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Governor-General of Australia (1936-1944)
Baron Gowrie (1935-1955), 1st Earl of Gowrie (1945-1955)
Born 1872 Died 1955

Early Life

Born on the 6th July 1872, Alexander Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, known to his friends and family as 'Sandie', was the younger son of Walter James Hore-Ruthven, 9th Lord Ruthven(1) and Caroline Annesley Gore, daughter of the 4th Earl of Arran of the Arran Islands. Initially educated at Westward-Ho Junior School in Devon and Winton House school, Winchester he went to Eton College in 1885 but was withdrawn from the school in 1888 due to problems with his eyesight. By his own admission he was "the impecunious son of an impoverished family, with indifferent prospects" and his subsequent career is an object lesson in how war can sometimes transform the most of indifferent of prospects.

Initially his parent suggested a commercial career and in 1888 he found employment in the offices of the Glasgow tea merchants James Finlay and Co, where he remained until 1891 when he went to Assam in India to try his hand at tea planting. There he soon succumbed to malaria and was forced to return home. Disillusioned with the tea business in 1892 he decided to try his hand at a military career. His poor eyesight ruled out the regular army, and so he was forced to join the militia, as part of the 3rd Battalion Highland Light Infantry. He languished in this relative backwater for a number of years before the outbreak of the Second Anglo-Sudanese War provided him with the opportunity to seek active service.

Military Career

In 1898 Alexander got himself seconded to the Egyptian Army, and placed in command of a detachment of the Slavery Department Camel Corps and as such found himself in action at the battle of Gedaref on the 22nd September 1898. During the fighting he spotted a wounded Egyptian officer lying on the battlefield who was in danger of being captured or killed by the advancing Dervishes, and succeeded in carrying the officer to the safety of the lines of the 16th Egyptian Battalion, whilst fighting off the enemy. For this action he was awarded the Victoria Cross, the first occasion on which this particular honour had been awarded to a militia officer. It also brought him to the attention of Lord Kitchener(2) and won for him a regular army commission in the Cameron Highlanders in 1899. Despite his new commission, Alexander remained in Egypt and became special-service officer in Somaliland in 1903, and it was not until 1904 that he rejoined the Cameron Highlanders in Dublin, were he soon took up an appointment as military secretary to the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, serving under both Lord Dudley and his successor Lord Aberdeen.(3)

In 1908 he left Dublin for Australia to take up the appointment of military secretary to the Governor-General of Australia, who was his old boss the Lord Dudley, although in the following year he returned to Britain to join Kitchener's staff and accompanied him on his tour of Australia, reviewing the arrangements for the defence of the continent. In 1910 he was transferred to the Indian Army and at Kitchener's suggestion in 1912 he accepted an appointment at the Quetta Staff College.

Alexander remained in India until the outbreak of World War I and in September 1914 sailed from Karachi aboard the City of Poona bound for France. In April 1915 he became a major in the Welsh Guards, and in the following month joined the Gallipoli expedition where he took part in the Suvla Bay operations and the attack on Lone Pine, where he was severely wounded by shrapnel. He was shipped back to Britain to recuperate but in July 1917 he was back in France, joining the Guards division and in the following year became a Brigadier-General on the general staff of 7th Army Corp, where he was mentioned in dispatches five times. For his wartime service he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in 1916 with an additional Bar awarded in 1919, was appointed Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (C.M.G.) in 1918 and became a Companion of the Order of the Bath (C.B.) in 1919. Following the end of the war he was successively the commander of 29th Infantry Brigade, 28th Highland Brigade, Welsh Guards and 1st Infantry brigade before his retirement from the army in 1928.

Administrative Career

Towards the end of 1927 Alexander was invited to Downing Street where the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin offered him the position of Governor of South Australia; his five-year appointment was subsequently announced on the 6th January 1928, and on the 24th January he was created a Knight Commander of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (K.C.M.G.). (Since at the very least a colonial governor needed to be addressed as a knight.) He arrived in Adelaide on the 12th May 1928, and during his term of office he was credited with smoothing over some of the differences that arose as a result of the bodyline controversy in 1933, found his normal five year term extended by one year, whilst his departure was marked by the gathering of a crowd of around 100,000 people to wish him bon voyage.

On his return to Britain in April 1934, the Secretary of State for the Dominions James Henry Thomas, was of the opinion that he had "done extremely well". He was to spend only a few months back home in Britain as it was announced on the 14th December 1934 that he would return to Australia as the Governor of New South Wales in succession to Philip Game. Although when he arrived in Sydney on the 21st February 1935, he did so in the knowledge that it was already the intention that he should succeed Isaac Isaacs as the Governor-General of Australia. His appointment was later announced on the 19th August 1935, and in preparation for his assumption of that office on the 23rd January 1936, he was created the Baron Gowrie of Canberra and Dirleton on the 20th December 1935 and made a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (G.C.M.G.) .(Since of course the sovereign's representative in Australia should at the very least be addressed as a lord.)

Described as "a popular if unobtrusive figure in Australia", as Governor-General Alexander ensured the smooth hand over of authority following the death of the Prime Minister Joseph Lyons in 1939 and again successfully dealt with the small political crisis of 1940 when the United Australia Party decided to dispense with the services of its leader Robert Menzies, when he twisted a few arms to make sure that the Australian Labor Party leader, John Curtin took over without any disruption.

He had planned to leave office in September 1939, and the Duke of Kent had even been named as his successor, but World War II rather scuppered such ideas and in the end his term of office turned out to be the lengthiest of any Governor-General. After agreeing to stay on for an extra year he did not leave Australia until the 10th September 1944, although technically speaking he remained as Governor-General until succeeded by the Duke of Gloucester on the 30th January 1945.

After his arrival back in Britain he was created 1st Earl of Gowrie on 8th May 1945, chosing to revive the title last borne by his Ruthven ancestors at the close of the sixteenth century. He subsequently served as the Deputy Constable and Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle from 1945 to 1953 and in 1948 was elected as president of the Marylebone Cricket Club, and later died at his home in Shipton Moyne, Gloucestershire, on the 2nd May 1955, at the age of eighty-two.


Alexander was married to Zara Eileen Pollok, the daughter of John Pollok, the ceremony taking palce at St George's, Hanover Square in London on the 1st June 1908 despite the opposition of her family, who did not approve of their daughter's choice of husband. Presumably they later had reason to reconsider their views once Alexander.

They had two sons; the younger Alistair Malise died shortly after his birth on the 2nd August 1917, whilst the elder Alexander Hardinge Patrick Hore-Ruthven was killed in action in North Africa on the 24th December 1942. The 1st Earl of Gowrie was therefore succeeded by the eldest of his two grandsons, Alexander Patrick Greysteil.


NOTES

(1) Many accounts refer to his father as the 8th Lord or even 8th Baron Ruthven. He is however most properly referred to as the 9th Lord Ruthven of Freeland or the 1st Baron Ruthven of Gowrie.
(2) The Lord Kitchener in question being Horatio Herbert Kitchener, 1st Earl Kitchener.
(3) The Lord Dudley would have been William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley whilst the Lord Aberdeen was John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon, 7th Earl of Aberdeen.


SOURCES

  • Soudan 1898 Captain A. G. Hore Ruthven 3rd HLI
    http://www.army.mod.uk/rhf/regimental_history/vc/ruthven.htm
  • Deirdre Morris, Chris Cunneen, 'Gowrie, first Earl of (1872 - 1955)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, Melbourne University Press, 1983, pp 63-64.
    http://www.adb.online.anu.edu.au/biogs/A090065b.htm
  • Papers of Lord Gowrie http://nla.gov.au/nla.ms-ms2852
  • Alexander Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, 1st Baron Gowrie
    http://www.diggerhistory.info/pages-heroes/hore-ruthven-vc.htm

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