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Henry Stafford Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote, GCMG, GCIE, CB, PC (18 November 1846 – 29 September 1911), the 3rd Governor-General of Australia, was born in Londonmarker, the second son of the prominent Conservative politician Sir Stafford Northcote, later 1st Earl of Iddesleigh. He was educated at Etonmarker and Merton College, Oxfordmarker (B.A. 1869; M.A. 1873), and had joined the Foreign Office as a diplomat.

In 1880 Northcote was elected to the House of Commonsmarker as MP for Exetermarker, where he served until 1899, holding junior office in the Conservative government of Lord Salisbury. In that year he was appointed Governor of Bombay. Since as a second son he had not inherited his father's title, he was given his own peerage, and was thereafter known as Lord Northcote. He was still in this post when the Colonial Secretary, Joseph Chamberlain, offered him the post of Governor-General of Australia in 1903.

The first two Governors-General, Lord Hopetoun and Lord Tennyson, had served shortened terms and had had difficult relations with Australian ministers. Both the British and Australian governments wanted stability and continuity, and Northcote was appointed for a five-year term. His life-long experience in politics and his time in Bombay made him a suitable appointment. He was neither as imperious as Hopetoun nor as stuffy as Tennyson, and he made a good impression with both politicians and the public.

This was just as well, because Northcote was the first Australian Governor-General to have to deal with political instability. In doing this, he sought the advice of the Chief Justice of the newly created High Court of Australiamarker, Sir Samuel Griffith. In April 1904 the Prime Minister, Alfred Deakin, resigned, and was succeeded in quick succession by the Labor leader Chris Watson, the Free Trade leader George Reid and then Deakin again. Both Watson and Reid asked Northcote to dissolve Parliament before their resignations, and in both cases he refused. At this time no-one doubted that the Governor-General had a discretion in these cases. It is a measure of Northcote's standing that all these leaders respected his decisions.

Like his predecessors, Northcote saw himself as a diplomatic representative of the British government as well a vice-regal representative. He was actively involved in negotiations between the British and Australian governments over contentious trade and shipping issues, although his role diminished after 1906 when the Liberal Party came to power in Britain, cutting off much of his influence in Londonmarker.

In 1907 Northcote and Deakin had a falling out when the Governor-General, on instructions from London, declined to give his assent to a bill restricting appeals from the Australian courts to the Privy Council in London. Deakin, although a loyal Imperialist, believed that Australian parliaments should be sovereign in Australia, and bluntly told Northcote so. This prompted Northcote to announce in February 1908 that he wished to resign, a year early. He left Australia in September. In Britain his health declined and he died childless in 1911, his barony becoming extinct with his death.

Lady Alice Northcote

Henry Stafford Northcote's wife, Lady Alice Northcote, was the adopted daughter of George Stephen, 1st Baron Mount Stephen. She was created a Companion of the Order of the Crown of India (CI) in 1878 and a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1919.



  • Donald Markwell. "Griffith, Barton and the early governor-generals: aspects of Australia's constitutional development", Public Law Review, 1999.

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