The Dictionary of Australasian Biography/Childers, Right Hon. Hugh Culling Eardley

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The Dictionary of Australasian Biography by Philip Mennell
Childers, Right Hon. Hugh Culling Eardley

Childers, Right Hon. Hugh Culling Eardley, M.P., F.R.S., formerly a Minister of the Crown in Victoria, is the son of the late Rev. Eardley Childers, of Cantley, Yorkshire, by his marriage with Maria Charlotte, eldest daughter of Sir Culling Smith, Bart. He was born on June 25th, 1827, and educated at Cheam School and at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he graduated B.A. in 1850 (14th Senior Optime), and M.A. in 1857. He married in 1850, Emily, third daughter of G. J. A. Walker, of Norton, Worcestershire, and in the same year emigrated to Victoria, where he was for a short time a tally clerk on Cole's Wharf, Melbourne. Having introductions from the Colonial Office, and being well connected, he was soon looked after by the Government, and was appointed successively Secretary to a Denominational School Board, a member of the National Board of Education instituted in 1852, and subsequently Immigration Agent. On Oct. 26th, 1852, he succeeded Mr. C. H. Ebden in the far more important post of Auditor-General of Victoria. Under the inflation of the gold régime, extravagance was universal, and the Government had not escaped the contagion, if indeed it had not promoted it. It is charged against Mr. Childers by the historian of Australia, Mr. Rusden, that by his device of an imprest system he removed the salutary checks on the extravagance of the public service, which it was the raison d'être of his office to supply. The effect was, at any rate, that unauthorised expenditure flourished apace, with the result that within eighteen months there was found to be a sum of £1,682,328 of unadjusted imprests, of which £283,745 were reported by an Expert Committee to be "wholly unaccounted for." In Dec. 1853 Mr. Childers first entered the Administration, being appointed Collector of Customs in Victoria, in succession to Mr. Cassells, and taking his seat in the Executive Council (Dec. 5th). In his official capacity he conducted the bill for the establishment of the Melbourne University through the Legislative Council, and ultimately aided in obtaining for it in 1859 a Royal Charter. It is a curious circumstance, that in 1855 he opposed the introduction of vote by ballot in parliamentary elections, but probably on grounds that were in a great measure local. After responsible government was conceded to Victoria, Mr. Childers was returned to the first Legislative Assembly in the district of Portland, and was a member of the first Ministry constituted under the new autonomous conditions. Mr. Haines was Premier, and Mr. Childers held the office of Commissioner of Trade and Customs from Nov. 1855 to Feb. 1857, when he left Victoria, and returned to England as the first Agent-General of the Colony in London. He was also in the enjoyment of a colonist pension of £866 per annum, which he has drawn ever since, with the exception of the intervals during which he has had office in England. At the present time he has an ex-Cabinet Minister's pension in England, but the amount of his Victorian pension is first deducted, so that the Colonial Treasury obtains no relief. Mr. Childers' first wife died in 1875, and he married secondly, in 1879, Katharine Ann, daughter of the late Bishop (Gilbert) of Chichester, and widow of the Hon. Gilbert Eliot Mr. Childers was member for Pontefract (which he unsuccessfully contested in 1859) in the House of Commons from 1860 to 1885, when he was defeated; but in Jan. 1886 was returned for South Edinburgh. He was a Lord of the Admiralty from April 1864 to Aug. 1865; Secretary to the Treasury from the latter date till July 1866; First Lord of the Admiralty from Dec. 1868 to March 1871, when the strain of work in connection with the reorganisation of his department compelled his retirement. Mr. Childers was Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster from Aug. 1872 to Oct. 1873; Secretary of State for War from April 1880 to Dec. 1882; Chancellor of the Exchequer from the latter date to June 1885; and Secretary of State for the Home Department in Mr. Gladstone's short-lived Home Rule Ministry in 1886. Throughout his political career in England Mr. Childers has been one of Mr. Gladstone's staunchest supporters.