Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Strickland, Sir Gerald (1861–1940)

by G. P. Walsh

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

Gerald Strickland (1861-1940), by unknown photographer, 1917

Gerald Strickland (1861-1940), by unknown photographer, 1917

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18749

Sir Gerald Strickland, 1st Baron Strickland of Sizergh Castle (1861-1940), governor and politician, was born on 24 May 1861 at Valletta, Malta, eldest son of Captain Walter Strickland, R.N., and his wife Maria Aloysia (Louisa), née Bonnici, niece and heiress of Sir Nicholas Sceberras Bologna, fifth Count della Catena in Malta, whom Gerald succeeded in 1875; he was also a nephew of (Sir) Edward Strickland. Educated at St Mary's College, Oscott, and Trinity College, Cambridge (B.A., LL.B., 1887), he was called to the Bar at the Inner Temple. During a world tour in 1883-84 he had visited Maltese settlers in Queensland and in Sydney discussed with the premier (Sir) Alexander Stuart the possibility of bringing Maltese orange-and olive-growers to New South Wales.

Elected in 1886 to the council of the government of Malta, Strickland represented the island at the first Colonial Conference and helped to frame its constitution in 1887. As chief secretary (1889-92) he initiated many reforms and public works. Although he showed a sound knowledge of public finance and administrative techniques, his tactlessness caused some uneasiness in the Colonial Office. On 26 August 1890 Strickland married Lady Edeline Sackville (d.1918), daughter of the seventh Earl De La Warr, in Our Lady of Victories Church, Kensington, London.

Appointed K.C.M.G. in 1897, he governed the Leeward Islands from 1902 and was transferred to Tasmania in October 1904. Belonging to an ancient English Catholic family, he was only the third Catholic to govern any Australian colony or State. In May 1909 Strickland became governor of Western Australia. In the early days of Federation he was involved in the delicate matter of State rights and the appointment, role and salaries of governors. He strongly supported Federation (as opposed to unification), as well as Imperial federation, and restrained his ministers from expressing secessionist views. A stickler for formalities and constitutional propriety, he also endeavoured to persuade members of cabinet not to recommend expenditure without parliamentary sanction. He did, however, quarrel privately with Governor-General Lord Dudley over the dormant commission and the channels of communication with the secretary of state.

Strickland was appointed G.C.M.G. in 1913 and advanced to New South Wales where he noted 'there was some religious friction'; he was confident that 'an English Roman Catholic Governor' would be the best person to control it. Yet, it was politics and not religion that was to bring about his downfall. He roused the antipathy of the governor-general Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson who told Bonar Law that 'I find him altogether too machiavellian for ordinary intercourse'.

Handsome, solidly built and of middle height, Strickland triumphantly entered Government House, Sydney, in 1915. He was 'a genial host and brilliant controversialist'. Soldiering in his young years (he served with the Cambridge University Rifles) and mechanical engineering were his main hobbies; his spinning wheel and combination tool were exhibited at an industrial and models exhibition in Sydney.

In May 1916 Strickland criticized Premier Holman's manoeuvre of pretending to resign his commission to avoid a vote of censure at the Political Labor Conference; he reminded Holman that 'resignation' from office meant resignation to the governor, not to a conference or caucus. While Strickland's interventions had been tolerated in Tasmania and Western Australia, they were resented in New South Wales. Later that year, after a renewal of the channel of communications dispute, Strickland and Holman came into open collision. When Holman—deposed as leader of the Labor Party—was negotiating a coalition government with (Sir) Charles Wade, Strickland intimated that he could 'no longer transact business' with him. By demanding in substance the return of Holman's commission, Strickland aroused indignation among Holman's supporters:

The political split in the Labour arena
Was delicatessen to della Catena
Who, snug in an ambush, for some time had laid
Intent on the scalps of the Holman brigade.

While Strickland's object had been to safeguard the electors against a government which had never received popular endorsement, appeals to Downing Street resulted in the governor receiving a stinging rebuke. Directed by the Colonial Office to assent to the National government's bill prolonging the life of the parliament, he did so, albeit most unwillingly. Strickland was recalled and left Australia on 30 April 1917.

Retiring from the colonial service, he divided his time between his Maltese and English estates (having acquired Sizergh in Westmorland from a cousin in 1896). Strickland was elected to the House of Commons as a Conservative for Lancaster in 1924; he married Margaret Hulton (D.B.E., 1937) on 31 August 1926 in the same church as his earlier wedding; in 1928 he was raised to the peerage. Having entered the Maltese Legislative Assembly in 1921, he helped to draft the Milner-Avery constitution. He formed the Anglo-Maltese (later Constitutional) party and was involved in bitter battles against Fascist, Italian and Church interference in politics. Prime minister in 1927-32, he narrowly escaped assassination in May 1930. In 1932 he became leader of the Opposition against a pro-Italian government; he founded the Times of Malta (daily and weekly) and Il Berka, the first vernacular newspaper in Malta.

Strickland died in Malta on 22 August 1940 and was buried in the family vault of St Cajetanus's Cathedral. His wife survived him, as did five daughters of his first marriage; his two sons and a daughter had died in infancy. The combination of his English and Maltese inheritance accounted for the strength of his dual patriotism, but it brought out a pugnacity which often antagonized would-be sympathizers and obscured the worth of his policies. A portrait of Strickland by E. Caruana Dingli is in Malta and a statue by Anton Sciortina stands in upper Barracoa Gardens, Valletta.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Hornyold, Genealogical Memoirs of the Family of Strickland of Sizergh (Kendal, Westmorland, Eng, 1928)
  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-40
  • H. V. Evatt, The King and His Dominion Governors (Lond, 1936)
  • H. V. Evatt, Australian Labour Leader (Syd, 1942)
  • E. Dobie, Malta's Road to Independence (Norman, Oklahoma, USA, 1967)
  • H. Smith, Lord Strickland (Amsterdam, Netherlands, 1983)
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 24, 26 Jan 1884, 11, 13 Nov 1916, 23 Aug 1940
  • Catholic Press, 25 Aug 1904
  • Punch (Melbourne), 16 Nov 1915
  • Freeman's Journal (Sydney), 1 Mar 1917
  • Times (London), 18, 20, 24, 28 Sept 1917, 23 Aug 1940
  • Alfred Deakin papers (National Library of Australia)
  • Novar papers (National Library of Australia)
  • CO 418/74/f367, 55/f24, 147/f350, 148/f164, 160/ff20, 82, 111 (microfilm copy at National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

G. P. Walsh, 'Strickland, Sir Gerald (1861–1940)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/strickland-sir-gerald-8700/text15225, published in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 22 October 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (MUP), 1990

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2014

Gerald Strickland (1861-1940), by unknown photographer, 1917

Gerald Strickland (1861-1940), by unknown photographer, 1917

State Library of New South Wales, GPO 1 - 18749

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Strickland, Baron
Birth

24 May 1861
Valletta, Malta

Death

22 August 1940
Malta

Cultural Heritage
Religious Influence
Occupation