Career backgrounds of Australia’s Governors-General

Career backgrounds of Australia’s Governors-General

On 16 December 2018, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that the Queen had approved his recommendation that the next Governor-General would be His Excellency General the Honourable David Hurley, AC DSC (Retd).

Currently serving as the Governor of New South Wales, General Hurley will be sworn in as Australia’s 27th Governor-General on 28 June 2019. Of the last four Governors-General since 2001, he will be the third with a military background after Major General Michael Jeffery (in office August 2003–September 2008) and Sir Peter Cosgrove (in office since March 2014). General Hurley will also be the third state governor since 2001 following Jeffery and Dame Quentin Bryce (in office September 2008–March 2014).

The occupational backgrounds of previous Governors-General have spanned the military, politics, the law, state governors, university administration and—in one instance—the clergy (Dr Peter Hollingworth, in office June 2001–May 2003).

The military, politics and the law have collectively formed the career backgrounds of the majority of Governors-General. There have been four Governors-General with significant military careers, a notable example being Sir William Slim (in office May 1953–February 1960), who served in World War I (including at Gallipoli) and was promoted to Field Marshal in 1949 after serving with distinction in World War II.

Six Governors-General were appointed following legal careers. For example, Sir Isaac Isaacs (in office January 1931–January 1936), having been Attorney-General both in Victoria and at the Federal level, rose to become Chief Justice of the High Court. Isaacs was also the first Australian-born Governor-General.

Fifty per cent (13) of Australia’s Governors-General have had political careers, either in the United Kingdom or Australia. The most recent of these was Bill Hayden (in office February 1989–February 1996), who was Leader of the Labor Party in Opposition between 1977 and 1983 and later held several ministries in the Hawke Government.

Six Governors-General came to the position having been state governors. The most recent of these was Dame Quentin Bryce (in office September 2008–March 2014), Australia’s first female Governor-General and previously Governor of Queensland. 

Below is a chronological list of Australia’s Governors-General with their period of service and broad career background.


Period of service and career background

Hopetoun, 7th Earl of, the Rt Hon. John Adrian Louis Hope, KT, GCMG, GCVO (later 1st Marquess of Linlithgow). Died 29.2.1908.

1.1.1901 - 9.1.1903

Colonial Governor

Tennyson, 2nd Baron, the Rt Hon. Hallam Tennyson, GCMG. Died 2.12.1928.

9.1.1903 - 21.1.1904

State Governor

Northcote, 1st Baron, the Rt Hon. Henry Stafford Northcote, GCMG, GCIE, CB. Died 29.9.1911.

21.1.1904 - 9.9.1908


Dudley, 2nd Earl of, the Rt Hon. William Humble Ward, GCB, GCMG, GCVO. Died 29.6.1932.

9.9.1908 - 31.7.1911


Denman, 3rd Baron, the Rt Hon. Thomas Denman, GCMG, KCVO. Died 24.6.1954.

31.7.1911 - 18.5.1914


Munro Ferguson, the Rt Hon. Sir Ronald Craufurd, GCMG (later 1st Viscount Novar). Died 30.3.1934.

18.5.1914 - 6.10.1920


Forster, 1st Baron, the Rt Hon. Henry William Forster, GCMG. Died 15.1.1936.

6.10.1920 - 8.10.1925


Stonehaven, 1st Baron, the Rt Hon. John Lawrence Baird, GCMG, DSO

(later 1st Viscount Stonehaven). Died 20.8.1941.

8.10.1925 - 22.1.1931


Isaacs, the Rt Hon. Sir Isaac Alfred, GCB, GCMG, KC. Died 11.2.1948.

22.1.1931 - 23.1.1936

Politics; Law

Gowrie, 1st Baron, Brigadier General the Rt Hon. Alexander Gore Arkwright Hore-Ruthven, VC, GCMG, CB, DSO (later 1st Earl of Gowrie of Canberra and Dirleton). Died 2.5.1955.

23.1.1936 - 30.1.1945

Military; State Governor

Gloucester, Duke of, Earl of Ulster and Baron Culloden, HRH Prince Henry William Frederick Albert, KG, KT, KP, GCB, GCMG, GCVO. Died 10.6.1974.

30.1.1945 - 11.3.1947


McKell, the Rt Hon. Sir William John, GCMG, QC. Died 11.1.1985.

11.3.1947 - 8.5.1953


Slim, Field Marshal Sir William Joseph, KG, GCB, GCMG, GCVO, GBE, DSO, MC (later 1st Viscount Slim). Died 14.12.1970.

8.5.1953 - 2.2.1960


Dunrossil, 1st Viscount, the Rt Hon. William Shepherd Morrison, GCMG, MC, QC. Died in office 3.2.1961.

2.2.1960 - 3.2.1961


De L'Isle, 1st Viscount, 6th Baron De L'Isle and Dudley, the Rt Hon.
William Philip Sidney, VC, KG, GCMG, GCVO. Died 5.4.1991.

3.8.1961 - 22.9.1965


Casey, Baron, the Rt Hon. Richard Gardiner Casey, KG, GCMG, CH, DSO, MC. Died 17.6.1976.

22.9.1965 - 30.4.1969


Hasluck, the Rt Hon. Sir Paul Meernaa Caedwalla, KG, GCMG, GCVO. Died 9.1.1993.

30.4.1969 - 11.7.1974


Kerr, the Rt Hon. Sir John Robert, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC. Died 24.3.1991.

11.7.1974 - 8.12.1977


Cowen, the Rt Hon. Sir Zelman, AK, GCMG, GCVO, QC. Died 8.12.2011.

8.12.1977 - 29.7.1982

Law; university administration

Stephen, the Rt Hon. Sir Ninian Martin, KG, AK, GCMG, GCVO, KBE, QC.

29.7.1982 - 16.2.1989


Hayden, the Hon. William George, AC.

16.2.1989 - 16.2.1996


Deane, the Hon. Sir William Patrick, AC, KBE.

16.2.1996 - 29.6.2001


Hollingworth, Right Reverend the Hon. Dr Peter John, AC, OBE.

29.6.2001 - 29.5.2003*


Jeffery, Major General the Hon. Michael, AC, AO (Mil), CVO, MC (Retd).

11.8.2003 - 5.9.2008

Military; State Governor

Bryce, the Hon. Dame Quentin Alice Louise, AD, CVO.

5.9.2008 - 28.3.2014

Law; State Governor

Cosgrove, General the Hon. Sir Peter John, AK, MC (Retd).

28.3.2014 –


* Resigned; commission revoked from 29.5.2003.

Source: 45th Parliamentary Handbook of the Commonwealth of Australia, Parliamentary Library, Department of Parliamentary Services, 2017.


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