer played in India’s destinies.’ ‘When he resigned in 1922,’ she adds, ‘he seemed, in saying good-bye to his work for India, to lose the greater part of his interest in life; he was never the same man again.’

The diary was dictated to a secretary ‘at all times and places, sometimes on the back of an elephant, miles out in the jungle’. These week-end shooting trips, Venetia says, ‘were the only way by which he could save himself from a severe breakdown, which indeed continually threatened him’. She continues: ‘Whether he was the guest of honour at a vast tiger-shoot, with 1,500 beaters in a Native State, or standing up to his waist in water for the chance of bagging a few couple of snipe, he was able for the moment to forget his troubles, which had usually redoubled themselves by the time the train steamed into Delhi on each successive Black Monday morning.’ She concludes: ‘I hope that the publication of this diary may [. . .] throw some light on an extraordinarily complex personality whom the great world never understood, but his intimate friends and colleagues knew to be passionately sincere and generous to a fault.’

Naomi B. Levine, in her biography Politics, Religion, and Love: The Story of H. H. Asquith, Venetia Stanley, and Edwin Montagu, rates Montagu’s diary highly. ‘[It] was more than a travelogue and a description of sunsets, flame trees, panther shoots and wild birds. Its chief importance lies in its political observations and warnings. The language of the diary was often sharp and brutally frank and included Montagu’s evaluation of the Indian Civil Service, the military, the police, the Viceroy and the Council, Muslims and Hindus, the abject poverty that existed side by side with the extraordinary luxury of the British raj and the Indian ruling classes and the attitude of the Muslims to Turkey. Most importantly, the diary was a condemnation of British snobbery and racism and the hostility it was creating among educated Indians, which Montagu correctly foresaw as encouraging extremism and ultimately destroying British rule.’

Here are several extracts.

18 November 1917.
‘Lord Chelmsford, Maffey and I left last night at a quarter to eleven for Gagrania. We slept in the train, had an early breakfast, and an excellent but very hard day’s snipe shooting. Net result, thirty-five brace. I think we all shot very well, considering it was very hot and we were up to our knees in water, having to pull our legs each time out of the mud, so that by half-past three we were all exhausted, Chelmsford and I physically, and Maffey being unable to shoot straight. It was a jolly, long gheel completely overgrown - the old bed of the Jumna. All the arrangements, including the carriage to drive five miles, and the bullock wagons, three, to drive one, had been made by a little local Nawab. Bitterns, demoiselle cranes, marsh harriers, fish eagles, big white-breasted blue kingfisher, a jackal, seven sisters, sparrow hawks, shrikes, innumerable doves were the chief birds we saw, and one cattle egret and a large heron. Two of the snipe were painted, and there was a large proportion of jacks in the morning.

The day was by no means wasted. I got far closer to Chelmsford than I have ever got before. I like him better than ever, but I cannot find any vigour or personality in him: great conscientiousness, eager desire for smooth running, complete armoury of consultation. He assured me that he was one of the majority of his Committee. He tells me that the Council were unanimous about Mrs. Besant. I am to see Tilak in a deputation, but not in an interview. He feels that the cross-examination which I submit people to is doing a lot of good. He seems hardening against the splitting of the Viceroyalty. I ventured to come closer to expressing the inadequacy of the Government of India scheme, but I would not express an opinion until I had seen my colleagues.

I forgot to record on Saturday night that we had just had the most depressing information that General Maude was critically ill with cholera. Just before leaving late on Saturday night we heard the news that he had taken a slight turn for the better. I gather that any improvement in cholera is usually hopeful.

We have just heard that General Maude died last night. It is a horrible tragedy at the most critical moment in the Mesopotamian trouble. After consultation with Lord Chelmsford, I felt that I should send a telegram to London suggesting that Sir Charles Munro should go at once to Mesopotamia, and that Kirkpatrick, whom Chelmsford assures me could carry on here, should act as Commander-in-Chicf, subject to the possibilities that the Acts of Parliament permit this arrangement. However, I saw Munro on Monday morning, and although he admits the advantage that he probably knew more intimately Maude’s plans than any other living man, he feels himself, with much regret, too old for Mesopotamia, and as he is very lame and looks very old, I think this is probably true. I hear to-night (Monday) that the War Office have appointed Marshall.’

3 December 1917
‘I suppose I must keep up this wretched practice, so boring to me, and so difficult to discharge efficiently, of recording my proceedings. I do not think I give a thought, waking, and, I fear, sometimes sleeping, to anything but Indian reforms, except for the hour a day which I try to keep for exercise. I read my papers before breakfast, and begin the serried series of deputations and memoranda, copies of which for yesterday and to-day are appended to these notes.

To-day began with four formal deputations. Here it is not necessary to go to a tent. We have a large room with two thrones on the first floor, the drawing-room at nighttime, and certainly under Gourlay’s management these formal deputations go very quickly.

One of these deputations was from the Anglo-Indian Association, which really repeated very much the same tale as we had heard from the All-India Association, this being the Bengal branch.

The other three were interesting. One was from the Bengal Chamber of Commerce, and contained the leaders of the great movement which so forcibly protested against my visit, headed by Sir Hugh Bray, all English; and another was the Calcutta Trades Association of retail traders, equally English and even more prejudiced. Sandwiched between them came the British Indian Association, a more or less conservative body, headed by the Maharajadhiraja Bahadur of Burdwan, the best type of conservative Indian.’

5 December 1917
‘To-day we have had the usual weary round - deputations from various Moslem bodies this morning, the Moslem Association, the Moslem League, and so on, and this afternoon we have had two deputations from Assam.

The Moslem Association pretends to be more conservative than the Moslem League, but submitted an appendix to its suggestions, which was really just as extreme. They were very nice people, and explained that we were to take no notice of the appendix, which really did not represent their views.

The Moslem League was very, very vehement, and I had a long and interesting argument - because he was a very intelligent man - with one of their members, Aminur Rahman, who is certainly very sincere, and does not see any of the difficulties of the Congress Moslem League scheme. He certainly helped me to come nearer to responsible government.’

4 January 1918
‘Breakfast at nine, and the start for the scene of slaughter at quarter to eleven. Twenty miles drive through typical Gwalior country, along dusty roads, with sparse bushes in the sandy and rocky desert. No wonder that it is a good country for tigers, because a tiger, wandering round this detestable and appalling country, finds a beautiful ravine, with water in it, luxuriant, with trees and thick jungle, and remains there; so you know where to look for him. We got to our meeting place, where there were horses and three elephants with howdahs to ride, a dandy in which anybody could be carried who wished it, a whole group of coolies, and a regiment of 400 soldiers to beat. I got on to an elephant and was hurtled over the rocks for about one and a half miles - a very uncomfortable elephant to sit on. Then we got down and walked on tiptoe into the ravine. Right across this ravine stretches a high wall, or rather two high walls, with a passage down in the ravine between them. In the very bottom of this ravine on the wall is a three-storied tower, at the top of which, sheltered partly by a stone awning, sit the guns. The middle story is occupied by a luncheon-room, and the lower story by a sort of cellar. Beyond the tower comes an interruption, and then a smaller wall going up the other side. We got into the tower very quietly and stood whilst the beat came up to us from the shorter side of the ravine. It came quietly, making no noise, and there was no tiger. Nothing appeared, save one peacock and some squirrels. Then we turned round and faced the other way. This time a longer drive took place, accompanied by what the Indians call - a name which we have borrowed - a hullabaloo. Tomtoms beat; there were great shouts and dreadful noises, so that the tiger should start a long way off and come quietly. Nothing had apparently been expected from the first drive; from the second drive great things were hoped for, because a buffalo had been killed on the top and dragged by the tiger down to the valley. It was not long after the beat started before, right in the middle of the ravine, and by some water, I saw the tiger coming out, walking very slowly, about 60 yards away from me - walking towards me, showing his left side at an angle of 45 degrees. I aimed as carefully as my excitement would let me, and had the satisfaction of seeing the tiger sit down on his hind legs, put his head right up, and then roll right over. Before I could get in another shot, however, he was off, crawling lop-sidedly, and leaving behind much blood. The beat was then stopped; the elephants were obtained, but nobody was allowed to go on them because they were notoriously unsteady, and there were reported to be bees in the jungle. They soon sighted the tiger going back towards the beaters. These were then removed, and Gwalior went round to join the beaters. What happened afterwards took almost till dark, but I gather that the tiger was seen crossing a ride towards us, turned by a shot by one of Gwalior’s staff, which missed it. He is not popular for this. He then charged an elephant which was sent for in the middle of the beat. The elephant bolted, and has not been seen since, but a man on the elephant, who was much hurt in the flight, succeeded in getting two shots at it, one of which hit it. It then, now severely wounded, charged a man, and I fear hurt him, but not badly, and was finally despatched lying in some water. It is a fine male tiger, 9 ft. 5 in. long, with a short tail. I do not know how one ought to have dealt with the matter; certainly things were much bungled after the tiger was wounded, I think because of the extraordinary, almost impenetrable, nature of the jungle and the fact that we had no tracker. However, I looked at its body. No shot could have been better than mine; it hit the tiger in exactly the right place. I cannot think why it did not kill it. I am not at all sure that I am happy about Laverton’s split bullets. However, the day was successful. I cannot help thinking about the man, about whom I am sure everything is all right.

We came home thoroughly tired with excitement; could hardly keep awake for dinner, and went to bed immediately afterwards, where I slept from ten to six without moving, a great deal for me.
When they came after the tiger, throwing at it hand grenades, firing blank cartridges, and so forth, in order to move it and prevent it charging back, flying foxes were disturbed from the trees, peacocks moved backwards and forwards, parrots flew about; four sambhur passed before my first shot at the tiger, but I am afraid I did not see them. It is a very artificial form of sport, but it gave me sufficient thrill to last me a lifetime.’

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