Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Chermside, Sir Herbert Charles (1850–1929)

by Paul D. Wilson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Herbert Chermside, 1902

Herbert Chermside, 1902

State Library of Queensland, 190462

Sir Herbert Charles Chermside (1850-1929), soldier and governor, was born on 31 July 1850 at Wilton, Wiltshire, England, son of Rev. Richard Seymour Conway Chermside and his wife Emily, née Dawson. Educated at Eton and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich, Chermside graduated top of his year and was commissioned in the Royal Engineers in 1870.

After service on an Arctic expedition of 1873, Chermside was appointed military attaché in Turkey, then military vice-consul in Anatolia in 1876-83. He served with the Egyptian army in the Sudan and as governor of the Red Sea Littoral (1884-86), was consul in Kurdistan, then returned as military attaché to Constantinople in 1889-96, and was British military commissioner and commander in Crete in 1897-99. He served in the South African war as a brigade and later a divisional commander. After briefly commanding The Curragh, Ireland, he was appointed governor of Queensland in 1901. He had been promoted captain and major in 1882, colonel in 1887 and major general in 1898, and appointed C.M.G. in 1880, C.B. in 1886, K.C.M.G. in 1897 and G.C.M.G. in 1899.

Arriving in Brisbane on 24 March 1902, in the midst of a prolonged drought and an economic depression, Chermside promptly offered to forego 15 per cent of his salary during retrenchment. Lady Tennyson described him as 'a very short plain little general with a biggish moustache'. But his readiness to share sacrifice, his approachable personality, wide range of interests, clear and forthright public speeches and his willingness to learn by travel soon made him popular. In his dispatches he was critical of the lack of water conservation, the high cost of land, absentee landholders, excessive overseas borrowing and the poor map coverage of Queensland. He noticed particularly the inefficiencies of the railway network which involved an enormous public debt for a large mileage of lines, 'many being in the wrong places'.

Despite the popularity of his salary remission in 1902, Chermside became increasingly disturbed at what he felt was public derogation of the office of State governor. When in June 1904 the Legislative Assembly debated a private member's bill to reduce the salary of the next governor, he decided to resign, but delayed during a political crisis in June and July. He refused (Sir Arthur) Morgan's request for a dissolution in late June, and after (Sir Robert) Philp declined his commission and Arthur Rutledge failed to form a government, Chermside had no option but to grant Morgan a dissolution on 8 July. He withheld announcement of his resignation until he had opened the new parliament and then left Brisbane on 8 October on pre-retirement leave. There were many expressions of regret at his early resignation for, despite his short period of service, he had made every effort to fulfil the office to the very best of his ability and had won much respect.

Chermside retired from the British Army in 1907 as a lieutenant-general. In 1899 he had married Geraldine Katherine Webb (d.1910) and in 1920 Clementine Maria, second daughter of Paul Julius, first Baron de Reuter, and widow of Count Otto Stenbock; both marriages were childless. Chermside died in London on 24 September 1929. A suburb of Brisbane was named after him following his departure in 1904.

Select Bibliography

  • D. J. Murphy et al (eds), Prelude to Power (Brisb, 1970)
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1902, p194, 1904, 92, p110-22, 93, p121
  • Annual Review of Queensland, vol 1, 1902
  • Queenslander, 24 Mar 1902
  • Daily Mail (Brisbane), and Telegraph (Brisbane), 8 Oct 1904
  • Brisbane Courier, 10 Oct 1904
  • GOV/34, 36, 39, 40, 48 (Queensland State Archives).

Citation details

Paul D. Wilson, 'Chermside, Sir Herbert Charles (1850–1929)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chermside-sir-herbert-charles-5575/text9511, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 20 September 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Herbert Chermside, 1902

Herbert Chermside, 1902

State Library of Queensland, 190462