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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Weigall, Sir William Ernest George Archibald (1874–1952)

by P. A. Howell

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

William Ernest George Archibald Weigall (1874-1952), by unknown photographer, 1922

William Ernest George Archibald Weigall (1874-1952), by unknown photographer, 1922

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 40453

Sir William Ernest George Archibald Weigall (1874-1952), governor, was born on 8 December 1874 in London, fifth son of Henry Weigall, artist, and his wife Lady Rose Sophia Mary Fane, author and niece of the 1st Duke of Wellington. Educated at Wellington College, Berkshire, and the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, Archie became an estate manager. Joining the Northampton and Rutland Militia, he was awarded the Queen's medal in the South African War and was promoted major. On 16 August 1910 in the Metheringham parish church, Lincolnshire, he married a divorcee Grace Emily, Baroness von Echardstein, only child of the deceased furniture magnate Sir John Blundell Maple who had left a fortune of £2,153,000; the couple settled at Petwood, Woodhall Spa; Weigall farmed and also represented Horncastle in the House of Commons as a Conservative-Unionist (1911-20).

In 1919 he agreed to succeed Sir Henry Galway as governor of South Australia. Appointed K.C.M.G. in 1920, Weigall arrived in Adelaide in June. Four months later he told the Prince of Wales that his hardest job was 'holding my tongue'. The Colonial Office had wrongly advised him that the State government would pay his staff's salaries, which, with his servants' wages, absorbed all but £300 of his own salary. In the official sphere Weigall was shocked that 'sums voted … for one specific purpose are transferred to another without reference to Parliament'. Like Governor Sir Day Bosanquet, he failed to prevent his ministers spending much of the State's revenue before parliament had granted supply. Weigall concluded in 1921 that 'State Governors and State Legislatures are now anachronisms': he advised the Colonial Office that the division of power between Commonwealth and States had produced 'farcical' and 'chaotic' results, and that a unitary system of government was desirable.

A tall, balding, cigar-smoking gentleman, with a moustache and a stammer, Weigall disliked making long speeches, but his wit and interest in farming made him popular: he convened a conference which led to the establishment of an agricultural high school and to legislation compelling the registration and licensing of bulls. In public his wife, who was a good speaker, promoted social and philanthropic work; behind the official scene, she suffered a number of miscarriages. In December 1921 Weigall sought leave to resign for 'private and financial' reasons: he claimed that he had not realized 'what the results of British taxation were going to be'. They left Adelaide on 24 April 1922. Their departure prompted the premier, Sir Henry Barwell, to raise the governor's salary.

Becoming chairman of directors of Australian Chilled Meat & Food Supplies Ltd, Weigall accepted directorships in the Clarence Hatry companies: he lost his capital when they crashed in 1929; though his fellow directors were gaoled for forgery or conspiracy, he was not prosecuted. Thereafter he was dependent upon his wife's money. As chairman of the Royal Empire Society (1932-38), Weigall revisited South Australia in 1935 and 1937. A chairman of the Royal Veterinary College, in 1938 he was created baronet and King of Arms of the Order of St Michael and St George. Predeceased by his wife in 1950 and survived by their only daughter, he died at Ascot, Berkshire, on 3 June 1952; his English estate was sworn for probate at £17,479.

Select Bibliography

  • Critic (Adelaide), 28 Jan 1920
  • P. A. Howell, ‘Pursuing Further Varieties of Vice-regal life’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, no 17, 1989
  • Evening Standard (Melbourne), 23 Jan 1920
  • Punch (Melbourne), 5 Feb 1920
  • Argus (Melbourne), 18 Feb 1920
  • Observer (Adelaide), 16 Oct 1920
  • Times (London), 27 Mar 1929, 17 Mar 1930, 4, 5 June 1952
  • Chronicle (Adelaide), 20 June 1929
  • Herald (Melbourne), 16 Mar, 10 Dec 1934, 5 Apr 1951
  • Weigall papers (Kent Archives Office, England)
  • CO 418/194, /210, /222 (National Library of Australia)
  • private information.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Weigall, Sir William Ernest George Archibald (1874–1952)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 8 August 2020.

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

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2020

William Ernest George Archibald Weigall (1874-1952), by unknown photographer, 1922

William Ernest George Archibald Weigall (1874-1952), by unknown photographer, 1922

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 40453