Charles N.E. Eliot, diplomat and university administrator, studied at Balliol College, University of Oxford, from 1880 to 1884 and won various scholarships and prizes. He was a reserved person with an unusually keen intellect who chose to follow a diplomatic career. In 1887 he was appointed as attache in St Petersburg and promoted to third secretary the next year. During the next few years he travelled widely in Russua and central Asia. In 1892 he was posted to Tangier as charge d'affairs, and the following year to Constantinople as second secretary. Under a pseudonym he wrote Turkey in Europe (1890). He was made a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1898 and posted to Washington as first secretary. In 1899 he served on a commission to Samoa, where he developed an interest in nudibranchs (sea-slugs). That same year he published "Notes on some tectibranchs and naked molluscs from Samoa" (Proceedings of the Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia, 1899, pp. 512-523). During the rest of his career he collected and studied these animals.
In 1900 Eliot was made a Knight Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George (KCMG) and appointed consul-general at Zanzibar and commissioner for the East African Protectorate. He travelled widely in the region and wrote The East African Protectorate (1905). Following a dispute with the Foreign Office he resigned his post, returning to England in June 1904. The University of Edinburgh awarded him an honorary doctorate in 1905 and that same year he was appointed vice-chancellor of the new University of Sheffield, a post he held until 1912. During these years he published his only scientific paper relating to southern Africa, "On some nudibranchs from Natal", in the Annals of the Natal Museum (1910, Vol. 2, pp. 221-226). Other scientific papers by him dealt with, among others, collections of nudibranchs from East Africa and Zanzibar (1903), the Pacific Ocean (1905), the Cape Verde Islands (1906), New Zealand and the Falkland Islands (1907), the Red Sea (1908), and the Indian Ocean (1910).
Eliot travelled much in the Far East, settled in Hong Kong, and was appointed at the University there. In 1918 he resumed his diplomatic career as high commissioner and consul-general in Siberia. From 1920 to 1926 he was ambassador to Japen, but was not re-appointed. During his term of office he completed his most extensive book, Hinduism and Buddhism (1921). Afterwards he stayed on in Japan, but fell ill in 1930 and died at sea on his return to England.