Henry Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote

Henry Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote
The Right Honourable
The Lord Northcote
3rd Governor-General of Australia
In office
21 January 1904 – 9 September 1908
Monarch Edward VII
Preceded by The Lord Tennyson
Succeeded by The Earl of Dudley
12th Governor of Bombay
In office
17 February 1900 – 5 September 1903
Preceded by William Mansfield
Succeeded by James Monteath
Member of Parliament
for Exeter
In office
Serving with Edward Johnson (1880–1885)
Preceded by John George Johnson
Succeeded by Edgar Vincent
Personal details
Born 18 November 1846(1846-11-18)
London, United Kingdom
Died 29 September 1911(1911-09-29) (aged 64)
Ashford, Kent
United Kingdom
Spouse(s) Alice Stephen DBE (d. 1934)

Henry Stafford Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote GCMG, GCIE, CB, PC (18 November 1846 – 29 September 1911), known as Sir Henry Northcote, Bt, between 1887 and 1900, was a Conservative politician and colonial administrator. He served as the third Governor-General of Australia between 1904 and 1908.


Background and education

Northcote was born in London, the second son of the prominent Conservative politician Sir Stafford Northcote, later first Earl of Iddesleigh, by his wife cecilia Frances, daughter of Thomas Farrer and sister of Thomas Farrer, 1st Baron Farrer. He was educated at Eton and Merton College, Oxford (B.A. 1869; M.A. 1873), and then joined the Foreign Office as a diplomat.[1]

Diplomatic and political career

Northcote was secretary to the British delegation negotiating the Alabama Claims between 1871 and 1873. From 1877 to 1880 he was private secretary to his father, then Chancellor of the Exchequer. In 1880 he was elected to the House of Commons as MP for Exeter, a seat he held until 1899. He served under Lord Salisbury as Financial Secretary to the War Office between 1885 and 1886 and as Surveyor-General of the Ordnance between 1886 and 1888, when that office was abolished.[1] He was appointed a Companion of the Order of the Bath (CB) in 1880[2] and created a Baronet, of Seamore Place in the Parish of St George, Hanover Square, in the County of Middlesex, in 1887.[3] In 1899 he was appointed Governor of Bombay.[4] In early 1900 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Northcote, of the City and County of the City of Exeter,[5] and appointed a Knight Grand Commander of the Order of the Indian Empire (GCIE).[6]

Governor-General of Australia

Northcote was still Governor of Bombay when the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, offered him the post of Governor-General of Australia in 1903.[7] The first two Governors-General, Lord Hopetoun and Lord Tennyson, had served shortened terms and had had difficult relations with Australian ministers. Both the British and Australian governments wanted stability and continuity, and Northcote was appointed for a five-year term. His life-long experience in politics and his time in Bombay made him a suitable appointment. He was neither as imperious as Hopetoun nor as stuffy as Tennyson, and he made a good impression with both politicians and the public.

This was just as well, because Northcote was the first Australian Governor-General to have to deal with political instability. In doing this, he sought the advice of the Chief Justice of the newly created High Court of Australia, Sir Samuel Griffith.[8] In April 1904 the Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, resigned, and was succeeded in quick succession by the Labor leader Chris Watson, the Free Trade leader George Reid and then Deakin again. Both Watson and Reid asked Northcote to dissolve Parliament before their resignations, and in both cases he refused. At this time no-one doubted that the Governor-General had a discretion in these cases. It is a measure of Northcote's standing that all these leaders respected his decisions.

Like his predecessors, Northcote saw himself as a diplomatic representative of the British government as well a vice-regal representative. He was actively involved in negotiations between the British and Australian governments over contentious trade and shipping issues, although his role diminished after 1906 when the Liberal Party came to power in Britain, cutting off much of his influence in London.

In 1907 Northcote and Deakin had a falling out when the Governor-General, on instructions from London, declined to give his assent to a bill restricting appeals from the Australian courts to the Privy Council in London. Deakin, although a loyal Imperialist, believed that Australian parliaments should be sovereign in Australia, and bluntly told Northcote so. This prompted Northcote to announce in February 1908 that he wished to resign, a year early. He left Australia in September. He had been made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1904[9] and in 1909 he was sworn of the Privy Council.[1]

Personal life

Lord Northcote married Alice, adopted daughter of George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen, in 1873. There were no children from the marriage. Alice was created a Companion of the Order of the Crown of India (CI) in 1878 and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1919. Northcote's health declined after his return to Britain from Australia and he died in September 1911, aged 64. The barony became extinct on his death. Lady Northcote died in June 1934.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d thepeerage.com Henry Stafford Northcote, 1st and last Baron Northcote
  2. ^ London Gazette: no. 24837. p. 2657. 23 April 1880.
  3. ^ London Gazette: no. 25761. p. 6374. 25 November 1887.
  4. ^ London Gazette: no. 27141. p. 8182. 5 December 1899.
  5. ^ London Gazette: no. 27156. p. 427. 23 January 1900.
  6. ^ London Gazette: no. 27165. p. 1075. 16 February 1900.
  7. ^ The Advertiser, 10 August 1903, page 4
  8. ^ Donald Markwell, "Griffith, Barton and the early governor-generals: aspects of Australia's constitutional development", Public Law Review, 1999.
  9. ^ London Gazette: no. 27674. p. 2923. 6 May 1904.


External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Arthur Mills
John George Johnson
Member of Parliament for Exeter
With: Edward Johnson (1880–1885)
(representation reduced to one member 1885)
Succeeded by
Edgar Vincent
Party political offices
Preceded by
Charles Beilby Stuart-Wortley
Chairman of the National Union of Conservative and Constitutional Associations
Succeeded by
James Rankin
Political offices
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Divett Hayter, Bt
Financial Secretary to the War Office
Succeeded by
Herbert Gladstone
Military offices
Preceded by
William Woodall
Surveyor-General of the Ordnance
Succeeded by
Post abolished
Government offices
Preceded by
The Viscount Sandhurst
Governor of Bombay
Succeeded by
The Lord Lamington
Preceded by
The Lord Tennyson
Governor-General of Australia
Succeeded by
The Earl of Dudley
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Baron Northcote

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