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second Earl of Dudley (1867–1932)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

second Earl of Dudley (1867-1932), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1900s

second Earl of Dudley (1867-1932), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23334588

William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley (1867-1932), governor-general, was born on 25 May 1867 in London, son of William Ward, 1st earl, and his second wife Georgiana Elizabeth, née Moncreiffe. His mother, one of the beauties of her generation, was a favourite of the Prince of Wales. Educated at Eton, Dudley came into great wealth when he succeeded his father in 1885, and on a yachting cruise visited Australia in 1886-87. Tall and handsome, he was slightly lame from a childhood accident. On 14 September 1891 at Chelsea he married Rachel (b.1867), daughter of Charles Gurney. Intelligent and forceful, though with 'a reserved even absent manner', she was described by Ada Holman as 'beautiful as a marble statue … a carved lily'. A Conservative, Dudley was parliamentary secretary to the Board of Trade in 1895-1902, and in 1902-05 an extravagant and controversial lord lieutenant of Ireland. In 1899 he had served briefly in the South African war. In March 1908, partly at the urging of King Edward VII, Dudley was appointed governor-general of Australia, a post which the Liberals had found difficult to fill because of their weakness in the House of Lords and Australia's apparent preference for a rich peer.

Sworn in at Sydney on 8 September, Dudley proceeded to Melbourne to a ceremonial welcome which prompted the Worker to complain of 'a sham Australian court of St James'. In less than a year, on 27 May 1909, the defeat of Andrew Fisher's Labor government, and Fisher's request for a dissolution, brought into operation the constitutional functions of the office. After obtaining advice secretly from Chief Justice Griffith, Dudley refused the request, and on 2 June Alfred Deakin formed his third ministry. During her husband's governor-generalship Lady Dudley also asserted herself in the public arena: in August 1909 she launched what became Lady Dudley's Bush Nursing Scheme, but the project faltered through lack of funds.

By October 1910 the Dudleys' estrangement (they separated in 1912) had virtually become common knowledge; John Norton's Truth charged the earl with 'concupiscent capers'. Other newspapers reported that relations between Dudley and the second Fisher cabinet, which had taken office in April 1910, were strained. Partly this resulted from Labor discontent with the increasing vice-regal allowance. In March 1911, after months of rumours of impending retirement, it was announced that, for personal reasons, Dudley was returning to England. On 31 July he relinquished office. Deakin wrote of him: 'His ambition was high but his interests were short-lived … He did nothing really important, nothing thoroughly, nothing consistently … He remained … a very ineffective and not very popular figurehead'.

During World War I Dudley commanded a Yeomanry unit in Egypt and Gallipoli. Lady Dudley also served, setting up a hospital for Australians, and clubs for officers in northern France. In 1918 she was appointed C.B.E. and was awarded the Royal Red Cross. She drowned on 26 June 1920 while sea-bathing in Ireland. In 1924 Lord Dudley married Gertie Millar, musical comedy actress (the original 'Our Miss Gibbs') and widow of Lionel Monckton. Survived by the four sons and three daughters of his first marriage, Dudley died of cancer in London on 29 June 1932. A portrait by John Longstaff is in Parliament House, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • Dictionary of National Biography, 1931-40
  • 'High Court of Justice: Lady Dudley's Separation Allowance', Times (London), 7 Nov 1918, p 2
  • 'Death of Lady Dudley', Times (London), 28 June 1920, p 16
  • 'Obituary: Lord Dudley', Times (London), 30 June 1932, p 16
  • C. Cunneen, The Role of the Governor-General in Australia 1901-1927 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1973)
  • Alfred Deakin papers, MS 1540/19/275 (National Library of Australia).

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Dudley, second Earl of (1867–1932)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 8, (Melbourne University Press), 1981

View the front pages for Volume 8

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

second Earl of Dudley (1867-1932), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1900s

second Earl of Dudley (1867-1932), by T. Humphrey & Co., 1900s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23334588

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Ward, William Humble

25 May, 1867
London, Middlesex, England


29 June, 1932 (aged 65)
London, Middlesex, England

Cultural Heritage

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