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Henry Forster, 1st Baron Forster of Lepe
Henry William Forster, 1st Baron Forster of Lepe (31 January 1866 - 15 January 1936), seventh Governor-General of Australia, was born in Kent, England, the son of an Army officer. He was educated at Eton and Oxford, and married Rachel Montague in 1890. They had two sons, who were both killed in the First World War. He was a first-class cricketer and served as president of the Marylebone Cricket Club, one of the most prestigious posts of the English establishment. He was also keen on yachting and horse-racing.
Forster entered the House of Commons as MP for Sevenoaks in 1892, as a Conservative. He held junior office in the Conservative Government of Lord Salisbury and in the wartime Coalition government. In 1919 he was elevated to the House of Lords as Baron Forster of Lepe. In June 1920 he was offered the post of Governor-General of Australia, which he accepted.
This was the first occasion on which the Australian government was genuinely consulted about the appointment of a Governor-General. The Colonial Secretary, Lord Milner, sent the Prime Minister, Billy Hughes, two other suggested appointments before Hughes approved of Forster. Hughes seems to have preferred Forster because he was a man of modest reputation whom he thought he could control. His reputation as a sportsman was also an asset.
Forster arrived in October 1920. He found that the congenial atmosphere of pre-war Australian politics had been shattered by the bitter battles of the wartime period. Hughes's Nationalist Party dominated the political scene. The Labor Party had moved to the left in opposition and was now anti-imperialist and pacifist, and more markedly socialist.
But Forster played almost no direct role in Australian politics during his five years in the country. There was only one change of government during his term, when Hughes was replaced by Stanley Bruce in February 1923, and Forster took no part in the manoeuverings that led to the change. As Australia became more independent and more confident in its international relations, the role of the Governor-General as an overseer and intermediary declined. Forster's predecessor, Munro-Ferguson, has resisted this trend, but Forster was not a strong enough personality to do so.
Instead Forster's role became more like that of a modern Governor-General: opening fetes, visiting hospitals, attending sporting events, hosting balls and banquets. As a result, he became considerably more popular than most of his predecessors, but exercised less real influence than any of them. Forster and his wife devoted themselves to charities, and Forster spent much time travelling to all the states and country areas, unveiling war memorials and making patriotic speeches. The day of the decorative Governor-General had arrived.
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