Harry Rawson

Sir Harry Rawson
21st Governor of New South Wales
In office
27 May 1902  27 May 1909
Monarch Edward VII
Lieutenant Sir Frederick Darley
Preceded by The Earl Beauchamp
Succeeded by The Viscount Chelmsford
Personal details
Born (1843-11-05)5 November 1843
Walton-on-Hill, Lancashire, England
Died 3 November 1910(1910-11-03) (aged 66)
London, England
Nationality British
Spouse(s) Florence Alice Stewart Rawson (nee Shaw)
Occupation Naval Officer
Military service
Allegiance United Kingdom United Kingdom
Service/branch Royal Navy
Years of service 1857–1901
Rank Admiral
Commands Cape of Good Hope Station
Channel Fleet
Battles/wars Benin Expedition of 1897, Anglo-Zanzibar War

Admiral Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson GCB GCMG (5 November 1843 – 3 November 1910), is chiefly remembered for overseeing the British Benin Expedition of 1897 that burned and looted the city of the Kingdom of Benin, now in Nigeria. No shame was attached to the event at the time, which amounted to a punitive expedition, and Admiral Rawson was appointed Governor of New South Wales, 27 May 1902 – 27 May 1909.

Early life

Harry Rawson was born at Walton-on-Hill, Lancashire on 5 November 1843, the son of Christopher Rawson.[1] He was educated at Eastman's Royal Naval Academy[2] and at Marlborough College.[1]

In October 1871 in Cheshire, England, he married Florence Alice Stewart Shaw, daughter of John Ralph Shaw, of Arrowe Park, Cheshire.[1][3] The couple had five children.

He was a long-standing Freemason, and served as Grand Master of the United Grand Lodge of New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory.[4]

Military service

Rawson joined the Royal Navy in 1857 and took part in the capture of the Taku Forts in 1860 during the Second Opium War.[2] Promoted to Captain in 1877, he was given command of HMS Minotaur.[2] He was the Principal Transport Officer during the Anglo-Egyptian War in 1882.[2] Then, in 1883, he was made Flag Captain to the Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean Fleet and, in 1885, he was appointed Captain of the steam reserve at Devonport.[2] He returned to sea as Captain of HMS Benbow in 1889.[2]

Admiral Rawson was appointed commander of British naval forces at the Cape of Good Hope and West Coast of Africa Station in 1895[5] and held that post at the time of the Benin Expedition which was regarded in British circles largely as a stroke of disciplined and coordinated planning:

"In twenty-nine days a force of 1,200 men, coming from three places between 3000 and 4500 m. from the Benin river, was landed, organized, equipped and provided with transport. Five days later the city of Benin was taken, and in twelve days more the men were re-embarked, and the ships coaled and ready for any further service."[6]

Rawson was also the commanding officer of the British forces in the Anglo-Zanzibar War, the shortest war in history, which lasted for 38 minutes on 27 August 1896.[2] For this he was made a Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath and a first class member of the Order of the Brilliant Star of Zanzibar. He commanded the Channel Squadron from 1898 to April 1901, with HMS Majestic as flagship.[2] He was also a recipient of the Grand Cross of the Military Order of Aviz of Portugal, Order of Hamondiehof Zanibar and Order of Osmanieh of Turkey and Civic Cross of Belgium.

Colonial service

Rawson caricatured by Spy for Vanity Fair, 1901

In February 1902 Rawson was appointed Governor of New South Wales, the first naval officer since Captain Bligh to hold the post.[7] He kissed hands upon his appointment in an audience with King Edward VII on 24 March,[8] and left for Australia soon thereafter, arriving at Sydney on 26 May 1902 to take up the position the following day.[9] He proved so popular that his term was extended.[2] He lived with his family in Cranbrook, Bellevue Hill, the temporary Government House of New South Wales (Government House, Sydney being used by the Governor-General). In March 1905 (during his term as Governor of New South Wales), his wife was in poor health and returned to England with her son Wyatt and a daughter to seek the best medical advice.[10] Her condition deteriorated and in June 1905 Harry Rawson travelled to England to be with her.[11] In the belief she was recovering, the four of them set sail for Australia in December 1905, but Lady Rawson died on board the ship "Ormuz" in the Red Sea on 3 December 1905 and was buried at sea.[1][12][13] From 1903 to 1909, his aide-de-camp was Leslie Orme Wilson, later to be Governor of Queensland.

Rawson died, two days before his 68th birthday, on 3 November 1910 in London after an operation for appendicitis; he was survived by two sons and a daughter.[1][2]

Named in his honour

The four male colleges of the University of Sydney now compete for the Rawson Cup. This Intercollegiate Cup was donated in 1906 by Sir Harry Rawson when he was Governor of New South Wales. The colleges that compete for the cup are St John's College, St Andrew's College, Wesley College and St Paul's College.

Rawson House, one of the two boarding houses at Cranbrook School, Sydney, is named after Sir Harry Rawson. The House was Sir Harry's former residence when he was Governor of New South Wales.

Rawson Hall, Norfolk Island – community hall in The Burnt Pine Shopping Centre.

Titles, styles and honours

Viceregal styles of
Sir Harry Rawson
Reference style His Excellency
Spoken style Your Excellency
Alternative style Sir


Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath (GCB) 1906
Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath (KCB) 1897
Knight Grand Cross of the Order of St Michael and St George (GCMG) 1909
Queen Victoria Diamond Jubilee Medal 1897
Second China War Medal 1861
Egypt Medal 1884
East and West Africa Medal
Civic Decoration Belgium
Khedive's Star Egypt
Royal Humane Society Small Silver Medal Royal Humane Society
Grand Cross of the Order of Aviz Portugal
First Class of the Order of Hamondieh Zanzibar
Second Class of the Order of the Brilliant Star of Zanzibar Zanzibar
Third Class of the Order of the Brilliant Star of Zanzibar Zanzibar


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Obituary: Admiral Sir Harry H. Rawson, The Times, Friday 4 November 1910, retrieved 5 March 2011
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Harry Rawson at Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  3. FreeBMD, retrieved 5 March 2011.
  4. Famous &/or Notable Australian Freemasons
  5. William Loney RN
  6. Encyclopædia Britannica, 1911
  7. The London Gazette: no. 27409. p. 1117. 21 February 1902.
  8. "Court Circular". The Times (36724). London. 25 March 1902. p. 8.
  9. "Latest intelligence - Australia". The Times (36779). London. 28 May 1902. p. 7.
  10. "PERSONAL.". The Sydney Morning Herald. NSW: National Library of Australia. 17 March 1905. p. 4. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  11. "THE STATE GOVERNOR.". The Sydney Morning Herald. NSW: National Library of Australia. 6 June 1905. p. 4. Retrieved 6 March 2011.
  12. "WIDESPREAD SYMPATHY WITH THE STATE GOVERNOR.". The Sydney Morning Herald. NSW: National Library of Australia. 13 December 1905. p. 9. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
  13. "PERSONAL.". The Sydney Morning Herald. NSW: National Library of Australia. 6 December 1905. p. 9. Retrieved 5 March 2011.
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Sir Harry Holdsworth Rawson.
Military offices
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Bedford
Commander-in-Chief, Cape of Good Hope Station
Succeeded by
Sir Robert Harris
Preceded by
Sir Henry Stephenson
Commander-in-Chief, Channel Fleet
Succeeded by
Sir Arthur Wilson
Government offices
Preceded by
The Earl Beauchamp
Governor of New South Wales
Succeeded by
The Lord Chelmsford
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