Sir George Arthur, 1st Baronet

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Sir George Arthur, Bt
Major-General Sir George Arthur.jpg
Superintendent of British Honduras
In office
Preceded by John Nugent Smyth
Succeeded by A. H. Pye
4th Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land
In office
14 May 1824 – 29 October 1836
Preceded by Colonel William Sorell
Succeeded by Captain Sir John Franklin
17th Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
In office
Monarch Victoria
Preceded by Francis Bond Head
Succeeded by The Lord Sydenham
37th Governor of Bombay
In office
9 June 1842 – 6 August 1846
Preceded by James Rivett-Carnac
Succeeded by Lestock Robert Reid
Personal details
Born (1784-06-21)21 June 1784
Plymouth, England
Died 19 September 1854(1854-09-19) (aged 70)
London, England
Spouse(s) Eliza Orde Usher Smith

Lieutenant-General Sir George Arthur, 1st Baronet, KCH, PC (21 June 1784 – 19 September 1854) was Lieutenant Governor of British Honduras (1814–1822), Van Diemen's Land (now the State of Tasmania, part of Australia) (1823–1837) and Upper Canada (1838–1841). He also served as Governor of Bombay (1842–1846). The ethnic cleansing of Aboriginals in Tasmania happened during his governorship.

Early life[edit]

George Arthur was born in Plymouth, England. He was the youngest son of John Arthur, from a Cornish family,[1] and his wife, Catherine, daughter of Thomas Cornish. He entered the army in 1804 as an ensign and was promoted lieutenant in June 1805. He served during the Napoleonic Wars, including Sir James Craig's expedition to Italy in 1806. In 1807 he went to Egypt, and was severely wounded in the attack upon Rosetta. He recuperated and was promoted to captain under Sir James Kempt in Sicily in 1808, and participated in the Walcheren expedition in 1809.


Lady Eliza Orde Ussher Arthur

Major George Arthur married Eliza Orde Ussher, daughter of Lieut.-Gen. Sir John Sigismund Smith, K.C.B., in May, 1814. Lady Arthur lived in Toronto, Ontario 1838–41 with three of the couple`s sons and their five daughters. She died in London, England, 14 January 1855. Their daughter Catherine married Sir Henry Bartle Frere after he had been her father's personal secretary for two years in Bombay, and gave birth to the poet Mary Frere.[2][3] Their son John married Aileen Spring Rice, the granddaughter of Lord Monteagle of Brandon.


In 1814 he was appointed lieutenant governor of British Honduras, holding at the same time the rank of colonel on the staff, thus exercising the military command as well as the civil government. His dispatches about the suppression of a slave revolt in Honduras were seen by William Wilberforce and other philanthropists, and contributed in no slight degree to the 1834 abolition of slavery within the British Empire.

Van Diemen's Land[edit]

Proclamation board incorrectly labelled "Governor Davey's Proclamation, 1816", depicting Governor Arthur's proclamation c. 1830.

In 1823 he was appointed lieutenant governor of Van Diemen's Land (later known as Tasmania) and took office on 14 May 1824. At the time Van Diemen's Land was the main British penal colony and it was separated from New South Wales in 1825. It was during Arthur's time in office that Van Diemen's Land gained much of its notorious reputation as a harsh penal colony. He selected Port Arthur as the ideal location for a prison settlement, on a peninsula connected by a narrow, easily guarded isthmus, surrounded by shark-infested seas. Arthur's predecessors had executed no one in Tasmania (capital punishment was carried out in Sydney); he executed 260 in his term of office (some bodies were left hanging for months)[4]

He is also associated with the repression and persecution of the Aboriginal population. During the 1820s, with relations between the colonists and Aborigines worsening, Arthur declared a state of martial law, and the conflict became known as the Black War. After Aboriginal attacks on colonist settlers, Arthur organised the Black Line fiasco, which was intended to drive the Aborigines onto peninsulas where they could be controlled. At the beginning of the Black War in 1826 Arthur issued an official statement setting out those situations that would justify settlers using violence: 'If it should be apparent that there is a determination on the part of one or more of the native tribes to attack, rob, or murder the white inhabitants generally, any person may arm, and joining themselves to the military, drive them by force to a safe distance, treating them as open enemies[5]

He failed in his attempts to reform the colony and the system of penal transportation with Arthur's autocratic and authoritarian rule leading to his recall. By this time he was one of the wealthiest men in the colony. He returned to England in March 1837.


Later that year Arthur was knighted as a Knight Commander of the Royal Guelphic Order (KCH),[6] given the rank of Major General on the staff and appointed lieutenant governor of Upper Canada and took office in Toronto from 23 March 1838. From the very start of his administration, he had to deal with the aftermath of the Upper Canada Rebellion and was instrumental in the execution of Peter Matthews (rebel) and Samuel Lount. In the same year, Upper Canada was invaded by a band of American sympathizers, one of a series of attempts to subvert British authority in Upper and Lower Canada. He failed to address the issues of fixing colonial administration from the influence of Family Compact, and was replaced by Lord Durham while the 13th Parliament of Upper Canada sat betimes.

The two colonies were united in 1841. The Lord Sydenham, the first governor-general, asked Sir George Arthur to administer Upper Canada as deputy governor. Arthur agreed, on condition that the service was unpaid. Later in 1841 he returned to England and was created a hereditary baronet in recognition of his services in Canada.[7]


On 8 June 1842, he was appointed governor of the Indian presidency of Bombay, which he retained until 1846. He displayed great tact in the office, as well as ability, and this helped in extending and strengthening British rule in India.

He was appointed provisional governor-general, but did not assume office, as he was compelled by ill health to leave India before Lord Hardinge vacated the governor-generalship.

Sir George Arthur, during his administration of the affairs of the presidency, perfected the Deccan survey, the object of which was to equalise and decrease the pressure of the land assessment on the cultivators of the Deccan; and gave his hearty support to the project of a railway line from Bombay to Cailian, which may be regarded as the germ of the Great Indian Peninsular Railway, while during his administration the reclamation of the foreshore of the island of Bombay was projected.

Final years[edit]

On his return to England in 1846, he was made a privy councillor, and in 1853 he received the colonelcy of the 50th (Queen's Own) Regiment of Foot. He was promoted to lieutenant-general in 1854 and died that September.

See also[edit]


  1. ^
  2. ^ Morgan, Henry James, Types of Canadian women and of women who are or have been connected with Canada : (Toronto, 1903) [1]
  3. ^ Raza, Rosemary Cargill (Sep 2004). "'Frere, Mary Eliza Isabella [May] (1845–1911)'". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 31 July 2010. 
  4. ^ Boyce, James (2008). Van Diemen's Land. Black Inc. p. 169. ISBN 9781863954136. 
  5. ^ Reynolds, Henry (2013). Forgotten War. UNSW Australia. p. 63. ISBN 9781742233925. 
  6. ^ "No. 19527". The London Gazette. 26 July 1837. p. 1978. 
  7. ^ "No. 19975". The London Gazette. 4 May 1841. p. 1138. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
John Nugent Smyth
Superintendent of British Honduras
Succeeded by
A. H. Pye
Preceded by
Colonel William Sorell
Lieutenant Governor of Van Diemen's Land
Succeeded by
Captain Sir John Franklin
Preceded by
Sir Francis Bond Head
Lieutenant Governor of Upper Canada
Succeeded by
The Lord Sydenham
Preceded by
James Rivett-Carnac
Governor of Bombay
Succeeded by
Lestock Robert Reid
Baronetage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
New Creation
(of Upper Canada)
Succeeded by
Frederick Arthur
Academic offices
Preceded by
Sir Francis Bond Head
Chancellor of King's College
Succeeded by
The Lord Sydenham