Office-Holders in Modern Britain: Volume 8, Foreign Office Officials 1782-1870. Originally published by University of London, London, 1979.
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The Foreign Office came into existence in 1782 as a result of the decision to reorganise the business undertaken by the Secretaries of State. (fn. 1) Originally there had been two Secretaries of State who shared domestic business. The conduct of foreign affairs, on the other hand, had been divided between them on a geographical basis, an arrangement that had given rise to the designations 'northern' and 'southern' to describe the departments over which they presided. Colonial business formed part of the area of responsibility of the Southern Secretary until 1768 when it was transferred to a third or Colonial Secretary. In 1782 the office of third Secretary of State was abolished. Foreign business was placed exclusively in the hands of one of the remaining Secretaries of State while domestic and colonial business was entrusted to the other. As a consequence the Secretaries of State came to be known as the Foreign and Home Secretaries and their departments as the Foreign and Home Offices. (fn. 2)
In institutional terms the Foreign Office took over the staff which had served in the former Northern Department. As constituted in March 1782 it consisted of a Secretary of State, two Under Secretaries, a Chief Clerk and seven other Clerks, the first two of whom were customarily known as Senior Clerks, two Office or Chamber Keepers and a Housekeeper or Necessary Woman. (fn. 3) Of these the Secretary of State and the Under Secretaries received salaries from the crown. The Secretary of State, the Under Secretaries, the Chief Clerk and the Office Keepers were also entitled to fixed fees on instruments passing through the office. The Secretary of State was responsible for paying out of his emoluments the salaries of all the Clerks (except the Chief Clerk), the Office Keepers and the Housekeeper. The Clerks also received fixed annual amounts from the Post Office in compensation for the loss of part of the privilege of franking mail. (fn. 4) Both Under Secretaries and Clerks customarily received presents on the exchange of treaties with foreign powers. Clerks were permitted to supplement their incomes by serving, in return for a commission, as agents to members of the diplomatic and consular services during their absence abroad. (fn. 5)
In the years 1785-6 the offices of the two Secretaries of State were investigated by the Commissioners on Fees. The evidence which they took from the officials of the Foreign Office and which is included in their first report, affords a valuable insight into the manner in which the department was organised at this period. (fn. 6) At the time of the Commissioners' investigation only one Under Secretary was serving in the Foreign Office, and one Under Secretary was absent from the Home Office. They therefore concluded that a single Under Secretary, who should be 'stationary' or permanent, was sufficient for the 'necessary official business' of each department. They conceded, however, that a Secretary of State might require the assistance of a second Under Secretary to manage his 'private and confidential business'. (fn. 7) This proposed differentiation, which had to a certain extent been foreshadowed by earlier conventions in the two offices, was eventually to form the basis of the distinction between the 'Permanent' and 'Parliamentary' Under Secretaries. The Commissioners recommended the discontinuation of the arrangements under which officials had received their remuneration in uncertain amounts from a variety of different sources and their replacement by a system whereby all allowances, fees and perquisites were carried to a common fund out of which fixed salaries were paid. They also urged the adoption of regular arrangements for retiring pensions and the abolition of the agency system. (fn. 8)
It was not until February 1795 that the three Secretaries of State (fn. 9) finally submitted their observations on the report of the Commissioners. (fn. 10) They rejected the recommendation that there should be one 'permanent' Under Secretary on the ground that there might be circumstances in which a Secretary of State would be justified in making a change in the holders of both these offices. They agreed to the proposal that all officials should be paid fixed salaries from a single source although they stipulated that the number of Clerks and the general level of remuneration should be higher than that originally recommended. They accepted the principle of making proper provision for retiring pensions, but considered that there was nothing improper in the practice of Clerks acting as agents for diplomats. An order in council was thereupon promulgated to give effect to the proposals of the Commissioners as modified by the Secretaries of State. The establishment of the Foreign Office was fixed at one Secretary of State at £6,000, two Under Secretaries at £1,500, a Chief Clerk at £1,000, eleven other Clerks with salaries ranging from £80 to £650, a Private Secretary and a Précis Writer, (fn. 11) each with a salary of £300 and two Office Keepers and a Housekeeper, each with £100. All salaries were to be paid by the Chief Clerk out of a fund to which the office fees were to be carried. In the event of the fund falling short, deficiencies were to be met by the civil list. (fn. 12) Shortly afterwards the sinecure offices of Collector of State Papers and Translator of the German Language, with salaries of £500 and £300 respectively, were formally included in the Foreign Office establishment. (fn. 13)
Various modifications were made to these arrangements in the following two decades. In 1799 the salaries of the Under Secretaries were increased to £2,000 with provision for an increase to £2,500 after three years' service. (fn. 14) In February 1801 it was laid down that the salary of the Chief Clerk should increase from £1,000 to £1,250 after five years' service. (fn. 15) In the following June an annual allowance of £250 was made available to the First Senior Clerk, S. Rolleston, as Assistant to the Under Secretaries. (fn. 16) Rolleston's special duties of superintending and distributing the general business of the office led to his being designated from 1804 Second Chief Clerk with a salary of £1,250. (fn. 17) In 1806 the salary of the Translator of the German Language, which had lapsed on the death of its holder in 1802, was revived and divided equally between three officials, two of whom were Clerks on the establishment. (fn. 18) The distinct office of Translator of the Spanish, Portuguese, Italian and Danish Languages was created in 1809 with a salary of £300 whereupon the arrangements made in 1806 were discontinued. (fn. 19) In January 1809 increasing pressure of business led to the appointment of two additional Clerks. (fn. 20) In the following May an arrangement was made for the remuneration of all Clerks to increase in proportion to their length of service, provision being made for £80, £200, £300 and £400 to be added to their salaries after successive periods of five years' service. (fn. 21)
In addition to these extra charges upon the fee fund, several new officials were awarded allowances from the contingent fund. An Extra Clerk was employed from 1795. (fn. 22) In 1806 a Supernumerary Clerk, who was to succeed to the first vacancy on the establishment, was appointed. The number of such Clerks was increased to three in 1812. (fn. 23) Allowances were made available to a Printer in 1800, to a Librarian in 1801, to a Sub-Librarian in 1809 and to a Clerk attached to the Chief Clerk's Department in 1814. (fn. 24) All these officials and the Translator were brought within the terms of the order in council of May 1809 which provided for increases in salary after successive periods of five years' service.
The rapid expansion of diplomatic and commercial activity following the cessation of hostilities in 1815 enabled the Foreign Office to resist most of the demands for retrenchment in the immediate post-war period. In 1817, in response to criticism made by the House of Commons, the period of service required by Under Secretaries before they became entitled to the addition of £500 to their salaries was increased from three to seven years. (fn. 25) In the same year, on the advancement of S. Rolleston to the office of Chief Clerk, the title and salary of Second Chief Clerk was discontinued.
In 1822, however, parliamentary pressure for economy compelled the Foreign Office in common with other government departments to undertake a comprehensive revision of its establishment. (fn. 26) The salaries of the Under Secretaries were fixed at £2,000 without any provision for an increase for length of service. The previous arrangement under which a particular salary had been accorded to each Clerk with provision for increases after successive periods of five years' service was discontinued and replaced by a system according to which the Clerks were divided into classes to which salary scales with regular annual increments were attached. The Chief Clerk retained his special position with a scale ranging from £1,000 to £1,250. The remaining thirteen Clerks were divided into three classes, four Senior or First Class Clerks with a scale ranging from £600 to £800 with provision for the most senior to rise to £900, four Second Class Clerks with a scale ranging from £350 to £545 and five Junior or Third Class Clerks with a scale ranging from £150 to £300. It was laid down that Clerks should rise according to seniority to the head of their class but that they should not be promoted to a higher class without an express appointment by the Secretary of State. The office of Extra Clerk, by this time designated 'Entering and Dispatch Clerk', was abolished and its duties transferred to the Sub-Librarian. The three Supernumerary Clerks then in office were retained, but no decision was taken as to their replacement when vacancies occurred. (fn. 27) It was provided that the office of Clerk attached to the Chief Clerk's Department should be abolished on a vacancy when its duties would be performed by one of the established Clerks. The offices of Translator, Précis Writer and Private Secretary were retained with fixed salaries of £300. The Librarian and Sub-Librarian were incorporated into the establishment for the first time, with the same salary scales as the Second Class and Third Class Clerks respectively. The two junior Clerks on the establishment were awarded allowances of £150 as 'Private Secretaries to the Under Secretaries'. (fn. 28)
The economies made in 1822 were undermined in the following five years when Canning served as Secretary of State. The work of the department grew rapidly in this period: Central and South America for the first time became a major concern of the Foreign Office; Britain's involvement in the international movement for the suppression of the slave trade, the reorganisation of the consular service and the abolition of the Levant Company created additional responsibilities. Between 1822 and 1827 the number of established Clerks rose from thirteen to twenty-five, the three Supernumerary Clerks of 1822 having been replaced in 1824 by a new grade of Assistant Junior or Fourth Class Clerks with a scale ranging from £100 to £150. (fn. 29) On Canning's departure from the office in 1827 the Clerks were graded as: four Senior Clerks, seven Second Class Clerks, six Junior Clerks and eight Assistant Junior Clerks. In the years 1824-7 allowances were awarded to three of the four Senior Clerks for the performance of specific areas of duty. The First and Second Senior Clerks became Superintendents of the newly formed Consular and Slave Trade Departments, and the Third, Superintendent of Foreign Ministers' Accounts. (fn. 30) The Fourth Senior Clerk, H. J. Rolleston, continued to receive an allowance, first awarded in 1813, as Superintendent of the Treaty Department. (fn. 31) 'Supplementary Clerks' (fn. 32) were employed in increasing numbers. The Clerk attached to the Chief Clerk's Department became a permanent feature of the establishment and was awarded in 1823 the same salary scale as the Third Class Clerks and in 1827 the same scale as the Second Class Clerks. (fn. 33) Allowances were also made available to three Clerks in the Slave Trade Department and to Clerks attached to the Treaty, Consular and Librarian's Departments. (fn. 34) An Assistant Translator was appointed in 1823. (fn. 35) In the years 1824-5 and 1826-7 the number of Under Secretaries rose temporarily to three. On both occasions no extra expense was incurred as two of the Under Secretaries shared the salary of one of the offices. (fn. 36) Canning informed the Treasury in 1825 that he would soon need the permanent addition of a third Under Secretary (fn. 37) but never submitted a concrete proposal to this effect.
The period of growth came to an end when Canning left the Foreign Office and in July 1830 the number of Assistant Junior Clerks was actually reduced from eight to six. (fn. 38) The Whig government which took office in November 1830 instigated a modest programme of reform: the office of Assistant Translator was abolished; (fn. 39) the salary of the Secretary of State was reduced from £6,000 to £5,000; (fn. 40) and the receipt of treaty presents was abolished, compensation being awarded to those officials who suffered by their abolition. (fn. 41)
As part of this programme of reform, the position of the Under Secretaries was regulated. Although the three Secretaries of State had rejected in 1795 the recommendations made by the Commissioners on Fees with regard to these offices, by 1831 the practice in both the Home and Colonial Offices conformed closely to their proposals: the standing of one Under Secretary was effectively 'permanent' and unaffected by political change; the second, usually a Member of Parliament, was recognised to be personal to the Secretary of State. In the Foreign Office this practice, although clearly understood, had not hardened into custom. Both Under Secretaries were technically removable at pleasure, and indeed both had been removed on changes of ministry in 1806 and 1807. By 1831, however, J. Backhouse, first appointed by Canning in 1827 and retained by the Whigs in 1830, had probably secured for himself a position of permanence. One Under Secretary was usually a personal connection of the Secretary of State, but since 1808 no Under Secretary had sat in the House of Commons and only two had been members of the House of Lords. Nevertheless in 1831 a Treasury Minute gave formal recognition to the practice adopted in the Home and Colonial Offices and applied it to the Foreign Office. The Under Secretaries in all three departments were for the first time officially designated 'Permanent' and 'Parliamentary' and accorded distinct salaries, £2,000 and £1,500 respectively. (fn. 42) However, although the position of the Permanent Under Secretary in the Foreign Office was clearly defined from this point, the tenure of the 'parliamentary' under secretaryship was not invariably associated with membership of either house of parliament until 1852.
Between 1829 and 1838 the number of letters received and sent by the Foreign Office increased from 7,309 to 16,475. (fn. 43) As a result the two clerkships reduced in 1830 were restored in 1839. To speed up the slow rate of promotion from the lower to the higher classes the number of Second Class Clerks was increased from seven to ten and the number of Junior Clerks from six to seven while the number of Assistant Junior Clerks was reduced from six to four. (fn. 44) The remedy, however, was only partial and the major defect of the establishment as settled by Canning, an unequal relationship between responsibility and remuneration, remained unresolved. In the period after 1822 the Clerks Assistant to the Under Secretaries, whose number was increased to three in 1824 and to four in 1836, (fn. 45) became effectively superintendents of the work in the Political Departments of the office. (fn. 46) Yet it was not until 1839 that a Clerk Assistant, T. Staveley, rose to the rank of Senior Clerk. (fn. 47) The resignation of the Chief Clerk in 1841 provided an opportunity to reorganise the grade of Senior Clerk. The First and Second Senior Clerks, J. Bidwell and Bandinel, Superintendents respectively of the Consular and Slave Trade Departments, were passed over for promotion as they already performed duties of more general interest than the formal financial duties performed by the Chief Clerk. The Third Senior Clerk, Lenox Conyngham, then Superintendent of the Treaty Department, was promoted to the chief clerkship and retained responsibility for the Treaty Department. The number of senior clerkships was increased to six to accommodate the four Clerks Assistant, who now became in name as well as in fact Superintendents of the four Political Departments. The maximum salary attached to the grade of Senior Clerk was increased to £1,000. (fn. 48)
The opportunity was also taken in 1841 to rationalise the staffing of the subordinate departments. (fn. 49) Two Clerks were attached to the Librarian's Department, which since the death in 1839 of the sole Clerk attached to it, had been seriously undermanned. The salaries of the four Clerks attached to the Slave Trade Department, which had previously been paid from the funds voted annually by Parliament to meet the expenses of various commissions for the suppression of the slave trade, were transferred to the fee fund. The Clerk formerly attached to the Treaty Department was placed under the authority of the Chief Clerk. Although the status of all these Clerks was now made permanent, they remained outside the ordinary clerical establishment.
The movement for administrative reform initiated in 1848 affected the Foreign Office as it did all other government departments. (fn. 50) Relations between the Foreign Office and the Treasury were frequently strained during this period, but by 1857 reorganisations satisfactory to both departments had been carried out. In November 1848 the Foreign Office agreed to the appointment of a committee of inquiry into its organisation to be composed of Addington, the Permanent Under Secretary, Sir Charles Trevelyan, the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury and W. Gibson Craig, one of the Junior Lords of the Treasury. (fn. 51) The three officials met informally from January to April 1850. By April a general understanding had been reached as to the changes necessary and, according to Addington, it was determined that Trevelyan should prepare a report, embodying the changes agreed upon but omitting all reference to the retention or abolition of the agency system upon which no agreement had been reached. Trevelyan's draft report completed by August treated the agency system in detail and was unacceptable to Addington, who by February 1851 had prepared a draft report of his own. (fn. 52) By the time of the dissolution of the Treasury commission in February 1852, when the committee was considered to have expired, no report had been approved.
The ill-will thus engendered between the two departments produced an unpleasant exchange of correspondence in 1852 when the Foreign Office applied to the Treasury for the addition of two Assistant Junior Clerks to the Consular Department. The addition was conceded only after a meeting between Malmesbury, the Secretary of State, and Disraeli, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, who agreed to cancel most of the correspondence. (fn. 53)
Although unfruitful, the committee's inquiries did provoke widespread discussion of reform within the Foreign Office. (fn. 54) The proposals for reorganisation, finally submitted by Clarendon, as Secretary of State, to the Treasury in March 1854 were based on the outcome of these internal discussions. (fn. 55) Clarendon noted that between 1841 and 1853 the number of dispatches received and sent had increased from 24,047 to 35,104 while only two Clerks had been added to the establishment. His principal recommendations were that the number of Political Departments should be increased from four to five, that the number of Senior Clerks should rise accordingly from six to seven and that the remainder of the Clerks should be reclassified. Those Clerks serving as assistants to the Senior Clerks in the seven departments of the office should be formed into a new grade of Assistant Clerks with a scale ranging from £550 to £650. The Junior Clerks would then be divided into three classes corresponding to the old grades of Second Class, Third Class and Fourth Class Clerks. The Slave Trade Department would be staffed by established Clerks. The Treasury objected only to the proposal to create a new class of Assistant Clerks, on the grounds that no such class existed in any other major government department and that the delicate balance between the departments would be destroyed. Instead the Treasury proposed an increase in the number of inferior Clerks and even threw out a suggestion that Copyists might be employed. On this occasion the Treasury view prevailed. (fn. 56) In July 1854 (fn. 57) eight Clerks were added to the establishment which was fixed at seven Senior Clerks, fourteen Second Class Clerks, ten Junior Clerks and six Assistant Junior Clerks. The minimum salary of the Senior Clerks was increased from £600 to £700; all other scales remained unchanged. Shortly afterwards Clarendon secured a minor concession from the Treasury when an annual sum of £300 was made available for distribution amongst the seven Clerks who served as assistants to the Senior Clerks. (fn. 58) The Treasury accepted all Clarendon's proposals regarding the subordinate departments. Three Clerks were added to the Librarian's Department. The Treaty Department was removed from the care of the Chief Clerk and placed under a Superintendent with a scale ranging from £600 to £800 and a Clerk, or Assistant, with a scale ranging from £200 to £500. Two Clerks were added to the Chief Clerk's Department. The salary of the Translator was increased to £500.
Increasing pressure of business necessitated the appointment of two additional Junior Clerks and one additional Assistant Junior Clerk in 1856. (fn. 59) The reorganisation of the clerical establishment was completed in 1857. (fn. 60) The number of Political Departments was increased from five to six and the number of Senior Clerks accordingly increased from seven to eight. The Treasury now accepted the necessity to create a class of Assistant Clerks with a scale ranging from £550 to £650; their number was fixed at nine, two being attached to the Consular Department and one each to the six Political Departments and the Slave Trade Department. The remaining Clerks were reclassified as ten First Class Junior Clerks with a scale ranging from £350 to £545, nine Second Class Junior Clerks with a scale ranging from £150 to £300 and six Third Class Junior Clerks with a scale ranging from £100 to £150. For the first time since Canning's reorganisation of the clerical establishment a balance was struck between responsibility and remuneration and a reasonably rapid rate of promotion from the junior grades was ensured.
In 1858 an Assistant Under Secretary was appointed who in the following year was given a general superintendence of consular affairs. (fn. 61) In 1860 one of the two Assistant Clerks in the Consular Department was dispensed with and an official described as a 'Supplemental Junior Clerk' was attached to the Department to keep the consular accounts. (fn. 62) A Commercial Department was formed at the expense of one of the Political Departments in 1865, and was amalgamated with the Consular Department in the following year. Thereupon the number of Senior Clerks was reduced to seven. Annual allowances of £250 and £100 respectively were made available to the Senior Clerk and the senior of the two Assistant Clerks chosen to serve in the new Department. (fn. 63)
The Clerks attached to the Chief Clerk's, Treaty and Librarian's Departments and the 'Supplemental Junior Clerk' in the Consular Department were organised into a uniform grade of Supplementary Clerks in 1865. The Assistant in the Treaty Department and future holders of the offices of Sub-Librarian and First Clerk in the Chief Clerk's Department were placed in a first class with a scale ranging from £400 to £500. The remainder were placed in two further classes with scales ranging from £250 to £360 and £100 to £240 respectively. (fn. 64) The reform of accounting procedures in government departments, required under the terms of the Exchequer and Audit Act which came into effect in 1868, necessitated the addition of four Clerks to the Chief Clerk's Department, one of whom was the Supplementary Clerk formerly attached to the Consular Department. A further Clerk was added to the Department in 1869, bringing the total number to eight. (fn. 65) The increased accommodation available in the new Whitehall premises to which the Foreign Office moved in 1868 enabled two Supplementary and five Temporary Clerks to be added to the Librarian's Department. (fn. 66)
Throughout the nineteenth century, the Foreign Office, because of the high political standing of its Secretaries of State, was in a position to pursue a relatively independent course in matters affecting its establishment. Until 1822 its development was very similar to that of the offices of the other Secretaries of State. Thereafter its establishment grew more quickly than those of the Home and Colonial Offices, but its organisation did not become radically different. On certain issues, in particular the retention of the agency system, an archaic survival from the eighteenth century and opposition to the introduction of Copyists to perform mechanical tasks, the Foreign Office did not conform with the practices adopted in other government departments. But its Secretaries of State rarely abused their privileged status and the Treasury was able to impose some measure of control. In 1870, the end of the period covered by these lists, anomalies still remained. One of them, the agency system, was finally abolished in that year following a sustained and frequently scurrilous press campaign. (fn. 67) Conversely a fresh anomaly was created when Clarendon, as Secretary of State, successfully opposed the introduction of open competition for entrants to the Foreign Office at a time when this system was being adopted in almost all other government departments. (fn. 68)