Baring, John, second Baron Revelstoke 1863-1929, merchant banker, was born 7 September 1863 in Kingston upon Thames, the eldest in the family of five sons and three daughters (another two sons, one of them older than John, died in infancy) of Edward Charles Baring, later first Baron Revelstoke, of London and Membland, Devon, and his wife, Louisa Emily Charlotte, daughter of John Crocker Bulteel of Lyneham, Devon. He was educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, where he did not sit for a degree. John Barings father had been from 1882 senior partner in the merchant bank of Baring Brothers, and he himself joined the firm on leaving Cambridge, served his apprenticeship as a clerk, travelled widely in North and South America, and was made a full partner early in 1890.
The year 1890 was that of the Baring crisis, when the partners of Barings, largely through mismanagement of a major transaction in Argentina, found themselves in difficulties from which they had to be rescued by a group of City banks and financial houses organized by the Bank of England. The partnership was successfully liquidated over a period of years and it was left to John Baring to rebuild the business in the form of a limited company. Considering his age and lack of experience, he accomplished a remarkable feat in restoring the name of Barings to something like its former eminence within a decade.
John Baring succeeded to the Revelstoke title in 1897, on the death of his father in July. From a restored base at Barings, where he exercised autocratic leadership and took almost 50 per cent of the distributed profits (amassing thereby a considerable personal fortune), Revelstoke exercised great influence in the City and Whitehall, though always remaining in the background of public affairs.
The routine business of Barings was its financing of foreign trade, but larger rewards and wider recognition came from arranging finance, mostly by bond issues, for sovereign states and industrial empires. Here Revelstoke was in his element; acute intelligence and charm, capacity for meticulous work, presence and eloquence, fluency in French and Spanish, and, above all, financial acumen made him a match for the wiliest of South American presidents, North American railway barons, European finance ministers, and the members of the British cabinet with all of whom he had to deal at one time or another. He was handsome and dignified, and especially distinguished by his meticulous dress.
In the 1890s he participated in the reorganization of Argentinas external debt and in the 1900s restored Argentinas credit in London. During the Russo-Japanese war, out of sight, he played a key role in raising huge sums to finance Japans war effort. In World War I he was a crucial mediator between the Russian and British governments when the former borrowed huge amounts of sterling for munition purchases and support of the rouble. In the 1920s, working closely with the Bank of England, he introduced bonds of fledgling central European republics to the international capital markets.
In 1898 he was appointed to the Bank of Englands court, and joined its influential committee of treasury in 1915. As such he must have played an important role in the banks transformation into a fully-fledged central bank in the 1920s. For Whitehall he was a handy City man when it came to international finance, especially prior to 1914 when Britain practised imperialism in competition with other great powers. He advised the committee on imperial defence, was sent out to Petrograd as deputy to Viscount Milner [qv.] at the Allied conference in 1917, and in 1929 he went to Versailles for the committee of experts reviewing the Dawes plan for German reparations.
His close friendship with George V and Queen Mary, and long service as an innovative receiver-general of the Duchy of Cornwall from 1908 to 1929, gave him a close connection with another centre of influence. He was sworn of the Privy Council in 1902, appointed GCVO in 1911, and in 1926 was created by George V his lord lieutenant of Middlesex. In 1924 he became a commander of the Legion of Honour.
He never married. He died at his Paris flat 19 April 1929 and was succeeded in the barony by his brother, Cecil (born 1864). He left unsettled estate of over £2.5 million, of which almost £200,000 was bequeathed for the benefit of London hospitals, and a years salary to each member of the staff of Barings.
The Late Lord Revelstoke: an Appreciation, Bankers Magazine, 20 April 1929
Philip Ziegler, The Sixth Great Power: Barings 1762-1929, 1988
John Orbell, John Baring, 2nd Lord Revelstoke, David Jeremy (ed.), Dictionary of Business Biography, vol. i, 1984.
Contributor: John Orbell