Born on 14 December 1812 Charles John Canning was the third son of the famous statesman George Canning and was educated at Putney, Eton and Christ Church, Oxford. In 1836 he entered parliament, being returned as member for the town of Warwick in the Conservative interest.
He did not, however, sit long in the House of Commons; for, on the death of his mother in 1837, he succeeded to the peerage which had been conferred on her with remainder to her only surviving son, and as Viscount Canning took his seat in the House of Lords. His first official appointment was that of Under-Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, in the administration formed by Sir Robert Peel in 1841, his chief being the Earl of Aberdeen.
This post he held till January 1846; and from January to July of that year, when the Peel administration was broken up, Lord Canning filled the post of First Commissioner of Woods and Forests. He declined to accept office under the Earl of Derby; but on the formation of the coalition ministry under the Earl of Aberdeen in January 1853, he received the appointment of Postmaster General. In this office he showed not only a large capacity for hard work, but also general administrative ability and much zeal for the improvement of the service. He retained his post under Lord Palmerston`s ministry until July 1855, when, in consequence of the departure of Lord Dalhousie
and a vacancy in the governor-generalship of India, he was selected by Lord Palmerston to succeed to that great position.
The most significant event during his administration was the outbreak of the Sepoy Revolt, 1857. Lord Canning suppressed it and the Parliamentary Act of 1858 followed this great event. By the Proclamation of the Queen, the East India Company`s rule ended and the Crown of England took over the government of India. Though he meted out punishment to those who had taken part in the uprising, yet he avoided indiscriminate vengeance on the Indians as far as possible and thus earned the title of `Clemency Canning`. He restored law and order in an effective way and introduced a new system of administration.
While rebellion was raging in Oudh he issued a proclamation declaring the lands of the province forfeited; and this step gave rise to much angry controversy. A secret despatch, couched in arrogant and offensive terms, was addressed to the viceroy by Lord Ellenborough, then a member of the Derby administration, which would have justified the Governor-General in immediately resigning. But from a strong sense of duty he continued at his post; and ere long the general condemnation of the despatch was so strong that the writer felt it necessary to retire from office.
Lord Canning replied to the despatch, calmly and in a statesman-like manner explaining and vindicating his censured policy, and in 1858 he was rewarded by being made the first. In April 1859 he received the thanks of both Houses of Parliament for his great services during the mutiny. He was also made an extra civil grand cross of the Order of the Bath, and in May of the same year he was raised to the dignity of an Earl, as Earl Canning.
He reorganized the British Indian army and restored financial stability by introducing income tax, a uniform tariff of ten percent and a convertible paper currency. To remove certain grievances of the cultivators of Bengal under the Permanent Settlement passed the Bengal Rent Act in 1859 to give better security to the tenants. The British started tea and coffee plantations. The recommendations of Charles Wood on education made in 1854 were given effect and the three universities of Calcutta
and Madras were founded in 1857. He appointed a commission to enquire into the grievances of the peasants of Bengal and Bihar against the European Indigo-planters.
Acting on the recommendations of the commission he greatly curved the highhandedness of the planters. The Indian Penal Code framed by Lord Metcalfe, was introduced and the Criminal Procedure Code appeared in 1861. In the subsequent year the old Supreme Courts and Company`s `Adalat` were replaced by High Courts in three Presidency towns. One of the important events towards the end of Lord Canning`s administration was the passing of the Indian Council Act of 1861 by which non-official Indian members were nominated to the Viceroy`s Legislative Council.
Worn-out by the heavy and demanding tasks during the war of 1857 and after, Canning retired and left India on 18 March 1862 in bad health. But before his retirement, in recognition of his services in India, he was raised to the rank of an earldom in 1859. A few months after his return to England he died on 17 June 1862 and was buried in West Ministers Abbey.