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John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven (1874–1941)

by Chris Cunneen

This article was published:

John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven (1874-1941), by C. S. Tompkins, 1920s

John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven (1874-1941), by C. S. Tompkins, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23338092

John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven (1874-1941), governor-general, was born on 27 April 1874 at Chelsea, London, elder son of Sir Alexander Baird and his wife Annette Maria, née Palk. The Bairds were of the Scottish gentry. Educated at Eton, and for two terms at Christ Church, Oxford, in 1894 Johnny was aide-de-camp to Sir Robert Duff, governor of New South Wales, before entering the British diplomatic service. On 16 February 1905 at St Paul's Church, Knightsbridge, London, he married Lady Ethel Sydney Keith-Falconer (b. 20 September 1874); they were to have two sons and three daughters. The eldest child of the 9th Earl of Kintore, Lady Ethel had also been in Australia during the 1890s.

While serving in the Intelligence Corps in France in 1914-15, Baird was awarded the Distinguished Service Order. Conservative member for Rugby (1910-22), then for Ayr Burghs (1922-24) in the House of Commons, he was under secretary of state for the air ministry (1916-19) and for the home office (1919-22), minister for transport (1922-24) and first commissioner for public works (1924). When selected by S. M. (Viscount) Bruce from the British short list, Baird was appointed governor-general of Australia in 1925, created Baron Stonehaven of Ury and appointed G.C.M.G.

He was sworn in on 8 October 1925 in Melbourne. A short, sturdy man, with red moustache and florid complexion, Stonehaven smoked a pipe, wore a gold-rimmed monocle and liked riding, yachting and golf. Believing that 'the Representative of the King should live on a different footing and in a different atmosphere from other people', he was an ostentatious viceroy whose lavish entertainments drew criticism from the Labor Opposition.

In May 1927 Parliament House, Canberra, was opened by the Duke of York, Stonehaven's guest in the newly renovated Government House, Yarralumla. An additional £2000 a year was provided for the governor-general as a Canberra allowance. At first enthusiastic about 'pretending to be the King', Stonehaven later felt the strains of the 'artificial existence' and constant travelling; he inhabited three official residences (Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra) and visited all States and Papua and New Guinea, using and encouraging the new air services. In the only constitutional issue he had to resolve, he uncontentiously accepted Bruce's advice to dissolve the House of Representatives in September 1929 following the defeat of government legislation.

Stonehaven's term ended on 2 October 1930 in controversy over the selection of Sir Isaac Isaacs as his replacement. An appropriate social figurehead, Stonehaven had got on well with Bruce, although he was less sympathetic to Scullin's ministry. During Stonehaven's term the governor-general's role as the symbolic link with Britain had remained, but his quasi-diplomatic role as the channel of communication with the British government ended after the Imperial Conference of 1926.

Back in Britain, Stonehaven was chairman of the Conservative Party in 1931-36. Elevated to viscount in 1938, he died of hypertensive cardiac disease at Ury House, Stonehaven, Scotland, on 20 August 1941. In 1966 his widow, who had succeeded to the earldom of Kintore, entered the House of Lords and was its oldest living member shortly before her death on 21 September 1974.

Select Bibliography

  • C. Cunneen, Kings' Men (Syd, 1983)
  • C. D. Coulthard-Clark (ed), Gables, Ghosts and Governors-General (Syd, 1988).

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Chris Cunneen, 'Stonehaven, John Lawrence Baird (1874–1941)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1990, accessed online 23 July 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 12, (Melbourne University Press), 1990

View the front pages for Volume 12

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven (1874-1941), by C. S. Tompkins, 1920s

John Lawrence Baird Stonehaven (1874-1941), by C. S. Tompkins, 1920s

National Library of Australia, nla.pic-an23338092

Life Summary [details]

Alternative Names
  • Stonehaven, first Baron
  • Baird, John Lawrence

27 April, 1874
London, Middlesex, England


20 August, 1941 (aged 67)
Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire, Scotland

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.