Baring, (Charles) Evelyn, first Baron Howick of Glendale 1903-1973, colonial governor, was born 29 September 1903 in London, the third son of Evelyn Baring, first Earl of Cromer [qv.], being the only child of his second marriage to Lady Katherine Thynne, daughter of the fourth Marquess of Bath. Lord Cromer was commissioner general of Egypt at the time the young Baring visited his father briefly in Cairo before the family finally settled in England on Cromer's retirement. Baring went to school at Winchester and in September 1921 to New College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class degree in history in 1924, and became an honorary fellow in 1960
From his early days at Winchester, Baring never showed any doubt that his duty lay in the British imperial service. He went straight from Oxford to the Indian Civil Service in 1926. There, in the United Provinces, first at Lucknow and then at Meerut, he acquired that taste for the small patina of rural administration that continued to excite him thirty years later as a governor and commander-in-chief. His major contribution to British imperial history was to lie in Africa. But it was actually not on behalf of the imperial government, but of the Indian government, that he first came to the African continent. He was sent in 1929 to be secretary to the agent of the government of India in Durban—a relatively new appointment intended to mitigate the hardship which Natal's Indian population were suffering at the hands of the South African government. It was a problem M. K. Gandhi [qv.] had wrestled with and inflamed only a few years previously
On Baring's return to India, in 1932, he did a short tour in the North-West Frontier before being struck down by amoebic dysentery which finished his career in the ICS. He returned to England, dogged by the disease and its after effects. It left him a lifelong teetotaller, condemned to a regime of strict dieting, and frequent periods of exhaustion
There was a brief intervention in the family bank, reluctantly joined by Baring. He soon found he had no great taste for City life, and turned down the offer of senior partnership in favour of joining the Sudan Development Company. His banking experience did, however, give him an insight into the world of high finance, development, and accounting which proved of benefit later in his dealings with treasuries and world banks in the colonies and at the Commonwealth Development Corporation. When war broke out in 1939 he was unfit for military service but joined the Foreign Office, in a temporary capacity, dealing mostly with Egypt. In July 1942 he was appointed governor of Southern Rhodesia at the age of thirty-eight. For him the desultory years since his departure from India were now at an end
In Rhodesia Baring again came to grips with Africa's racial problems. Whereas before in Durban he was fighting for the Indians, in Rhodesia he found he had to contend with the attitudes of whites towards blacks, which were already hardening. As Governor, he was a constitutional monarch, with little executive power—Rhodesia already had internal self-government. But he was able to do much by example, showing that his interests lay in African administration and agriculture, which was something not expected of the governor by the vast majority of whites who regarded His Excellency as their governor. The early experience in India had fired in him a lifelong enthusiasm for native agriculture, forestry, irrigation, land reclamation, birds, and botany, which were all available for him in profusion in the Rhodesian veld
In 1944 he was appointed to succeed the fourth Baron Harlech [qv.] as high commissioner to South Africa. This was a dual post combining responsibilities of an ambassador to Pretoria with those of governor of the three protectorates: Bechuanaland, Swaziland, and Basutoland. His tour encompassed the ending of the war, the last royal visit of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth, the eclipse of J. C. Smuts [qv.] in the 1948 election and the rise of D. F. Malan [qv.] and the Afrikaner nationalists. Nor were the territories always rural havens from high politics. The drama of the marriage of (Sir) Seretse Khama [qv.] and the Attlee government's reaction caused difficulties for Baring, which, at the time, he felt might irretrievably damage his reputation in Africa
He was wrong; and in 1952 was appointed governor of Kenya by (Sir) Winston Churchill. By the time he eventually arrived in Nairobi early signs of Kikuyu tribal disturbances had already blown up and one of his first acts had to be to declare a full-scale emergency
It was in Kenya during the 1950s that Baring faced his greatest challenge. Essentially a humane man, an administrator and developer, he had to prove himself capable of defeating an armed rebellion without either losing sight of his eventual objectives—prosperity for Africans and agricultural development in Kenya—or losing the ability to achieve those goals by his association with the counter-insurgency operation. It was not always easy. His military subordinates often chafed at their constraints; settlers complained and demonstrated. Perhaps it was only Baring's humanity which enabled the rebellion first to be contained and then, through the agricultural and rehabilitation programmes, turned to Kenya's ultimate advantage
When the rebellion was broken, in about 1956, a new middle-class African started to emerge under Baring's careful husbandry. The settlers, however, never trusted him until the end; and rightly, in the sense that his agricultural reforms introduced a fundamental change—at the European's expense—in the whole Kenyan agrarian economy. They were rushed through with a speed which would have been inconceivable except during the emergency
When he left Kenya in 1959 it was natural that he became chairman of the Colonial Development Corporation (1960-3)—later absorbed in the Commonwealth Development Corporation (1963-72)—and of the Nature Conservancy (1962-73), managing in his retirement to continue to indulge his two passions—development and wildlife. They provided welcome breaks from the hard practical work he plunged into when managing his own Northumbrian farms. He was also president of the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine (1967-73), chairman of the British North American Committee (1970-3), and a director of the Swan Hunter Group Ltd
What kind of man lurked behind this rather imposing proconsular facade? Was he just a remote patrician, as his critics said? He had aristocratic good looks certainly, but also a basic shyness throughout his life, which probably originated in his youth under the eccentric gaze of a mother and very odd aristocratic aunts. After his illness, he found solace in a passion for exercise, birds, and botany. Rock climbing absorbed him and led ultimately to his unnecessary death from a modest fall in March 1973. His absorption in birds and botany led to a naturalism of phenomenal detail. After his second visit to South Africa he developed a much deeper and fundamental Christian faith, which, though very private, seemed to shine out of him to all those who knew him. Indeed during the emergency in Kenya he prayed most days in his private chapel and, when in his last month in Kenya he saved an Indian girl from drowning, semi-conscious though he was, he was heard to be praying for her life, though nearly drowning himself in the process. For his bravery he was awarded the Queen's Commendation for Brave Conduct (1959)
Baring's life in many ways appeared as a natural extention of his father's. If Cromer in Egypt, and before that in India, served as a high watermark of British imperialism, his son's career showed the best side of Britain's eventual decline from imperialist power to partner, friend, and adviser-in-development, which defines the evolving relationship with her former colonies
In 1935 he married Lady Mary Cecil Grey, elder daughter of Charles Robert, fifth Earl Grey, whose home at Howick, Northumberland, was Baring's base through all the years of his service abroad, and then in his retirement. They had one son and two daughters. Baring was appointed KCMG in 1942, KCVO in 1947, GCMG in 1955, and KG in 1972. He had many honorary degrees. He received a hereditary barony in January 1960, and took the title Lord Howick of Glendale, in the county of Northumberland. He died 10 March 1973 and was succeeded in the barony by his son, Charles Evelyn (born 1937).
Charles Douglas-Home, Evelyn Baring, the Last Proconsul, 1978.
Contributor: Charles Douglas-Home