Major General Sir John Charles Ardagh: Papers
These are papers of Major-General Sir John Charles Ardagh, which were bequeathed to the Public Record Office by his widow, Susan Hamilton, dowager Countess of Malmesbury.
They consist partly of materials used by her in the preparation of his biography, published in 1909, and comprise drafts and proof-copies of War Office and Foreign Office memoranda, technical notes and monographs, diaries, collections of private memoranda, press-cuttings, etc, and public and private correspondence.
Among his most frequent correspondents were General Wolseley and Lord Charles Beresford; there is also one letter from General Gordon. The public documents are largely concerned with Sir John's work as private secretary (1888 to 1894) to the Marquis of Lansdowne and the Earl of Elgin, successive Governors General of India, as Director of Military Intelligence (1896 to 1901), as a member of various commissions of inquiry and arbitration and as a delegate to international conferences.
All the listed letters are to Sir John Ardagh (JCA) unless otherwise described.
John Ardagh, the son of an Anglo-Irish clergyman, was born and educated in Co. Waterford. He passed first out of the RMA, Woolwich in 1859 and early in his career as a Royal Engineer officer appears to have come under the notice of senior officers of his Corps and at the War Office. He was a gifted linguist, mathematician and artist, and managed as a young officer to travel widely in Europe, and was present in Paris during the latter stages of the Franco-Prussian war.
Sir John's career, though he never reached the top ranks in the army, was one of wide variety and exceptional interest. An early transfer, as a captain in 1875, into the intelligence branch of the War Office, resulted in six years of important services in Turkey and the Balkans, including membership of two frontier delimitation commissions, those of Bulgaria and the Turco-Greek. From 1882 to 1887, when he rose in rank from major to full colonel, he served in Egypt, latterly as AAG, Cairo, and was closely involved in the two Anglo-Egyptian expeditions to the Sudan in 1884-1885. From 1888 to 1894 he served in India as private secretary to the Viceroy, Lord Lansdowne, whose friendship stood him in good stead in the succeeding years when, like so many regular officers of the period without private means, he was in continual anxiety about his future employment. This facet of his character comes through strongly in the correspondence. He received the KCIE in 1894 at the conclusion of his Indian service.
On return from India, Sir John became in 1896 Director of Military Intelligence at the War Office, and was promoted major general in 1898. In the later period of this office he appears to have suffered the only setback of his career, being publicly criticised for the apparent failure of the Intelligence Division accurately to forecast the strength of the Boer forces. He received no further promotion and retired in 1902, having served as British Military Technical delegate at the Hague Peace Conference in 1899, on the South African Claims Commission in 1901-1902 and as a member of the British Tribunal for the Chile-Argentine boundary arbitration in 1902. The papers reflect his interest in Central and South American affairs at this period.
For the remaining five years of his life, Sir John's active mind was well occupied with his membership of several learned bodies, Red Cross work and conferences and his directorship of the Suez Canal Company.
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- PRO Domestic Records of the Public Record Office, Gifts, Deposits, Notes and Transcripts
- Original records acquired as gifts or on deposit
- PRO 30/40 Major General Sir John Charles Ardagh: Papers