BLEDISLOE, Charles Bathurst, P.C., G.C.M.G., K.B.E., First Viscount
Governor-General of New Zealand.
A new biography of Bledisloe, Charles Bathurst appears in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography on this site.
Lord Bledisloe was born in London on 21 September 1867, second son of Charles Bathurst, of Lydney Park, Gloucester. He was educated at Sherborne, Eton, and University College, Oxford, graduating B.A. in 1890. Though he was called to the Bar by the Inner Temple in 1892 and practised in the Chancery Division as a conveyancer for 16 years, it was soon evident that agriculture would be his major interest. When it became clear with the death of his older brother that he would inherit the estate, he took a course at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, where he was awarded the gold medal.
All his life he took a serious view of the obligation of the landowners to the land and its people. He began by helping to found, and becoming honorary secretary of, the County Landowners' Association. After his election in 1910 to the House of Commons as Unionist member for the Wilton Division of Dorset, he soon became known as the champion of British agriculture, then slowly recovering from a long period of depression. Often his enthusiasm for a cause then attracting little interest wearied his listeners, and his speeches aroused less attention than they deserved, but he did not falter.
The war, however, changed this and when the submarine campaign took heavy toll of shipping and cut the supplies of imported food, British agriculture had to come to the rescue. After serving as a captain in the Royal Monmouthshire Engineers and as Assistant Military Secretary at the Salisbury Training Centre, Bathurst was in 1916 appointed Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Food, representing the Food Controller in the Commons. Because of his wide knowledge of farming and his great influence with farmers, he was the obvious choice. In the following year he was made chairman of the Royal Commission on Sugar Supply, a post he held until 1919. For his work in these posts he was created K.B.E. in 1917 and a baron in 1918. Though in this capacity he was responsible for an entirely imported food, he did not for a moment lose his interest in agriculture and in 1919 he resigned to become chairman of the Lawes Agricultural Trust, the managing body of the Rothamsted Experimental Station. Here he was able to exercise his belief in the importance of science in farming and to ensure that, in the development of the science, the problems of agriculture were not entirely forgotten.
In the second Baldwin Government he was Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture, a post he held for four years until 1928, when he resigned to become chairman of the Imperial Grassland Association. He was chairman of the Royal Commission on Land Drainage in 1927 which laid the foundations for the Act of 1930. In 1928 he went to South America and negotiated the Bledisloe Agreement, which governs the inspection of animals for export as meat to the United Kingdom.
Bledisloe was appointed Governor-General of New Zealand at the end of 1929 and assumed office on 19 March 1930. His deep knowledge of agriculture gave him an understanding of New Zealand possessed by few Vice-Regal representatives and he did everything possible to widen his appreciation of the country and its history.
Like a Sovereign's, the Governor-General's duties are no longer largely political but chiefly ceremonial and social. On tour he is able to bring the Crown in touch with the people, while through his patronage he is able to support the work of many important voluntary associations. Bledisloe excelled on this side of his duties. There were few towns that he and his wife did not visit at some time or other. His friendly manner and natural dignity enabled him to mix with all classes of the community and to gain their respect and admiration. Nor did he always restrict his assistance to the mere patronage of societies; he frequently took an active part in the work of those in which he was particularly interested. Few Governor-Generals have entered more fully into New Zealand life, and it is true to say that during the early thirties the country was more aware of its Governor-General than at any other time in its history.
Bledisloe's term coincided with the world depression and was marked by retrenchment and salary cuts. Though his salary could not legally be changed, he offered to undergo the same cuts as those suffered by public servants. As a result it was reduced by 30 per cent and he was compelled to draw on his private resources to carry out his official duties.
Bledisloe naturally came into intimate contact with the farming community. He did not hesitate to give his opinion on all phases of agriculture, and did everything possible to emphasise the importance of science in agriculture. He warned producers to maintain and improve quality and to ensure that their goods met fully the customers' requirements. In his opinion the pig's importance to the country's economy had been too long undervalued and he set a practical example.
At all times his generosity was marked, and the years in New Zealand were no exception. Best known of the many trophies he donated are the Ahuwhenua Cup for Maori farmers, and the Bledisloe Cup for rugby football competition between Australia and New Zealand. The gift for which he will always be remembered, however, is the Waitangi estate. The Treaty of Waitangi had been signed at the British Residency near Russell which was the private property of Busby. In the intervening years both the land and the house had deteriorated and in 1931 it was in the hands of the Bank of New South Wales for sale. Recognising its importance in the history of the country, Bledisloe arranged to purchase the property and, on behalf of his wife and himself, to present it to the nation as a national monument. The gift was accepted by the Crown and handed to the Waitangi National Trust, established by Act to care for the estate. The Governor-General also contributed generously to the fund for renovating the Treaty House.
During 1934, the Governor-General and his wife visited the Cook Islands and Samoa and, later in the year, paid a short visit to Australia. They were hosts to the Duke of Gloucester during the royal visit to New Zealand in December 1934-February 1935. It was widely hoped that Bledisloe would accept an extension of his term as Governor-General but he relinquished office on 15 March 1935, when he left New Zealand. For his services in New Zealand he was created Viscount Bledisloe of Lydney in June 1935.
After returning to England Bledisloe was in 1938 made chairman of the Rhodesia-Nyasaland Royal Commission to investigate the possibility of closer union between the three colonies. He continued to take an active part in many societies and was on the board of directors of several companies. He also attended regularly debates in the House of Lords, speaking chiefly on agricultural matters.
He did not restrict his agricultural activities purely to administration and the example he gave of practical farming was no less important than his other work. His aim on the home farm at Lydney was to harmonise science with practice.
Bledisloe always retained a keen interest in New Zealand and was host to many New Zealanders, especially during the war years, when he entertained many servicemen. Early in 1947, as president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England, he came on a goodwill visit to Australia and New Zealand, receiving a warm and friendly welcome.
He was an active worker in many societies and institutions. In addition to those already mentioned, he was at one time or other president of the British Dairy Farmers' Association, the Bath and West of England Agricultural Society, the National Council of Social Service, the Museums Association, and the Empire Day Movement. He was also chairman of the Agricultural Research Committee of Bristol University, the Central Chamber of Agriculture Farmers' Club, and was successively vice-president and president of the Royal Agricultural Society of England. He was also one of the Carnegie United Kingdom trustees.
Bledisloe received honorary degrees from several universities and, in addition to the honours mentioned, he was sworn on the Privy Council in 1926, and created G.C.M.G. in 1930. He was also a Knight of Grace of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem and possessed the gold and silver medals of the Royal Agricultural Society of England.
Bledisloe married twice, first, in 1898, the Hon. Bertha Lopes, who died in 1926 and by whom he had two sons and a daughter; secondly, Alina Kate Elaine, second daughter of Lord Glantawe and widow of T. Cooper-Smith who died in 1956. She was a great help to him in his work and proved equally popular in New Zealand.
Bledisloe died at Lydney on 3 July 1958. He was a good friend, an indefatigable worker, and a man who saw clearly his duty to his country and the land, allowing nothing to prevent him from discharging fully these obligations. New Zealand sees him as a really great Governor-General.
by James Oakley Wilson, D.S.C., M.COM., A.L.A., Chief Librarian, General Assembly Library, Wellington.
- The Times (London), 4 Jul 1958 (Obit)
- Royal Agricultural Society Journal (1958).