Charles Trevelyan was born in 1807 in Taunton, England, the son of a clergyman. As a young man, he traveled to Bengal, where he worked as a writer for the East India Company, before becoming the assistant to the English commissioner in Delhi. During this time, “he made it his special work to improve the living conditions of the local population and to modernise trade” (“Charles Edward Trevelyan”). Throughout the 1830s, Trevelyan continued with his work in the colonization of India, which now focused on “providing Indians with schooling in European science and literature” (“Charles Edward Trevelyan”). He also married Hannah Moore during this time (“Charles Edward Trevelyan”).
“[The Famine] is a punishment from God for an idle, ungrateful, and rebellious country; an indolent and un-self-reliant people. The Irish are suffering from an affliction of God’s providence.
-Charles Trevelyan, Assistant Secretary to Her Majesty’s Treasury, 1847 (Knighted, 1848, for overseeing famine relief)” (qtd. in O’Connor IX)
Beginning in 1840, Trevelyan returned to England to work as assistant secretary to the Treasury, a position he would hold for the next nineteen years. One of the major duties of this job involved “administering relief during the famine in Ireland” (“Charles Edward Trevelyan”), which was an assignment he completely failed, due largely to his utter contempt for the Irish people, as the quote above demonstrates. To this day, Trevelyan represents “the British government's controversial policies of minimal intervention and attempting to encourage self-reliance,” during the famie, and he is still a “contentious figure,” to say the least, in Ireland (“Charles Edward Trevelyan”).
Later in life, Trevelyan returned to India, serving first as governor of Madras, and later as the finance minister of India. Returning to England for the last twenty years of his life, Trevelyan “was involved in various charitable enterprises and supported other important reforms regarding … the organization of the army” before his death on June 19, 1886 (“Charles Edward Trevelyan”).
Although Trevelyan does not appear as an actual character in Star of the Sea, his epigraph, one of four that front the novel, helps to set the scene. Along with Punch magazine, Trevelyan represents the attitude of the ruling English towards the Irish; his quote, which claims that the famine is a punishment from God, is particularly atrocious when one realizes that he was responsible for administering relief in Ireland during the famine, as noted above. As a further insult to the Irish people, he was knighted in 1848 “for overseeing famine relief,” as O’Connor notes in the epigraph (ix). The quote from Trevelyan serves the purpose of demonstrating the hostile contempt many elite English had for the Irish, and helps to explain why the Irish received so little aid from their colonizer during the famine.
“Charles Edward Trevelyan.” BBC History. British Broadcasting Corporation, 2014. Web. 28
O’Connor, Joseph. Star of the Sea. Orlando: Harcourt, 2002. Print.
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