The Appalling Pottingers 43

One wealthy family through generations has been a pillar of the British establishment, and at the same time responsible for an astonishing amount of harm. Yet you have probably never heard of the Pottingers. Their history can almost make you believe in Grand Guginol stories that a capacity for evil can be genetically inherited. The Bell Pottinger scandal in South Africa, where the PR firm has been found to have deliberately exacerbated racial tension in collusion with corrupt billionaires, is only the latest episode. Here is a glimpse into the astonishing story of the Pottingers.

Purely by chance I have stumbled in three entirely different ways on the activities of the Pottingers in different generations, which is how I can tell this story, and nobody else can.

Sir Henry Pottinger 1789-1856 Protagonist of the Opium War – Tiberius Like Imperial Ruler Steeped in Sexual Exploitation

In researching Sikunder Burnes, I encountered Sir Henry Pottinger, pillar of the British establishment and Burnes’ boss, who features prominently throughout the book. As a very young man Henry undertook one of those heroic journeys in disguise that were a staple of Raj exploration, across the Baloch lands to Persia. But he developed into an extremely bellicose imperialist, craving the annexation of the territory of modern Pakistan. He also developed a pathological hatred of Burnes. This caused him to contradict Burnes’ advice to disembark Sir John Keane’s Bombay Army at Karachi in 1839, instead choosing a completely unsuitable beach. He also overruled Burnes’ personally reconnoitred supply line through the Thatta desert. Both decisions were wrong and based on intense jealousy of Burnes, and caused major delays and losses to the army.

Henry Pottinger found the outlet for his Imperial aggression in the Opium War, as breathtakingly immoral a war as any in the history of all Empire, in which Britain forced China to accept the flow of opium from the East India Company. After killing Chinese with brutal efficiency, Pottinger was responsible for the forced cession by lease of Hong Kong as a UK colony. He became the first Governor of Hong Kong.

The history books are coy on the circumstances which led to his tenure of Hong Kong being cut short, and this being beyond the scope of my Burnes book I did not get into manuscript research on it, but it involved a dispute with the British merchants and involved both Henry Pottinger’s personal money-making schemes and his relationship with “pretty Mrs Morgan.” Removed to South Africa as Governor of Cape Colony, the history books are more explicit about why he did not last long there. G M Theal’s History of South Africa recounts:

No other Governor of his colony ever lived in such open licentiousness as he. His amours would have been scandalous in a young man, in one approaching his sixtieth anniversary they were inexcusable… a cold, calculating, sneering, unsympathetic demeanour prevented men of virtue being attached to him.

Eldred Pottinger 1811-43 Imperial Fraud

Henry’s nephew Eldred became famous to Victorians as “The Hero of Herat”. It is a great story of the British Empire. On shooting leave, Eldred Pottinger was indulging in the favourite heroic occupation of exploring the North West Frontier of the Raj in disguise. He chanced to be in Herat when this Afghan city came under lengthy siege from a Russian-officered Persian army. The cowardly Afghan rulers would have been overwhelmed but fortunately the lone plucky Brit in the City organised the defences and held the Russian hordes at bay, preventing their marching on India. Famously, at one point when Persian troops had breached the defences, Pottinger drove the cowardly fleeing Wazir, Yar Mohammed Khan, back to fight with the flat of his sword.

Except it is all utter bullshit. Surviving manuscript letters of Alexander Burnes make plain Pottinger was in Herat on Burnes’ orders, and Burnes explicitly states that Eldred Pottinger’s presence in the city being “on leave” was a ruse because Britain was breaking its explicit treaty obligation to be neutral in a conflict between Afghanistan and Persia. Yet no British historian has ever published this until I published Sikunder Burnes – even Peter Hopkirk and William Dalrymple repeat the lie of Eldred being there accidentally.

Furthermore the idea that the Afghans were cowards inspired by a true Brit is total nonsense. Pottinger was by no means the only European involved in the city’s defence. The entire story of the “Hero of Herat”, including the bit about driving the Wazir to the breach with his sword, was concocted by the Raj’s great Victorian propagandist, Sir John Kaye. The only evidence for it was said to be in Pottinger’s own journals, which were “accidentally” destroyed in a fire in Kaye’s study. To be fair to Eldred Pottinger, Burnes (who knew the Wazir well and doubted the story) records that Eldred never spoke of his famous exploits, and became embarrassed when they were mentioned. Eldred Pottinger survived captivity in the First Afghan War but died during the Opium War, possibly by suicide.

Sir Frederick Pottinger 1831-65 – Australian Villain

Henry Pottinger’s son Frederick occupies a position in Australian folklore akin to the Sheriff of Nottingham in England, as the ruthless enforcer of harsh British rule and enemy of the Bushrangers. While the latter are unfairly romanticised, there is no doubt Fred was a nasty piece of work.

Eton educated, Frederick whored and gambled his way through much of the family estate, and although his father was a senior Imperial governor, Fred was cut off and sent to a lowly position in the New South Wales police. All of Henry’s ruthlessness in the Opium War was displayed by Fred in law enforcement in Australia. In March 1863 a young boy accused of being a gang lookout died in detention under Fred Pottinger and his notoriety spread. In 1865 Pottinger was dismissed for his violent conduct in pursuing fugitives, and died shortly thereafter in a gun accident, again possibly a suicide.

William George Pottinger 1906-98- Scotland’s Corrupt Civil Service Chief

The Pottingers continued right at the heart of the British political establishment, and I skip several generations – but assure you it is the same family – to come to William Pottinger. The most disgusting example of a modern corrupt civil servant imaginable, William was right up there in the monarchical pecking order, awarded by the Queen as a Companion of the Royal Victorian Order and Companion of the Order of the Bath. While Permanent Secretary at the Scottish Office, Pottinger corruptly handed the architect George Poulson a contract to design the Aviemore Centre. Poulson’s bribes to Pottinger included £20,000 cash, cars and Savile Row suits. William Pottinger was sentenced to seven years in jail, reduced to four on his flashing his royal awards and establishment connections. Oh sorry, I meant on appeal.

This was the second time I came into contact with the baleful Pottinger story, my own father having a relationship with Poulson and Pottinger through T Dan Smith, my father serving for years as a manager at the Aviemore Centre where I also worked throughout my teens.

After jail William published, under his middle name George Pottinger, execrable biographies of his ancestors Henry and Eldred Pottinger, which elide pretty well all I have told you here.

Piers Julian Dominic Pottinger 1954-present – Right Wing Propagandist

The son of the disgusting criminal William George Pottinger is Piers Pottinger, and I wish to make plain that I do not believe that psychotic behaviour can be inherited and that in no way is this blog intended to imply that Piers Pottinger, Chairman of MySquar Ltd registered in Tortola in the entirely respectable British Virgin Islands, is in any way connected with anything dodgy. Mr Pottinger is a highly accepted pillar of the British establishment just like all his ancestors.

Piers currently chairs the Asian wing of Bell Pottinger, which he co-founded with Tim Bell. They were famously propagandists for Thatcher and also Tory Party donors. Until the current massive corruption scandal in South Africa led to suspension of operations, Bell Pottinger had represented an entirely respectable slate of clients including:

Dictator President Augusto Pinochet of Chile
Dictator Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus
The vicious torturing monarchy of Bahrain
Oscar Pistorius
Kate & Gerry McCann
Rolf Harris
Coca Cola

I could go on.

This current manifestation of this “remarkable” family was the subject of my third personal stumbling on information. In about (from memory) 2006, Uzbek opposition leader Mohammed Solih visited Britain, after I had helped campaign to get him a visa. While here, one businessman took him to a meeting in a grand board room in the City of London. There an astonishing presentation was made to him, and an astonishing proposition put.

Solih could be made President of Uzbekistan in a year. Substantial money would be invested upfront to undermine President Karimov. Key named leaders in the Uzbek security services and defence forces would be bought up. The media narrative to the Uzbek public would be secured. Financial sector activity would isolate Karimov’s access to his money in the UK and Europe. A revolution could successfully be procured. In return, all Solih had to do was to sign contracts to deliver Uzbekistan’s oil, gas, gold and uranium to certain Western companies – special purpose vehicles which disguised who really would benefit.

Solih was astonished. “Just who are you?” he joked “are you MI6 or the Illuminati?”

No, came the reply, we are Bell Pottinger.

Solih of course refused to sell his country down the river. The story sounded amazing when he first told me, but in the light of what we now hear from South Africa it makes perfect sense.

The Pottingers. A key cog in the evil ways of the British establishment, down the centuries. Understanding the history of this family gives an essential glimpse into just how the British establishment really works.

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43 thoughts on “The Appalling Pottingers

  • Bert.

    It may surprise you to be told that there is now some evidence to show that evil can follow in families.

    James Fallon, an American neuroscientist, has been researching psychopathy for years.Unsurprisingly, he takes the physiological approach. Essentially for him, an under-activated ventro-medial prefrontal cortex is a crucial part of the story. His interest was peaked when he found a typically psychopathic under-activated ventro-medial prefrontal cortex in his own brain scan. He has written a book about this: The Psychopath Inside. He comes to the point of describing how a family member had been interested in Genealogy and had traced the family line back to our King John: one of the most despicable of the English Kings. Also, as you will be aware, the kings immediately before and after John are similarly notorious.

    Chapter four of the book: Bloodlines, argues that there is a genetic link stretching all the way from the Kings of medieval England to his family today. Initially I thought this absurd. King John is 800 years ago. At 25 years per generation that is 32 generations. Given that we share half our genes with each parent and one quarter with our grand-parents and one-eighth with our great grandparents; after 32 generations we would be sharing 1/4,000,000,000 part of our ancestral genes. Given that there are about 6,000,000,000 nucleotides in a human genome that would leave us with just about 1.5 nucleotides from 32 generations ago. NONSENSE.

    Our genetic pick-and-mix does not divide down to the nucleotide level; we mix our genes at the gene level and there are only a few tens of thousands of active genes in a human being. We are still a pick-and-mix of genes most of which have been doing the rounds for several million years. It is entirely plausible for someone in this day and age to be carrying the same (possibly psychopathic) genes as endowed so many of our monarchs with their penchant for barbarity.

    If you want to read the chapter, drop me a line and I will scan it and send it to you.


  • Mayeaux Wren

    Hullo Craig,

    You say the Opium War as if there was only one. What with there being two, with fourteen years between them, Opium Wars, surely?

    And re the opium part of things, am I missing something? The Opium was David Sassoon’s surely? And did Sassoon have any significant connection with the East India Trading Company? There’s no mention of it at all on his wikipedia page, nor theirs. Given that his wealth rivalled the Rothschilds – “whatever moves over sea or land feels the hand or bears the mark of Sassoon and Company” – I’d always assumed he’d have had his own ships, ie. no need for the East India.

    Yes? No? Good Evening?

    • craig Post author

      The dangers of Wikipedia, I am afraid, The East India Company had a monopoly on the export of Opium from British India. It was sent in wooden boxes which had the EIC seal, and which are now collector’s items. The monopoly was ruthlessly enforced. Sassoon and others may have been able to purchase opium from the EIC as importers into China – the opium was sold to third party importers not to the Chinese government. Sassoon is an interesting figure but nowhere near as powerful as you – or Wikipedia – portray him, a mere ant on the back of the EIC elephant.

      The EIC bought tea from China with the opium revenue. Duty on that tea made up an astonishing 10% of all British government revenue in London. That is why the trade was worth a war – or two. Henry Pottinger’s involvement was with the first Opium War, which resulted in the annexation of Hong Kong. The second was much less important.

      At the time of the first Opium War the British had just annexed Karachi and coastal Sind, cutting off the major leak in the EIC monopoly.


      • Mayeaux Wren

        Thanks Craig,

        I admit I’m a mere dilettante but was not the EIC monopoly broken by the Charter Act five years before the first war?

        As for elephants v ants, I don’t think the Rothschilds married their children to ants, ha ha.

  • Courtenay Barnett

    I really chuckled when I read this:-
    “Furthermore the idea that the Afghans were cowards inspired by a true Brit is total nonsense”
    For from considering Alexander the Great through to Genghis Khan and all the way down to British troops in Helmand and the defeat of the Soviets and the impasse the Americans are presently facing – does one have to be a history buff to say – it is amazing what a near Medieval fighting force of ‘cowards’ can do to soldiers with sophisticated weapons from advanced sophisticated countries – isn’t it?

  • EnKi

    Try reading “I was an economic hitman” by Larry Perkins. This tells the story of how corrupt western governments operate to steal resources fro m other countries. An A to Z guide almost.

  • Sharp Ears

    Excellent. As I read, I knew that there would be mention of gongs and honours awarded by the ‘royal’ family. Any Pottinger connection to the current crowd, P Andrew for instance?

    This is an update on the fallout.

    Bell Pottinger investor walks away as South Africa row deepens
    Chime gives up trying to sell its 27% stake as PR firm is expelled from trade body over secret campaign to stir up racial tensions

    When I saw mention of Chime, I thought of Coe. His outfit is Chime Communications Ltd. No connection I assume. 🙂

    • Sharp Ears

      Thought I would have a look. There is a tenuous connection to the ‘royal’ family.

      Duke of York’s man quits to make a fortune
      Prince Andrew’s private secretary, Major Alastair Watson, has resigned to pursue a career in the private sector.

      ‘Until the Duke of York stepped down as Britain’s trade envoy last year after a series of controversies, his private secretary, Major Alastair Watson, was given an invaluable introduction to some of the world’s biggest companies. Now, he can use that experience to seek his fortune.

      Mandrake can disclose that the former Black Watch officer, 59, has handed in his resignation after nine years as Prince Andrew’s right-hand man. “We can confirm Alastair Watson will be leaving the post to continue his career in the private sector,” a Buckingham Palace spokesman tells me.

      In December, Major Watson’s son, Harry, hit the headlines when it was reported that he had been taken on by the lobbyists Bell Pottinger.’

  • BrianPowell

    Much more of the real history of Britain required. Also looking forward to the real history of Culloden, pity we have to wait a couple years for it to be available.

    • mark golding

      Your IP address discloses what software you are using in some cases and always exposes your country and city, your coordinates, your post-code, your Organisation and ISP, your hostname and GMT offset. Your actual home address is sourced through your ISP or organisation.

      During the Iraq war my contact with Iraq hospitals and Iraqi doctors (doctorforIraq) was made via Internet cafe or short-wave radio amateur bands yet never encrypted.

  • nevermind

    Thanks Craig, the history of Bell Pottinger should be taught to 6th formers everywhere, as an example to those who believe that this was all great fun and that ‘we have educated the natives’, especially now that the company is crumbling in front of our eyes.
    It should be a mandatory curriculum subject for all privileged education establishment still littering the country with their pomposity and so called traditional rigmarole.

  • johnf

    Was Eldred Pottinger the barbarian responsible for blowing up most of the beautiful pillars of the GoharShad Mosque in Herat? A few still stand forlornly there – the colours in their stone still glow.

    • johnf

      Sorry, it was a Madrassah, not a Mosque.

      And another question.

      One of the great unexplained stories of this year’s August “Silly Season” was James Chapman’s – ex-Daily Mail political editor, Westminster insider par-excellence, and Pottinger partner – sudden 15 day spasm on Twitter calling for the overthrow of Theresa May and the Tories (with a few harsh words on Corbyn) and the call for the birth of a new centre party. It caused by a lot of controversy for a few days and his Twitter account was suddenly strangulated on the 16th of August.

      I presume he was acting on behalf of a Pottinger client but have no idea who? I suspect it was mainly an anti-Corbyn move. “Chappers” post Daily Mail was George Osbourne’s SPAD and ran the Remain PR Campaign. He then mysterously switched sides immediately post-referendum and became David Davies’s PR Man for his Brussels negotiations before resigning abruptly and leading this pro-Remain Twitter spasm.

      A Pottinger man of mystery.

  • Gerald

    I’ve always wondered how Kate & Gerry McCann got a firm like Bell Pottinger to represent them. Why would they be interested in a child abduction case?

  • Margaret Murison

    Nothing astonishes me about the so called upper classes of this corrupt country and they protect each other

  • John Goss

    Whenever I read about families like the Pottingers it brings home to me that there is a big divide between how ordinary people are treated by the law and lawmakers to the way the creme-de-la-creme at the top, as they see themselves, or the scum at the top, as others see them, are treated. It is that arrogance that Bell-Pottinger could get introductions to Prime Ministers and very high-ranking officials, and they could and can, that means this latest scandal regarding racism against South Africans will soon blow over with nobody being brought to account (unless it is a minor scapegoat within the company). As with Dr Liam Fox the scandal will soon blow over and they will resurface with clean slates – depite them being the bad people they are.

    The only solution is to create a more egalitarian society. Make sure you vote for Jeremy Corbyn at the next General Election!

  • John Goss

    During the Bell-Pottinger “cash for introductions” scandal Tim Collins, a facilitator for Bell-Pottiner at the time claimed that the firm was able to optimize Google search results:

    “And where we want to get to – and this will take time, this is where David’s team are magical – is you get to the point where even if they type in “Uzbek child labour” or “Uzbek human rights violation”, some of the first results that come up are sites talking about what you guys are doing to address and improve that, not just the critical voices saying how terrible this all is”. (re-quoted from Wikipedia).

    I have just proved this is still going on. Using the search term “Pottinger bell bribes scandal BBC” in Yandex brings up a republication by Before it’s News of Craig’s current blog-piece on the 2nd page. This is the republication.

    Using the same search term in Google brings no mention on the first five pages. As if we needed proof of where Google’s loyalties lie!

  • J Galt

    Thanks for another fascinating if depressing delve into characters from the sewer that is the British Establishment.

    There’s two that I’m currently fascinated by – one from the past and one from the present.

    Firstly Alfred Milner 1st Viscount Milner who in the run up to (preparation for?) WW1 appeared to be handing out orders to even Royalty and Prime Ministers and yet is virtually unknown now.

    The other is Keir Starmer, another one of these “from nowhere” characters – who’s he working for? Is he Corbyn’s minder?

    • Roy David

      Keir Starmer ‘another one of these “from nowhere” characters.’ I suppose you are correct if you think that being the UK’s former Director of Public Prosecutions and head of the Crown Prosecution Service is no significant achievement.

      • J Galt

        I get your point, thanks.

        However from not being on the Telly to being on the Telly all the time means that for us proles he has somewhat come from nowhere.

        And I find that interesting.

  • Konrad

    Your story about the latest version, concerning Uzbekistan, reminds me strongly of the Wonga Coup, regarding Equatorial Guinea, where another opposition leader was also lined up as a notional future president. I’m not sure there is any overlap in the people involved, but clearly there is more of this going on in the background than I was aware of.

  • Mark LaFrance

    Thank you very much for this update. We knew it was happening, but had no names. This respected family must have branches here in Canada……… Imperialism at its best……..

  • mickc

    Excellent stuff! I remember the Poulson affair and indeed recall lunching with my parents at a hotel adjacent to a famous golf course near Edinburgh a couple of years later. At a nearby table was one Mr Pottinger, whom my parents recognised from his photo in the Sunday Times. They commented on his apparent affluence….
    I wondered if Bell Pottinger were connected when I first heard of them! Now I know….and am not at all surprised!

  • giyane

    It seems a little more than coincidental that Craig is attacked by a Zionist tick just when Mrs May is at her weakest. She will not survive the Conservative Party conference. The anti-Corbyn tick crawled from its hiding place just in time to sink its teeth into one of Corbyn’s most sincere well-wishers, just when Corbyn is preparing himself to take advantage of May’s weakness, the DUP has a tantrum at Brexit talks on power-sharing in Northern Ireland, and Corbyn calls for a vote of no confidence in parliament. the bloated tick is about to feel the burning embers of David Cameron’s cigarette.

    Cameron was shunted aside because he refused to do Israel’s bidding twice, as Blair was in quick succession in Afghanistan and Iraq. May is making a big song and dance about Brexit, pretending she doesn’t know anything about politics. She reckons she’s got 2 years to faff about on that pathetic excuse before Israel demands a new war in the Middle East. What is brewing is not nice.

    Iraqi Kurdistan has been told to hold a referendum on “7 September 2017 about staying in Iraq or breaking away from Baghdad. When the false votes are counted Kurdistan will no longer have its Kurdish politicians in Baghdad to defend its global or domestic interests. Power would inevitably be transferred by an independence Yes vote to the expired president Barzani, now embezzling dictator. No government salaries are being paid in Kurdistan. Only basic foodstuffs, rice, flour and sugar are being provided by HQ in Baghdad. Barzani will not spend a penny on his population. All goes into his private bank accounts.

    the same arrangements that Pottinger made to Solih the opposition leader in Uzbekistan as described by Craig above are in place in Kurdistan. Blair and Cameron are in it up to their eyeballs, it being Islamic State, Erdogan’s theft of oil from Kurdistan. What will follow while Mrs May is busy pretending to do the washing-up over Brexit is that dictator Barzani will sell the remaining oil-producing pockets of Kurdistan to global kleptocrats of USUKIS. All in the best of possible taste.

    this will start a new war in the Middle East as the Kurds are finally pushed to fight against the fake Muslim kleptomaniacs Erdogan and Barzani directly, instead of as part of the Israeli power grab in Syria. nobody is afraid of that fight. The fact that Barzani is in power long after his mandate has expired proves that the supposed coup against Erdogan was a spoof. They are NATO appointees USUKIS is trying to use to legitimise of democratise colonial land theft. Is Cameron going to let Mrs May off the hook by saying she’s busy in the kitchen when he had to take the rap for both Libya and Syria for Bibi? No. May will be gone by October, frit.

    They’ll put that grey turd Liam Fox in her place. All they need is to deal with Corbyn winning a vote of no confidence in parliament to get their shill in place.

  • Nigel Hastilow

    Having read your book on Alexander Burnes, I was interested in your views of Eldred Pottinger as I am writing a novel about him which, no doubt, you would find ill-informed. I was struck by your suggestion that he killed himself while in Hong Kong because I have not seen any suggestion of that in the past. Is there any evidence to support that view?

    • Jack POTTINGER

      Probably not. Frederick was my great great great uncle, (I’m in Australia) his weapon misfired. No suicide there either.

    • craig Post author

      James Burnes thought it was suicide, but don’t know where his information came from. There is no doubt Eldred was deeply psychologically (as well as physically) scarred by his whole Afghan experience, the siege of Charikar being particularly horrific.


    Cheers for repeatedly insinuating my family are psychopaths. This came off as Petty and disgusting,
    your emotional bias is clear. Granted I skimmed over this garbage but did you not say your father had direct contact with a Pottinger? So you were essentially raised and educated to hate them.

    Let’s take all this for facts anyway-seems I come from a long line of assholes. But you? You’re just a sad vindictive old little man furiously typing away in some strange attempt to bury an entire family. Cute.

    • craig Post author

      Hello Jack,

      You do have a fascinating family history much of which is not very honourable. Try to relish it as interesting and amusing. My father never, that I can recall, mentioned George Pottinger to me, I learnt most of what I know about the (ahem) less open part of my Dad’s life from other people (he died quite a while ago).

  • Rob Hammond

    Living in South Africa and having to live with the drama that they managed, the resultant rhetoric that has become a part of our daily lives, leads one to start looking at the contracts that Bell Pottinger had with the US military between 2007 and 2014/5, the rhetoric and “fake” news that they propagated to wonder just how much of the drama that engulfs the USA today belongs to them as well.
    Just a thought!!

  • Lynne Rayos

    One thing I’ve noticed is always that there are plenty of fallacies regarding the banking institutions intentions whenever talking about foreclosures. One fantasy in particular would be the fact the bank wishes to have your house. The lender wants your dollars, not your property. They want the amount of money they gave you with interest. Steering clear of the bank will only draw some sort of foreclosed realization. Thanks for your posting.

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