Bourke, Robert, Baron Connemara 1827-1902, governor of Madras, born at Hayes, co. Meath, on 11 June 1827, was third son of Robert Bourke, fifth earl of Mayo, by his wife Annie Charlotte, only child of John Jocelyn, fourth son of the first earl of Roden. Richard Southwell Bourke, sixth earl of Mayo [qv.], governor-general of India, to whom he bore striking physical resemblance, was his elder brother. Educated at Enniskillen Royal School, at Hall Place, Kent, and at Trinity College, Dublin, he settled in London, being called to the bar at the Inner Temple on 17 Nov. 1852. Besides joining the South Wales circuit and attending the Knutsford sessions for twelve years, he acquired a large practice at the parliamentary bar, and he embodied the decisions of Speaker Shaw-Lefevre, afterwards Viscount Eversley [qv.], in a volume of Parliamentary Precedents (London, 1857).
Returned as conservative member for King's Lynn at the general election of December 1868, he retained the seat for eighteen years. Known as Bobby Bourke (cf. H. W. Lucy's Diary of the Salisbury Parliament, 1886-1892, p. 17), he won popularity in the house by his modest and unassuming manner, and without shining in debate held his own in argument. On Disraeli's accession to power in February 1874 Bourke was appointed under-secretary for foreign affairs. Bourke's successive chiefs, Lords Derby and Salisbury, were peers, and the task of representing them in the Commons was no light one at a time when the Eastern question in most of its phases was acute, and when Gladstone was rousing the country over the Bulgarian atrocities and the Afghan war. The drudgery of question-time and debate was not altogether agreeable to Bourke's easy good-nature, but he combined urbanity with discretion, to his chiefs' satisfaction. He was a member of the royal commission on copyright laws appointed in October 1875, and was one of the unsuccessful candidates when Sir William Thomas Charley [qv.] became common serjeant of the City in 1878. On the retirement of the ministry in April 1880 he was admitted to the privy council. He was a severe critic of the foreign policy of the Gladstone government of 1880-5, and in Lord Salisbury's brief stop-gap administration (June 1885-February 1886) he again held the foreign under-secretaryship.
When the conservatives returned to power after the elections of July 1886, Lord Salisbury, the prime minister, nominated him in September to the governorship of Madras in succession to Sir M. E. Grant-Duff [qv.]. He assumed the office on 8 Dec. 1886. On 12 May 1887 he was created a baron in recognition of his foreign office service, and chose the title of Connemara, in memory of descent from ancestors who once resided there. On 21 June he was made a G.C.I.E.
Bourke was the brother of one former governor-general of India (Lord Mayo), and the son-in-law of another (Lord Dalhousie), for he had married, on 21 Nov. 1863, Lady Susan Georgiana Broun Ramsay of Coalstoun, eldest daughter and co-heir of James Andrew, first and last marquis of Dalhousie [qv.] (cf. Sir W. Lee-Warner's Life of her father, 1904). He thus carried to Madras a reflected prestige. Just before his arrival there had been unpleasant revelations and parliamentary discussions of administrative irregularities in the presidency (cf. Annual Register, 1886, pp. 431-4), and blunder had followed blunder (Madras Weekly Mail, 4 Dec. 1890). He soon improved the situation, and his tenure of office was untroubled, largely owing to his tact and kindliness, his industry and caution. Frequent and strenuous tours made him familiar with the presidency and its peoples. His versatile private secretary (Sir) J. D. Rees, afterwards well known in English political life, compiled full records of these journeys, and they were published after the governor's retirement, under the title of Narrative of Tours in India made by Lord Connemara (Madras, 1891). In the midsummer of 1889 he travelled to Ganjam, a then famine-stricken district on the extreme north of the presidency, which was extremely difficult of access, and he ordered relief measures which were of great advantage to the people; but the malarious region had prejudicial effect upon his health, and was fatal to the medical member of the staff (Dr. MacNally). Connemara improved the sanitation of the presidency city, and strengthened and reorganised the sanitary department of government. He pressed forward railway communications, particularly the important east coast line linking Madras with Calcutta. A volume of his Minutes, mostly written during his tours (Madras, 1890), and another of his Speeches (Madras, 1891), both edited by Sir J. D. Rees, show terseness and penetration, and his administration was held to form a bright epoch in the annals of Madras (Madras Weekly Mail, 4 Dec. 1890).
But the governorship ended abruptly a year before its normal term under a dark cloud, which closed Connemara's public life. It was announced from India on 8 Nov. 1890 that he had tendered his resignation, to take effect from the following March. Soon afterwards (27 Nov.) the divorce court in London heard the petition of his wife for dissolution of marriage on charges of cruelty and adultery going back to 1875. Though Bourke's pleadings denied the charge and made a counter-charge of adultery against his wife and Dr. Briggs, a former member of his staff, he was not represented at the hearing. A decree nisi was pronounced, and was made absolute on 9 June 1891. Lady Connemara and Dr. Briggs denied the counter-charge in court; they were subsequently married, and she died on 22 Jan. 1898.
Connemara handed over acting charge of the governorship to a civilian colleague on 1 Dec. 1890, and embarked for England on the 7th. He married a second wife on 22 Oct. 1894, Gertrude, widow of Edward Coleman of Stoke Park, a lady of considerable wealth; she died on 23 Nov. 1898. He died at his London residence, Grosvenor Street, after long illness, on 3 Sept. 1902, and was buried at Kensal Green cemetery. There being no issue by either marriage, the barony became extinct with his death. There is a portrait at Government House, Madras, and the chief hotel there is named after him. A caricature by Spy is in Vanity Fair Album (1877, plate 250).
Burke's Peerage, 1902
Men and Women of the Time, 1899
J. D. Rees's Narrative of Tours in India, Madras, 1891
India List, 1902
The Times, 10, 25 and 28 Nov. 1890, 10 June 1891, 4 and 6 Sept. 1902
Madras Weekly Mail, 13 Nov. and 4 Dec. 1890.
Contributor: F. H. B. [Frank Herbert Brown]