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Sir Henry Lionel Galway (1859–1949)

by P. A. Howell

This article was published:

Henry Lionel Galway (1859-1949), by Sykes Studio

Henry Lionel Galway (1859-1949), by Sykes Studio

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7400

Sir Henry Lionel Galway (1859-1949), soldier and governor, was born on 25 September 1859 at Alverstoke, Southampton, England, son of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Lionel Gallwey and his second wife, Alicia Dorinda Lefanu, née MacDougall. Educated at Cheltenham College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, he was commissioned in 1878. He was aide-de-camp to the governors of Bermuda in 1882-89 and was promoted captain in 1887. Appointed deputy commissioner and vice-consul in the Niger Coast Protectorate in 1891, he championed the overthrow of 'fetish rule', relished punitive expeditions and sent to the British Museum 2800 looted bronze and ivory sculptures. He tricked the King of Benin into accepting a treaty, which was savagely enforced in 1897. Often mentioned in dispatches, he was rewarded with the Distinguished Service Order (1896), appointment as C.M.G. (1899) and promotion to major (1897). Given the rank of lieutenant-colonel when placed on half-pay in 1901, he retired from the army in 1902 to become governor of St Helena, where he revived capital punishment. Appointed K.C.M.G. in 1910, he was transferred to Gambia in 1911. That year Gallwey changed his surname to Galway and on 26 August 1913 in London he married Baroness Marie Carola Franciska Roselyne d'Erlanger, née Blennerhasset, a widow.

Galway then became governor of South Australia. He was ill-chosen and resented the limits to a constitutional governor's freedom. At his welcome in 1914 he upset people by praising the River Murray Waters Agreement, awaiting parliamentary debate, and compulsory military training. His support of gambling, and of minimal restrictions on liquor trading, angered puritans. He abhorred Australian egalitarianism, remarking that 'the people are ruled by the coolies'. He criticized women's enfranchisement and the State's educational system; when he called for an end to the White Australia policy, opining that the Northern Territory needed Asian labour, the prime minister Andrew Fisher demanded and obtained a full withdrawal and apology.

His frankest speeches were to the South Australian Caledonian Society. Thus in 1915, deploring the 'crooked' minds of the 'well-paid' Islington ironworkers who had demanded higher wages, he said 'he would have liked to put all those men in khaki and discipline and ship them to the front'. This drew fire from the premier Crawford Vaughan and gave cartoonists a field day.

The Colonial Office disapproved of his callousness towards the unemployed, his hysteria about South Australians of German ancestry and his disregard of instructions: he refused to send the governor-general copies of his dispatches and repeatedly disobeyed Imperial requests to consult the Commonwealth before making consular appointments.

His superiors began to think that he should be recalled, but World War I saved him. He became 'the most effective voluntary recruiting agent in Australasia' and before each conscription referendum called for a 'yes' vote. Consequently he was allowed to retain office. But his 1917 declaration that 'It must have been a joyful day for Germany when Australia turned down conscription', drew abusive rejoinders from James Scullin, the Daily Herald and the Ballarat Evening Echo and prompted a State Opposition motion for the abolition of his office. When this was debated the Speaker refused to allow Labor members to make personal remarks; the motion failed. But it was at the governor's insistence that Sir Richard Butler was dropped from Archibald Peake's ministry in 1919 and when cabinet adopted recommendations that a war memorial be built on the site of Government House and a new vice-regal residence be purchased in the suburbs, Galway dissuaded Peake from the scheme.

Lady Galway was a compassionate woman of culture, liberal opinions and charm. Her public talks on history and poetry and her lectures on modern languages at the universities of Adelaide and Melbourne were popular, though the Bulletin observed: 'Sassiety is getting brain fag in the effort to keep up to the intellectual standard of Lady Galway'. She was tireless in her war work and founded South Australia's Red Cross Society.

While Galway's tactlessness made him South Australia's most controversial governor since Frederick Robe, he was admired by Adelaide's establishment; but all Labor parliamentarians boycotted his farewell. The Colonial Office refused him another post. They considered him 'impertinent' and 'incorrigible'. He left South Australia in 1920 and in retirement continued an active interest as chairman of the Big Brother committee, an emigration scheme to settle British youths as farm labourers in Australia. He died in London without issue on 17 June 1949 and Lady Galway died in 1963.

Select Bibliography

  • M. C. Galway (ed), Lady Galway Belgium Book (Adel, 1916)
  • P. Gosse, St Helena 1502-1938 (Lond, 1938)
  • M. C. Galway, The Past Revisited (Lond, 1953)
  • P. A. Howell, ‘More varieties of vice-regal life’, Journal of the Historical Society of South Australia, 9 (1981), and for bibliog
  • Sydney Morning Herald, 17 Feb 1936.

Citation details

P. A. Howell, 'Galway, Sir Henry Lionel (1859–1949)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1981, accessed online 20 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 Lionel Galway (1859-1949), by Sykes Studio

Henry Lionel Galway (1859-1949), by Sykes Studio

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 7400

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Gallwey, Henry Lionel

25 September, 1859
Southampton, Hampshire, England


17 June, 1949 (aged 89)
London, Middlesex, England

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.