MacDONNELL, Sir Richard Graves (1814-1881)

MacDONNELL, Sir Richard Graves (1814-1881)
governor of South Australia
was the son of the Rev. Dr MacDonnell, provost of Trinity College, Dublin, 1852-67. His mother was the daughter of Dean Graves, senior fellow of Trinity College. He was born at Dublin on 3 September 1814, and studying at Trinity College, graduated with distinction in classics and science. He took up law, was called to the Irish bar in 1838, and to the English bar at Lincoln's Inn, London, in 1840. In 1843 he was appointed chief justice of the Gambian settlement and in 1847 governor. In 1852 he was transferred to the governorship of St Lucia and St Vincent, and in 1854 to South Australia. He arrived at Adelaide on 7 June 1855, and was immediately confronted with an unusual problem. A large number of single emigrant women had been sent to South Australia and over 800 of these had been unable to find work. The new governor decided that their maintenance should be a charge against the land fund, and measures were taken to ensure that there should not be an undue supply of female labour in future. The really important problem of the moment, however, was the form the new constitution should take. MacDonnell himself favoured one chamber, but though at times inclined to be impatient and autocratic, he came to the conclusion when his proposal was rejected, that in this matter it would be better to respect the general feeling of the colonists which was evidently in favour of two houses. Eventually the new constitution provided that both chambers should be elective, that the whole colony should be the electorate for the council, and that it would be divided into 36 districts for the house of assembly. The council voters required a money qualification, but there was manhood suffrage for the assembly. The bill was passed on 2 January and given the royal assent on 24 June 1856.
With the passing of this act the power. and importance of the governor were much decreased. MacDonnell's period was, however, a most important one for South Australia, and quite apart from the question of responsible government, the colony showed great developments. When he arrived there was not a mile of railways open and scarcely 60 miles of made roads, and both were being vigorously formed when he left. Land in cultivation and exports from the colony had both increased nearly 200 per cent, and there were great developments in copper mining. MacDonnell's term of governorship came to an end at the close of 1861, and he left the colony for England early in 1862 after greeting his successor, Sir Dominick Daly, "as a private individual", when he arrived at Adelaide on 4 March. He was appointed governor of Nova Scotia in 1864 and in 1865 became governor of Hong Kong. Ill-health compelled his retirement in 1872, when he returned to England and was not further employed by the British government. He died on 5 February 1881. He married in 1847 Blanche, daughter of Francis Skurray. He was given the honorary degree of LL.D. by Trinity College, Dublin, in 1844, and was created C.B. in 1852, Kt Bach. in 1855, and K.C.M.G. in 1871. Finniss (q.v.), who as colonial secretary and first premier of South Australia, was closely in touch with MacDonnell, says in his Constitutional History of South Auslralia, that MacDonnell used every means which his position gave him to weaken the effect of responsible government, and was reluctant to yield the great prerogative of the governor of a crown colony. He had been used to rule, and no doubt found it difficult to abandon his belief that the office of a governor is to govern. He was a conscientious and able official who showed much administrative ability throughout his career as a governor of crown colonies, and though he had some conflict with his advisers in South Australia, he was otherwise a thoroughly efficient and popular representative of the crown in that colony.
The Times, 8 February 1881; B. T. Finniss, The Constitutional History of South Australia; E. Hodder, The History of South Australia; The Statesman's Year-Book, 1872; Debrett's Peerage, etc., 1879.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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