Lord William Waldegrave Palmer Selborne

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High Commissioner in South Africa, and Governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony

First name: 
William Waldegrave Palmer
Last name: 
Date of birth: 
Date of death: 

Lord William Palmer, the second Earl of Selborne was born in 1859. He studied history at the University of Oxford. He was Under-Secretary for the Colonies from 1895 to 1900, when he was appointed First Lord of the Admiralty. He came to South Africa to succeed Lord Milner as High Commissioner in South Africa, and Governor of the Transvaal and Orange River Colony, in April 1905. He showed much more understanding and was much more approachable than his haughty predecessor, and also, as a keen farmer, he was bound to be more popular than Milner in an agrarian community.

Two major developments, in which he himself played a leading part, took shape during his term of office. The first was the early introduction of responsible government in the former republics. Here he was opposed to the Milner policy, which envisaged such an eventuality only after sufficient strengthening of the British presence in South Africa through immigration during a relatively long period of advanced Crown colony government. Lord Selborne also took the lead in working for closer union of the various colonies.

His most memorable action in South African history rests upon his 1907 Selborne memorandum. Its immediate object was to deal with the railway question, but the terms of the memorandum implied that some form of closer union was necessary. When union came into being, Lord Selborne, a Conservative, had to make way for a Liberal, Lord Gladstone, and was deprived of the honour of becoming the Union's first Governor-General. Selborne, Selborne College in East London and Selborne Primary School at Vereeniging are named after him. He died in 1942.

• Potgieter, D.J. (ed)(1973). Standard Encyclopedia of Southern Africa, Vol.9, Cape Town: Nasou, p.578
• Williams, B. (1925).The Selborne memorandum on the Union of South Africa

Last updated : 06-Oct-2011

This article was produced for South African History Online on 06-Oct-2011