Brabazon, Reginald, twelfth Earl of Meath 1841-1929, was born in London 31 July 1841. He was the second son of William Brabazon, eleventh earl, by his wife, Harriot, second daughter of Sir Richard Brooke, sixth baronet, of Norton Priory, Cheshire. His elder brother died in childhood, and it was as Lord Brabazon that he entered the Rev. A. F. Birch's house at Eton in 1854. On leaving school he went for some years to Germany, and then passed into the Foreign Office as a clerk in 1863. Five years later he exchanged into the diplomatic service, his first appointment being to the embassy at Berlin. He was there during the Franco-Prussian War, and then, after a short time of service at The Hague, was transferred to the embassy at Paris in 1871. He was offered the position of second secretary at Athens in July 1873, but declined the promotion, and remained without pay at the disposal of the service, until he finally retired in 1877. He had married in 1868 Lady Mary Jane, daughter of Thomas Maitland, eleventh Earl of Lauderdale.
In 1873 Lord Brabazon, when his active work as a diplomat came to an end, went to live at Sunbury-on-Thames; thenceforth he and his wife devoted themselves to social and philanthropic work. His first undertaking was the foundation of the Hospital Saturday Fund Committee, of which he became honorary secretary. In the first year of the Fund (1874) the total sum raised for the hospitals by the working men of London was £6,463. By the time of the founder's death the amount had increased to over £100,000 annually. Lord Brabazon also started the Dublin Hospital Sunday movement for the benefit of the hospitals in that city. In 1879 he became the first chairman of the Young Men's Friendly Society, which grew into the Church of England Men's Society. In the following year he founded the Metropolitan Public Gardens Association, of which he was chairman until his death. He sat as an alderman of the London County Council from 1889 to 1892, and from 1898 to 1901, and was the first chairman of its parks committee. To his initiative and energetic action London is indebted for the preservation of many of its open spaces, and for the formation of parks, gardens, and playgrounds covering many thousands of acres. Among other social movements in which he took an active part were the Early Closing Association, and the National Association for promoting state-aided education and the teaching of physical exercises in schools. He twice without success brought a bill into parliament to make physical exercises compulsory in elementary schools, before the proposal was finally adopted in 1904. A full list of Lord Brabazon's philanthropic activities would be too long to give here. Among them may be mentioned the Ministering Children's League (founded by his wife) and the Lord Roberts Memorial Workshops.
His father died in 1887, and Lord Brabazon succeeded to the earldom of Meath and to the estate of Kilruddery in county Wicklow. A few years later he began to promote the movement, with which his name is chiefly associated, for the recognition of an Empire commemoration day. In 1893 he persuaded parliament to permit the union jack to be flown over the palace of Westminster. Some time afterwards his attention was attracted by a newspaper report of a ceremony at Hamilton, Ontario, at which the British flag was hoisted and the children sang the national anthem. His imagination was quick to see the possibilities of such a function. He wrote to colonial governors and prime ministers for their views, and eventually the idea of celebrating 24 May, the birthday of Queen Victoria, as Empire Day was evolved. In promoting the Empire Day movement, Lord Meath expounded far and wide the idea of a lofty patriotism based on social service and civic duty.
Lord Meath was a staunch admirer of Lord Roberts, and a zealous supporter of his campaign for national military service. He was also the founder and first president of the Lads' Drill Association, afterwards incorporated in the National Service League, as well as chief commissioner for Ireland of the Boy Scouts organization. He wrote, or edited, several books on the subjects to which he devoted his life, among them being Social Arrows (1886) and Social Aims (1893). He was a frequent contributor to the Nineteenth Century and other reviews, and many letters in the newspapers appeared above his name. He also published two well-written volumes of reminiscences, Memories of the Nineteenth Century (1923) and Memories of the Twentieth Century (1924).
Lord Meath was created K.P. in 1905, G.B.E. in 1920, and G.C.V.O. in 1923. He was an Irish privy councillor, lord lieutenant for the city and county of Dublin, and a member, elected for Southern Ireland, of the senate of the Irish Free State. His wife, by whom he had four sons and two daughters, died in 1918. She not only supported her husband's schemes, but also herself devoted much time and money to philanthropic objects. Lord Meath died in London 11 October 1929, and was succeeded as thirteenth earl by his eldest son, Reginald Le Normand (born 1869).
A memorial to Lord Meath, showing a medallion portrait in relief, has been erected in Lancaster Gate, London.
The Times, 12 October 1929.
Contributor: A. Cochrane.