Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Sir Henry William Forster (1866–1936)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

Henry William Forster (1866-1936), by Spencer Shier, c1920

Henry William Forster (1866-1936), by Spencer Shier, c1920

National Archives of Australia, A6180:7/6/78/4

Sir Henry William Forster (1866-1936), governor-general, was born on 31 January 1866 at Southend Hall, Kent, England, son of Major John Forster, late 6th Dragoon Guards, and his wife Emily Jane, née Case. Educated at Eton and New College, Oxford (B.A., 1889), he excelled at tennis and fencing, played cricket for Eton, Oxford and Kent, captained Hampshire, and represented the Gentleman against Players. Over six feet (183 cm) tall, he was of the spare, typical sportsman's build. On 3 June 1890 he married Rachel Cecily, daughter of the first Lord Montagu of Beaulieu. A Unionist, in 1892-1918 Forster represented Sevenoaks and in 1918-19 Bromley in the House of Commons. He was a junior lord of the Treasury in 1902-05, Conservative whip 1902-11 and financial secretary to the War Office 1915-19. Appointed privy councillor in 1917, next year he became president of the Marylebone Cricket Club and in 1919 he was created Baron Forster of Lepe.

In June 1920, of three men suggested to the Australian government as suitable governors-general, W. M. Hughes's cabinet chose Forster, who was appointed G.C.M.G. Succeeding Sir Ronald Munro Ferguson he was sworn in at Melbourne on 7 October. Earnestly attentive to the social duties of the office, Lord and Lady Forster travelled tirelessly around Australia, often dedicating war memorials; their two sons had been killed in the war. In 1924 Forster visited Papua and New Guinea. A founder of Toc H in Australia, he was also chief scout; his charitable interests included the Big Brother Movement. Lady Forster was keenly interested in music, art, social questions, and women's movements. Among the numerous sports the vice-regal family patronized was yachting—the governor-general won several races and in 1920 presented the Forster cup for inter-State competition in 21-foot class yachts.

No political crises disturbed his tour of duty. Hughes's overthrow caused His Excellency no problems as on resigning the prime minister advised that S. M. (Viscount) Bruce be commissioned. Although he had intended to stay only two years, and despite his dissatisfaction at being forced to draw more than £2000 annually from his private income, Forster was prevailed on to remain until 1925. He left Australia on 7 October.

Diffident, though popular, Forster had less influence than either his predecessor or his successor, Lord Stonehaven. He reflected the less active role British governors-general were to play in Australia after World War I. In May 1925 he wrote, 'the work of a G.G. and his wife is just like the work of looking after a big constituency'. Forster was survived by his wife and two daughters when he died of coronary-vascular disease in London on 15 January 1936. His portrait by John Longstaff hangs in Parliament House, Canberra.

Select Bibliography

  • Sydney Morning Herald, 13 Oct 1920, 17 Jan 1934
  • 'Obituary', Times (London), 16 Jan 1936, p 14
  • Argus (Melbourne), 17 Jan 1936
  • C. Cunneen, The Role of Governor-General in Australia 1901-1927 (Ph.D. thesis, Australian National University, 1973)
  • William Hughes papers, MS 1538, box 155 folder 2, (National Library of Australia)
  • Stonehaven papers, MS 2127 series 3 (National Library of Australia)
  • CO 418/190, 202, 218 (National Library of Australia).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Forster, Sir Henry William (1866–1936)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 12 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

Henry William Forster (1866-1936), by Spencer Shier, c1920

Henry William Forster (1866-1936), by Spencer Shier, c1920

National Archives of Australia, A6180:7/6/78/4

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Baron Forster
  • Forster, first Baron
  • Forster, Lord

31 January, 1866
Southend Hall, Kent, England


15 January, 1936 (aged 69)
London, Middlesex, England

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