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Our Connected Commonwealth Culture


Written by our Northern Ireland Officer Andrew Wright.

For centuries Ireland has provided some of the British Empire’s greatest statesmen, soldiers and pioneers.  The following is a short summary of a selection of the most prominent of Ireland’s sons of yesteryear, whose influence spanned the globe.

When New Zealand was established in 1840 the northern island was designated as “New Ulster” with the southern island designated “New Munster”, in honour of the Irish Provinces where the Governor of New Zealand, Captain William Hobson, was born.  This state of affairs lasted until 1853 when those names were changed.

John Ballance was the 14th Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving from 1891 to 1893 and was the founder of the Liberal Party, the country’s first organised political party.  He was born in 1839 in County Antrim and migrated to New Zealand in 1866.  During fighting the following year Ballance was involved in the raising of a Volunteer Cavalry Troop in which he received a Commission and was subsequently awarded the New Zealand medal for his actions.

John Ballance, New Zealand Prime Minister 1891 - 1893.

John Ballance, New Zealand Prime Minister 1891 – 1893.

A contemporary of Ballance was William Ferguson Massey, often known as Farmer Bill, who was the 19th Prime Minister of New Zealand, serving from 1912 to 1925.  He founded his own party, the Reform party as well as being the second longest serving Prime Minister in New Zealand’s history.  Massey was born in 1856 in County Londonderry and migrated to New Zealand in 1870. The First World War reinforced Massey’s strong belief in the British Family of Nations and New Zealand’s position within it.  On the outbreak of war in 1914 Massey, as New Zealand Prime Minister, cabled London stating “All we are and all we have is at the disposal of the British Government”.

William Ferguson Massey, New Zealand Prime Minister 1856-1925.

William Ferguson Massey, New Zealand Prime Minister 1856 – 1925.

Throughout this period the Irish also made their mark on Australia, with some making the long journey south in search of a better life and many receiving a one way ticket courtesy of Her Majesty’s Government!  The famous Crumlin Road Gaol in Belfast tells the story of local prisoners “migrating” to Australia.   The restored 1845 prison is well worth a visit and not just to sample the products from the whiskey distillery within the prison which carries on the illegal tradition of whiskey distilling among the convicts!  Convicts and convict settlements were a feature of Australian society for nearly a century until the Transportation system was progressively withdrawn and Government assisted migration schemes took their place.   Some of these migrants’ stories have taken root in the Australian psyche, such as the infamous Kelly gang who did their best to uphold the rebel Irish tradition.   Other migrants brought with them memories of their homeland, immortalising their names in places such as Hillsborough and Londonderry in New South Wales and Coleraine in Victoria.

Frederick Blackwood, first Marquess of Dufferin and Ava was Governor General of Canada from 1872 until 1878.  In 1874 a decision was made to establish a Military college at Kingston, Ontario.  Dufferin tried to ensure a leading British Officer with a strong professional ethos became Commandant, rather than the usual patronage appointment.  To his mind this was the best way of affirming Canadian nationality and maintaining British ties.  In 1875 Dufferin oversaw the first major revision of the British North America Act allowing the Canadian Parliament to follow new British Parliamentary practice on examination rather than being limited by British custom as it stood in 1867.  Once again Dufferin ensured both Imperial ties and Canadian national sentiment were enhanced, further promoting his interest in the development of the British Family of Nations.

Lord Dufferin Governor General of Canada 1872-1878.

Lord Dufferin Governor General of Canada 1872-1878.

Ireland was the cradle of modern policing with the establishment of the City of Dublin police force in 1786 creating the first organised, trained and uniformed police force.   This process eventually lead to the first organised national police force in 1822 called the Constabulary of Ireland, closely followed by the establishment of the London Metropolitan Police in 1829.  In 1867 the Constabulary was granted the Royal prefix and became the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC), growing to almost 9000 personnel.  As the first Royal police force in the Empire and with its highly disciplined and organised structure it became the model for police forces in Australia, Canada, Hong Kong and many other parts of the Empire.  The military ethos of the RIC with its army terminology, barracks, carbines, emphasis on army style drill and smartness in uniform distinguished the force from civic police forces in the rest of the United Kingdom while proving more suited to local conditions across the Empire.

Royal Canadian Mounties escorting HM The Queen.

Royal Canadian Mounties escorting HM The Queen.

The famed Royal Canadian Mounted Police was one of many police forces to be based on the RIC model.  Until 1936 officers in Colonial forces across the Empire were trained by the RIC and after the partition of Ireland its successor the Royal Ulster Constabulary (RUC).   The RUC in turn was succeeded by the current Police Service of Northern Ireland which retains the distinctive dark green uniform of the RIC, itself derived itself from the Rifle Brigade of the British Army.

From the past to the present the Home Nations continues to supply politicians to the British family of Nations in all corners of the globe.  The most high profile of these was the former Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who was born in London to a British father and an Australian mother.  At the age of three his family migrated to Australia in 1960.  This is not entirely a one way street as the former leader of the Green Party of England and Wales was the Australian Natalie Bennett.

Andrew Wright

Northern Ireland Officer

Statute of Westminster Day 11th December


On the 11th December 1931 the Statute of Westminster was signed into the British statute books. 

… It is hereby declared and enacted that the Parliament of a Dominion has full power to make laws…

The act contained within it the requirement for the Dominions, later Realms, to seek agreement among each other on the laws of succession and titles. 

It is this act that forms the basis of the sovereignty of the Realms and their relationship with the Crown. 

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