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Ridgeway, Sir Joseph Westlocked

  • E. I. Carlyle
  • , revised by James Lunt

Ridgeway, Sir Joseph West (1844–1930), army officer, the second son of the Revd Joseph Ridgeway, rector of High Roothing, Essex, and his wife, Eliza Letitia Chambers, was born at High Roothing on 16 May 1844. Charles John Ridgeway (1841–1927), bishop of Chichester, and Frederick Edward Ridgeway (1848–1921), bishop of Salisbury, were his brothers. Educated at St Paul's School, London, he obtained a commission in the Bengal infantry at the age of sixteen. In 1869 the viceroy, Lord Mayo, selected him for civil employment in the central India and Rajputana agencies, and in 1873 he became an attaché in the Indian foreign department. He returned to Rajputana in 1875, serving as assistant agent to the governor-general and later as political agent of the eastern states. Late in 1879 he succeeded Henry Mortimer Durand as political secretary to Major-General F. S. Roberts, and accompanied him to Kandahar in August 1880. Ridgeway was mentioned in dispatches, promoted brevet lieutenant-colonel, and appointed under-secretary to the foreign department, government of India. He married in 1881 Carolina Ellen (known as Lina; d. 1907), younger daughter of Robert Calverley Bewicke of Coulby Manor, Middlesbrough, Yorkshire.

In 1884, owing to the Russian occupation of Merv in March and the continuous Russian advance towards Herat, a serious situation arose, and Britain and Russia agreed to send commissions to determine the ill-defined northern boundary of Afghanistan. Ridgeway commanded the Indian section of the commission, a force of about 1000 men. He successfully marched them from near Quetta, across difficult and dangerous territory, to join the chief commissioner, Sir Peter Stark Lumsden, at Kuhsan, north-west of Herat, in November.

Lumsden and Ridgeway had been told to expect a Russian boundary commission with a small military escort: they found, instead, a large military force hastening to occupy the territory in dispute. Consequently the work of the commission was held up, and Ridgeway remained for the winter with a small escort to keep the Turkoman population quiet and to give moral support to an Afghan force which was occupying the district of Panjdeh, south of Merv. By diplomacy and firmness he made friends with the Turkomans and held the Russians back throughout the winter; but on 29 March 1885, while he was in Herat reporting to Lumsden, the Russians under General Komarov attacked and defeated the Afghans at Panjdeh, which brought England and Russia close to war.

The work of the commission was resumed in November, Ridgeway succeeding Lumsden as chief commissioner. By June 1886 the boundary had been settled as far as Dukchi, 30 miles from the Oxus, but the line to the Oxus could not be agreed upon. In August the commission was recalled, and the British and Russian cabinets decided to determine for themselves the remaining frontier line. Ridgeway was made KCSI in November 1886. In April 1887 he was sent to St Petersburg to resume negotiations. He found the military party hostile, and on returning home to report progress was shocked to find that Lord Salisbury and his cabinet were apparently unconcerned, and it was only with the assistance of Sir Edward Bradford and the under-secretary at the Foreign Office, Sir Philip Currie, that he induced the government to continue negotiations. Nicholas II was in favour of a settlement, and a final agreement was reached in July 1887, defining the north-western frontier of Afghanistan between the Hari Rud and Oxus rivers. The treaty contented the amir Abdur Rahman and pleased the tribesmen by securing them their northern pasturelands. In 1887 Ridgeway was promoted colonel for distinguished service.

In the same year Ridgeway was appointed under-secretary for Ireland, and in 1889 was sworn of the Irish privy council. He held office under Balfour and his successor, Lord Allerton, and assisted in framing Balfour's Land Purchase Act of 1891. He was created KCB in 1891. Although Ridgeway's office was non-political, when the Liberals returned to power in 1892 he was removed, because he was so closely associated with Balfour's policy. His violent unionism and personal intransigence posed a considerable difficulty for W. E. Gladstone, the prime minister, who devoted much correspondence to the question of Ridgeway's future. After a special mission to the sultan of Morocco (1892–3) he was appointed governor of the Isle of Man from 1893 to 1895, and of Ceylon from 1896 to 1903. In Ceylon he reorganized the civil service, and by the waste lands ordinance protected crown lands from encroachment and crown forests from uncontrolled felling. In 1900 he was made GCMG.

Back in England, Ridgeway, a free-trader, the was unsuccessful Liberal candidate for the City of London in January 1906 and for London University in 1910. In March 1906 the Liberal government appointed him chairman of a committee of inquiry to go to South Africa and investigate the constitutions to be given to the Transvaal and Orange River Colony. Lord Selborne, the high commissioner, at first opposed granting responsible government, but Ridgeway was conciliatory; the home government supported him, and he and Selborne reached agreement. The commission gained the confidence of General Botha and other Boer leaders, and the committee reported in favour of immediate responsible government for both colonies, with white male franchises: non-whites continued to be excluded. The resulting Transvaal and Orange River Colony constitutions prepared the way for the Union of South Africa. In November 1906 Ridgeway was promoted GCB.

In 1910 Ridgeway became president of the British North Borneo Company. After inducing Sir Richard Dane to visit Borneo and make a report, he initiated changes in the civil service and the railway management there. Ridgeway was an honorary LLD of Cambridge and Edinburgh Universities and a vice-president of the Royal Geographical Society. He died suddenly at the Grosvenor Hotel, Victoria, London, on 16 April 1930, leaving one daughter.


  • The Times (17 May 1930)
  • A. C. Yate, Travels with the Afghan boundary commission (1887)
  • C. E. Yate, Northern Afghanistan (1888)
  • C. E. Yate, Khurasan and Sistan (1900)
  • Annual Register (1884), 340–50
  • Annual Register (1885), 309–14
  • Annual Register (1886), 413–17
  • J. A. Spender, The life of the Right Hon. Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman, 2 (1923)
  • P. Hopkirk, The great game: on secret service in high Asia (1990)
  • Lord Roberts [F. S. Roberts], Forty-one years in India, 2 (1897)
  • M. Wilson and L. Thompson, eds., The Oxford history of South Africa, 2 vols. (1971), vol. 2


  • NRA, priv. coll.
  • BL, corresp. with Arthur James Balfour, Add. MSS 49808–49812
  • BL OIOC, corresp. with Sir Henry Durand, MS Eur. D 727
  • BL OIOC, corresp. with Sir Alfred Lyall, MS Eur. F 132
  • NL Scot., corresp., mainly with Lord Rosebery
  • TNA: PRO, corresp. with Sir Arthur Nicholson, PRO 30/81


  • R. T., wood-engraving, NPG; repro. in ILN (20 Aug 1887)

Wealth at Death

£14,592 6s. 1d.: resworn probate, 14 May 1930, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

W. E. Gladstone , ed. M. R. D. Foot & H. C. G. Matthew, 14 vols. (1968–94)
Calendars of the grants of probate … made in … HM court of probate [England and Wales]