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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Cardwell, Edward (1813–1886)

by A. G. Bell

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

Edward Cardwell (1813-1886), by Lock and Whitfield, 1876-78

Edward Cardwell (1813-1886), by Lock and Whitfield, 1876-78

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3641965

Edward Cardwell (1813-1886), statesman, was born on 24 July 1813, son of John Cardwell, a Liverpool merchant. He was educated at Winchester and Balliol College, Oxford (B.A., 1835; M.A., 1838; D.C.L., 1863). He was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple in 1838, but soon abandoned the law and entered the House of Commons in 1842.

In 1864-68 Cardwell was secretary of state for the colonies and inaugurated the new policy of withdrawing, in time of peace, all imperial troops for which the colonies would not undertake to pay. He also put an end to transportation to Western Australia. During his secretaryship Cardwell was forced to intervene in the disturbances in Jamaica, which resulted in the recall of Governor Edward John Eyre, and to recall the governor of Victoria, Sir Charles Darling, a move by no means entirely popular in that colony. Cardwell's most notable achievement was the Colonial Laws Validity Act of 1865, a milestone in imperial constitutional law. Another important piece of legislation was his colonial bishops bill of 1866 which followed the Privy Council's decision on Bishop Colenso of Natal. Cardwell's bill was withdrawn but his proposition that 'The Church of England, in Colonies where there was no Church established by law, was in the same position as any other religious body—no worse and no better', aroused long and passionate debate in New South Wales.

In 1868 Cardwell became secretary for war under Gladstone and was faced with the task of reorganizing the British army, in which public confidence had become somewhat shaken, and at the same time reducing army estimates. The resulting reforms, on which Cardwell was involved in protracted and exhausting struggles, mark perhaps the apogee of his parliamentary career. The abolition of purchase, which his reform included, would alone have guaranteed him a permanent place in British legislative history. The strain of his efforts, however, made severe demands on his health, and when the Gladstone ministry resigned in 1874 he was elevated to the peerage as Viscount Cardwell of Ellerbock. He died on 15 February 1886 at Torquay. His wife, Annie, whom he had married in 1838, was the youngest daughter of Charles Stuart Parker of Fairlie, Ayrshire; they had no children. The Shire of Cardwell, Queensland, was named after him.

Though not an original thinker, Cardwell had a keen and lively intelligence, which he used in the furtherance of the nation's service, and his resources of energy, tact and courtesy, when combined with his administrative abilities, his conscientiousness and his zeal, enabled him to make a formidable contribution to the service of the empire.

Citation details

A. G. Bell, 'Cardwell, Edward (1813–1886)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 8 August 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (MUP), 1969

View the front pages for Volume 3

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Edward Cardwell (1813-1886), by Lock and Whitfield, 1876-78

Edward Cardwell (1813-1886), by Lock and Whitfield, 1876-78

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-vn3641965

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • first Viscount Cardwell
  • Ellerbock, Viscount Cardwell of

24 July 1813


15 February 1886
Torquay, Devon, England

Cultural Heritage