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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), Governor of Newfoundland (1886–1887), and Governor of Hong Kong (1887–1891).[1]

Sir William Des Vœux

Sir G. William Des Voeux.jpg
3rd Administrator of Saint Lucia
In office
January 1869 – December 1878
Preceded byJames Mayer Grant
Succeeded byArthur Elibank Havelock
2nd High Commissioner for the Western Pacific
In office
January 1880 – December 1886
Preceded bySir Arthur Hamilton Gordon
Succeeded bySir Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell
3rd Governor of Fiji
In office
January 1880 – December 1886
Preceded bySir Arthur Hamilton Gordon
Succeeded bySir Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell
54th Governor of Newfoundland
In office
Prime MinisterSir Robert Thorburn
Preceded bySir John Hawley Glover
Succeeded bySir Henry Arthur Blake
10th Governor of Hong Kong
In office
6 October 1887 – 10 December 1891
Lieutenant GovernorLTG Sir William Cameron
MG Sir James Edwards
MG Sir George Barker
Colonial SecretaryFrederick Stewart
Francis Fleming
Preceded bySir George Ferguson Bowen
Succeeded bySir William Robinson
Personal details
Born(1834-09-22)22 September 1834
Baden-Baden, Grand Duchy of Baden, German Confederation
Died15 December 1909(1909-12-15) (aged 75)
London, England, United Kingdom
Spouse(s)Marion Denison Pender
Children5 sons, 3 daughters
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford, University of Toronto
ProfessionColonial administrator, barrister


Early lifeEdit

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 servicesEdit

Des Vœux (far right) in Guiana

Des Vœux became stipendiary magistrate and superintendent of rivers and creeks[4] 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 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 were published, 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.[5]

Governor of Hong KongEdit

Des Vœux and his daughter (right) on sedan chairs in Hong Kong

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, in 1888, the Peak Tram began operation, providing relatively affordable transportation for people living on The Peak, an area he segregated, together with effectively all the elevated areas of Hong Kong Island, from crowded Chinese-style tenements by the enactment, in November of that year, of the European District Reservation Ordinance. A year before he left office, the newly established Hong Kong Electric Company began providing electricity to Hong Kong Island.


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 lifeEdit

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.



See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Mennell, Philip (1892). "Des Vœux, Sir George William" . The Dictionary of Australasian Biography. London: Hutchinson & Co – via 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. ^ Shiona M Airlie, Dictionary of Hong Kong Biography, 2012, p. 123
  5. ^ Thurn, Everard im (1912). "Des Vœux, William" . Dictionary of National Biography (2nd supplement). London: Smith, Elder & Co.


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

External linksEdit

  • Des Voeux, George William (1903). My Colonial Service in British Guiana, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Fiji, Australia, Newfoundland, and Hong Kong with Interludes. Vol. 1 / Vol. 2. London: John Murray.
Government offices
Preceded by
James Mayer Grant
Administrator of Saint Lucia
Succeeded by
Arthur Elibank Havelock
Preceded by
Sir Arthur Hamilton Gordon
Governor of Fiji
Succeeded by
Sir Charles Bullen Hugh Mitchell
High Commissioner for the Western Pacific
Preceded by
Sir John Hawley Glover
Governor of Newfoundland
Succeeded by
Sir Henry Arthur Blake
Preceded by
Major-General William Cameron
as Acting Administrator
Governor of Hong Kong
Succeeded by
Major-General Digby Barker
as Acting Administrator