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fourth Earl of Carnarvon (1831–1890)

by B. A. Knox

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fourth Earl of Carnarvon (1831-1890), by unknown engraver

fourth Earl of Carnarvon (1831-1890), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN21/12/87/212

fourth Earl of Carnarvon (1831-1890), statesman, was born on 24 June 1831 at Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England, and baptized Henry Howard Molyneux, eldest son of Henry John George Herbert, third Earl of Carnarvon, and his wife Henrietta Anna, née Howard, niece of the twelfth Duke of Norfolk. He was educated at Eton and at Christ Church, Oxford, was awarded a first class literis humanioribus. He succeeded to the earldom on 9 December 1849, entered the House of Lords in 1854 and supported Lord Aberdeen's ministry, whose policies he considered 'conservative as well as progressive'. From February 1855 Carnarvon gave his support more and more to the Conservatives. His long connexion with colonial policy began in April 1858 when he became parliamentary under-secretary at the Colonial Office. Carnarvon was already interested in the colonies but now made himself an expert on their affairs. In his fourteen months of office he displayed great capacity for ministerial duties; he also showed himself to be very sensible of the tasks of government imposed on Britain by her exercise of power in various parts of the world. He held the conviction, then not so prominent as in earlier decades, that Britain had a humanitarian duty towards indigenous populations, but had to reconcile this belief with his equally strong approval of self-government and self-reliance in colonies of settlement; for example, he would not admit for years that imperial control of native affairs in New Zealand was impossible, and never admitted its impossibility in South Africa.

Carnarvon's central purpose became the building of close relations between Britain and the self-governing colonies and the organization of imperial defence, for he felt keenly the rise of competing European nationalisms. To these ends he conceived developments based on colonial responsible government. He entirely rejected the proposition that responsible government predicated colonial 'independence' in the sense of separation. A constitutional relation would remain because of the close identity of British and colonial interests, and because of their reciprocal services, especially in defence and in constitution making. An important expression of Carnarvon's imperial nationalism was his speech introducing the British North America bill in the Lords on 19 February 1867. The establishment of the Dominion of Canada as a confederation was a desirable enhancement of responsible government, having immense possibilities for colonies and mother country. He was willing to adopt it as an imperial object in any group of colonies where it seemed appropriate and locally acceptable. Australia was not then such a group, but in his first term as secretary of state for the colonies (June 1866–March 1867), Carnarvon expressed his belief in empire co-operation by persuading cabinet to present an iron-clad warship to Victoria to be used for imperial as well as colonial purposes.

In his second term as secretary of state (February 1874–January 1878) he was sufficiently sympathetic to Disraeli's imperial views, and more than any Conservative minister since Stanley in 1841-45 he had an opportunity for imaginative policy making. He used it, and contributed much to the ministry's reputation for vigour in its overseas policies. In doing so Carnarvon worked closely with his cousin, Robert Herbert, then permanent under-secretary for the colonies and well versed in colonial self-government. In the Australian area Carnarvon is remembered from this term of office for his annexation of Fiji and appointment of Arthur Gordon as its governor, for his attempts to bring the great colonies into the general military system of empire and for his rejection of Australian claims to New Guinea because the colonies refused to bear the expense.

While in office Carnarvon did much to encourage the development of self-government in Canada and Australia. Soon after his retirement he was able to contribute to his other great interest by being appointed chairman of the royal commission on colonial defence in 1879-82; in 1883 the newly-founded port of Carnarvon, Western Australia was named after him. The royal commission assembled much information and made important recommendations, but Gladstone's Liberal government refused to act upon them. In 1885-86 Carnarvon was lord lieutenant of Ireland, and attempted to apply his experience of colonial self-government to the Irish home rule problem. He toured the colonial empire in 1887-88, including Australia, where the movement towards Federation won his keen support. He died in London on 28 June 1890, survived by his second wife Elizabeth Catherine, née Howard, whom he married on 26 December 1878; he was succeeded by the son of his first marriage on 5 September 1861 to Evelyn, daughter of the sixth earl of Chesterfield.

Citation details

B. A. Knox, 'Carnarvon, fourth Earl of (1831–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1969, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 3, (Melbourne University Press), 1969

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fourth Earl of Carnarvon (1831-1890), by unknown engraver

fourth Earl of Carnarvon (1831-1890), by unknown engraver

La Trobe Picture Collection, State Library of Victoria, IAN21/12/87/212

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Herbert, Henry Howard Molyneux

24 June, 1831
Highclere Castle, Hampshire, England


28 June, 1890 (aged 59)
London, Middlesex, England

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