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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Strahan, Sir George Cumine (1838–1887)

by Neil Smith

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

George Cumine Strahan (1838-1887), by J. W. Beattie, 1896

George Cumine Strahan (1838-1887), by J. W. Beattie, 1896

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125646893

Sir George Cumine Strahan (1838-1887), governor, was born on 9 December 1838 at Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire, Scotland, son of Rev. W. D. Strahan. Educated at the Royal Military College, Woolwich, in 1857 he entered the Royal Artillery as a lieutenant. He was aide-de-camp in 1859-64 to Mr Gladstone, lord high commissioner of the Ionian Islands, to his successor Sir Henry Storks, and to governors in Malta in 1864-68. He acted for a time as chief secretary of Malta, was colonial secretary in the Bahamas from 1868 and acting governor in 1872-73. Promoted captain in 1871, he was administrator of Lagos in 1873-74, governor of the Gold Coast in 1874-76 and of the Windward Islands in 1876-80. He had been promoted major in 1874 and made C.M.G. in 1875. In 1877 he married Catherine Livingstone, daughter of Robert Reade of New York; she died in England without issue in less than a year.

Appointed governor of Tasmania in April 1880, Strahan was created K.C.M.G. in May. Before taking up the post he acted as administrator of the Cape of Good Hope and high commissioner of South Africa until the arrival of Sir Hercules Robinson. After much criticism of the delay, Strahan eventually arrived in Hobart in the Southern Cross on 7 December 1881 and was sworn in the same day. He came with the reputation of an able, far-sighted and popular colonial administrator; despite reports of indifferent health, attributed to long residence in the tropics, he quickly displayed his energy and range of interests. The day he arrived he visited the hospital, and soon after was reported at Elwick races, St David's Cathedral for divine service and the annual meeting of the Council of Education; by mid-December a country tour included Launceston and Longford.

In January 1883 Strahan authorized the establishment of a royal commission to inquire into public education in Tasmania and the neighbouring colonies; its findings led to important changes. He was also responsible for convening and formally opening the first meeting of the Federal Council of Australasia, held at Hobart in 1886. Attentive to rural industries, he was patron of the Southern Tasmanian Agricultural and Pastoral Society and travelled widely in the colony, informing himself on the welfare of the settlers and the need for public works and services to improve their lot. He was president of the Royal Society of Tasmania, but it was a traditional appointment which appears not to have attracted his active concern. Interested in hospitals and other public institutions he was described as 'generous in his time and charity'.

Before Strahan's term expired he was given leave to return to England. After a round of farewells that demonstrated his popularity, he left Launceston for Melbourne on 28 October, attended the Melbourne Cup, and sailed for England on 4 November in the Massilia. He died at Bournemouth on 17 February 1887 before he could take up his new office as governor of Hong Kong. A few weeks earlier he had been appointed G.C.M.G. Strahan, on the west coast of Tasmania, was named after him.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1880, 1882, 1884, 1886
  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Council, Tasmania), 1886
  • 'The Governor of the Windward Islands', Times (London), 12 July 1878, p 7
  • Mercury (Hobart), 23 Apr, 23 June 1880, 1, 7-8, 12-13, 15 Dec 1881, 13-14, 26, 29 Oct 1886, 21 Feb 1887
  • Australasian, 3 Dec 1881, 22, 29 Jan, 26 Feb 1887
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 19 Feb 1887, p 7 .

Citation details

Neil Smith, 'Strahan, Sir George Cumine (1838–1887)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1976, accessed online 29 October 2020.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 6, (MUP), 1976

View the front pages for Volume 6

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