Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough

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 fourteenth since Canadian Confederation.

The Earl of Bessborough
14th Governor General of Canada
In office
4 April 1931 – 2 November 1935
MonarchGeorge V
Prime MinisterCanadian
  • R. B. Bennett
  • W. L. M. King
  • Ramsay MacDonald
Preceded byThe Earl of Willingdon
Succeeded byThe Lord Tweedsmuir
Personal details
Born(1880-10-27)27 October 1880
London, England
Died10 March 1956(1956-03-10) (aged 75)
Stoughton, Sussex, England
Spouse(s)Roberte Poupart de Neuflize
ChildrenFrederick and Moyra, inter alia
Parent(s)Edward Ponsonby, 8th Earl of Bessborough
Blanche Vere Guest
ProfessionDiplomat, businessman, and parliamentarian

Born and educated in England into 'the Ascendancy', the Anglo-Irish aristocracy, he graduated with a law degree from Cambridge University. In 1910 he became a member of the London County Council as a member of the British House of Commons. Upon the death of his grandfather ten years later, Ponsonby succeeded as Earl of Bessborough and took his seat in the House of Lords. In 1931 he was appointed as Governor-General by King George V, on the recommendation of British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, to replace The Earl of Willingdon as viceroy. He occupied the post until succeeded by The Lord Tweedsmuir in 1935. Lord Bessborough is remembered for promoting new communication technologies as well as giving support to Canadians during the Great Depression.

After the end of his viceregal tenure, he returned to London, where he continued in business and worked with the Dominions Office and the Foreign Office before his death in March 1956.

The 9th Lord Bessborough was the last Earl of Bessborough to own Bessborough House, the Ponsonby family's ancestral seat near the village of Piltown in the south of County Kilkenny in Ireland. The country house was primarily built in the 1740s for the 1st Earl. It was gutted by fire during the Irish Civil War in February 1923. The 9th Lord Bessborough had the house rebuilt in the late 1920s. However, he sold the house in the late 1930s as he primarily lived in Britain. The house now forms the central part of Kildalton Agricultural College.

Early life, education, and careerEdit

Ponsonby was born in London, the first son and third child of Edward, 8th Earl of Bessborough, and his wife, Blanche. Her father, Sir Josiah Guest, was a great-uncle of Sir Winston Churchill. Ponsonby attended Harrow School before going up to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1898, graduating three years later with a Bachelor of Arts degree.[1] In 1903, he began a career in law, being called to the Bar at the Inner Temple. After his father succeeded as Earl of Bessborough in 1906, Ponsonby used the courtesy title of Viscount Duncannon.

In 1907, the young Viscount Duncannon (as he then was) entered politics, being elected to a seat on the London County Council. He remained at that post until running in the January 1910 general election and winning a seat in 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.

The Earl of Bessborough and his wife, Roberte, 1933

Lord Duncannon married Roberte de Neuflize on 25 June 1912. Together they had four children:

  • Frederick (29 March 1913 – 5 December 1993),
  • Desmond (4 August 1915 – 8 April 1925), did not live past the age of 10, dying on 8 April 1925 from a riding accident,[2]
  • Moyra (2 March 1918 – 4 December 2016),
  • George (14 August 1931 – 16 May 1951), born in Canada and given the middle name St. Lawrence (after the river),[2] would also predecease his father on 16 May 1951.

When the First World War broke out and, while retaining his parliamentary seat, Lord Duncannon joined the army. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Royal Buckinghamshire Yeomanry. On 11 November 1914, he transferred to the Suffolk Hussars (both units were part of the Territorial Force and were sent into action overseas), where he was later appointed captain and promoted to acting major.[3] He served at Gallipoli in 1915 and, from 1916 to 1918, on the military staff in France. During his wartime service, he was mentioned in dispatches, awarded the Croix de chevalier of the French Legion of Honour,[4] and appointed to the Italian Order of St Maurice and St Lazarus, the Belgian Order of Leopold II, Greece's Order of the Redeemer, as well as a Third Class Member of the Russian Order of St Anna. After the war, Lord Duncannon was appointed a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George in the 1919 New Year Honours List.[1][5]

After the death of his father on 1 December 1920, he succeeded to the Irish earldom of Bessborough, requiring him to resign his seat in the House of Commons and enter the House of Lords.[6] On 17 December, he applied to be Crown Steward and Bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern. The Earl had 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 CanadaEdit

It was announced in early 1931 that King George V had, by commission under the royal sign-manual and signet, appointed Lord Bessborough as his representative. The appointment was made on the recommendation of British prime minister Ramsay MacDonald, with input from Prime Minister of Canada Richard Bennett. It came as somewhat of a surprise, as Bessborough was the only businessman to have ever been appointed Governor General.

After being admitted into the Privy Council of the United Kingdom on 20 March 1931,[8] Lord Bessborough travelled to Canada and was sworn in as Governor General on 4 April, amid the Great Depression. In his travels around Canada, Bessborough witnessed the struggles of Canadians during the depression. He 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 Lord Bessborough acted as host to the leaders who, in July 1932, converged on Ottawa for the Imperial Economic Conference. He also presided over the opening of the Welland Canal the same year. The Governor- General welcomed many 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 British Member of Parliament. Several technological firsts took place during Bessborough's tenure: his installation ceremony was the first to be broadcast by radio; in 1932,[9] 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 (the CBC). Lord Bessborough was also the first Canadian viceroy to fly the new standard dedicated to that office, created in 1931.[2]

Bessborough's time as Governor General coincided with the King's Silver Jubilee celebrations in May 1935. During the celebrations, he launched the King's Jubilee Cancer Fund with a radio broadcast from Rideau Hall. Also, he initiated a campaign to increase the membership of the Scouts. However, the most prominent mark that Bessborough left in Canada was the Dominion Drama Festival.[10] He developed the festival with the assistance of future Governor-General Vincent Massey and Henry C. Osborne. The festival was first held in April 1933 and awarded the Bessborough Trophy to the best amateur theatrical company in the country.[2]

Post-viceregal lifeEdit

Stansted House, near Chichester, Sussex, was purchased by Lord Bessborough in 1924

After life in Canada, Lord Bessborough returned to London and his businesses. His activities were not all business related. During the Second World War, Bessborough helped establish a department in the British Foreign Office dedicated to the welfare of 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. He died the following year at the country house he purchased in 1924, Stansted House.[2]


Viceregal styles of
The Earl of Bessborough
Reference styleHis Excellency The Right Honourable
Son Excellence le très honourable
Spoken styleYour Excellency
Votre Excellence
Ribbon bars of the Earl of Bessborough
Légion d'honneur insignia
Foreign honours
Member, Order of St. Anna insignia

Honorary military appointmentsEdit

Honorary degreesEdit

Honorific eponymsEdit



Coat of arms of Vere Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough
Out of a ducal coronet Azure three arrows one in pale and two in saltire points downward entwined by a snake Proper.
Gules a chevron between three combs Argent.
On either side a lion reguardant Proper.
Pro Rege Lege Grege [19]



  1. ^ a b c d e "Ponsonby, the Hon. Vere Brabazon (PNSY898VB)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
  2. ^ a b c d e f 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.
  3. ^ "No. 28969". The London Gazette. 10 November 1914. p. 9143.
  4. ^ a b "No. 13147". The Edinburgh Gazette. 25 September 1917. p. 2073.
  5. ^ a b "No. 30338". The London Gazette (Supplement). 16 October 1917. p. 10680.
  6. ^ "No. 32169". The London Gazette. 21 December 1920. p. 12484.
  7. ^ a b 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.
  8. ^ "No. 33700". The London Gazette. 20 March 1931. p. 1877.
  9. ^ "The Earl of Bessborough". 3 March 2017.
  10. ^ Kalbfleisch, John (29 March 2009). "Shipping heiress kept theatre alive in Montreal". The Gazette. Montreal: Canwest. Archived from the original on 2 January 2013. Retrieved 29 March 2009.
  11. ^ "No. 13384". The Edinburgh Gazette. 1 January 1919. pp. 204–205.
  12. ^ "No. 33690". The London Gazette. 17 February 1931. p. 1124.
  13. ^ "No. 33700". The London Gazette. 20 March 1931. p. 1877.
  14. ^ "No. 34064". The London Gazette. 26 June 1934. p. 4057.
  15. ^ "No. 31615". The London Gazette. 24 October 1919. p. 13002.
  16. ^ a b c d Mosley, Charles, ed. (2003), Burke's Peerage, Baronetage & Knightage, vol. 3 (107 ed.), Wilmington: Burke's Peerage (Genealogical Books) Ltd, p. 363
  17. ^ "University of Alberta Senate > Honorary Degrees > Past Honorary Degree Recipients > P". University of Alberta. Archived from the original on 27 May 2011. Retrieved 28 April 2009.
  18. ^ "Clear Water Academy > Our School > Facilities". Clear Water Academy. Retrieved 31 March 2009.
  19. ^ Burke's Peerage. 1949.

External linksEdit

Government offices
Preceded by Governor General of Canada
Succeeded by
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Cheltenham
Jan 1910Dec 1910
Succeeded by
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Dover
Succeeded by
Peerage of Ireland
Preceded by Earl of Bessborough
1st creation
Succeeded by
Viscount Duncannon
Baron Bessborough
Peerage of Great Britain
Preceded by Baron Ponsonby of Sysonby
Succeeded by
Peerage of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Baron Duncannon
Succeeded by
New creation Earl of Bessborough
2nd creation