By Luke East
One hundred and 10 years ago the Consul-General of Egypt died – he was Sir Eldon Gorst, a man with Te Awamutu connections – the son of Sir John Gorst, the former Magistrate and Commissioner based here.
He was born in Auckland in 1861 and seven months later the Gorst family and little Eldon undertook a difficult journey by dogcart and canoe to the Waikato. The Gorst family did not stay long in Te Awamutu – not even 18 months – and after a number of threats on his father’s life the family returned to England in 1864 where Eldon studied at Eton and Cambridge.
In 1885 he joined the Diplomatic Service and must have sufficiently impressed his superiors to find himself in Cairo as an attaché by 1886. He rose through the ranks in Egypt, serving in a number of advisory roles and by the time he was 37 was, according to his most recent biographer, “ranked second to the Consul-General himself”.
In 1904 the now 43-year-old Eldon Gorst left Egypt for a senior role at the Foreign Office in London and had only been there two or three years when he was approached about becoming Ambassador to the United States. He declined, preferring to wait until the role of Consul-General of Egypt became available.
In 1907 he got his wish and after some 30 years holding various offices in Egypt. His mentor Lord Cromer, in his mid-sixties, retired and Eldon, who had by that time served under Cromer for 18 years and held senior roles at the Foreign Office, was both knighted and named as his successor as Consul-General, being described as “the best choice” for the role by the Foreign Secretary.
Of his predecessor Sir Eldon wrote “what has been accomplished under Lord Cromer’s inspiration and guidance is in many respects an object-lesson which may not be without utility to our countrymen both at home and across the seas”.
Sir Eldon’s time in Egypt was coloured by many romantic pursuits, friendships and diplomatic challenges. He made a firm friend of the Egyptian Khedive, Abbas II, who was deposed during the First World War after surviving an assassination attempt and who later travelled to be with Sir Eldon when he was dying and is said to have visited his graveside whenever he was in England. As Consul-General, Sir Eldon was to be responsible for trying to stabilise Egypt and quell any political unrest; he set himself the goals of improving relations with the Egyptian nationalists and ensuring sound administration. He would have only four years in the role which he had so long coveted.
He died in England in 1911, his last year was marred by a stroke, cancer and constant debilitating pain, yet still he remained at work in Egypt and did not leave until just two months before his death.
He was succeeded as Consul-General by Lord Kitchener.