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Sir Harry St George Ord (1819–1885)

by Peter Boyce

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Sir Harry St George Ord (1819-1885), soldier and governor, was born on 17 June 1819 at North Cray, Kent, England, son of Harry Gough Ord of the Royal Artillery and his wife Louisa, née Latham. Educated privately at Woolwich and at the Royal Military Academy, he was commissioned second lieutenant in the Royal Engineers in December 1837 and in turn stationed in Ireland, the West Indies, West Africa and Ascension. On 28 June 1846 in London he married Julia Graham, daughter of Admiral James Carpenter; they had three sons. In November 1855 Ord entered the colonial service, first as a special commissioner to the Gold Coast and then as lieutenant-governor of Dominica in 1857, governor of the Bermudas in 1861, special commissioner in West Africa during the Ashanti disturbances in 1864 and as first governor of the Straits Settlements in February 1867.

Ord served for six years in Singapore, where he curbed deficit financing and helped to promote colonial trade, seizing on opportunities offered by the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and increasing use of steamships, one of which he bought for his government. Most of the colonial revenue came from excise on opium and spirits. He used his influence to persuade the British to abandon their interests in Sumatra and helped to negotiate the Anglo-Dutch convention of 1871. Seemingly popular with unofficial members of the Legislative Council, he was suspected by the Straits Settlements Association founded in 1868. A court of inquiry was appointed soon after he left, following complaints in the House of Lords against his selfish administration of the Malay Peninsula.

His health impaired by tropical disease, Ord remained unemployed until offered the governorship of South Australia in April 1877. He refused but in November assumed office as lieutenant-governor and in January as governor of Western Australia. He had been appointed K.C.M.G. before taking office.

Agitation for responsible government was revived in the first Legislative Council session of Ord's administration. Although he opposed all such bids he recognized that economic grievances were feeding political discontent, especially delays in building the eastern railway to York, withdrawal of imperial convict grants and the obligatory use of crown agents for negotiating public loans and contracts. In the council Ord leaned heavily on two unofficial members, Maitland Brown and Sir Thomas Cockburn-Campbell, who used the West Australian to strengthen the governor's cause. By December 1878 Ord could report to the Colonial Office a government 'victory' in all but three of the colony's electoral divisions. Although little memorable legislation was added in Ord's term, the volume of bills was impressive, thirty-three having been passed in his last two months. A £200,000 loan for public works was also approved and work commenced on the Fremantle-Guildford railway, but the budget deficit increased. Though he suspended government-sponsored immigration, which seemed to swell the ranks of the unemployed, he agreed to a Legislative Council request for subsidized importation of Chinese coolies. Although his administration was free of serious public dispute, Ord quarrelled with Chief Justice Burt over certain court judgments.

Ord left the colony early in 1880 and retired on a maximum pension to Fornham House near Bury St Edmunds. He was appointed a G.C.M.G. in 1881 and died suddenly of heart disease at Homburg, Germany, on 20 August 1885. One of his three sons, Harry St George, settled in Australia.  In 1879 the Ord River in the Kimberley was named after him.  Thoroughfares in West Perth and Fremantle also took his name.

Select Bibliography

  • Parliamentary Debates (House of Lords, Great Britain), 21 May, 6 July 1874
  • Inquirer (Perth), 26 Aug 1885
  • Ooi Swee Lee, The First Colonial Governor: Sir Harry Ord, 1867-1873 (B.A. Hons thesis, University of Malaya, 1959)
  • P. J. Boyce, The Role of the Governor in Western Australia, 1829-1890 (M.A. thesis, University of Western Australia, 1961).

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Citation details

Peter Boyce, 'Ord, Sir Harry St George (1819–1885)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1974, accessed online 15 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 5, (Melbourne University Press), 1974

View the front pages for Volume 5

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


17 June, 1819
North Cray, Kent, England


20 August, 1885 (aged 66)
Homburg, Hesse, Germany

Cause of Death

heart disease

Cultural Heritage

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