Bathurst, Charles, first Viscount Bledisloe 1867-1958, agriculturist and public servant, was born at Lydney, Gloucestershire, 21 September 1867, the second son of Charles Bathurst, of Lydney Park, and his wife, Mary Elizabeth, only daughter of Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas Pasley Hay. Educated at Sherborne, Eton, and University College, Oxford, he obtained third classes in classical honour moderations (1888) and jurisprudence (1890). In 1935 he was made an honorary fellow of his college and received an honorary Doctor of Civil LawsIn 1892 Bathurst was called to the bar by the Inner Temple but from 1893 until 1896 he studied at the Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester, where he obtained his diploma, was Ducie gold medallist, edited the college journal, and helped in the compilation of the students' register. His interest in the college was enduring; he was chairman of its governors in 1919-25 and for over fifty years was active in its cause. In 1950 a college hostel was named after him. It became customary for the estate management students to visit his estate from time to time to study its organization and his farming—he was famous for his herd of Red Poll cattle and the excellent fruit he grew in his orchards.
Meantime Bathurst practised as a Chancery barrister and conveyancer, until 1910 when he became Conservative member of Parliament for the South or Wilton division of Wiltshire. But his lifelong preoccupation was essentially agriculture. A founder-member of the Central Land Association, as it was originally called, Bathurst was its first honorary secretary from 1907 to 1909. In 1921-2 he was its president and in 1922 gave his celebrated address as president of the agricultural section of the British Association in which he criticized the unbusinesslike attitude of some landowners. He fathered the modern concept of landownership as a profession useful to the community, demanding specialized training to meet changed conditions. On these matters he had deep convictions: that agricultural landowners should continue to give constructive leadership to the industry and help to apply the latest scientific methods to its problems; that the C.L.A. should remain a rural organization and never join forces with urban landowners (it was renamed the Country Landowners' Association); that the growth of owner-occupation brought a beneficial infusion of new blood to landownership. He regarded the agricultural depression of the twenties and thirties as a challenge to farmers' enterprise and ingenuity and always kept up to date in the application of the latest scientific methods to running his own estate.
In 1916-17 Bathurst was parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Food and at the same time chairman of the Federation of County Agricultural Executive Committees. In 1917-19 he was chairman of the royal commission on sugar supplies and director of sugar distribution. He was appointed K.B.E. in 1917 and created a baron in the following year. In 1924, now Lord Bledisloe, he became parliamentary secretary to the Ministry of Agriculture and in 1926 was sworn of the Privy Council. In the next year he was chairman of the royal commission on land drainage in England and Wales and of the imperial agricultural research conference. He resigned office in 1928 when he became chairman of the Imperial Grassland Association.
In 1930 Bledisloe was appointed governor-general of New Zealand, a country to which he took much that appealed to its people: a knowledge of farming; an eye for an animal; a gift of extensive oratory; the charm of a typical aristocrat of the old country. Among the highlights of a most successful term of office was his gift to New Zealand of the historic site where the treaty of Waitangi was signed. The years of his administration were happy ones on both sides. On its conclusion in 1935 he was created a viscount; he had been appointed G.C.M.G. in 1930.
There were few countries Bledisloe did not visit on tours of agricultural investigation or other missions. In 1938 he was chairman of the royal commission on the closer union of the Rhodesias and Nyasaland. In early 1947 he carried out a goodwill visit to Australia and New Zealand and in 1948 made another to South Africa and Southern Rhodesia, both on behalf of the Royal Agricultural Society of England of which he had been president in 1946. He held office at one time or another in all the important agricultural societies of the country and in such other varied fields as the National Council of Social Service, the Empire Day Movement, and the Museums Association. In 1949 he was president of the second international congress of crop protection. He was an honorary D.Sc. (and pro-chancellor) of Bristol University and Doctor of Law of Edinburgh. For many years he was a verderer of the Forest of Dean and he was active in all local affairs. His benefactions locally were most generous. Deeply religious and a man of culture, he combined breadth of sympathy with a high sense of public duty, but probably the services he rendered to his well-loved Lydney and Aylburton and the Forest of Dean gave him the most pleasure.
In 1898 Bathurst married Bertha Susan Lopes, youngest daughter of the first Baron Ludlow [qv.]; they had two sons and a daughter. His wife died in 1926 and Bledisloe married in 1928 Alina Kate Elaine (died 1956), daughter of the first and last Baron Glantawe and widow of Thomas Cooper-Smith. There were no children of this marriage. Bledisloe died at his home at Lydney 3 July 1958 and was succeeded by his elder son, Benjamin Ludlow (born 1899).
Country Landowner, August 1958
Contributor: John Ruggles-Brise.