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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Lawley, Sir Arthur (1860–1932)

by Wendy Birman

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

Sir Arthur Lawley (1860-1932), governor, was born on 12 November 1860 in London, fourth son of Beilby Richard Lawley, 2nd Baron Wenlock, and his wife, Lady Elizabeth, née Grosvenor. Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge (he did not graduate), he was captain in the 10th (The Prince of Wales's Own Royal) Regiment before becoming the Duke of Westminster's private secretary in 1892. He had married Annie Allen Cunard on 12 October 1885. In 1896-99 he was deputy, then administrator in Matabeleland; he was decorated for his advice to the northern district columns early in the South African War. In 1901 Lawley was appointed K.C.M.G. and commissioned as governor of Western Australia.

He travelled to Australia with the Duke and Duchess of York on board the Ophir and, after arriving at Albany and presenting his credentials in Perth, sailed on 3 May to Melbourne where he represented Western Australia at the opening of the Federal parliament. In Perth on 21 May he received Premier George Throssell's resignation, the first of a series of political crises to occur during his stewardship: between May 1901 and July 1902 Lawley asked seven times for an administration to be formed. Three contenders, Frederick Illingworth, Frederick Piesse and (Sir) Walter Kingsmill failed; George Leake and Alfred Morgans succeeded, but soon collapsed. Refusing dissolutions to both Leake and Morgans, Lawley argued that because of Federal and State elections early in 1901, the legislature was still fresh from the constituency. When Leake, who had gathered support for a second term, died in June 1902, the governor summoned (Sir) Walter James from the cross-bench.

Lawley led the State's social life with aplomb. He toured the south-west with the governor-general Lord Hopetoun in December 1901. He was tactful and unperturbed by ructions that year in the Perth City Council. Lady Lawley identified herself with community welfare; a children's cottage by the sea at Cottesloe bears her name. She reputedly approved Frederick Drake-Brockman's suggestion that Mount Lawley be named for her husband only on condition that no licensed hotels be built within that suburb.

Lawley left Western Australia in 1902 to become lieutenant-governor of the Transvaal; in 1906-11 he was governor of Madras. Part of his brief in both cases was to initiate electoral reform. Characteristically firm yet fair, Lawley was a diplomatic and able administrator, with a strong sense of duty. Affable and engaging, with a dashing appearance, he was an excellent sportsman, but the accidental death of his only son blighted his enthusiasm for hunting. He was appointed G.C.I.E. in 1906 and G.C.S.I. in 1911.

In London Lawley entered commercial life in the City as director of several companies; some, like >Dalgety & Co. Ltd with whom he remained till 1930, had Australian connexions. In World War I he was a commissioner for the British Red Cross Society at Boulogne, France. In 1927 he visited the Fairbridge Farm School at Pinjarra, Western Australia, and he remained president of the Child Emigration Society (later Fairbridge Society) until his death.

In June 1931 he succeeded his brother Algernon as 6th and last Baron Wenlock. Survived by his wife and two daughters, he died on 14 June 1932 at Freiberg, Germany, and was buried at Escrick, Yorkshire, England.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (Western Australia), 1901-02, p 21
  • Department of Education (Western Australia), Education Circular, May 1902
  • Education Supplement, May 1927
  • West Australian, 2 Jan 1906, 20 Dec 1912
  • Times (London), 15, 16, 20, 22 June 1932
  • Colonial Secretary, GD 1901-02 (State Library of Western Australia).

Citation details

Wendy Birman, 'Lawley, Sir Arthur (1860–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1986, accessed online 23 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 10, (MUP), 1986

View the front pages for Volume 10

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Wenlock, sixth Baron

12 November 1860
London, Middlesex, England


14 June 1932
Freiberg, Germany

Cultural Heritage