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Guinness, Walter Edward, first Baron Moyne (1880–1944), politician and traveller, was born in Dublin on 29 March 1880 in the house, 80 St Stephen's Green, which was afterwards presented to the Irish nation by his brother in 1939 and housed the Irish department of external affairs. He was the third son of the brewer and philanthropist , and his wife, Adelaide Maria Guinness (1844–1916). Like his brothers he was educated at Eton College, where he rowed for three years in the eight and in due course became captain of the boats. Under him as president the Eton Society was reformed so as to admit intellectual as well as athletic representatives, and its debates were revived. Moreover, at Eton he developed a particular and enduring interest in biology, but instead of pursuing this bent at Oxford, as he had intended, he volunteered for service in the South African War with the Suffolk yeomanry (Loyal Suffolk hussars). He was wounded, mentioned in dispatches, and awarded the queen's medal with four clasps. On 24 June 1903 he married Lady Evelyn Hilda Stuart Erskine (1883–1939), daughter of the fourteenth earl of Buchan. They had two sons and one daughter.

While Walter Guinness was growing up the family spent an increasing amount of time in England, and in the early 1890s his father bought a famous sporting estate at Elveden in Suffolk, a circumstance which made it appropriate that Walter Guinness should stand as Conservative candidate for the Stowmarket division. Although defeated at the general election of 1906, he was returned at a by-election in 1907 for Bury St Edmunds which, as a division of Suffolk, he continued to represent until 1931. He was a member of the London county council from 1907 to 1910. From the First World War Guinness retired as lieutenant-colonel, having served first in Gallipoli and Egypt as a major with the Suffolk yeomanry and afterwards with the 10th battalion of the London regiment. He had been three times mentioned in dispatches, and was appointed DSO in 1917 with bar in 1918.

Guinness's high public spirit and wide interests led him to pursue an extremely full life in which politics, scientific travel, and a share in the direction of his father's benefactions in England and Ireland, as well as of the Guinness breweries, were intertwined. Before the war he had made his house at Grosvenor Place in London into ‘an imposing private “annexe” of the Carlton Club, where the King's (Tory) ministers could discuss affairs of state’ in the most pleasant social surroundings (Mullally, 4). He was appointed under-secretary of state for war in 1922, followed by the financial secretaryship of the Treasury in 1923, and again in 1924–5 under Winston Churchill as chancellor of the exchequer. He became personally close to Churchill, who later described him as ‘a most agreeable, intelligent and unusual friend’ (Guinness, 298). He was sworn of the privy council in 1924 and entered the cabinet in November 1925 as minister of agriculture. During his tenure of the office he introduced the system of the national mark for eggs, and it was largely owing to his efforts that the sugar beet industry was built up. With the defeat of the Conservatives in 1929 he retired from office, and in January 1932 he was raised to the peerage as Baron Moyne of Bury St Edmunds in the county of Suffolk.

Out of office Moyne was able increasingly to combine his public service with that eagerness for travel which he had always displayed. As early as 1902 he had gone on the first of many big-game hunting expeditions—later in life he grew less inclined towards shooting except as necessary for food—and before 1914 he had travelled extensively on map-making expeditions in Asia Minor and become conversant with the plight of the Armenians and other minorities, for whom he then saw hope in Turkish reform rather than in foreign intervention. (It was during one of his absences in Asia Minor that the Outlook, of which he had become the proprietor, published without his knowledge a series of articles on the Marconi affair in 1912. On his return home he gave evidence in support of the editor before the select committee of inquiry.)

After being raised to the peerage Moyne not only acted as chairman of the departmental committee on housing in 1933, of the royal commission on the University of Durham in 1934, and of the departmental committee on British films in 1936, but he was also financial commissioner to Kenya in 1932 and chairman of the West Indies royal commission in 1938 and 1939, placing his yacht Rosaura at the disposal of the members for residence and for transport. This yacht was a sister ship to another named Roussalka which was wrecked in 1933 off the west coast of Ireland, and both were used by Moyne to enable him to travel to distant places in search of biological specimens and archaeological material. In 1934 he travelled to the island of Komodo, near New Guinea, and brought back living specimens of Komodo dragons for the gardens of the Zoological Society of London. His subsequent journey to New Guinea in 1935 he described in his book Walkabout (1936), and a later journey to Greenland and to the little known Bay Islands off the coast of Honduras in Atlantic Circle (1938).

On the outbreak of war in 1939 Moyne undertook to act as chairman of the Polish Relief Fund and lent for its offices part of his London house at 10 and 11 Grosvenor Place. Although he had served as minister of agriculture, he agreed to serve as joint parliamentary secretary to the minister on the formation of the Churchill government in 1940. The next year Moyne succeeded Lord Lloyd as secretary of state for the colonies and leader of the House of Lords. In August 1942 he was appointed deputy minister of state in Cairo, and in January 1944 he succeeded Richard Gardiner Casey as minister resident in the Middle East.

Moyne had previously declared his support for the establishment of an Arab federation. In the emotional atmosphere of the Jewish fight for a homeland he was regarded with suspicion by some Zionist groups. He had also been accused of making an ‘anti-semitic and anti-Zionist’ speech in the House of Lords in June 1942 (Heller, 106), and ‘as an amateur anthropologist’ of making ‘certain remarks regarding racial characteristics’ (Guinness, 299). It was clear that, as Heller admits, ‘Moyne was no worse than other British decision-makers. He supported partition and the establishment of a Jewish state’ (Heller, 324). But he also received the blame for the deaths, in December 1941, of hundreds of Jews on the steamship Struma. Its sinking followed the refusal of visas to its passengers to enter Palestine, a decision which had been made when Moyne was colonial secretary. He had also opposed the establishment of specifically Jewish army units in the Middle East, partly to avoid offending Arab sensibilities. As a result he had long been part of the ‘rogues gallery’ (Heller, 123) of radical Zionist groups.

On 6 November 1944 Moyne was assassinated in Cairo by two members of the Fighters for Israel's Freedom (previously the Stern gang). This act proved largely counterproductive. For Churchill, who had previously been sympathetic to the Zionist cause, his friend's death was ‘a real turning-point’ (Rose, 164). In early 1944 the ‘creation of a sovereign Jewish state … was back on the agenda’ in Britain. After the assassination Churchill ‘postponed implementation indefinitely’ (Kolinsky, 205). He refused to meet again with Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organisation, although he was ‘a very old friend’ (Gilbert, 1052). The killing was condemned by Jewish leaders and newspapers in Britain and Palestine, but significant damage had been done to the Zionist cause.

Moyne was cremated at Golders Green, Middlesex, on 17 November 1944, after his body had been flown back to Britain. He was succeeded by his eldest son, .

Moyne, rev. Marc Brodie


The Times (7 Nov 1944) · The Times (17 Nov 1944) · personal knowledge (1959) · private information (1959) · Burke, Peerage (1999) · F. Mullally, The silver salver: the story of the Guinness family (1981) · M. Guinness, The Guinness legend (1989) · J. Heller, The Stern gang: ideology, politics and terror, 1940–1949 (1995) · N. Rose, ‘Churchill and Zionism’, Churchill, ed. R. Blake and W. R. Louis (1996) · M. Kolinsky, Britain's war in the Middle East: strategy and diplomacy, 1936–42 (1999) · I. Black, ‘Assassins’, Guardian Weekend (5 Nov 1994), 39–43 · M. Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, 7: Road to victory, 1941–1945 (1986) · WWW · CGPLA Eng. & Wales (1944)


Bodl. Oxf., corresp. with Lord Monckton · Bodl. RH, corresp. with Lord Lugard · TCD, corresp. with Thomas Bodkin · U. Lond., Institute of Commonwealth Studies, MSS relating to royal commission on the West Indies  



BFINA, news footage




IWM SA, recorded talk


W. Stoneman, four photographs, 1919–41, NPG · group photograph, 1926, Hult. Arch. · photograph, 1930, Hult. Arch. · T. Cottrell, cigarette card, NPG · photograph, repro. in Heller, Stern gang · photograph, repro. in The Times (7 Nov 1944) · photograph, repro. in The Guardian (5 Nov 1994)

Wealth at death  

£2,000,000: probate, 2 Dec 1944, CGPLA Eng. & Wales