copied from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
WARDROP, Sir (John) Oliver (1864–1948), diplomatist and Georgian scholar, was born on 10 October 1864 at 3 Wolsingham Place, Lambeth, Surrey, the first child and elder son of the three children of Thomas Caldwell Wardrop (1836–1903), a joiner and partner in a building firm, and his wife, Marjory Cameron Scott (1837–1918); both parents were Scottish. A delicate child, he was sent at the age of five to his grandparents' farm in West Calder, Midlothian, where he attended the village school. His education continued at the Coopers' Company grammar school, Stepney (1873–80), and then at schools in Paris and Dissen, Germany (1880–81). He later studied at the Sorbonne (1885–6) and in Rome, where he spent three months before embarking in 1886 on an extensive tour of Egypt, the Middle East, and Georgia.
Georgia immediately aroused Wardrop's enthusiasm. This is clearly apparent in his first book, The Kingdom of Georgia: Notes of Travel in a Land of Women, Wine and Song (1888), the subtitle of which belies its author's perception and erudition. W. R. Morfill, later his Russian tutor at Oxford, read the manuscript and recommended publication. Encouraged by James Bryce, the professor of civil law, who had recently made a tour of the Caucasus, Wardrop entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1888, was thrice awarded the Taylorian exhibition, each time for a different language (Spanish, French, and Italian), and took a first in modern history in 1891.
Wardrop held a commission in the 19th Middlesex rifle volunteers and qualified as an army interpreter in Russian, which led to his appointment as private secretary (1892–3) to the British ambassador in St Petersburg, Sir Robert Morier. He kept in touch with his many friends in the Caucasus and continued his studies in both medieval and modern Georgian, sometimes collaborating with his sister, Marjory Wardrop, who shared his admiration for the country. His annotated edition of Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani's Book of Wisdom and Lies (1894), a seventeenth-century collection which enjoys in Georgia the same prestige as the fables of La Fontaine in France, was printed by William Morris at the Kelmscott Press. On his second visit to Georgia in 1894 he was joined by his mother and sister, and the English party was delighted by the warmth of their welcome. This was a testing time for the Georgians in the face of advancing Russification, and it was appreciated that the Wardrops' sympathies were with the nationalist cause. By their translations they were bringing Georgia to the notice of a wider public in the West.
Wardrop now determined to pursue a career in Russia and the Caucasus. In 1895 he entered the consular service, and he was thereafter accompanied on his postings by his sister. They worked together on The Life of St Nino (1900), a biography of the fourth-century female evangelist of Georgia translated from medieval texts. Wardrop was vice-consul in Kertch for seven years (1895–1902), was briefly in Sevastopol, and was, intermittently, acting consul-general in Poland, Romania, Tunis, and Haiti. When consul in St Petersburg (1903–6) during the Revolution of 1905, he was distressed at Cossack repression in Georgia and made great efforts on behalf of the Georgian nation, supporting public appeals and setting up a Georgian relief committee. He served as consul in Romania (1906–10), during which time his sister died and his own ill health led to his resignation from the service.
Wardrop married a Norwegian, Margrethe Collett (1877–1960), on 15 October 1912; it was a happy marriage, and there were two sons and a daughter. In retirement he devoted himself to Caucasian studies, making accessible two great poems of twelfth-century Georgia, akin to the lays of the minnesingers and troubadours. Rust‘aveli's The Man in the Panther's Skin (1912) was Marjory Wardrop's translation, which he prepared for publication. His own translation Visramiani—the Story of the Loves of Vis and Ramin (1914), originally written in Persian and recast in Georgian, Wardrop described as one of the oldest novels in the world. His English–Svanetian Vocabulary appeared in 1911, followed by a Catalogue of the Georgian Manuscripts in the British Museum (1913), a translation of the liturgy of St James (1913), in collaboration with F. C. Conybeare, and Laws of King George V of Georgia (1914).
On the outbreak of the First World War Wardrop rejoined the Foreign Office, becoming consul-general in Bergen, then the chief channel of trade between Britain and northern Europe. He was created CMG in 1917 and appointed consul-general in Moscow, a hazardous posting in which he served throughout the revolution; on one occasion he was burning consular papers while his officials delayed armed police at the door. In 1919 he returned to the Foreign Office (political intelligence department).
After the Bolshevik Revolution the Caucasian states broke away from Russia, and in 1919 the British government took the imaginative step of appointing Wardrop, now the pre-eminent scholar of Georgian history and literature, as British chief commissioner to the newly independent republics of Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan. This was the most interesting and appropriate appointment of his career; he was returning to the countries where he had travelled widely as a young man, whose languages he understood, and where he was known and highly regarded. He set up his headquarters in Tiblisi, where life was described by his assistant Harry Luke as a ‘fascinating blend of the polished and the barbaric’ (Luke, 118). Against the background of the advancing Bolshevik forces, Wardrop attempted to reconcile the interests of his beloved Georgia with those of Great Britain and the Western powers. It was an extremely tense time; the Caucasus was a focus for Russian émigrés, and the financial and social instability of the new republics caused much hardship; it was on Wardrop's generosity that the Georgian patriarch depended for his daily bread. When ill health again obliged Wardrop to retire, shortly before the British withdrawal in July 1920, Luke observed that for both his chief and the Georgians, Wardrop's departure was a moving event. He returned briefly to the Foreign Office (department of overseas trade) until appointed a British delegate to the inter-allied commission for the relief of Russia in Paris in 1921. He was created KBE in 1922 while in his final posting as consul-general in Strasbourg (1920–27).
Wardrop corresponded with Georgian scholars and had a fine collection of books and manuscripts; he bequeathed them to the Bodleian Library, where they form the basis of the Wardrop collection. He served on the council of the Royal Asiatic Society from 1928 (acting as vice-president in 1944) and was a governor of the School of Oriental and African Studies (1939–45). He was active on the board of management of the Marjory Wardrop Fund, which he established in Oxford in memory of his sister with the aim of encouraging Georgian studies.
Oliver Wardrop stands in the long line of scholar–public servants. The languages, history, and traditions of the Caucasus were his lifelong interests and determined the course of his career and achievements. The plight of Georgians under both tsarist and Soviet rule concerned him greatly, and he played a decisive role in making Georgia's distinctive culture better known to the British public.
For many years Wardrop lived at the Home Farm, Chipstead, Sevenoaks, Kent. He died on 19 October 1948 at his home, 49 Downshire Hill, Hampstead, London, and was buried in the family grave in St Nicholas's parish churchyard at Sevenoaks.
Jennifer Donkin, ‘Wardrop, Sir (John) Oliver (1864–1948)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/49215, accessed 25 July 2014]
WARDROP, Marjory Scott (1869–1909), Georgian scholar and translator, was born on 26 November 1869 at 41 Canton Street, Poplar, London, the only daughter and youngest of the three children of Thomas Caldwell Wardrop (1836–1903), a joiner and partner in a building firm, and his wife, Marjory Cameron Scott (1837–1918); both parents were Scottish. The family moved to Chislehurst, and she was educated there and at Eastbourne in private schools, where she learned French, German, and Latin. She later became fluent in Russian and Romanian; it is, however, for her mastery of Georgian that she was distinguished.
The Kingdom of Georgia (1888) by Marjory's brother (John) Oliver Wardrop first excited Marjory Wardrop's interest in the Caucasus. She longed to travel there herself, rather than, as she wrote, ‘stay at home, just doing nothing when I might be living, learning and working’ (N. Wardrop, 511). At the age of twenty she began her study of Georgian with an alphabet and a gospel. Working at home with books sent by her brother, she embarked on the challenging task of translating the long twelfth-century poem The Man in the Panther's Skin by Shot‘a Rust‘aveli, a courtly epic from the classical period of Georgian literature. In this she was encouraged by the Georgian man of letters Prince Ilia Chadchadadze [sic.; the name is spelled 'Chavchavadze'], whose permission she had sought to translate his poem The Hermit. Her letter so impressed him that he published it in his newspaper as a model of literary style. She worked on the epic throughout her life, modestly denying that it was perfect enough for publication, and it appeared only after her death, prepared for the press by her brother in 1912. Meanwhile she published Georgian Folktales (1894), the first translation into English of secular Georgian literature.
Marjory's parents were persuaded that she might join her brother, then in the Caucasus, and the pleasure that she took in her first visit is vividly described in her unpublished ‘Notes on a journey into Georgia in 1894–5’. Georgians rate hospitality highly, and she and her brother were entertained by friends in literary circles with open-air banquets, dancing, and singing. It was known and appreciated that Marjory was translating their national epic, and in espousing the Georgian language the Wardrops were supporting the nationalist cause. Soon after this visit Marjory Wardrop's rendering of The Hermit (1895) was published. Her flowing verse makes it the best of her translations, and it was well received in Georgia. On her second visit to the Caucasus in 1896 she was fêted everywhere. Such was her gentle charm and warmth of character that she made many friends and kept up a close correspondence with them.
After her brother joined the consular service in 1895 Marjory Wardrop accompanied him on all his postings. For ten years she lived in Russia—at Kertch (1895–1902), Sevastopol (1899), and St Petersburg (1903–5)—and she was briefly in Tunis, Haiti, and Poland. Using her collection of Georgian books, she continued her work on Rust'aveli's epic and, with her brother, published from medieval texts the Life of St Nino (1900), on the fourth-century female evangelist of Georgia.
The contemporary problems of the country were also of great concern to Marjory Wardrop. While in St Petersburg during the Russian Revolution of 1905 she translated for the British embassy accounts of Cossack repression in Georgia. She was active on the Georgia Relief Committee and made a personal plea to the bishop of Gibraltar to intercede with the Russian holy synod on behalf of the Georgian church. The last three years of her life were spent in Romania (1906–9). After a brief illness she died, unmarried, on 7 December 1909 at the British consul-general's home in Bucharest, and on 21 December was buried in St Nicholas's parish churchyard, Sevenoaks, Kent.
Marjory Wardrop's translations were made at a time when Georgians were emphasizing their distinctive culture in the face of increasing Russification. Her work led to a wider appreciation not only of Georgian literature but of the country itself, and for this she was held in the highest regard and affection throughout Georgia. In his sister's memory Oliver Wardrop established in Oxford the Marjory Wardrop Fund with the aim of encouraging Georgian studies; her extensive library and papers are in the Wardrop collection of the Bodleian Library.
Jennifer Donkin, ‘Wardrop, Marjory Scott (1869–1909)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/49216, accessed 25 July 2014]
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