Royal Reels: Gambling


Four airmail covers were found on Ebay addressed to the same person, probably sent from four different individuals, all postmarked in N.S.W. in the latter half of the 1940s. On one of the covers she is addressed as The Lady Gowrie (the originating postmark was Moss Vale, N.S.W.), but in the remaining three covers she was titled The Countess of Gowrie (all three posted from Sydney). The full address of the recipient was The Norman Tower, Windsor Castle, Windsor, England. The covers, in no particular dated order, had stamps totaling one shilling and six pence, are shown as Figures 1 to 4.

Earl Alexander Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, was born on 6 July 1872 at Windsor, England, second son of Walter James Hore-Ruthven, 8th Baron Ruthven, and his wife Lady Caroline Annesley, née Gore, daughter of the 4th Earl of Arran. Known throughout his life as ‘Sandie’, Alexander was educated at Winchester and Eton. In 1892 he joined the militia (3rd Battalion Highland Light Infantry), in 1893 he visited Canada and in 1898 he travelled to Egypt and won the first Victoria Cross to be awarded to a militia officer. He remained in Egypt for the Sudan campaign and was mentioned in dispatches three times. He was a special service officer in Somaliland in 1903-04, and in 1904-08 he was military secretary to the lord lieutenant of Ireland, Lord Dudley.

On 1 June 1908 at St George’s, Hanover Square, London, he married Zara Eileen (1879-1965), daughter of John Pollok and his wife the Honourable Florence Madeline, née Bingham. Zara was born at Lismany, Galway, Ireland, on 20 January 1879. In July 1908 as military secretary, he rejoined Lord Dudley, the newly appointed governor-general of Australia. They arrived in Sydney in September. In 1909 Hore-Ruthven returned to England to join Kitchener’s staff and accompanied him on his tour of Australia. When war was declared in 1914 he became an Arabic interpreter to the Meerut Division which sailed to France. As a major in the Welsh Guards he fought at Gallipoli, was severely wounded at Suvla in August and returned to England. In 1917 he served in France, joining the Guards division. Next year he was brigadier-general, 7th Army Corps. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Order with Bar, was appointed C.M.G. in 1918 and C.B. in 1919, and was mentioned in dispatches five times.

Retiring from the army in 1928, Gowrie became governor of South Australia, and was appointed K.C.M.G. On his return to England he was selected as governor of New South Wales and arrived in Sydney on 21 February 1935. While in London he had already been sounded by King George VI about appointment as governor-general of Australia, and on 23 January 1936 he assumed that office, succeeding the Australian-born, Sir Isaac Isaacs. He was created Baron Gowrie of Canberra, and in December 1935 he was appointed G.C.M.G. Gowrie was conscious that as an ‘imported’ governor-general following an Australian, his exercise of office would be under intense critical scrutiny. He believed that he should ‘try and reestablish the dignity of the office and ensure the proper performance of the social and official duties without causing undue criticism on account of the extra expense involved’. Possessing only a small private income, he found the cost of being Governor-General, a strain.

Lady Gowrie, too, was tireless in her work in Australia. She organized concerts and Government House fêtes to raise money for the war effort, set up a soldiers’ club in Canberra and lent her support to the establishment of what became known as the Lady Gowrie kindergartens. Her 1941 New Year’s Day radio broadcast to the women of Australia calling for ‘hope and courage’ was followed by a similar message next year from Lord Gowrie. Their only surviving son Patrick was killed in action in 1942. A picture of Lady Gowrie as Honorary Air Commandant of the W.A.A.F.’s in September 1942 when she was inspecting the units in the North-Eastern Area of Australia, is seen in Figure 5.

They left Australia on 10 September 1944, although officially his appointment continued until he was succeeded by the Duke of Gloucester on 30 January 1945. Gowrie’s nine years was a record term as governor-general. In 1945 he was created an Earl, (and Lady Gowrie a Countess), and he was appointed Deputy Constable and Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle where they lived in semi-retirement in the Norman Tower (as shown on the above covers) until 1953, attending to ceremonial and other aspects of the Castle administration. A picture of the Norman Tower at Windsor Castle is seen in Figure 6.

Earl Gowrie was described as ‘tallish and spare of build, lightly moustached, with a soldier’s trimness without a general’s portentous carriage’. Gowrie had an attractive personality and a capacity for getting on with fellows who were useful to know. Though he had sailed close to the wind in Adelaide, as governor of South Australia at a time of political turmoil, his term in Canberra, particularly during war years when patriotism ran high, was dignified and successful. Gowrie died in Gloucestershire on 2 May 1955, survived by his wife, who died on 19 July 1965, and by two grandsons. A picture of Earl Gowrie is seen in Figure 7.

I acknowledge that the majority of the text was derived from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.

Categories: Governors