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Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois (1821–1897)

by Robin W. Winks

This article was published:

William Francis Drummond Jervois (1821-1897), by S. Solomon

William Francis Drummond Jervois (1821-1897), by S. Solomon

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6984

Sir William Francis Drummond Jervois (1821-1897), governor, was born on 10 September 1821 at Cowes, Isle Of Wight, the eldest son of General William Jervois (pronounced `Jarvis') and his wife Elizabeth, née Maitland. Educated at Dr Burney's Academy near Gosport, he entered the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich and was commissioned second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in 1839. He studied for two years in the School of Military Engineering at Chatham where his work at the drafting board was renowned for its excellence.

Jervois was posted to the Cape of Good Hope in 1841. He began the first survey of British Kaffraria and was twice cited for the quality of his work. He commanded a company of sappers and miners at Woolwich and Chatham in 1849-52 and then went to Alderney. He became the commanding royal engineer for the London military district in 1855, assistant inspector-general of fortifications at the War Office in 1856 and lieutenant-general and director of works for fortifications in 1862.

Especially interested in the American civil war, Jervois twice visited the United States to examine its defences and travelled three times to Canada. He sketched the harbour defences of Portland and Boston from rowing-boats while disguised as an artist. In 1865-74 he lectured on iron fortifications and inspected British defences from Gibraltar to the Andaman Islands. In 1863 he was made C.B. and in 1874 K.C.M.G.

In April 1875 Jervois was appointed governor of the Straits Settlements, succeeding Sir Andrew Clarke, and his decisions irrevocably committed Britain to a place on the Malay archipelago. He distrusted Malays and had little respect for them; for the Chinese in Singapore he showed much sympathy and later strongly defended oriental migration to both Australia and New Zealand; in South Australia he was credited with having 'done much to modify unreasonable prejudice against Chinese labour'.

Early in 1877 Jervois was asked to survey the defences of Australia and New Zealand. Accompanied by Colonel Sir Peter Scratchley he completed his investigation of New South Wales defences by the end of May and planned to go to the other colonies. At Melbourne in June he was notified of 'promotion' as governor of South Australia, though in truth he was transferred because Lord Carnarvon at the Colonial Office was unhappy with his active interference on the Malay mainland. On 2 October Jervois arrived at South Australia from Melbourne in H.M.S. Sapphire and was sworn in. The colony was in political crisis; when the Colton ministry resigned Jervois won general approval by resisting pressures to dissolve parliament and (Sir) James Boucaut became premier. For the rest of his term Jervois was 'singularly free of political complications' although he clashed once with the House of Assembly over representation. His term also coincided with good rainfall and unprecedented extension of agricultural land. He laid the foundation stone of the University of Adelaide and of the new institute and art gallery in 1879. He turned the sod of the colony's first tramway, opened new railways and visited the far northern and southern limits of settlement, even buying land for himself.

He was a popular chairman of meetings of the Bible Society, the City Mission and other philanthropic institutions and lectured in aid of funds for the Young Men's Christian Association. He reported on South Australia's defences in December 1877, oversaw the construction of the new Houses of Parliament and a vice-regal summer house at Marble Hill, and promoted both horse-racing and Turkish bathing in Adelaide. Some critics complained that he did not entertain democratically enough, but he met them with characteristic forthrightness by making public his invitation lists. His wife Lucy, née Norsworthy, whom he had married in March 1850, founded a Young Women's Institute and was active in charity work.

In 1882 Jervois was made governor of New Zealand and left Adelaide in January 1883, the Register claiming that he was 'not only one of the ablest and most judicious but also one of the most deservedly popular of our Governors'. One of his three sons was appointed adjutant of the local military forces. His younger daughter was married in the colony. He left New Zealand in March 1889. In 1892 he revisited South Australia and New Zealand and became colonel-commandant of the Royal Engineers in 1893. He died on 17 August 1897 after a carriage accident and was buried near Virginia Water, Surrey. His many published papers and lectures include Defences of Great Britain and her dependencies (1880) and Colonisation (1882). His name is remembered by a bridge in Adelaide and by mountains and a mine in Central Australia.

Select Bibliography

  • Royal Engineers Journal, 2 May 1898
  • Australasian, 23 June 1877
  • Advertiser (Adelaide), 6 Jan 1883
  • Register (Adelaide), 6, 8, 9, 10 Jan 1883
  • CO 13/135-141
  • family papers (privately held).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Robin W. Winks, 'Jervois, Sir William Francis Drummond (1821–1897)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 26 May 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

William Francis Drummond Jervois (1821-1897), by S. Solomon

William Francis Drummond Jervois (1821-1897), by S. Solomon

State Library of South Australia, SLSA: B 6984

Life Summary [details]


10 September, 1821
Cowes, Isle of Wight, England


17 August, 1897 (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.