Sir Ronald Craufurd Munro Ferguson (1860–1934) was born at Raith House, Fife, Scotland. His father was the Member of Parliament for Kircaldy and owned extensive landholdings, including coal mines. Ferguson was educated privately and, after attending Sandhurst, served in the Grenadier Guards from 1879 to 1884. In 1884 he was elected to the House of Commons as a Liberal. He was defeated in 1885, but returned in 1886 and held the seat of Keith Burghs until 1914. He was private secretary to Lord Rosebery, the Foreign Secretary, in 1886 and 1892–94 and was a Lord of the Treasury in the Rosebery Government in 1894–95. He always held Rosebery in the highest esteem and identified himself with Liberal Imperialists such as Rosebery, Sir Edward Grey and R.B. Haldane. In 1889 he married Lady Helen Blackwood, the daughter of the proconsul, the Marquess of Dufferin and Ava.
Ferguson had declined offers of state governorships, but in 1914 he accepted the offer of the governor-generalship of Australia, together with a knighthood. His judgment was immediately tested when the Prime Minister, Joseph Cook, requested a double dissolution in June 1914. Ferguson consulted the Chief Justice and granted the dissolution. Two months later war broke out and thereafter promotion of the British and Australian war effort became his main preoccupation. He worked closely with the Prime Minister and Minister for Defence, corresponded with generals, supported conscription and sought greater powers for the Executive Council. He was often critical of W.M. Hughes, but was increasingly identified with him, especially after the defeat of the conscription referenda. His relations with state governors, especially Sir Gerald Strickland, were often strained. In 1919 his term was extended, partly to organise the visit of the Prince of Wales to Australia.
On his return to England in 1920, Ferguson was created Viscount Novar. He served as Secretary for Scotland in the Conservative governments of Bonar Law and Stanley Baldwin in 1922–24.
In 1956 Lady Scott presented some papers of Munro Ferguson that had been lent to her husband, the historian Sir Ernest Scott. The Library received the bulk of the papers in 1961 on long-term loan from the trustees of Lord Novar. In 1984 a number of photographs of Munro Ferguson and Australian scenes were copied from albums in the possession of Mr A.B.L. Munro Ferguson, the nephew of Lord Novar. In 2004 the diaries of Munro Ferguson were placed in the Library on long-term loan by Ronald Munro Ferguson of Novar, Scotland. Professor John Poynter donated his Munro Ferguson papers to the Library in 2017.
Papers of Munro Ferguson
The papers of Munro Ferguson, dating from 1914 to 1920, form one of the finest personal archives of an Australian governor-general. They consist largely of correspondence, including despatches to the King, correspondence with the King’s private secretary, despatches to and from the Secretary of State for the Colonies, correspondence with Andrew Fisher, W.M. Hughes and George Pearce, and correspondence with generals, politicians, judges and state governors. There are papers on constitutional matters, including the double dissolution in 1914, channels of communication with the British Government, the administration of Papua, New Guinea and Pacific Islands, the future of German colonies in the Pacific, recruitment and the progress of the War, and the visit of the Prince of Wales in 1920. There is also a substantial set of Munro Ferguson’s speeches, including speeches at recruiting meetings, national days and during the peace celebrations in 1919. A large cutting book covering the period 1914–20 is available on microfilm (reel G 18985).
The six diaries of Munro Ferguson, covering the years 1915–20, are handwritten. The entries are often very detailed; they vividly record his successes, problems and frustrations, and contain frank assessments of Australian politicians and other public figures. Some of the more personal passages are written in French or Scottish Gaelic.
The only items dating from outside the vice-regal period (1914–20) are some letters of Lord Birdwood and Sir Ernest Scott (1921–35) and five illuminated addresses presented to Munro Ferguson in 1889 and 1894. Four addresses were presented by Liberal clubs and associations in Scotland on the occasion of his marriage in 1889 and the other address was from the workmen of Dundonald Colliery.
Letters of Munro Ferguson
Munro Ferguson maintained a wide correspondence, particularly with political figures in Australia and Britain. The following collections in the Library contain letters by him:
MS 51 Papers of Sir Edmund Barton, judge, politician and former Prime Minister
MS 52 Papers of Arthur Atlee Hunt, public servant
MS 213 Papers of Sir George Pearce, politician
MS 236 Papers of Sir Littleton Groom, politician
MS 277 Papers of Sir John Kirwan, politician
MS 451 Papers of J.C. Watson, politician and former Prime Minister
MS 703 Papers of Sir Ernest Scott, historian
MS 937 Papers of Hugh Mahon, politician
MS 1057 Papers of H.B. Higgins, politician and judge
MS 1538 Papers of W.M. Hughes, politician and Prime Minister
MS 1540 Papers of Alfred Deakin, politician and former Prime Minister
MS 1736 Papers of Sir Josiah Symon, politician and lawyer
MS 2458 Letters to Beauchamp Kerr-Pearse, private secretary to Munro Ferguson
MS 2919 Papers of Andrew Fisher, politician and Prime Minister
MS 4653 Papers of Patrick McMahon Glynn, politician
MS 7842 Papers of Sir George Reid, politician and former Prime Minister
MS 6669 Papers of F.M. Pharo, private secretary to Lady Helen Munro Ferguson
MS 8683 Papers of E.A. Petherick, book collector.
Letters of Munro Ferguson held on microfilm
A number of British collections containing letters of Munro Ferguson have been microfilmed and are held by the Library:
Mfm M1114–19 Papers of Walter Long, politician (Wiltshire County Record Office)
Mfm M 1122 Letters to William Pringle, politician (House of Lords Record Office)
Mfm M 1123 Papers of Andrew Bonar Law, politician and Prime Minister (House of Lords Record Office)
Mfm M 1539–42 Papers of Sir Francis Newdegate, Governor (Warwick County Record Office)
Mfm M 2595 Papers of Lord Penshurst, civil servant and viceroy (Cambridge University Library)
Mfm M 2983 Papers of Sir James Maxwell, politician (Strathclyde Regional Archives)
Mfm G 18165 Papers of Lord Milner, politician (Bodleian Library)
Mfm G 18314–15 Papers of Lord Haldane, politician (National Library of Scotland)
Mfm G 18316 Papers of Louis Harcourt, politician (Bodleian Library)
Mfm G 28314 Papers of Lord Rosebery, politician and Prime Minister (National Library of Scotland).
Papers of John Poynter
John Poynter of Melbourne University worked for many years on a proposed publication containing selected letters and diary entries written by Munro Ferguson during his time in Australia. The project was not completed. The Poynter Papers contain typescript transcripts of the letters and diaries, together with correspondence and biographical material collected during his research.
The collection contains copies of 31 photographs, the originals of which were in albums assembled by Munro Ferguson. They include portraits of Ferguson and his wife and photographs of various government houses, official parties, visits to military camps, the Royal Naval College, Duntroon College, Rockhampton Grammar School, the German internment camp at Berrima and the New Norcia Monastery.
The papers of Munro Ferguson are held in the Manuscripts Collection at MS 696. They occupy 16 boxes. A finding aid, including a name index to the correspondence, is available on request. It was compiled in 1968 and therefore does not refer to the diaries. The papers, excluding the diaries, have been microfilmed and the 12 reels are available in the Newspaper and Microcopy Room at mfm G 1228–39. The papers of John Poynter are held at MS 10327 and a finding aid is available online at https://nla.gov.au/nla.obj-603660601/findingaid.
The Australian War Memorial holds papers of Munro Ferguson, comprising his correspondence with King George V and Lord Birdwood (1914–20). They occupy two boxes.
Papers of the Munro Ferguson family and the Raith estate, dating from the seventeenth century to 1948, are held in the Highland Council Archives in Inverness, Scotland.
Cunneen, Christopher, Kings’ Men: Australia’s Governors-General from Hopetoun to Isaacs, Allen & Unwin, Sydney, 1983.
Poynter, J.R., Munro Ferguson, Sir Ronald Crauford [Viscount Novar] (1860–1934), Australian Dictionary of Biography online
First posted 2008 (revised 2019)