Letters to George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, whilst Governor of the Cape of Good Hope (microfilm)

Scope and Content

Letter-book into which have been inserted letters from Britain to the Cape, 1797-1798, mainly instructions to Macartney. Microfilm.

Administrative / Biographical History

George Macartney, 1st Earl Macartney, was born in Ireland in 1737. In 1764 he was appointed envoy-extraordinary to St. Petersburg. In this role he successfully concluded a commercial treaty with Russia and was awarded the Polish order of the White Eagle. He returned to England in 1767 where he declined the offer of the embassy at St. Petersburg and instead entered parliament as member for Cockermouth. He resigned from this post when he was appointed Chief Secretary to Lord Townshend, the Irish viceroy, in January 1769 (he had already been voted member for Armagh in absentia in 1768). Macartney was sworn of the Irish Privy Council in March 1769, was made KB in 1772, and in 1774 was made Governor of Toome Castle.

In 1775, he was appointed Captain-General and Governor of the Caribbee islands (Grenada, the Grenadines and Tobago) and the following year was raised to the Irish peerage as Baron Macartney of Lissanoure. Macartney was in Grenada in 1779 when the island was attacked and captured by the French and for a short period he was held as a prisoner of war in France.

During 1780, Macartney was sent by Lord North on a confidential mission to Ireland. He also sat for a while in the English commons as member for Beeralston, Devonshire. In 1781, the East India Company appointed him Governor of Madras, India; he resigned from this post in c.1785. After declining the offer of being Warren Hastings' successor as Governor-general of India, Macartney arrived back in England in January 1786.

Macartney took his seat in the Irish Lords in 1788 and served as custos rotulorum of Antrim, as a trustee of linen manufacture, and as a colonel in the yeomanry in Ulster. In 1792 he was created Earl Macartney and Viscount Macartney of Dervock in the peerage of Ireland. In September of the same year, he was part of an embassy sent to China to discuss a potential trade treaty; the embassy arrived home in September 1794.

In 1795, the Foreign Secretary, Lord Grenville, sent Macartney to Italy on a confidential mission to Louis XVIII of France who was then an exile at Verona. When Macartney returned to England he was created Baron Macartney of Parkhurst, Sussex, and of Auchinleck, Kirkcudbrightshire. In December 1796 he was appointed to his last official post as Governor of the Cape of Good Hope colony. He resigned in 1798 and returned to England where he declined Addington's offer of the chair of the Board of Control. Earl Macartney died in May 1806.

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Collection level description created by Marion Lowman, Bodleian Library of Commonwealth and African Studies at Rhodes House.

Administrative/Biographical History compiled with reference to the Dictionary of National Biography .

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