Robinson, George Frederick Samuel (Earl de Grey)
b. 1827-10-24
d. 1909-07-09
George Frederick Robinson was the Secretary of State for War from 1863 to 1866. During this time, he laboured to divide the War Office into a number of efficient and expert departments. He also made efforts to improve the lots of ordinary soldiers, inquiring into barrack conditions, education for soldiers and their children, libraries, army hospitals, and sanitary reform.1
Robinson also gave unconditional support to volunteer forces, and intended militias to become a permanent branch of the military. This view stemmed in part from his pride as a descendant of Oliver Cromwell, who had begun the tradition of a citizen army in England.2 Because of this, the local authorities on Vancouver Island were able to raise a militia with relatively little difficulty.3
Born at Downing Street to the then-prime minister, Frederick John Robinson, Fred Jr. grew up immersed in political culture. First elected to the House of Commons in 1852, and raised to the House of Lords in 1859 upon the death of his father, Robinson gathered a group of like-minded individuals around him and pursued progressive reforms such as a legacy tax on the rich, the removal of the patronage system of church livings, suffrage for the upper portions of the working classes, and legislation to protect producers and retail co-operative societies. This group became known as the “Goderichites”, after Robinson's title, Viscount Goderich.4
In 1868, Robinson and three other Goderichites were sworn in as members of William Gladstone's first administration, with Robinson as Lord President of Council. Many of their ambitions became reality in the following five years, such as the introduction of secret ballot, reform in the elementary school system, a measure of justice for Ireland, and the application of the principle of arbitration in foreign affairs.5
Robinson also served as Viceroy of India from 1880 to 1884. He built legislative framework within each province to allow local authorities to self-govern. Some of his other attempts to improve Indian social structure included legislation to protect children in factories and various efforts to reduce famine, improve elementary education, and secure fixed tenures, fair rents, and free sales. He also repealed his predecessor's anti-free press laws. Anglo-Indians condemned Robinson's reforms as socialistic and nearly mutinied when Robinson proposed that Indian magistrates and judges should have jurisdiction over British subjects. However, native Indians expressed thanks and support for Robinson, and under Robinson's administration the Indian Association of Bengal held its first conference—a significant step toward a national congress in the country.6
From his return to England in 1885 to 1905, Robinson campaigned for Irish home rule, but gradually accepted a proposed step by step approach. Robinson opposed the Boer War, and advocated for lenient treatment of the Boers when the war ended.7
Robinson married Henrietta Anne Theodosia Vyner on 8 April 1851. She actively engaged in Robinson's socialist work, and supported Robinson throughout his career. They had one son, named Frederick Oliver, in 1852. Henrietta died in 1807, prompting Robinson to retire. He officially resigned from government in October 1908, a month before his eightieth birthday.8
Robinson died of a heart attack on 9 July 1909. He claimed that he had advanced his radical principles by taking what he could get and waiting for more.9
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