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fourteenth Viscount Gormanston (1837–1907)

by R. P. Davis

This article was published:

fourteenth Viscount Gormanston (1837-1907), by J. W. Beattie

fourteenth Viscount Gormanston (1837-1907), by J. W. Beattie

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125646919

fourteenth Viscount Gormanston (1837-1907), governor, was born on 1 June 1837 at Gormanston Castle, Meath, Ireland, son of Edward Anthony John Preston, 13th Viscount Gormanston and his wife Lucretia, née Jerningham. In August 1855 Preston joined the 60th King's Rifle Corps and saw action as a lieutenant in the Indian Mutiny campaigns of 1857-58. He left the army in 1860 and married Ismay Louisa Ursula Bellow at Barmeath, County Louth, on 8 January the following year. From July 1866 to December 1868 Preston was chamberlain to the lord lieutenant of Ireland. In 1876 he succeeded his father as Viscount Gormanston in the Irish peerage and Baron Gormanston in that of the United Kingdom. The Salisbury Conservative government in 1885 appointed him governor of the Leeward Islands and transferred him two years later to the larger colony of British Guiana where he remained in office till 1893. Gormanston's next post was governor of Tasmania; he presided there for an extended term from 8 August 1893 until August 1900.

As Ireland's premier viscount, Gormanston was honoured as befitted his rank: high sheriff for Dublin (1865) and Meath (1871); deputy lieutenant for Dublin; K.C.M.G. (1887) and G.C.M.G. (1897). As governor, he proved no cipher. In British Guiana, despite the concession in 1891 of directly elected members on the executive council, he was not afraid to act against the wishes of the majority and quelled unrest by strength rather than persuasion. In Tasmania, despite its well-established tradition of self-government, he refused to support recommendations for knighthoods, lectured his ministers on defence needs, and strongly opposed the appointment of a chief justice. He was uneasy about the rise of a Labor Party, and Tasmanian radicals were correspondingly dubious about naming a west-coast mining township Gormanston.

In general, however, Gormanston was satisfied with Tasmanian society at the turn of the century. While disappointed at the island's lack of enthusiasm for Federation, he heartily approved of its fervent loyalty during the Queen's jubilee and positive response to the South African War. He was a Catholic; his piety encouraged his co-religionists in the colony, though they were warned in 1895 by the visiting Irish Nationalist leader, Michael Davitt, that Gormanston was a bad Irishman and one of the worst landlords.

Gormanston's first wife died without issue in 1875. The governor's amiable consort in Tasmania was Georgina Jane, née Connellan. Marrying on 29 October 1878 at Coolmore, County Kilkenny, the couple had three sons and a daughter. Gormanston stood 6 ft 2 ins (188 cm) and enjoyed field sports till increasing weight restricted his movement. Troubled by ill health in Tasmania he died in Dublin of cerebral haemorrhage on 29 October 1907. He was buried in the family vault at Stamullen, near Gormanston, survived by his wife and children and succeeded by his eldest son, Jenico Edward Joseph. Although Gormanston could pass as a conscientious governor in the 1890s, the Imperial ideal of this Irish Catholic aristocrat, whose title dated back to 1370, was already an anachronism.

Select Bibliography

  • Mercury (Hobart), 7 Aug 1893
  • Australasian (Melbourne), 6 Oct 1894
  • Clipper, 20 May 1899
  • letter books of despatches, and confidential despatches, to Secretary of State, 16 Jan 1821–21 Jan 1911, GO 25, 21 Apr 1869–29 Dec 1913, GO 27 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

R. P. Davis, 'Gormanston, fourteenth Viscount (1837–1907)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 14 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (Melbourne University Press), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

fourteenth Viscount Gormanston (1837-1907), by J. W. Beattie

fourteenth Viscount Gormanston (1837-1907), by J. W. Beattie

Allport Library and Museum of Fine Arts, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001125646919

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Preston, Jenico William Joseph

1 June, 1837
Gormanston, Meath, Ireland


29 October, 1907 (aged 70)
Dublin, Ireland

Religious Influence

Includes the religion in which subjects were raised, have chosen themselves, attendance at religious schools and/or religious funeral rites; Atheism and Agnosticism have been included.