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seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872–1938)

by Cameron Hazlehurst

This article was published:

seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938), by Spy, 1899

seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938), by Spy, 1899

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an14059197

seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938), governor and politician, was born on 20 February 1872 in London, and baptized William, elder son of Frederick Lygon, 6th Earl Beauchamp and his first wife, Lady Mary, daughter of the 5th Earl Stanhope. Educated at Eton College and Christ Church, Oxford, he succeeded his father in 1891, inheriting 5000 acres (2024 ha) in Worcestershire. He was a devout High Churchman and was associated with the Christian Social Union and the Christ Church mission in London's East End.

Although he had been mayor of Worcester at 23 and a member of the London School Board for two years, Colonial Secretary Joseph Chamberlain's offer of the governorship of New South Wales surprised no one more than Beauchamp. He had not contributed to party funds or sought preferment. In London politics he was aligned with the Progressives not the conservative Moderate Party. He 'scarcely knew where was the colony & certainly nothing about it … The offer was very nearly forthwith refused, so ridiculous did it appear to me'.

Beauchamp's arrival in May 1899 was unforgettably preceded by publication of a message in verse, adapted from Kipling: 'Greeting! your birthstain have you turned to good'. Other gaffes and misunderstandings followed. At Cobar, in September 1899, he offended French colonists by condemning the Dreyfus trial and expressing pride in being an Englishman not a Frenchman. Cartoonists made predictable Beecham's Pills jokes. And his attendance at the dedication of the Roman Catholic St Mary's Cathedral antagonized the Evangelical Council and others dismayed by his High Church beliefs.

Unperturbed by Bulletin verbal and pictorial caricature, Beauchamp enjoyed the company of local writers and artists, befriending in particular Victor Daley and Henry Lawson. The latter—who went to England at Beauchamp's expense—spoke of the governor as being 'a fine, intelligent cultured gentleman' who 'understood and loved the bush people of Australia'. He assiduously visited country districts, and was praised for the innovative invitation of a group of suburban mayors to lunch.

Like other late nineteenth-century governors, Beauchamp was neither powerful nor purely ornamental. He exercised limited prerogatives and influence in an increasingly radical and nationalist environment. His own behaviour—such as punctiliously climbing into carriages ahead of his lady companions—stimulated further criticism from those ill-disposed to colonial symbols.

After he had left Australia, Beauchamp admitted that the governor's duties 'do not take much time—sport cannot absorb one's whole attention & other interests are necessary'. Tracing missing children and spouses, selecting a doctor for Fiji, arranging London University external examinations, were routine gubernatorial activities. He could also oversee contract negotiations for the Pacific Cable, display admirable equanimity during the outbreak of bubonic plague of March-October 1900, and discreetly stimulate commercial and political resistance to the proposed extension of the contract time for sea mail deliveries. He was closely involved in arranging the participation of New South Wales contingents in the South African War and in China following the Boxer uprising.

Although disappointed with colonial politicians and bureaucracy, Beauchamp admired the absence of bribery in New South Wales government. Sustained by sage counsel from Chief Justice Sir Frederick Darley, Beauchamp's constitutional conduct was exemplary. He was not bamboozled by (Sir) George Reid—in 1899 the governor earned Chamberlain's commendation by refusing a prorogation, and later a dissolution, knowing that (Sir) William Lyne could form a government with Labor support.

After Federation the governor's status and salary were reduced. The inexperienced Beauchamp was an impediment to Lyne's campaign to have the governor-general appointed as governor of New South Wales as well. Ostensibly to leave Government House free as a temporary residence for the first governor-general, Beauchamp went on leave on half-pay in October 1900 and did not return. His commission as governor 'in and over the State of New South Wales and its Dependencies in the Commonwealth of Australia' was proclaimed on 1 January 1901 though he was not present.

On 26 July 1902 Beauchamp married Lady Lettice Mary Elizabeth Grosvenor, daughter of Earl Grosvenor, eldest son of the 1st Duke of Westminster. He joined the Liberal Party and was lord president of the council and first commissioner of works in the Asquith government from 1910 to 1915. A resolute free trader, he played a conciliatory, but ineffectual, role during the Liberal strife of 1916 to 1923, and was Liberal leader in the House of Lords from 1924 to 1931.

Threatened with divorce and criminal proceedings that would reveal his homosexuality, Beauchamp resigned all of his appointments except the lord wardenship of the Cinque Ports, and went into exile in 1931. He lived in Germany, Italy, and France, and made several world tours, visiting Australia in 1932, 1934 and 1938. He died of cancer in the Hotel Waldorf-Astoria, New York, on 14 November 1938, leaving £140,993; his title and estate passed to his eldest son.

Select Bibliography

  • G. N. Hawker, The Parliament of New South Wales, 1856-1965 (Syd, 1971)
  • M. Mahood, The Loaded Line (Melb, 1973)
  • R. Gillespie, Viceregal Quarters (Lond, 1975)
  • Parliamentary Debates (New South Wales), 1899-1900
  • Beauchamp papers (State Library of New South Wales)
  • Governor's papers 4/1401 (State Records New South Wales)
  • CO papers (microfilm copies at State Library of New South Wales and National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Cameron Hazlehurst, 'Beauchamp, seventh Earl (1872–1938)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (Melbourne University Press), 1979

View the front pages for Volume 7

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938), by Spy, 1899

seventh Earl Beauchamp (1872-1938), by Spy, 1899

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an14059197

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Lygon, William

20 February, 1872
London, Middlesex, England


14 November, 1938 (aged 66)
New York, New York, United States of America

Cultural Heritage

Includes subject's nationality; their parents' nationality; the countries in which they spent a significant part of their childhood, and their self-identity.

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.