Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Robert William Hay (1786–1861)

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Robert William Hay (1786-1861), public servant, was born at Westminster, London, the eldest son of Rev. George William Auriol Hay-Drummond and his wife Elizabeth Margaret, née Marshall. His grandfather Robert Hay, archbishop of York and scion of the earls of Kinnoull, had assumed the additional surname Drummond according to deed of entail of his great-grandfather Viscount Strathallan. In 1803 Hay matriculated at Christ Church, Oxford (B.A., 1807; M.A., 1809). In 1812-24 he was private secretary to Viscount Melville, first lord of the Admiralty, and then became a commissioner of the Victualling Board. On 5 July 1825 he was appointed the first permanent under-secretary at the Colonial Office. He had charge at first of the eastern division of empire but later superintended only the slave colonies. A Conservative of the old school, he was much too concerned with petty details to be effective. He carried on an extensive private correspondence with many individuals in the colonies and with officials such as Major (Sir) Thomas Mitchell, and much of the real business of his office was left to James Stephen. In 1836 Stephen protested at this extra work and Glenelg had to choose between losing him and dismissing Hay. When Melbourne refused to intervene, Hay resigned on a substantial pension. He died at Malta on 9 May 1861.

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Citation details

'Hay, Robert William (1786–1861)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1966, accessed online 18 April 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 1, (Melbourne University Press), 1966

View the front pages for Volume 1

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


London, Middlesex, England


9 May, 1861 (aged ~ 75)

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.