John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley

John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley

John Wodehouse, 1st Earl of Kimberley KG , PC (1826-1902), English statesman, was born on 7 January 1826, being the eldest son of the Hon. Henry Wodehouse and grandson of the 2nd Baron Wodehouse (the barony dating from 1797), whom he succeeded in 1846.

Early life and education

Born in Wymondham, Norfolk in 1826, he was educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, where he took a first-class degree in classics in 1847; in the same year he married Lady Florence Fitzgibbon (d. 1895), daughter of the last Earl of Clare.

Early Career (1852-70)

He was by inheritance a Liberal in politics, and in 1852-1856 and 1859-1861 he was Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs in Lord Aberdeen's and Lord Palmerston's ministries.

In the interval (1856-1858) he had been envoy-extraordinary to Russia; and in 1863 he was sent on a special mission to Copenhagen on the forlorn hope of finding a peaceful solution of the Schleswig-Holstein question. The mission was a failure, but probably nothing else was possible.

In 1864 he became Under-Secretary of State for India, but towards the end of the year was made Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In that capacity he had to grapple with the first manifestations of Fenianism, and in recognition of his vigour and success he was created (1866) Earl of Kimberley. In July 1866 he vacated his office with the fall of Lord Russell's ministry, but in 1868 he became Lord Privy Seal in Gladstone's cabinet, and in July 1870 was transferred from that post to be Secretary of State for the Colonies.

It was the moment of the great diamond discoveries in South Africa, and the new town of Kimberley, Northern Cape was named after the Colonial Secretary of the day.

Later Career (1871-1902)

After an interval in opposition from 1874 to 1880, Lord Kimberley returned to the Colonial Office in Gladstone's next ministry; but at the end of 1882 he exchanged this office first for that of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and then for the secretaryship of state for India, a post he retained during the remainder of Gladstone's tenure of power (1882-1885, 1886, 1892-1894), though in 1892-1894 he combined with it that of the lord presidency of the council.

In Lord Rosebery's cabinet (1894-1895) he was Foreign Secretary. During this time he signed the landmark Anglo-Japanese Treaty of Commerce and Navigation. Sir Edward Grey who served as Parliamentary Under-Secretary under Kimberley at the Foreign Office portrays him unfavourably as prolix and prone to irrelevant digressions in conversation although "concise, definite and clear" on paper. [Viscount Grey, "Twenty Five Years, 1892-1916" (London, 1925) p.18.]


Lord Kimberley was an admirable departmental chief, but it is difficult to associate his own personality with any ministerial act during his occupation of all these posts. He was at the colonial office when responsible government was granted to Cape Colony, when British Columbia was added to the Dominion of Canada, and during the Boer War of 1880-1881, with its conclusion at Majuba; and he was foreign secretary when the misunderstanding arose with Germany over the proposed lease of territory from the Congo Free State for the Cape to Cairo route. He was essentially a loyal Gladstonian party man. His moderation, common sense, and patriotism had their influence, nevertheless, on his colleagues. As leader of the Liberal party in the House of Lords he acted with undeviating dignity; and in opposition he was a courteous antagonist and a critic of weight and experience. He took considerable interest in education, and after being for many years a member of the senate of the University of London, he became its chancellor in 1899. He died in London on April 8, 1902.



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