Prime Minister Tony Abbott and Governor-General designate General Peter Cosgrove address reporters in Canberra, Jan, 28, 2014. General Cosgrove assumes the role in March 2013. Image Credit: AAP Image/Alan Porritt

Governors-General of Australia

  • BY AG Staff |
  • January 28, 2014

OF AUSTRALIA's 25 governors-general before Peter Cosgrove, only three were long-term career army officers.

Several others, however, had distinguished war records. And, as was common in the upper reaches of British society a century or more ago, some combined military careers with politics and other forms of public service.

Alexander Hore-Ruthven, Earl of Gowrie, who was governor-general from 1936 to 1945, was the first career-military man. He won a Victoria Cross as a young officer in the Sudan campaign of 1898, rescuing a comrade in the midst of a Dervish charge. He was severely wounded at Gallipoli and finished World War I as a brigadier general.

Field Marshal Sir William Slim (GG 1953-60) was a regular soldier from the outbreak of World War I. He too was wounded at Gallipoli and in 1918 won a Military Cross in Mesopotamia. His military fame came, however, when he commanded the British army in Burma during World War II.

The third career man, and only Australian, was the 24th - Major General Michael Jeffery (2003-08). Jeffery, who won a Military Cross in Vietnam, was rushed into the position after the resignation of Peter Hollingworth.

Several other governors general came to the position with strong military attachments, but others were bestowed the honour based on their societal position, or more recently, their achievements.

There was the unusual case of Prince Henry, Duke of Gloucester, who was governor-general 1945-47. He was an officer for 18 years and returned to active duty in World War II. He was slightly wounded in France in 1940. But as the third son of King George V, his primary career was being a royal.

Sir Isaac Issacs had the esteemed honour of becoming the first Australian-born governor-general in 1931. And the first female governor-general was Quentin Bryce, who took up the position in 2008.

Governor-general's role

The governor-general is officially appointed by the monarch of Britain but is recommended by the prime minister of Australia. The constitution of Australia says:

A Governor-General appointed by the Queen shall be Her Majesty’s representative in the Commonwealth, and shall have and may exercise in the Commonwealth during the Queen’s pleasure, but subject to this Constitution, such powers and functions of the Queen as Her Majesty may be pleased to assign to him.

While the role is largely ceremonial, the governor-general is able to exercise political power when it is necessary, such appointing a prime minister if there's a hung parliament, or dismissing a prime minister if they have lost the confidence of parliament, or broken the law.


Timeline: Governors-general of Australia

NumberTerm of officeGovernor-General
26 2014 - General Peter Cosgrove. AC, MC
25 2008 - 2014 Quentin Bryce, AC, CVO
24 2003 - 2008 Major General Michael Jeffery, AC, AO (Mil), CVO, MC (Retd)
23 2001 - 2003 Dr Peter Hollingworth, AC OBE
22 1996 - 2001 Sir William Patrick Deane, AC, KBE
21 1989 - 1996 William George Hayden, AC
20 1982 - 1989 Sir Ninian Stephen, KG, AK, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, QC
19 1977 - 1982 Sir Zelman Cowen, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC
18 1974 - 1977 Sir John Robert Kerr, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC
17 1969 - 1974 Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla Hasluck, KG, GCMG, GCVO
16 1965 - 1969 Richard Gavin Gardiner Casey, KG, GCMG, CH, DSO, MC, PC
15 1961 - 1965 William Philip Sidney De L'Isle, lst Viscount De L'Isle, VC, KG, GCMG, GCVO, PC
14 1960 - 1961 William Shepherd Morrison, 1st Viscount Dunrossil, GCMG, MC, QC, PC
13 1953 - 1960 Sir William Joseph Slim, 1st Viscount Slim (Yarralumla and Bishopston), KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC
12 1947 - 1953 Sir William John McKell, GCMG, PC
11 1945 - 1947 HRH Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, Duke of Gloucester, KG, KT, KP, GCB, GCMG, GCVO
10 1936 - 1945 Brigadier General Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, lst Baron Gowrie, VC, GCMG, CB, DSO, PC
9 1931 - 1936 Sir Isaac Alfred Isaacs, GCB, GCMG, PC
8 1925 - 1931 John Lawrence Baird, 1st Baron Stonehaven, GCMG, DSO, PC, JP, DL
7 1920 - 1925 Henry William Forster, lst Baron Forster, GCMG, PC, DL
6 1914 - 1920 Sir Ronald Craufurd Munro-Ferguson, GCMG, PC
5 1911 - 1914 Thomas Denman, 3rd Baron Denman, GCMG, KCVO, PC, JP
4 1908 - 1911 William Humble Ward, 2nd Earl of Dudley, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, TD, PC
3 1904 - 1908 Henry Stafford Northcote, 1st Baron Northcote, GCMG, GCIE, CB, PC
2 1903 - 1904 Hallam Tennyson, 2nd Baron Tennyson, GCMG, PC
1 1901 - 1903 John Adrian Louis Hope, 7th Earl of Hopetoun, KT, GCMG, GCVO, PC


Source:, AAP