Des Voeux, Sir George William (1834-1909)
Des Voeux was born on September 22, 1834 in Baden-Baden, Germany. He attended the public
school in London before starting his studies at Oxford. He left without a degree in 1856 and
moved to Canada where he finished his B.A. at the University of Toronto and became a lawyer.
Unsatisfied with routine legal work, Des Voeux became a colonial official. He served in British
Guiana, St. Lucia, and Trinidad. In 1880, he became governor of Fiji where he stayed until his
transfer to Newfoundland in 1886.
Des Voeux's appointment as Newfoundland governor was controversial. Many on the island
favoured Sir Ambrose Shea, a local politician with good diplomatic skills. He also arrived at a
time when religious tensions were dividing the colony. Unfazed, however, Des Voeux set to work
in the colony, first trying to ease relations between Catholics and Protestants. An avowed atheist,
the governor made a point of attending a different church each Sunday. Although people were
skeptical at first, Des Voeux, according to his memoirs, eventually became friendly with the
Anglican and Roman Catholic churches. He also won points politically when he sided with the
colony in support of the 1887 bait bill that controlled the sale of bait to French fishers.
Des Voeux was popular when he left St. John's in 1887 to take an appointment as governor of
Hong Kong. The governor enjoyed the island and was reluctant to leave except that the pay was
better in Asia. Des Voeux retired in 1891 and in 1903 published his memoirs called My colonial
service in British Guiana, St. Lucia, Trinidad, Fiji, Australia, Newfoundland and Hong Kong,
with interludes. Des Voeux died in London on December 15, 1909.
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