Trevelyan began his career in 1826 as a writer for East India Company. He was posted at the Delhi office of the Bengal Civil Service. Highly intelligent, talented and hardworking, he soon jumped up the ladder and secured himself quick promotions and influential positions.
In 1827, he served as an assistant to Sir Charles Theophilus Metcalfe, commissioner of Delhi. During his service to Metcalfe, he administered work for several important missions. Briefly, he even served as the guardian for Madhu Singh, King of Bharatpur.
During his service in India, Trevelyan helped abolish transit duties, a consistent problem that had bounded internal traders of India. In 1831, he moved to Calcutta. Therein, he took up the post of deputy secretary to the government in the political department.
Trevelyan knew the importance of education and worked hard to promote the same in India. It was due to his efforts that the British government allowed teaching of European literature and science among the Indian students. He also came up with a report that was entitled, ‘On the Education of the People of India’, in 1838.
His stint in India lasted until 1838. His last service, before returning to England, was as a secretary to the Sudder board of revenue.
In England, he took up the chair of assistant secretary to Her Majesty’s Treasury in 1840. He served in the office for nineteen long years. During his term in the office, Ireland suffered from the Great Famine which was extraordinarily enormous in magnitude.
Trevelyan greatly advocated the belief of the British upper and middle class that the famine was an Act of Providence. He even penned a book on the same titled, ‘The Irish Crisis’ through which he gave a detailed analysis of the famine, describing the same as ‘effective mechanism for reducing surplus population’. He called the crisis as ‘the judgement of God’.
Acting as the secretary to the Treasurer, Trevelyan was largely responsible for the government inactiveness in famine relief. Despite being in an influential position, he did not expand relief works and instead encouraged the government to do nothing much. Trevelyan supported Whig government’s controversial policies of minimal intervention and laissez-faire attitude. Additionally, he blamed the famine on the gentry, thus justifying government’s inaction.
Though Trevelyan’s minimal intervention attitude was with a positive intention for Ireland to become self-independent and not rely on British government for survival, the timing of his action was inaccurate as it caused uproar within the labour class.
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Trevelyan ordered the shutting down of the Peelite Relief Program on July 21, 1846 with an aim to make the poor self-dependent. He believed that labourers, instead of turning to the state to take care of them, should harvest their own crops and carry out wage-producing harvest work for large farmers. However, he was ignorant of the fact that the famine had deprived labourers of any crops and farmers of any agricultural work.
The famine that had been restricted to parts of Ireland spread rapidly and engulfed the Western Highlands of Scotland as well in 1851. A crisis situation arose which led to the foundation of the Highland and Island Emigration Society by Trevelyan and Sir John McNeill. Operating from 1851 to 1858, the society sponsored the emigration of 5000 Scots to Australia.
In 1853, he came up with a new system of admission into the civil service in his report entitled, ‘The Organization of the Permanent Civil Service’. Through it, he counselled for competitive admission examinations that secured selection of a qualified body of civil servants as administrators. This gave highly educated and qualified people an opportunity to secure admission in the civil service which was previously a privilege enjoyed by the rich, influential and aristocratic only.
In 1858, Trevelyan was offered the position of the Governor of Madras Presidency which he duly accepted. Following year, he took up his duties and soon became popular for his conduct in office. His policies were welcomed by the Madras populace who soon became submissive to the new government. However, he was recalled to England following release of some government information that was considered seditious by authority.
In 1862, Trevelyan returned to India as the finance minister. He had a successful term in office that was marked by important administrative reforms. Trevelyan encouraged development of natural resources in the country through public works. His term as the finance minister ended in 1865.
Trevelyan returned to England in 1865. Towards the end of his career, he became engaged in charitable enterprises. He also supported other reforms like army commission and advancements, army organisation and so on.
Personal Life & Legacy
Charles Trevelyan first married Hannah More Macaulay on December 23, 1834. The couple was blessed with a son, George Otto Trevelyan who later inherited his father’s baronetcy.
Upon the death of Hannah in August 1873, Trevelyan remarried Eleanor Anne on October 14, 1875.
He breathed his last on June 19, 1886 at Eaton Square, London.