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Sir Robert George Hamilton (1836–1895)

by Richard Refshauge

This article was published:

Robert George Crookshank Hamilton (1836-1895), by unknown engraver, 1886

Robert George Crookshank Hamilton (1836-1895), by unknown engraver, 1886

Tasmaniana Library, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124869397

Sir Robert George Crookshank Hamilton (1836-1895), civil servant and governor, was born on 30 August 1836 at Bressay, Shetland, Scotland, son of Rev. Zachary Macaulay Hamilton and his first wife Anne Irvine, née Crookshank. Educated at the Grammar School and at the University and King's College, Aberdeen (M.A., 1857; LL.D., 1885), he entered the War Office and was sent to the Crimea as a commissariat clerk. He returned in 1857 and worked in the Office of Works, and in 1861 became accountant to the Board of Education, then a rapidly expanding complex. In 1868 he published his Book-keeping, which ran to at least seven editions by 1899. In 1869 Hamilton was appointed to the yet more difficult post of accountant to the Board of Trade, where he reorganized the Board's financial department. In 1872 he became assistant secretary to Playfair's civil service inquiry commission, and in 1874 its secretary. In 1878 as accountant-general of the navy he simplified the naval estimates making them intelligible to the public. In 1879 he served on Carnarvon's commission on colonial defences, and in May 1882 he became permanent secretary to the Admiralty. After the Phoenix Park murders he was lent to the Irish administration and was permanently appointed under-secretary with a C.B. in April 1883. On 12 January 1884 he was made K.C.B. While in Ireland he became convinced of the advisability of Home Rule, and had some share in influencing both Earl Spencer and W. E. Gladstone. These sympathies probably caused his removal from the under-secretaryship in November 1886.

Hamilton was compensated by appointment as governor of Tasmania and took up his duties early in 1887. Unlike other governors he had no constitutional crises to face, though the Van Diemen's Land Bank failed in August 1891 and had to be wound up. The only ministries in his governorship were led by (Sir) Philip Fysh from March 1887 to August 1892 and Henry Dobson from August 1892 to 1894; he insisted on calling them prime ministers instead of premiers. He promoted public works, especially railways, and encouraged the investment of British capital in the colony. He also encouraged Federation: he presided over the meeting of the Federal Council of Australia at Hobart in 1887 and opened its second and third sessions in 1888 and 1889. He also opened the sixth Trades Union Congress in Hobart in 1889. The greatest contribution he and his second wife made was to the colony's cultural life. Soon after arrival he organized extensive celebrations for the Queen's jubilee, which included three balls, an address with 22,500 signatures and masses of jubilee cake handed to all and sundry. He was president of the Royal Society of Tasmania and actively supported the Australasian Association for the Advancement of Science. He helped to found the University of Tasmania and several technical schools, and opened many museums and art galleries. His wife formed a Literary Society at Government House.

In 1893 Hamilton returned to England and the civil service. He was appointed to the royal commission, inquiring into the working of the Constitution of Dominica and in 1894, on Morley's nomination, served on the commission on the financial relations between England and Ireland. In November he became chairman of the Board of Customs. He died at South Kensington on 22 April 1895 and was buried at Richmond, Surrey.

On 18 August 1863 he had married Caroline Jane Ball, daughter of Frederick Augustus Geary, of Putney, Surrey; she died in 1875, leaving three sons and one daughter. On 4 July 1877 he married Teresa Felicia, second daughter of Major Henry Reynolds (d. 19 July 1859) and his wife Ann, née Cox; they had two sons and one daughter.

Select Bibliography

  • Cyclopedia of Tasmania, vol 1 (Hob, 1900)
  • A. M. Morris, Lady Hamilton's Tasmania (Hob, 1966)
  • Votes and Proceedings (House of Assembly, Tasmania), 1892, 1, 237
  • Australasian, 8 Jan 1887, 5 Nov 1892, 1 Jan 1895
  • Mercury (Hobart), 29 Nov 1892
  • Times (London), 23, 27 Apr 1895
  • GO 23/24/62, 25/23/259 (Archives Office of Tasmania).

Citation details

Richard Refshauge, 'Hamilton, Sir Robert George (1836–1895)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 23 June 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Robert George Crookshank Hamilton (1836-1895), by unknown engraver, 1886

Robert George Crookshank Hamilton (1836-1895), by unknown engraver, 1886

Tasmaniana Library, State Library of Tasmania, AUTAS001124869397

Life Summary [details]


30 August, 1836
Bressay, Shetland Isles, Scotland


22 April, 1895 (aged 58)
London, Middlesex, England

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