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The Right Honourable
 Hugh Childers

In office
28 April 1880 – 16 December 1882
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Gladstone
Preceded by Frederick Stanley
Succeeded by Spencer Cavendish, Marquess of Hartington

In office
16 December 1882 – 9 June 1885
Prime Minister William Gladstone
Preceded by William Gladstone
Succeeded by Sir Michael Hicks Beach, Bt

In office
6 February 1886 – 25 July 1886
Monarch Victoria
Prime Minister William Gladstone
Preceded by R. A. Cross
Succeeded by Henry Matthews

Born 25 June 1827 (2010-01-13T19:12:53)
Died 29 January 1896 (2010-01-13T19:12:54)
Nationality British
Political party Liberal
Spouse(s) Emily Walker (d. 1875)
Alma mater Wadham College, Oxford
Trinity College, Cambridge

Hugh Culling Eardley Childers (25 June 1827 – 29 January 1896) was a British and Australian Liberal statesman of the nineteenth century. He is perhaps best known for being the politician responsible for the sinking of HMS Captain and for his reforms at the Admiralty. However he had other failures. At the War Office he made budget cuts in the period before the First Boer War. As Chancellor of the Exchequer he made a failed attempt to convert Consols, and his attempt to correct a budget shortfall led to the fall of the government.


Early life

Childers was born in London, the son of Reverend Eardley Childers and his wife Maria Charlotte (née Smith). He was educated at Cheam School and then both Wadham College, Oxford and Trinity College, Cambridge, graduating B.A. from the latter in 1850.[1] He then decided to seek a career in Australia and in October emigrated to Victoria.


He joined the government of Victoria and served as inspector of schools and immigration agent, before becoming auditor-general in 1853. In 1852 he placed a bill before the state legislature proposing the establishment of a second university for Victoria, following the foundation of the University of Sydney in 1850. With the receipt of the Royal Assent in 1853, the University of Melbourne was founded, with Childers as its first vice-chancellor.

Return to Britain

He retained the post until his return to Britain in March 1857 and received a M.A. from Cambridge the same year.

Enters British politics

In 1860 he entered Parliament as the Liberal member for Pontefract, and served in a minor capacity in the government of Lord Palmerston, becoming a Civil Lord of the Admiralty in 1864 and Financial Secretary to the Treasury in 1865.

First Lord of the Admiralty

Caricature from Punch, 1882

With the election of Gladstone's government in December 1868 he rose to greater prominence, serving as First Lord of the Admiralty. Childers "had a reputation for being hardworking, but inept, autocratic and notoriously overbearing in his dealing with colleagues."[2] He "initiated a determined programme of cost and manpower reductions, fully backed by the Prime Minister, Gladstone described him [Childers] as 'a man likely to scan with a rigid eye the civil expenses of the Naval Service'. He got the naval estimates just below the psychologically important figure of £10,000,000. Childers strengthened his own position as First Lord by reducing the role of the Board of Admiralty to a purely formal one, making meetings rare and short and confining the Naval Lords rigidly to the administrative functions... Initially Childers had the support of the influential Controller of the Navy, Vice-Admiral Sir [Robert] Spencer Robinson."[3] "His re-organisation of the Admiralty was unpopular and poorly done."[2]

Childers was responsible for the construction of HMS Captain in defiance of the advice of his professional advisers, the Controller (Robinson) and the Chief Constructor (Edward James Reed). The Captain was commissioned in April 1870, and sank on the night of 6/7 September 1870. She was, as predicted by Robison and Reed, insufficiently stable. "Shortly before Captain sank, Childers had moved his son, Midshipman Leonard Childers from Reed's designed HMS Monarch onto Captain; Leonard did not survive."[2] Childers "faced strong criticism following the Court Martial on the loss of Captain, and attempted to clear his name with a 359 page memorandum, a move described as "dubious public ethics". Vice Admiral Sir Robert Spencer Robinson wrote 'His endeavors were directed to throw the blame which might be supposed to attach to himself on those who had throughout expressed their disapproval of such methods of construction'." Childers unfairly blamed Robinson for the loss of the Captain, and as a result of this Robinson was replaced as Third Lord and Controller of the navy in February 1871.[4] "Following the loss of his son and the recriminations that followed, Childers resigned through ill health as First Lord in March 1871."[2]


Following his resignation he spent some months on the Continent,[2] and recovered sufficiently to take office in 1872 as Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster.

War Office

When the Liberals regained power in 1880, Childers was appointed Secretary for War, a position he accepted reluctantly. He therefore had to bear responsibility for cuts in arms expenditure, a policy that provoked controversy when Britain found itself fighting first the Boers in South Africa in 1880 and invading Egypt in 1882. Childers was also very unpopular with Horse Guards for his reinforcement and expansion of the Cardwell reforms. In 1 May 1881 he passed General Order 41, which made a series of improvements known as the Childers reforms.

Chancellor of the Exchequer

He became Chancellor of the Exchequer in 1882, a post he had coveted. As such, he attempted to implement a conversion of Consols in 1884. Although the scheme proved a failure, it paved the way for the subsequent conversion in 1888. He attempted to resolve a budget shortfall in June 1885 by increasing alcohol duty and income tax. His budget was rejected by Parliament, and the government - already unpopular due to events in Egypt - was forced out of office. The Earl of Rosebery commented resignedly: "So far as I know the budget is as good a question to go out upon as any other, and Tuesday as good a day."

Home Secretary

At the subsequent election in December 1885 Childers lost his Pontefract seat, but returned as an independent Home Ruler for Edinburgh South (one of the few Liberals who adopted this policy before Gladstone's conversion in 1886). He then served as Home Secretary in the short-lived ministry of 1886. He was critical of the financial clauses of the first Home Rule Bill, and their withdrawal was largely due to his threat of resignation. Nevertheless, the Bill still failed to pass, and its rejection brought down the Liberal government.


He retired from parliament in 1892, and his last piece of work was the drafting of a report for the 1894 royal commission on Irish financial matters, of which he was chairman (generally known as the Childers Commission). This found that Ireland had been overtaxed by some £2 or £3 million annually in previous decades. The matter was finally debated in March 1897.[5] In the following decades Irish nationalists frequently quoted the report as proof that some form of fiscal freedom was needed to end imperial over-taxation, which was prolonging Irish poverty. Their opponents noted that the extra tax had come from a high consumption of tea and tobacco, and not from income tax. His younger cousin Erskine Childers wrote a book on the matter in 1911.[6] It was still considered influential in 1925 in considering the mutual Irish and British financial positions.[7]


Childers married Emily Walker in 1850. They had four sons and two daughters. One of their daughters, Milly Childers, was a portrait and landscape painter. His wife died in 1875. Childers survived her by over twenty years and died in January 1896, aged 68. Towards the end of his ministerial career "HCE" Childers was notable for his girth, and so acquired the nickname "Here Comes Everybody", which was later used as a motif in Finnegans Wake by James Joyce. A cousin, Robert Erskine Childers, was the author of the famous spy novel The Riddle of the Sands and father of the fourth President of Ireland, Erskine Childers.

See also


  • The Life and Correspondence of the Rt. Hon. Hugh C.E. Childers, Spencer Childers, 1901
  • The Educational Activities in Victoria of the Right Hon. H. C. E. Childers, E. Sweetman, 1940


  1. ^ Childers, Hugh Culling Eardley in Venn, J. & J. A., Alumni Cantabrigienses, Cambridge University Press, 10 vols, 1922–1958.
  2. ^ a b c d e HMS Captain website biography of Hugh Childers.
  3. ^ Page 14, Smith, Paul (editor), Government and the Armed Forces in Britain, 1856-1990, pub Hambledon Press, 1996, ISBN 1852851449
    Note that the original anachronistically says 'Sea Lord'; at the time the title was Naval Lord.
  4. ^ Online biography Robert Spencer Robinson
  5. ^ Hansard 31 March 1897
  6. ^ Online link to RE Childers' book on Home Rule
  7. ^ Financial analysis November 1925

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Richard Monckton Milnes
William Overend
Member of Parliament for Pontefract
1860 – 1885
With: Richard Monckton Milnes 1860–1863
Samuel Waterhouse, 1863–1880
Sidney Woolf 1880–1885
Succeeded by
Rowland Winn
Preceded by
Sir George Harrison
Member of Parliament for Edinburgh South
Succeeded by
Herbert Woodfield Paul
Political offices
Preceded by
Henry Lowry Corry
First Lord of the Admiralty
1868 – 1871
Succeeded by
George Joachim Goschen
Preceded by
The Earl of Dufferin
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster
1872 – 1873
Succeeded by
John Bright
1872 – 1873
Succeeded by
William Adam
Preceded by
Sir Frederick Stanley
Secretary of State for War
1880 – 1882
Succeeded by
Marquess of Hartington
Preceded by
William Ewart Gladstone
Chancellor of the Exchequer
1882 – 1885
Succeeded by
Sir Michael Hicks-Beach
Preceded by
Sir Richard Assheton Cross
Home Secretary
Succeeded by
Henry Matthews


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