Amherst, William Pitt



Autograph Slip Writing Signed 1849 4 x 2-1/2 blue Document mounted on slightly larger card

"Born at Bath, Somerset, Amherst was the son of William Amherst and Elizabeth, daughter of Thomas Paterson. He was the grand-nephew of Jeffrey Amherst, 1st Baron Amherst, and succeeded to his title in 1797 according to a special remainder in the letters patent. He was educated at Westminster School and Christ Church, Oxford.

In 1816 he was sent as ambassador extraordinary to the court of China's Qing Dynasty, with a view of establishing more satisfactory commercial relations between that country and the United Kingdom. On arriving at Pei Ho (Baihe, today's Haihe), he was given to understand that he could only be admitted to the Jiaqing Emperor's presence on condition of performing the kowtow, a ceremony which Western nations considered degrading, and which was, indeed, a homage exacted by a Chinese sovereign from his tributaries. To this, Amherst, following the advice of Sir George Thomas Staunton, who accompanied him as second commissioner, refused to consent, as Macartney had done in 1793, unless the admission was made that his sovereign was entitled to the same show of reverence from a mandarin of his rank. In consequence of this, he was not allowed to enter Peking (Beijing), and the object of his mission was frustrated.

His ship, the Alceste, after a cruise along the coast of Korea and to the Ryukyu Islands on proceeding homewards, was totally wrecked on a submerged rock in Gaspar Strait. Amherst and part of his shipwrecked companions escaped in the ship's boats to Batavia, whence relief was sent to the rest. The ship in which he returned to England in 1817 touched at St Helena and, as a consequence, he had several interviews with the emperor Napoleon (see Ellis's Proceedings of the Late Embassy to China, 1817; McLeod's Narrative of a Voyage in H.M.S. Alceste, 1817).

Amherst was Governor-General of India from August 1823 to February 1828. The principal event of his government was the first Burmese war of 1824, resulting in the cession of Arakan and Tenasserim to the British Empire. His appointment came on the heels of the removal of Governor-General Lord Hastings in 1823. Hastings clashed with London over the issue of lowering the field pay of officers in the Bengal Army, a measure that he was able to avoid through successive wars against Nepal and the Marathas. However, his refusal in the early 1820s during peacetime to lower field pay resulted in the appointment of Amherst, who was expected to carry out the demands from London.

However, Amherst was an inexperienced governor who was, at least in the early days of his tenure in Calcutta, influenced heavily by senior military officers in Bengal such as Sir Edward Paget. Not willing to lose face in a time of Burmese territorial aggression, when a territorial dispute that he inherited from John Adam, acting Governor-General prior to his arrival, involving the Anglo-Burmese border on the Naaf River spilled over into violence on 24 September 1823, he ordered the troops in.

The war was to take two years, with 15,000 killed on the British side and cost 13 million pounds, contributing to an economic crisis in India. It was only due to the efforts of powerful friends such as George Canning and the Duke of Wellington that he was not recalled in disgrace at the end of the war. The war significantly changed Amherst's stance on Burma, now adamantly refusing to annex Lower Burma, but did not repair his reputation entirely, and he was replaced in 1828. He was created Earl Amherst, of Arracan in the East Indies, and Viscount Holmesdale, in the County of Kent, in 1826. On his return to England he lived in retirement till his death in March 1857.

Lord Amherst married firstly the Hon. Sarah, daughter of Andrew Archer, 2nd Baron Archer, in 1800. They had two sons. After Sarah's death in May 1838, aged 75, he married secondly Lady Mary, daughter of John Sackville, 3rd Duke of Dorset, and widow of Other Windsor, 6th Earl of Plymouth, in 1839. They had no children. Lord Amherst died at his father-in-law's seat of Knole House, Kent, in March 1857, aged 84. He was succeeded in his titles by his second and only surviving son, William. Lady Amherst died in July 1864, aged 71.

His first wife became the namesake of Lady Amherst's Pheasant; it was at her instigation that the species was introduced from Asia to Bedfordshire."