James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin

James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin

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, best known as the man who ordered the complete destruction of the Old Summer Palace in the Second Opium War by 3,500 British soldiers and as the Governor General of the Province of Canada and Viceroy of India. He was the son of the 7th Earl of Elgin and 11th Earl of Kincardine. His second wife was Lady Mary Lambton, daughter of the 1st Earl of Durham, the author of the groundbreaking "Report on the Affairs of British North America (1839)", and niece of the Colonial Secretary the 3rd Earl Grey.

Career and life


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 oversaw the end of the Second Opium War and ordered the destruction of the "Yuanming Yuan" (or Old Summer Palace) outside Beijing. 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 (the Forbidden City inside Beijing was only used for formal ceremonies). On October 18, 1860, Elgin, not having received the Chinese surrender and wishing to spare Beijing itself, ordered the huge complex destroyed in retaliation for the imprisonment, torture, and execution of several British diplomatic envoys. It took 3,500 British troops to set the palace ablaze and three days for it to burn.

Elgin also signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Japan in August 1858, soon after the Harris Treaty.


He became Viceroy of India in 1861, and died in Dharamasala in 1863.


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.

See also

*List of Lieutenant Governors of Ontario
*List of Lieutenant Governors of Quebec
*Anglo-Japanese relations
*Anglo-Chinese relations


* 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.
* 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)
* [http://www.collectionscanada.ca/immigrants/021017-2112.02-e.html 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

*gutenberg author| id=James+Eighth+Earl+of+Elgin | name=James Bruce, 8th Earl of Elgin
* [http://www.biographi.ca/009004-119.01-e.php?&id_nbr=4324 Biography at the "Dictionary of Canadian Biography Online"]
* Erik Ringmar, " [http://www.archive.org/download/LiberalBarbarismAndTheOrientalSublimeTheEuropeanDestructionOfThe/ErikRingmarLiberalBarbarism.pdf Liberal Barbarism and the Oriental Sublime: The European Destruction of the Emperor’s Summer Palace] ,” "Millennium", 34:3, 2006. pp. 917-33.
* Lord Elgin, “ [http://ringmar.net/europeanfury/?page_id=1601 Second Mission to China, 1860] ,” from "Extracts from the Letters of James, Earl of Elgin to Mary Louisa, Countess of Elgin, 1847-1862" (London, 1864)

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