Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough

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The Right Honourable
the Earl of Bessborough
14th Governor General of Canada
In office
4 April 1931 – 2 November 1935
Monarch George V
Prime Minister Richard Bedford Bennett
William Lyon Mackenzie King
Preceded by The Earl of Willingdon
Succeeded by The Lord Tweedsmuir
Personal details
Born (1880-10-27)27 October 1880
London, England
Died 10 March 1956(1956-03-10) (aged 75)
London, England
Spouse(s) Roberte Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough
Profession Businessman, parliamentarian
Religion Anglicanism

Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough GCMG PC (27 October 1880 – 10 March 1956) was an Anglo-Irish businessman and politician who served as Governor General of Canada, the 14th since Canadian Confederation.

Born and educated in England, he graduated with a law degree from Cambridge University before entering politics as a member of the London County Council and then, in 1910, as a Member of the British House of Commons. Upon the death of his grandfather 10 years later, Ponsonby succeeded as Earl of Bessborough and took his seat in the House of Lords. He was in 1931 appointed as governor general by King George V, on the recommendation of Prime Minister of the United Kingdom Ramsay MacDonald, to replace the Earl of Willingdon as viceroy. He occupied that post until succeeded by the Lord Tweedsmuir in 1935. Bessborough is remembered for promoting new communication technologies as well as giving support to the Canadian population during the Great Depression.

After the end of his viceregal tenure, he returned to the United Kingdom, where he continued to practise business and also work with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office before his death in March 1956.

Early life, education, and career

Ponsonby was born in London, United Kingdom, the first son and third child of Edward and Blanche Ponsonby (herself the daughter of John Josiah Guest, Baronet, the great-uncle of Winston Churchill). They enrolled Vere at Harrow School, from where he graduated and then attended Trinity College at the University of Cambridge from 1898 to 1901, graduating with a Bachelor of Arts.[1] By 1903 he had started a career in law, being called to the bar at the Inner Temple. After the death of his grandfather in 1906, as the then eldest son of the Earl of Bessborough, he used the courtesy title of Viscount Duncannon.

Six years later, on 25 June 1912, Duncannon married Roberte de Neuflize, with whom he had four children: Frederick, born 29 March 1913; Desmond, born 4 August 1915; Moyra Blanche Madeleine, born 2 March 1918; and George, born 14 August 1931. Desmond, however, did not live past the age of ten, dying on 8 April 1925 from a riding accident,[2] and George, who was born in Canada and given the middle name St. Lawrence (after the river),[2] would also predecease his father on 16 May 1951.

Stansted House, near Chichester, England, was purchased by Ponsonby in 1924

Prior to his marriage, he had entered the realm of politics, holding a seat on the London County Council between 1907 and 1910, before being elected on 10 February 1910 to the British House of Commons as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Cheltenham. He lost that seat in the election of 19 December that same year, but re-entered the Commons in 1913 as the MP for Dover.

By the following year, however, the First World War erupted, and whilst retaining his parliamentary seat, Ponsonby enlisted as a second lieutenant in Royal Bucks Hussars, then was transferred on 11 November 1914 at the same rank to the Suffolk Hussars (both units were part of the Territorial Force and were sent into action overseas), where he was later appointed captain, then a temporary major.[3] He was at Gallipoli in 1915, and on military staff in France, 1916–18. During his wartime service, he was mentioned in dispatches and was awarded the Croix de chevalier of the Legion of Honor, France; the Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus, Italy; the Order of Leopold II, Belgium; the Order of the Redeemer, Greece; and the Order of St Anna, Third Class, Russia. At the conclusion of the war, Ponsonby was made a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George by King George V in the New Year Honours List in 1919.[1][4][5]

After the death of his father on 1 December 1920, he succeeded to the Earldom of Bessborough, in the Irish peerage. As Lord Bessborough, he thus on 17 December was appointed as Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern so that he might resign his place in the Commons and instead take up his seat in the House of Lords.[6] The Earl also pursued a successful business career, holding directorships in several large commercial firms, including acting as head of both the São Paulo Railway and the Margarine Union, as well as deputy chairman of De Beers Consolidated Mines.[7]

Governor General of Canada

It was announced in early 1931 that King George V had, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, approved the recommendation of his British prime minister, Ramsay MacDonald, with input from Canadian prime minister Richard Bennett, to appoint Bessborough as his representative; this came as somewhat of a surprise, as he was the only businessman to have ever been appointed governor general.

After being sworn into the King's British privy council on 20 March 1931,[8] Bessborough travelled to Canada and was sworn in as governor general on 4 April, right in the midst of the Great Depression. In his ensuing travels as viceroy, Bessborough witnessed the struggles of Canadians during this period, and praised their tenacity; in Shawbridge, Quebec, he stated in a speech: "There is nothing more encouraging and cheering than the calm steady way Canadians have pursued their daily tasks during the difficult period with a supreme faith in the destiny of their country."[2] As a sign of his sympathy with the majority of the populace, he gave up 10% of his salary.[7]

Despite the economic situation, Canada was gaining international stature, and Bessborough acted as host to the leaders who, in July 1932, converged on Ottawa for the Imperial Economic Conference and he presided over the opening of the Welland Canal the same year. The Governor General also received a number of foreign dignitaries, including Prince Takamatsu and his wife, Princess Takamatsu; King Rama VII of Siam and his consort, Queen Ramphaiphanni; and Winston Churchill, then a member of the British parliament. There were also a number of technological firsts that took place during Bessborough's tenure: his installation ceremony was the first to be broadcast by radio; in 1932, from the governor general's study at Rideau Hall, he inaugurated the first trans-Canada telephone line by calling each of the lieutenant governors; and, as Governor-in-Council, he created the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. Bessborough was also the first Canadian viceroy to fly the new standard dedicated to that office, created in 1931.[2]

The Earl's tenure as governor general coincided with the celebrations in May 1935 for the Silver Jubilee of the King's reign, part of which included his launching the King's Jubilee Cancer Fund with a radio broadcast from Rideau Hall, and also initiated a campaign to increase the membership of the Scouts. But the most prominent mark that Bessborough left on Canada was the Dominion Drama Festival,[9] which was developed with the assistance of future governor general Vincent Massey and Henry C. Osborne and first held in April 1933, and awarded the Bessborough Trophy to the best amateur theatrical company in the country.[2]

Post-viceregal life

After Canada, Bessborough returned to the UK and to the business world, and on 2 June 1937 was created the Earl of Bessborough in the British peerage for his viceregal services.[10] As such, he took part in the coronation ceremony of King George VI.[11] His activities were not all business related, however; during the Second World War, Bessborough helped in the establishment of a department in the British Foreign Office dedicated to the welfare of the French refugees in the United Kingdom.

In 1956, the Earl returned once more to Canada—staying at Rideau Hall as a guest of the then-governor general, Vincent Massey—before he died the following year at the manor he had purchased in 1924, Stansted House.[2]

Titles, styles, and honours


Viceregal styles of
The Earl of Bessborough
Reference style His Excellency the Right Honourable
Son Excellence le très honourable
Spoken style Your Excellency
Votre Excellence
Alternative style Sir
United Kingdom United Kingdom
  • 27 October 1880 – 1903: Mister Vere Ponsonby
  • 1903 – 1906: Vere Ponsonby, Esquire
  • 1906 – 1 December 1920: Viscount Duncannon
  • 1 December 1920 – 4 April 1931: The Right Honourable the Earl of Bessborough
  • 4 April 1931 – 11 December 1931: His Excellency the Right Honourable the Earl of Bessborough, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada
  • 11 December 1931 – 10 March 1956: The Right Honourable the Earl of Bessborough
Canada Canada
  • 11 December 1931 – 2 November 1935: His Excellency The Right Honourable the Earl of Bessborough, Governor General and Commander-in-Chief of the Militia and Naval and Air Forces of Canada[n 1]


Ribbon bars of the Earl of Bessborough
Foreign honours
The insignia for a Member Third Class of the Order of St. Anna

Honorary military appointments

Honorary degrees

Honorific eponyms

The Delta Bessborough hotel, Saskatoon


  1. The Statute of Westminster came into effect on 11 December 1931, thereby ending the ability of the sovereign of the United Kingdom to legislate for Canada, including the conferring of titles. Thereafter, the governor general was titled via letters patent from the monarch acting solely in his capacity as sovereign of Canada, on the advice of Canadian ministers of the Crown.


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 "Ponsonby, the Hon. Vere Brabazon (PNSY898VB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 Office of the Governor General of Canada. "Home > History > Former Governors General > British > The Earl of Bessborough 1931-1935". Queen's Printer for Canada. Retrieved 5 September 2015.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. The London Gazette: no. 28969. p. 9143. 10 November 1914. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  4. 4.0 4.1 The Edinburgh Gazette: no. 13147. p. 2073. 25 September 1917.
  5. 5.0 5.1 The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 30338. p. 10680. 16 October 1917. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
  6. The London Gazette: no. 32169. p. 12484. 21 December 1920. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Hillmer, Norman. "Biography > Governors General of Canada > Bessborough, Vere Brabazon". In Marsh, James H. (ed.). The Canadian Encyclopedia. Toronto: Historica Foundation of Canada. Retrieved 31 March 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  8. The London Gazette: no. 33700. p. 1877. 20 March 1931. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
  9. Kalbfleisch, John (29 March 2009). "Shipping heiress kept theatre alive in Montreal". Montreal Gazette. Canwest. Retrieved 29 March 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 34405. p. 3663. 8 June 1937. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  11. The London Gazette: no. 34453. p. 7059. 10 November 1937. Retrieved 18 April 2010.
  12. The Edinburgh Gazette: no. 13384. pp. 204–205. 1 January 1919. Retrieved 5 September 2015.
  13. The London Gazette: no. 33690. p. 1124. 17 February 1931. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  14. The London Gazette: no. 33700. p. 1877. 20 March 1931. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  15. The London Gazette: no. 34064. p. 4057. 26 June 1934. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  16. The London Gazette: no. 31615. p. 13002. 24 October 1919. Retrieved 27 April 2012.
  17. 17.0 17.1 17.2 17.3 Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003), Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, 3 (107 ed.), Wilmington: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, p. 363<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. "University of Alberta Senate > Honorary Degrees > Past Honorary Degree Recipients > P". University of Alberta. Retrieved 28 April 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Clear Water Academy > Our School > Facilities". Clear Water Academy. Retrieved 31 March 2009.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links

Government offices
Preceded by
The Earl of Willingdon
Governor General of Canada
Succeeded by
The Lord Tweedsmuir
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
John Edward Sears
Member of Parliament for Cheltenham
Jan 1910 – Dec 1910
Succeeded by
Richard Mathias
Preceded by
George Wyndham
Member of Parliament for Dover
Succeeded by
Sir Thomas Andrew Polson
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by
Edward Ponsonby
Earl of Bessborough
Succeeded by
Frederick Ponsonby
Peerage of the United Kingdom
New creation Earl of Bessborough
Succeeded by
Frederick Ponsonby