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Richard Graves MacDonnell

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Title: Richard Graves MacDonnell  
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Subject: Governor of Hong Kong, Governors of South Australia, Hercules Robinson, 1st Baron Rosmead, Governor of South Australia, William Collis Meredith
Collection: 1814 Births, 1881 Deaths, Alumni of Trinity College, Dublin, Anglo-Irish People, British Governors of Nova Scotia, Burials at Kensal Green Cemetery, Chief Justices of the Gambia, Companions of the Order of the Bath, Governors of Hong Kong, Governors of South Australia, Governors of the Gambia, Irish Anglicans, Knights Commander of the Order of St Michael and St George, People from Dublin (City), Politicians from Dublin (City), South Australian Colonial Governors
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Richard Graves MacDonnell

Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell
6th Governor of Hong Kong
In office
11 March 1866 – 16 April 1872
Monarch Queen Victoria
Preceded by Lord Rosmead
Succeeded by Sir Arthur Kennedy
31st Lieutenant Governor of Nova Scotia
In office
24 May 1864 – October 1865
Monarch Queen Victoria
Preceded by Sir Charles Hastings Doyle
Succeeded by General Sir William Williams
6th Governor of South Australia
In office
8 June 1855 – 4 March 1862
Monarch Queen Victoria
Premier Boyle Travers Finniss 1856–57
John Baker 1857
Robert Torrens 1857
Richard Hanson 1857–60
Thomas Reynolds 1860–61
George Waterhouse 1861–62
Preceded by Sir Henry Fox Young
Succeeded by Sir Dominic Daly
Personal details
Born (1814-09-03)3 September 1814
Dublin, Ireland
Died 5 February 1881(1881-02-05) (aged 66)
Hyères, France
Spouse(s) Blanche Ann Skurray
Alma mater Trinity College, Dublin

Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell KCMG CB (name in Chinese: 麥當奴; Jyutping: Maak6dong1nou4) (3 September 1814 – 5 February 1881) was an Anglo-Irish lawyer, judge and colonial governor. His posts as governor included Governor of the British Settlements in West Africa, Governor of Saint Vincent, Governor of South Australia, Governor of Nova Scotia and Governor of Hong Kong. Several places around the world are named for him including MacDonnell Road in Hong Kong; and, the MacDonnell Ranges and Sir Richard Peninsula in Australia.


  • Early life 1
  • Governor in Gambia and the West Indies 2
  • Governor of South Australia 3
  • Governor of Nova Scotia 4
  • Governor of Hong Kong 5
  • Marriage and retirement 6
  • Publications with his involvement 7
  • Places named after him or his wife 8
  • See also 9
  • Notes 10
  • References 11
  • External links 12

Early life

Richard Graves MacDonnell was born in Dublin, 8 September 1814, the second son of Richard MacDonnell, the Provost of Trinity College, Dublin, and Jane Graves (1793–1882), second daughter of Richard Graves, Dean of Ardagh. He was a nephew of Robert James Graves and the brother of Major-General Arthur Robert MacDonnell. His first cousins included Lady Valentine Blake of Menlough, Sir William Collis Meredith, Edmund Allen Meredith, John Dawson Mayne and Francis Brinkley. MacDonnell entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1830, was elected a scholar in 1833, and graduated B.A. (1835), M.A., (1836), LL.B., (1845), and LL.D.., (1862)[1][2]

Governor in Gambia and the West Indies

MacDonnell was called to the Irish bar in 1838, and to the English bar, at Lincoln’s Inn, 25 January 1841. On 20 July 1843, he was appointed to the new post of Chief Justice of the Gambia. After four years there, amidst long breaks for his health travelling through the United States and Canada, he intended to hand in his resignation to Henry Grey, 3rd Earl Grey and resume practice at the English bar. But, on 1 October 1847, Grey persuaded him otherwise and appointed him Governor of the British settlements in Gambia, a post he held for a further four years.

While in Gambia River to the Senegal River. The military expeditions which he accompanied against native tribes who had long oppressed the traders of the river were a success and extended the limits of British commerce in the region. On one visit to a native king an ambush was laid for him, and he narrowly avoided being assassinated. In return, the British government sent four hundred men to inflict a summary chastisement, with MacDonnell acting as Captain of one of the volunteer companies.

In 1852, (when he was also gazetted Companion of the Order of the Bath) he was nominated as Lieutenant Governor of St. Lucia, but without taking up the post he was sent, 10 January 1853, to become administrator and Captain General of the island of St. Vincent. He was Lieutenant General of St Vincent from 1853 to 1854.

Governor of South Australia

Described as a 'dominant personality' and having gained a reputation for forthrightness and intolerance, MacDonnell was appointed the sixth Queen Victoria at Buckingham Palace.

Arriving in Australia, MacDonnell was soon involved in heated debate over the composition of the legislature; MacDonnell favoured a single chamber while the majority of colonists preferred a two-house system, which brought him the support of the conservatives, but united the liberals and radicals against him. Eventually a two-house system prevailed, although the Upper House had a property franchise. Difficulties between MacDonnell and his officials led to several changes of government. He extended railway and telegraph communications within the colony and opened up valuable copper mines on the Yorke Peninsula, while increasing the progress in agricultural and pastoral pursuits.

MacDonnell showed little concern for the Australian working class, claiming that charity fostered sloth and pauperism. He was particularly impressed with the settlers from Germany, and he predicted that the colony had a great future for producing wine. In his seven-year term the acreage under wheat doubled in South Australia and he argued that farmers with capital would succeed as long as their methods did not rob the soil.

MacDonnell's passion for exploration greatly aided in opening up the interior of Australia, in particular the Murray River, and he developed many of the natural resources of the colony. He travelled widely in the colony and in 1859 led a small party to investigate country around the northern lakes and claypans, riding 1800 miles (2897 km) in three months. He maintained that Charles Sturt and Edward John Eyre were overrated as explorers as they seemed "generally to have a knack of getting into the most dismal places and finding barrenness from Dan to Beersheba". He instead urged the colonists to support the efforts of John McDouall Stuart to cross the continent.

MacDonnell was regarded in Australia as both 'powerful and hospitable'. He was an enthusiastic member of local rifle and archery clubs and keenly interested in the volunteer defence movement. He also identified himself with most of the literary, artistic and philanthropic organizations. He saw himself as a leader and innovator, and though genial, at times his bustling energy dismayed Adelaide society. As a patron of South Australian culture he encouraged students who could not travel abroad to continue their post-primary schooling, and with his customary dash personally examined candidates and donated prizes, but his plan collapsed after he left the colony. He left South Australia, 4 March 1862, for a holiday in Ireland before taking up his next post.

Governor of Nova Scotia

On the recommendation of his predecessor, Governor of Nova Scotia from 28 May 1864, until October 1865, taking up residence at Government House (Nova Scotia). His arrival coincided with the Confederation of Canada which he made no secret of being in opposition to, and he refused to become a tool of either the British Colonial Secretary or the Governor General of Canada, telling Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald, "You shall not make a mayor of me, I can tell you!" Confederation went ahead, making MacDonnell's tenure in Nova Scotia a short one. He was succeeded by one of Nova Scotia's most distinguished sons, General Sir William Williams, 1st Baronet, of Kars.

Governor of Hong Kong

On 19 October 1865, MacDonnell was appointed as the sixth Governor of Hong Kong, a position in which he served until 1872. During his tenure, MacDonnell developed Victoria Peak, which would eventually become the premier residential quarters in Hong Kong, accessible only to rich European merchants. MacDonnell also ordered the construction of a hospital which catered to the needs of the local Chinese population. In addition, he legalised gambling in Hong Kong which led to social problems and was later made illegal once again. In 1871 he was gazetted K.C.M.G.

Finally, MacDonnell's administration was marred by a huge budget deficit, which resulted in the government asking the HSBC for a financial aid package. The administration was also damaged by the actions of the Canton Customs agency, who patrolled the waters off Hong Kong and boarded ships to search for smuggled goods. This was called by Hong Kong's British merchant community a blockade, and affected Hong Kong's economy for the next 20 years.

Marriage and retirement

The grave of Sir Richard Graves MacDonnell, Kensal Green Cemetery

In 1847, MacDonnell married Blanche Ann, daughter of Francis Skurray of Beckington, Somerset, who lived at Stanhope Place, Hyde Park and Percy Cross Lodge, Fulham, before retiring to 5 Brunswick Square, Brighton. Sir Richard and Lady MacDonnell lived near Hyde Park in London and after his retirement in 1872 they spent much time in Italy and France, dying at Hyères, 5 February 1881.

They are buried in Kensal Green Cemetery, on the southern side. They died without children.

Publications with his involvement

  • The Church of the Future, an address by the Rev. Thomas Binney in 1859
  • Christian Union, as discussed by the Bishop of Adelaide
  • Sir R. C. MacDonnell, &c.,, 1859
  • A lecture on ‘Australia,’ Dublin, 1864

Places named after him or his wife

Named after Richard MacDonnell:

Named after Blanche MacDonnell:

See also


  1. ^ "Richard MacDonnell". Dr. Chris Oakley. Retrieved 31 October 2007. 
  2. ^ "Jane Graves". Dr. Chris Oakley. Retrieved 31 October 2007. 


  • Burroughs, Peter (1982). "MacDONNELL, Sir RICHARD GRAVES". Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 11 (University of Toronto/Université Laval). Retrieved 22 August 2015. 
  • Manhood, C. C. "MacDonnell, Sir Richard Graves (1814–1881)".  

External links

  • Hercules Henry Graves MacDonnell
Government offices
Preceded by
Charles Fitzgerald
Governor of The Gambia
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy
Preceded by
John Campbell
Lieutenant Governor of Saint Vincent
Succeeded by
Edward John Eyre
Preceded by
Sir Henry Fox Young
Governor of South Australia
Succeeded by
Sir Dominick Daly
Preceded by
Charles Hastings Doyle
Governor of Nova Scotia
Succeeded by
Sir William Fenwick Williams
Preceded by
Acting Administrator William Mercer
Governor of Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur Edward Kennedy
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