NORMANBY, Sir George Augustus Constantine Phipps, Second Marquess of, P.C., G.C.M.G., G.C.B.
Ninth Governor of New Zealand.
Lord Normanby was born on 23 July 1819 at Portland Place, only son of the First Marquess (1797–1863), who himself had a distinguished political career, being successively Governor of Jamaica, Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Colonial Secretary, and Home Secretary. His mother was Maria, eldest daughter of the First Lord Ravenworth.
Lord Normanby joined the Scots Fusilier Guards in 1838, later serving with the regiment in Canada. On 17 August 1844 he married at Burneston, County York, Laura (1816–85), daughter of Captain Robert Russell, RN, and niece of Elizabeth, Dowager Duchess of Cleveland. Normanby resigned his commission in 1847 when he became Liberal member for Scarborough in the House of Commons. He held this seat, sitting as the Earl of Mulgrave, from 1847 to 1851 and from 1853 to 1858, and served as party whip under three administrations. He became a Privy Councillor on 7 August 1851. In 1851–52 he acted as Comptroller, and from 1853–58, Treasurer, of the Royal Household. Normanby then served as Lieutenant-Governor of Nova Scotia from 1858 until his return to England in 1863 to succeed to his father's titles. He spent the next seven years about Court, as Lord-in-Waiting, and as Captain of the Gentlemen-at-Arms, before serving as Governor of Queensland (1871–74) and of New Zealand (1874–78).
Normanby's administration in New Zealand coincided with the abolition of the provinces, and with a long struggle with his Ministers on constitutional questions. His adversary in the latter was Sir George Grey, a former Governor, with a wide personal experience in such matters. This struggle involved the Governor's prerogative powers of dissolution, appointment, and his discretion to take action without reference to, or against, ministerial advice. In the ensuing “memoranda” battle, Normanby proved that his political acumen and grasp of constitutional principle were probably unrivalled in the colonies. He resisted successfully Grey's demands for a dissolution, as well as his assertion that under responsible government the Governor was bound to accept ministerial advice without question. He also established a Governor's right to consult with fellow Governors on constitutional matters if he had reason to believe his own advisers were mis-stating a precedent. Normanby's controversy with Grey ended in 1878, when the Premier refused to attend further Executive Councils. When the House of Representatives (1877), with ministerial connivance, censured him for his refusal to appoint a new Legislative Councillor on Ministers' advice while a want of confidence motion was pending, Normanby referred the resolution to his Ministers, who refused to tender any advice. The Governor thereupon solved the problem neatly by forwarding this refusal as his reply to the House.
Lord Normanby left New Zealand to assume the Governorship of Victoria (1879–84) where he faced similar ministerial difficulties. In 1884 the Colonial Office proposed to appoint him Governor of South Australia but were dissuaded by a strong protest from the colony. He returned to England in 1885, and thereafter sat in the House of Lords as a Liberal-Unionist. He died at 6 Brunswick Terrace, Brighton, on 3 April 1890.
Normanby's pose of good-natured indolence belied his strength of character and inflexibility of purpose. He was never disposed to seek the line of least resistance, while by his proved ability, his grasp of constitutional essentials, and his shrewd political sense, he is revealed as one of the most formidable colonial administrators to serve Britain in the nineteenth century.
by Bernard John Foster, M.A., Research Officer, Department of Internal Affairs, Wellington.
- Governors' Papers (MSS), National Archives, Wellington.