NORTHCOTE, Henry Stafford, 1st baron (1846-1911)


NORTHCOTE, Henry Stafford, 1st baron (1846-1911)
third governor-general of Australia
was born on 18 November 1846, the second son of Sir Henry Stafford Northcote, 1st Earl of Iddesleigh. He was educated at Eton, and Merton College, Oxford, and in 1868 entered the foreign office as a clerk. In 1871 he accompanied his father on his mission to Washington in connexion with the Alabama claims, and going on a visit to Canada met Alice, adopted daughter of George Stephen, afterwards Lord Mount Stephen, and in 1873 was married to her. He went to the conference held at Constantinople in 1876 as private secretary to Lord Salisbury, and after his return was private secretary to his father, who was then chancellor of the exchequer. Northcote entered the house of commons as member for Exeter in 1880, and held the seat for 19 years. In 1885 he became financial secretary to the war office, and in 1886 for a few months was surveyor-general of ordnance. He was afterwards chairman of the associated chambers of commerce and gained a reputation for his quiet shrewdness of judgment. He was created a baronet in 1887, and in 1899 was appointed governor of Bombay. He was raised to the peerage as Baron Northcote on the following 20 January. He arrived in February to find plague prevalent and a famine developing. He faced the position with courage, visited the plague districts with his wife, and spent much of his private income helping to organize relief measures. One particularly valuable piece of work was his gathering together and preserving of the remnants of a famous breed of cattle.
Towards the end of 1903 Northcote was appointed governor-general of Australia. He was sworn in at Sydney on 21 January 1904, and found federal politics going through a difficult period. The Deakin (q.v.) government was defeated at the end of April, and the Labour government under Watson (q.v.) which followed lasted less than four months. There were three parties, no one of which had a majority of the house. Watson asked for a dissolution, but Northcote refused it and a composite ministry under Reid (q.v.) and McLean (q.v.) was formed. This government was defeated some 10 months later. Deakin formed his second government in July 1905, and with the support of the Labour party remained in office until November 1908. Northcote had completed his term of five years in September. He returned to England by way of Canada and took his seat in the house of lords. He retained his interest in Australia, and a suggestion was made that he should be asked to accept the position of high commissioner, but this did not come to anything. He died on 29 September 1911 and was survived by Lady Northcote. He had no children.
Northcote was a good speaker and a hard-working administrator. He travelled extensively in Australia and made himself familiar with every aspect of its life. His ability, sound judgment, and knowledge of parliamentary life was of the greatest use in the early difficult years of the federal parliament, and the heads of the opposing parties all united in their admiration for him. It was in fact impossible to be closely in touch with Northcote without recognizing his high character.
The Times, 30 September 1911; The Argus, Melbourne, 2 October 1911; H. G. Turner, The First Decade of the Australian Commonwealth; Burke's Peerage, etc., 1911.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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