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Sir Thomas David Gibson Carmichael (1859–1926)

by L. R. Gardiner

This article was published:

Sir Thomas Carmichael, by Talma Studios

Sir Thomas Carmichael, by Talma Studios

State Library of Victoria, 49386572

Sir Thomas David Gibson Carmichael, 1st Baron Carmichael of Skirling (1859-1926), governor, was born on 18 March 1859 at Edinburgh, eldest son of Rev. Sir William Henry Gibson Carmichael (d.1891), tenth baronet, and his wife Eleanora Anne, née Anderson. He was baptized in the Church of England, but had strict Presbyterian training. At school in Hampshire, England, his devotion to entomology and scientific discovery received every encouragement. He entered St John's College, Cambridge, in 1877 (B.A., 1881; M.A., 1884); his second-class in history reflected parental direction, not natural bent.

A Liberal, he became in 1886 private secretary to two successive secretaries for Scotland in Gladstone's third administration. His reserved manner concealed what his friend Sir Edward Grey described as 'the acutest brain in Europe'. Intelligent, curious, self-deprecatory, compassionate, with a gift for friendship, he was not eloquent and no politician, though he succeeded Gladstone as member of parliament for Midlothian (1895-1900).

In 1908 Sir Thomas Carmichael was appointed governor of Victoria: to this post, which he took up on 27 July, he brought both his farming skills (he was a breeder of polled Angus cattle) and his artistic taste as a collector and connoisseur. He was happiest visiting country areas, where he demonstrated his dry wit: forced to speak on one occasion, he referred to a Scottish tombstone of an infant inscribed 'I expected to be called, but not so soon'. He cut down on overlapping ceremonial between himself and the Melbourne-based governor-general but he enjoyed purposeful ceremonial, as in the rituals of the Church and Freemasonry.

In 1886 Carmichael had married Mary Nugent, niece of the second Baron Nugent; they had no children. In Victoria Lady Carmichael took an interest in kindergartens, arts and crafts training, the Bush Nursing Association and the Victoria League. Both she and her husband promoted art education. He exhibited from his excellent collection, which included water-colours by Turner and Constable.

Carmichael made two important constitutional decisions. He granted a dissolution of parliament to the premier Sir Thomas Bent, who had been defeated on 3 December 1908 in a no confidence vote. Bent, confident of popular support, lied to Carmichael about cabinet unanimity for dissolution and about financial resources for payments till the next parliament met. Carmichael, conscious of his duty to take advice from the premier, was misled. He did not ask the opportunist John Murray to form a government and did not exhaust other alternatives, a point that was clearly made by The Times (8 December 1908). Carmichael was supported, however, by the colonial secretary Lord Crewe. Bent failed to win enough support at the election and Murray became premier.

Carmichael's second important constitutional decision related to the 1909 royal commission on Bent's alleged misuse of ministerial influence to make a personal profit. On 5 July the governor refused a request to allow ministers to disclose to the commission cabinet discussions about land issues, emphasizing the necessity for preserving cabinet secrecy.

Carmichael left Melbourne on 29 May 1911 to become governor of Madras. In April 1912, as first Baron Carmichael of Skirling, he was appointed governor of Bengal. He left India in 1917. Survived by his wife, he died in London on 16 January 1926.

Select Bibliography

  • M. H. E. Carmichael, Lord Carmichael of Skirling (Lond, 1929)
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 16 May 1908
  • Argus (Melbourne), 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 15, 21, 26, 30 Dec 1908, 8 Jan, 24 Feb 1909
  • Age (Melbourne), 7, 8 Dec 1908, 24 Feb 1909
  • 'Obituary', Times (London)
  • 20 Jan 1926, p 17
  • CO 418/64, 418, 423-32, 439, 462-66, 74/35-45, 51-54, 163-68.

Citation details

L. R. Gardiner, 'Carmichael, Sir Thomas David Gibson (1859–1926)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 23 May 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

Sir Thomas Carmichael, by Talma Studios

Sir Thomas Carmichael, by Talma Studios

State Library of Victoria, 49386572

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Baron Carmichael
  • Carmichael, Baron

18 March, 1859
Edinburgh, Mid-Lothian, Scotland


16 January, 1926 (aged 66)
London, Middlesex, England

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