William Des Vœux

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Sir George William Des Vœux
Sir G. William Des Voeux.jpg
3rd Governor of Fiji
In office
January 1880 – December 1886
Preceded by Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon
Succeeded by Sir Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell
10th Governor of Hong Kong
In office
6 October 1887 – 10 December 1891
Preceded by Sir George Ferguson Bowen
Succeeded by Sir William Robinson
Personal details
Born (1834-09-22)22 September 1834
Baden-Baden, Germany
Died 15 December 1909(1909-12-15) (aged 75)
London, England
Spouse(s) Marion Denison Pender
Alma mater Balliol College, Oxford, University of Toronto
Profession Colonial administrator, barrister
Des Vœux (far right) in Guiana
Des Vœux and his daughter (right) on chair-carriages in Hong Kong

Sir George William Des Vœux, GCMG (22 September 1834 – 15 December 1909) was a British colonial governor who served as Governor of Fiji (1880–1885), Newfoundland (1886–1887), and Hong Kong (1887–1891).[1]

Early life[edit]

Des Vœux was born on 22 September 1834 in Baden-Baden, Germany.[2] He was of French descent – his ancestor Marin de Bacquencourt Des Vœux settled in Portarlington, Ireland, in the early 18th century, having come from Picardy in northern France. Des Vœux attended a public school in London before starting his studies at Charterhouse School and Balliol College, Oxford, but left without a degree in 1856 after his father gave him the choice of finishing his degree and become a clergyman or seeking his fortune in the colonies.[3] Des Vœux then moved to Canada, where he finished his BA at the University of Toronto and became a barrister in Upper Canada in 1861.

Colonial services[edit]

Des Vœux became stipendiary magistrate in British Guiana from 1863 to 1869, where he championed native causes. He reorganised and codified old French system of law when he was the Administrator and Colonial Secretary of St. Lucia between 1869 and 1880. Afterwards, Des Vœux was appointed Governor of Fiji of Fiji and High Commissioner Western Pacific from 1880 to 1885. He was appointed Governor of Newfoundland from 1886–1887.[2]

Based on his experience in British Guiana where he witnessed many instances of cruel and unjust treatment of indentured servants by plantation owners and managers, des Vœux wrote a 10,000-word report in 1869 to Lord Granville, the Secretary of State for the Colonies in which he detailed many abuses. When the contents of the report became to the public, there was a great outcry and a commission of inquiry was appointed, the Commission of Inquiry into the Treatment of Immigrants. Des Vœux gave testimony before the commission in Georgetown and its report led to many improvements in the workers' treatment.[4]

Governor of Hong Kong[edit]

In 1887, Des Vœux was appointed as the tenth Governor of Hong Kong, a position he held until 1891. This would be the last post Des Vœux would hold in the Colonial Services. During his tenure, Hongkong Electric Holdings was established, providing electricity supplies for Hong Kong Island. Also, the Peak Tram began operation during this time, providing relatively affordable transportation for people living on The Peak.

Post-governorship[edit]

After Des Vœux's time as Governor of Hong Kong ended, he entered retirement. He was created a Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George in 1893. In 1903, he published his memoirs called My colonial service in British Guiana, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Fiji, Australia, Newfoundland and Hong Kong, with interludes.

Personal life[edit]

Des Vœux had to leave Balliol College before completing his degree because his father demanded that he join the church and threatened to cut off financial support for him if he did not.

Des Vœux married Marion Denison Pender (1856–1955), daughter of John Pender, in 1875. They had five sons and three daughters, with three sons deceased. Des Vœux died in London on 15 December 1909.

Honours[edit]

Places named after him[edit]

Des Voeux Road Central, located in Central District, and Des Voeux Road West, located in the Western District in Hong Kong Island were both named after him. Des Voeux Peak, second highest peak on Taveuni Island, Fiji, was apparently also named for him.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Mennell, Philip (1892). "Wikisource link to Des Vœux, Sir George William". The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co. Wikisource
  2. ^ a b "Sir George William Des Voeux, 1886–1887: Government House". Memorial University of Newfoundland. Retrieved 30 December 2009. 
  3. ^ "Des Vœux, Sir George William". Dictionary of Canadian Biography. Retrieved 26 August 2012. 
  4. ^  Thurn, Everard im (1912). "Des Vœux, William". In Lee, Sidney. Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement​. London: Smith, Elder & Co. 

Sources[edit]

  • Stephanie Williams, Running the Show: The Extraordinary Stories of the Men who Governed the British Empire, Viking 2011, ISBN 978-0670918041.

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
James Mayer Grant
Administrator of Saint Lucia
1869–1878
Succeeded by
Arthur Elibank Havelock
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon
Governor of Fiji
1880–1885
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell
High Commissioner for the Western Pacific
1880–1885
Preceded by
Sir John Hawley Glover
Governor of Newfoundland
1886–1887
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Arthur Blake
Preceded by
Major-General William Cameron, Acting Administrator
Governor of Hong Kong
1887–1891
Succeeded by
Major-General Digby Barker, Acting Administrator