Brand, Robert Henry, Baron Brand 1878-1963, banker and public servant, was born in Kensington 30 October 1878, the fourth son in the family of six sons and three daughters of Henry Robert Brand (later second Viscount Hampden) [qv.], a Liberal MP, and his second wife, Susan Henrietta, daughter of Lord George Henry Cavendish. Educated at Marlborough and New College, Oxford, where he obtained a first class in modern history in 1901, he was elected to an All Souls fellowship in the same year, but although that college subsequently claimed an important part of his affections and time, his practical bent and the Liberal imperialist traditions of his family drew him rapidly to South Africa. Through the intervention of his father he joined Lord Milner's [qv.] staff in Johannesburg in December 1902 and thus became a member of the remarkable band of young Oxford aides known as Milner's Kindergarten. The friendships formed at this time between Brand and other members such as Lionel Curtis [qv.], (George) Geoffrey Dawson [qv.], (Sir) Patrick Duncan [qv.], (William) Lionel Hichens [qv.], Philip Kerr (later the Marquess of Lothian) [qv.], John Buchan (later first Baron Tweedsmuir) [qv.], and Richard Feetham [qv.] were lifelong, intimate, and influential in the careers of all of them.
Milner quickly recognized Brand's quality and made him successively assistant secretary, acting secretary, and, in March 1904, permanent secretary to the Intercolonial Council of the Transvaal and the Orange River Colony, the body formally charged with the administration of the main reconstruction loan guaranteed by the British Government. At first much of Brand's work was concerned with the running of the newly merged Central South African Railways system whose expansion and modification was essential to the prosperity of the Witwatersrand. But, being forced to deal with the constant and growing friction between the four South African colonies over freight rates and tariffs and to act as secretary to two abortive inter-colonial railway conferences and a Railways Commission, Brand was one of the first to become convinced that nothing short of the political unification of the country would solve the practical problems.
Brand's part in the campaign for a South African Union was less flamboyant than that of some other Kindergarten members. His temperament did not lean towards public propaganda and he decided to remain an employee of the Transvaal Government even after the Afrikaners gained power in the 1907 election. But in the Kindergarten's secret preparation of the seminal Selborne Memorandum on unification, Brand exerted an important restraint on the wilder theoretical enthusiasms of Curtis. More importantly, he gained the trust of the Afrikaner leaders, particularly J. C. Smuts [qv.], and having been appointed secretary to the powerful Transvaal delegation to the 1908-9 constitutional conventions he was able to underpin Smuts's vision and tactical skill with a firm basis of theoretical rigour and practical foresight. Much to his disappointment his own most distinctive contribution to the balance of the Union constitution—a form of proportional representation—fell a victim at the last moment to the electoral calculations of the Cape Government. But, as Smuts later acknowledged, Brand was the most outstanding member of a very able team.
Having come to London in 1909 to help steer the South Africa Act through the Westminster Parliament, he intended to return to South Africa permanently, but influenza caused him to miss his boat and while waiting for the next he was introduced to R. M. (later Lord) Kindersley [qv.] who persuaded him to join Lazard Brothers, then in process of reorganization. Bob Brand's connection with that banking house, of which he was for many years managing director, lasted for fifty years. He devoted the six years after this move to banking but was also deeply involved in the attempt by Curtis and a number of other Kindergarten members to give new impetus to the idea of imperial federation. The project ultimately foundered but resulted in the establishment under Kerr's editorship of the Round Table, a quarterly review, which for some years exerted real influence. As a member of the editorial board Brand's role, as in South Africa, was to contribute an important element of sanity to the enterprise as well as a number of extensive articles on the financial and economic aspects of the imperial problem. He later edited the letters of John Dove [qv.], a subsequent editor of Round Table; they were published in 1938. He also wrote for this Dictionary the notices of Lionel Curtis, Robert Kindersley, and Philip Kerr.
A weak heart prevented Brand enlisting in 1914 but in September 1915 a crisis in the supply of shells caused Lloyd George, then minister of munitions, to send him with Hichens to Canada to sort out the chaotic purchasing arrangements there. Having set up an Imperial Munitions Board in Ottawa under (Sir) Joseph Flavelle, Brand became permanently responsible in London for the new body's liaison with the Ministry of Munitions. By the end of the war the IMB had bought sixty million shells in Canada and spent £240 million, but the administrative complexities of the operation called for diplomacy of a very high order from Brand. The financial arrangements, always on the point of collapse, involved the Americans and took him to Washington in 1917 as deputy chairman of Lord Northcliffe's [qv.] mission. Here he married Phyllis, daughter of a Virginian auctioneer and landowner, Chiswell Dabney Langhorne, and sister of Nancy (Lady) Astor [qv.] of whose circle at Cliveden Brand was already an intimate. She bore him two daughters and a son who was killed in action in 1945. She died herself, to his great distress, in 1937.
Brand attended the Paris peace conference as a frustrated adviser to Lord Robert Cecil (later Viscount Cecil of Chelwood) [qv.] who was chairman of the Supreme Economic Council in 1919 and whom, as Brand said later, he never ceased to tell that reparations would not work. In 1920 Brand was the initiator in convening the important League of Nations financial conference in Brussels. Smuts recruited him in 1922 to be financial representative of South Africa at the Genoa conference and the same year saw the development of a long and fruitful friendship with J. M. (later Lord) Keynes [qv.]. The two men had been in agreement at Versailles and were now together in the panel of four experts called in to advise on the stabilization of the German Mark. Though they were of utterly different temperaments and often held widely differing views, on the many occasions their professional paths crossed in the next twenty-five years they proved superb foils to each other—Keynes stimulating the liberal, imaginative side of the banker, Brand providing a tough, though sympathetic, resistance which brought out Keynes's most fertile genius. A verbatim example of this creative tension fortunately survives in the minutes of the historic Committee on Finance and Industry (1929-31), chaired by Hugh (later Lord) Macmillan [qv.], on which both he and Keynes served.
The war of 1939-45 brought Brand back to the public service—first as deputy chairman of Lord Willingdon's mission to promote British exports to Latin America and then, in 1941, as head of the British Food Mission in Washington. From 1941 to 1944 he was the senior British member of the British American Combined Food Board which was set up to establish how much food was available and how it could be most efficiently and equitably distributed between the many rival claimants, military and civilian, within the alliance. This machine, upon which Brand exerted a stabilizing and often guiding hand, on the whole managed to extract steady supplies, stable prices, and equitable rationing from the conflicting interests of the US Department of Agriculture, the British Food Ministry, and third-country suppliers. Brand's single most valuable contribution was probably given between April and November 1942 when, called in as acting chairman, he successfully reconstructed the whole British Supply Council in Washington, which was threatening to break down under the stress of personal and departmental jealousies. In 1944 he was transferred to the post of chief Treasury representative in Washington. In the central events of that period—the Bretton Woods conference, the abrupt ending of Lend-Lease, and the negotiation of the American loan—he appeared somewhat overshadowed by the major actors, notably Keynes, but there is no doubt that his unrivalled knowledge of the American political and financial worlds, his authority with the British Treasury, and the universal trust he inspired, not least with Keynes himself, helped to turn many difficult corners. In 1946 he returned to England. The peerage, which while his son was alive he had refused, he now accepted. He had already been appointed CMG (1910) and had received an honorary DCL from Oxford (1937). He divided the rest of his life between Lazards, All Souls, the House of Lords, and his house at Eydon in Northamptonshire. He died at the Old Vicarage, Firle, Sussex, 23 August 1963.
Brand is one of those figures, puzzling to historians, whose influence with their contemporaries can be sensed but not easily charted. His books, The Union of South Africa (1909), War and National Finance (1921), and Why I am not a Socialist (1923) are, like his frequent occasional articles, clear statements of a middle-of-the-road position, but they are a little dull. His judgement of the major issues of the day, though acute, often lacked cutting edge; and the perception which does him most credit—his opposition to the appeasement of Hitler—had little practical effect on influential friends of the opposite persuasion like Dawson, Lothian, and the Astors. Yet Brand's reputation for wisdom was very great and, as his voluminous papers, now in the Bodleian Library, testify, it was legitimately earned by the successful application of a quiet, slightly austere common sense not only to many national and international economic problems but also to the practical concerns of a vast number of contacts and interests, ranging from the Royal Economic Society, of which he was a governor, to the Oxford Historic Buildings Fund. His authority rested even more on what he was than what he did. The combination of a beautifully lucid brain, a natural open-mindedness, and a formidable toughness of will on matters he judged to be questions of principle produced a personality of great integrity. He was also a man of the utmost charm, with a soft voice and a mild, short-sighted appearance. Felix Frankfurter wrote after Brand's death that his was one of the sweetest natures he had ever encountered.
An oil painting (1963) by the Hon. George Bruce is in the possession of the artist. A pencil drawing by Arnold Mason (1956) and a pencil and chalk drawing by Jane de Glehn (1935) are at Eydon Hall.
Brand papers, Bodleian Library, Oxford
Contributor: David Watt