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Sir James Fergusson

1832 – 1907

Sir James Fergusson (1832–1907), governor, was educated at Rugby School and was still a student there when he succeeded his father as Baronet of Kilkerran in 1849. After a year at Oxford, he purchased a commission in the Grenadier Guards and served in the Crimea until November 1854, when a wound sustained in the Battle of Inkerman led to him replacing his friend, James Hunter Blair (who was killed in the same battle), as the member for Ayrshire in the House of Commons. Having served as the Under Secretary for India and the Home Office, he was appointed Governor of South Australia and took up office in February 1869. Though criticised by the press and often hamstrung by his inexperience of colonial politics, as governor Fergusson did achieve some triumphs, the most significant of these being his role in securing for South Australia the contract for the 3,200 kilometre overland telegraph line between Darwin and Port Augusta. Completed in 1872, it linked the Australian colonies (except WA) to each other and to the rest of the world, and is considered the greatest engineering feat accomplished in Australia in the nineteenth century. But Fergusson’s time in South Australia was also beset by personal sadness (the death of his wife in 1871), and in June 1873 he took up office as governor of New Zealand. In 1880, following two unsuccessful attempts to re-enter British politics, he accepted the post of governor of Bombay. In later years, he served again in the Commons (from 1885 to 1906); was the British Postmaster General (1891–1892); and held directorships with enterprises such as the National Telephone Co and the Royal Steam Packet Co. He was killed in January 1907 in an earthquake in Jamaica, where he is buried.

Updated 2018