Henry McMahon

Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon GCMG GCVO KCIE CSI KStJ (28 November 1862 – 29 December 1949) was a British Indian Army officer and diplomat who served as the High Commissioner in Egypt from 1915 to 1917.[2] He was also an administrator in the British Raj and served twice as Chief Commissioner of Balochistan.[3] McMahon is best known for the McMahon-Hussein Correspondence with Hussein bin Ali, the McMahon Line between Tibet and India, and the Declaration to the Seven in response to a memorandum written by seven notable Syrians. After the Sykes-Picot Agreement was published by the Bolshevik Russian government in November 1917, McMahon resigned.[4] He also features prominently in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence's account of the Arab Revolt against the Ottoman Empire during World War I.

Sir Henry McMahon

Henry McMahon.jpeg
Painting of Henry McMahon by John Collier
Personal details
Born28 November 1862
Simla, Punjab, British India
Died29 December 1949 (1949-12-30) (aged 87)
London, UK[1]
OccupationDiplomat, commissioner
Known forMcMahon-Hussein Correspondence, the McMahon Line, Declaration to the Seven


McMahon was the son of Lieutenant-General Charles Alexander McMahon, FRS, FGS (1830–1904), a geologist and Commissioner of both Lahore and Hisar in Punjab, India,[5] and who, like his father Captain Alexander McMahon (born 1791, Kilrea, County Londonderry, Ireland) had been an officer with the East India Company. The Oriel McMahons are the Gaelic clan of Mac Mathghamhna who had come originally from the medieval Irish kingdom of Airgíalla or Oriel in South Ulster/North Leinster, where they reigned from around 1250 until about 1600.[citation needed]

Sir Henry McMahon's own family had settled in the Downpatrick area of County Down before his great-grandfather, The Rev. Arthur McMahon, moved to Kilrea, where he was minister to the local Presbyterian congregation between 1789 and 1794: a prominent Irish Republican, The Rev. Mr McMahon was a member of the National Directory of the Society of United Irishmen and one of their colonels in Ulster during the Irish Rebellion of 1798.[6] He apparently fought at the battles of Saintfield and Ballynahinch and after the rebels' overall defeat had been able to flee to France where he served with Napoléon's Irish Legion.

It is said that he was captured by the British during the Walcheren Campaign of 1809, and though sent to England, was later able to return to France where in June 1815 he eventually died fighting, it is believed, at either Ligny or of Waterloo.[7]


McMahon was commissioned a Lieutenant in the Indian Staff Corps in the 1880s and was appointed a Companion of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (CIE) in 1894. By 1897, he had been promoted to captain and was appointed a Companion of the Most Exalted Order of the Star of India (CSI) in that year. He was promoted Major in the army in July 1901.[8] He was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Most Eminent Order of the Indian Empire (KCIE) in 1906 and promoted to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel in 1909. In 1911, on the occasion of the Delhi Durbar, he was foreign secretary of the British government in India. The King made him a Knight Grand Cross of the Royal Victorian Order (GCVO), an award in his own gift. He spoke Persian, Afghani, and Hindustani, an aptitude for languages that led also to Arabic.[citation needed]

Sir Henry was appointed to the post of High Commissioner in Egypt in 1915. When he arrived by train Sir Ronald Storrs described him as "quiet, friendly, agreeable, considerate and cautious",[9] although later in his career Storrs and others were not so charitable. He was made a Knight of Grace of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (KStJ).[citation needed]

McMahon replaced Sir Milne Cheetham, briefly acting for Lord Kitchener. Although a temporary appointment it became a permanent post, for an experienced political administrator. McMahon was appointed British High Commissioner in Cairo, to replace Lord Kitchener who had become War Secretary in London. With the approval of Kitchener and Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, McMahon began a long correspondence with Sharif Husayn, the Ottoman-appointed ruler of the Hijaz to use the Bedouin tribes under his control to support the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in overthrowing the Ottomans.

McMahon proposed a demarcation line between Tibet and the North-east region of India in 1914 at Simla Convention held in Simla which was signed between British and Tibetan representatives. The line is today known as McMahon Line and is currently the effective boundary between China and India, although its legal status is disputed by the Chinese government.

Sir Gilbert Clayton, Aubrey Herbert, Storrs and others of the intelligence community approved of McMahon's pro-Arabist policy from 1916 onwards. McMahon sat on the plan to use the Sharif to support British for six months. But it was Sir Reginald Wingate who persuaded McMahon that the Arabs were ready, able and willing for Cairo to support Husayn in an effort to overthrow the Ottomans and establish a pan-Arab state made up of Ottoman Arab lands in the Middle East. Storrs thought the diplomacy was "in every way exaggerated."[10] He was appointed a Knight Grand Cross of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George (GCMG) in 1916 upon his retirement from the British Indian Army.[citation needed]

By May 1916, Turkish troops had arrived in Mecca, McMahon received a telegram from Abdullah ibn Husayn, Sharif Husayn's son, that the Movement was ready. McMahon despatched the oriental secretary, Storrs to London with a team of intelligence experts. The British decision to land at the Dardanelles, instead of Alexandretta, and to allow French Syria founded by the Sykes-Picot Agreement to exist at all, irritated McMahon. In 1920, he was awarded the Order of El Nahda, 1st Class, from the King of the Hejaz. In 1925, he was promoted to a Knight of Justice of the Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem (KStJ).[citation needed]


  • 1862-1882: Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon
  • 1882-1894: Lieutenant Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon
  • 1894-1895: Lieutenant Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, CIE
  • 1895-1897: Captain Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, CIE
  • 1897-1901: Captain Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, CSI, CIE
  • 1901-1906: Major Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, CSI, CIE
  • 1906-1909: Major Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, KCIE, CSI
  • 1909-1911: Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, KCIE, CSI
  • 1911-1916: Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, GCVO, KCIE, CSI
  • 1916-1949: Lieutenant Colonel Sir Vincent Arthur Henry McMahon, GCMG, GCVO, KCIE, CSI


A species of Asian viper, Eristicophis macmahoni, is named in honor of Henry McMahon.[11] Another species of snake, Eirenis mcmahoni, also named in his honor, is considered a synonym of Eirenis persicus.[11]


  1. ^ J. A. M (1950). "DEATH OF SIR HENRY McMAHON". Journal of the Royal Society of Arts. 98 (4812): 147–149. JSTOR 41364037.
  2. ^ Rulers.org: Egypt, Countries E, High commissioners.
  3. ^ Rulers.org: Provinces of British India, Baluchistan, Chief commissioners.
  4. ^ See CAB 24/271, Cabinet Paper 203(37)
  5. ^ Obituary of Lieut. General Charles Alexander McMahon, accessed April 2011 at http://journals.cambridge.org/download.php?file=%2FGEO%2FGEO5_1_05%2FS0016756800119685a.pdf&code=9eadff6364f30138215d621ee092fd38
  6. ^ Samuel McSkimin, The Annals of Ulster from 1790 to 1798 (1906), p 87, accessed April 2011 at https://archive.org/stream/annalsulsterfro00mccrgoog/annalsulsterfro00mccrgoog_djvu.txt
  7. ^ J.W. Kernohan, The Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O‘Crilly (1912), p 37, accessed April 2011 at http://www.torrens.org.uk/Genealogy/BannValley/books/Kilrea/Kilrea03.html
  8. ^ "No. 27362". The London Gazette. 4 October 1901. p. 6480.
  9. ^ J Schneers, "The Balfour Declaration", p. 56
  10. ^ J Schneers, pp. 54-60
  11. ^ a b Beolens, Bo; Watkins, Michael; Grayson, Michael (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. xiii + 2967 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5. ("McMahon", p. 173).



  • McSkimin, Samuel (1906). The Annals of Ulster from 1790 to 1798.
  • Beolens, B.; Watkins, M.; Grayson, M. (2011). The Eponym Dictionary of Reptiles. vol. xiii. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. pp. 2967 pp. ISBN 978-1-4214-0135-5.
  • Kernohan, W. (1912). The Parishes of Kilrea and Tamlaght O'Crilly.
  • Schneers, Jonathon (2010). The Balfour Declaration. London.


  • Friedman, Isaiah (1970). The McMahon-Hussein Correspondence and the Question of Palestine. 5. Journal of Contemporary History.

External linksEdit

Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Milne Cheetham
British High Commissioner in Egypt
9 January 1915 – 1 January 1917
Succeeded by
Sir Reginald Wingate
Preceded by
Alexander Lauzun Pendock Tucker
Chief Commissioner of Balochistan
2 April 1907 – 3 June 1909
Succeeded by
Charles Archer
Preceded by
Charles Archer
Chief Commissioner of Balochistan
6 September 1909 – 25 April 1911
Succeeded by
John Ramsay