In 1931, Charles Bathurst 1st Viscount Bledisloe (1867-1958), an Old Shirburnian and then Governor-General of New Zealand, donated a cup for the national Rugby Union teams of Australia and New Zealand to compete for. Over 80 years later, New Zealand’s All Blacks and Australia’s Wallabies still compete for the Bledisloe Cup, which remains the biggest trophy in world rugby.
Charles Bathurst was born on 21 September 1867, the son of Charles Bathurst, a barrister of Lydney Park, Gloucester. After a brief stint at Eton College, on the 10 May 1883, aged 15, Bathurst arrived at Sherborne School (School House). The School admission register records that on arrival he had already had measles, scarlet fever, mumps, chicken pox and whooping cough and that he intended to become a barrister. During his three years at Sherborne, Bathurst became Head of School House and was a member of both the 2nd XI and 2nd XV (1886). He was also a member of the School Debating Society, taking part in debates on fagging at Public Schools, the higher education of women, capital punishment, vivisection, and the science of phrenology. As a member of the Musical Society, he performed a part song, ‘A Song of the Silent Land’, although The Shirburnian later reported that ‘Mr. Parker’s beautiful Part Song ‘Into the Silent Land’ was very creditably rendered by a small and select body of voices; notwithstanding a slight tendency among the Basses to sing flat.’ He also performed in School plays, taking the part of Mr. Honeywood in Goldsmith’s The Good-natured Man and Flute in A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
After leaving Sherborne in 1886, Bathurst went up to University College, Oxford, where he studied law. He was called to the Bar in 1892 and practised as a chancery barrister and conveyancer. In 1910, Bathurst was elected as the Conservative MP for the Wilton division of Wiltshire and served as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Food (1916–1917) and Chairman of the Royal Commission on sugar supply (1917-1919). He was knighted in 1917 and elevated to the peerage the following year, taking the title Lord Bledisloe, 1st Baron of Lydney and Aylburton. He served as parliamentary secretary at the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries (1924-1928) and was appointed to the Privy Council in 1926.
In 1929, Bathurst was appointed Governor-General of New Zealand and extended a welcome to Government House to any Old Shirburnians who found themselves in Wellington! His appointment proved a great success and he was very popular with the New Zealanders. In May 1932, he presented to the nation as a national memorial the site where the Treaty of Waitangi had been signed in 1840.
On 20 June 1936, the Right Hon. Viscount Bledisloe, returned to Sherborne School to present the School prizes at Commemoration Day . The Prologue, recited by P.H. Geake, Head of School, included the lines:
‘But first, this hall, which oft of old hath rung
With oratory and reasoning profound,
Shall hear the humble Prologue’s halting tongue
Bid welcome to an O.S. most renowned;
A worthy branch of this most ancient tree,
Who once in the Antipodes held sway,
And now returned therefrom across the sea,
Has honoured us by coming here today.’
Ten years later, in 1946, he paid for the statue of Edward VI in the Old School Room to be repainted in its original colours.
In 1935, Bathurst was made President of the Empire Day Movement. Following his death on 3 July 1958, Empire Day was renamed Commonwealth Day as ‘the British Empire had now given way to the noble concept of a Commonwealth of free peoples’.
Lord Bledisloe died on 3 July 1958 at Redhill House on his Lydney Park Estate in Gloucestershire and was buried at the church of St Mary the Virgin in Lydney. However, Bledisloe’s name and connection with Sherborne and New Zealand lives on in the Bledisloe Cup.
12 August 2019
To find out more about Charles Bathurst visit the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography.
The early days of rugby at Sherborne School
A.B. Gourlay, A History of Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1971).
D.F. Gibbs, A History of Football at Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1983).
Robert Hands, Rugby Football at Sherborne School (Sherborne, 1991).
For further information about the Sherborne School Archives please contact the School Archivist.
Return to the School Archives homepage.