Unionist government 1895–1905

3rd Marquess of Salisbury
Arthur Balfour, First Lord of the Treasury 1895-1905
Punch cartoon, 1903; The Rand mine-owners' employment of Chinese labour on the Transvaal gold mines in British controlled South Africa was controversial and contributed to the Liberal victory in the 1906 elections.

A coalition of the Conservative and Liberal Unionist parties took power in the United Kingdom following the general election of 1895. The Conservative leader, Lord Salisbury, took office as prime minister, and his nephew, Arthur Balfour, was leader of the Commons, but various major posts went to the Liberal Unionist leaders, most notably the Liberal Unionist leader in the Lords, the Duke of Devonshire, who was made Lord President, and his colleague in the Commons, Joseph Chamberlain, who became Colonial Secretary. It was this government which would conduct the Boer War from 1899 to 1902, which was exploited by the government to help win a landslide victory in the general election of 1900.

Trade Reform

Balfour succeeded Salisbury as prime minister in 1902, and the government would eventually falter after Chamberlain proposed his scheme for tariff reform, whose partial embrace by Balfour led to the resignation of the more orthodox free traders in the Cabinet.

Chinese miners in South Africa

After the conclusion of the Boer War the British government sought to rebuild South Africa's economy which had been devastated by the war. An important part of the rebuilding effort was to get the gold mines of the Witwatersrand, the richest in history and a major cause of the war, back in production as soon as possible. Because the government decreed that white labour was too expensive and black labourers were reluctant to return to the mines, the Union government decided to import 63,000 contracted workers from China.

This was deeply unpopular at the time as popular opinion in much of the western world, including Britain, was hostile to Chinese immigration. It also happened at a time when poverty and unemployment amongst lower class British workers was very high. On 26 March 1904 a demonstration against Chinese immigration to South Africa was held in Hyde Park and was attended by 80,000 people.[1]:107 The Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress then passed a resolution declaring that:

That this meeting consisting of all classes of citizens of London, emphatically protests against the action of the Government in granting permission to import into South Africa indentured Chinese labour under conditions of slavery, and calls upon them to protect this new colony from the greed of capitalists and the Empire from degradation.[2]

Fall from power

With his majority greatly reduced and defeat in the next election seeming inevitable, Balfour resigned in December 1905, leading to the appointment of a Liberal government under Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman. In the general election which followed, all but three members of the Balfour cabinet were defeated in their bids for re-election, including Balfour himself.


Lord Salisbury's Cabinet, June 1895 – July 1902


In November 1900, the cabinet was completely reorganised:

Arthur Balfour's Cabinet, July 1902 – December 1905


List of Ministers

Cabinet members are listed in bold face.

Prime MinisterThe Marquess of Salisbury (3rd)25 June 1895 – 11 July 1902also Leader of the House of Lords
Arthur Balfour12 July 1902 – 4 December 1905also Leader of the House of Commons
First Lord of the Treasury
and Leader of the House of Commons
Arthur Balfour29 June 1895 – 4 December 1905 
Chancellor of the ExchequerSir Michael Hicks Beach29 June 1895 
Charles Ritchie11 August 1902
Austen Chamberlain9 October 1903
Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasury
and Government Chief Whip in the House of Commons
Sir William Walrond, Bt29 June 1895 
Sir Alexander Acland-Hood, Bt8 August 1902
Financial Secretary to the TreasuryRobert William Hanbury29 June 1895 
Austen Chamberlain7 November 1900
William Hayes Fisher8 August 1902
Arthur Elliot10 April 1903
Victor Cavendish9 October 1903
Junior Lords of the TreasuryHenry Torrens Anstruther6 July 1895 – 11 October 1903 
William Hayes Fisher6 July 1895 – 8 August 1902
Lord Stanley6 July 1895 – 7 November 1900
Ailwyn Fellowes7 November 1900 – 15 March 1905
Henry Forster8 August 1902 – 4 December 1905
Lord Balniel11 October 1903 – 4 December 1905
Lord Edmund Talbot16 June 1905 – 4 December 1905
Lord ChancellorThe Lord Halsbury29 June 1895created Earl of Halsbury 19 January 1898
Lord President of the CouncilThe Duke of Devonshire29 June 1895also Leader of the House of Lords 12 July 1902 – 13 October 1903
The Marquess of Londonderry19 October 1903
Lord Privy SealThe Viscount Cross29 June 1895 
The Marquess of Salisbury (3rd)12 November 1900
Arthur Balfour14 July 1902also Leader of the House of Commons
The Marquess of Salisbury (4th)17 October 1903
Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentSir Matthew White Ridley, Bt29 June 1895 
Charles Thomson Ritchie12 November 1900
Aretas Akers-Douglas11 August 1902
Under-Secretary of State for the Home DepartmentJesse Collings3 July 1895 
Thomas Cochrane11 August 1902
Secretary of State for Foreign AffairsThe Marquess of Salisbury (3rd)29 June 1895
The Marquess of Lansdowne12 November 1900also Leader of the House of Lords 13 October 1903 – 4 December 1905
Under-Secretary of State for Foreign AffairsGeorge Curzon20 June 1895 
St John Brodrick15 October 1898
Viscount Cranborne12 November 1900succeeded as 4th Marquess of Salisbury 22 August 1903
Earl Percy9 October 1903 
Secretary of State for WarThe Marquess of Lansdowne4 July 1895 
St John Brodrick12 November 1900
H. O. Arnold-Forster12 October 1903
Under-Secretary of State for WarSt John Brodrick4 July 1895 
George Wyndham10 October 1898
The Lord Raglan13 November 1900
The Earl of Hardwicke8 August 1902
The Earl of Donoughmore12 October 1903
Financial Secretary to the War OfficeJoseph Powell-Williams3 July 1895 
Lord Stanley1 January 1901
William Bromley-Davenport12 October 1903
Secretary of State for the ColoniesJoseph Chamberlain29 June 1895 
Alfred Lyttelton9 October 1903
Under-Secretary of State for the ColoniesThe Earl of Selborne28 June 1895 
The Earl of Onslow26 November 1900
The Duke of Marlborough22 July 1903
Secretary of State for IndiaLord George Hamilton4 July 1895 
St John Brodrick9 October 1903
Under-Secretary of State for IndiaThe Earl of Onslow5 July 1895 
The Earl of Hardwicke17 January 1901
Earl Percy18 August 1902
vacant29 November 1904
The Marquess of Bath20 January 1905
First Lord of the AdmiraltyGeorge Goschen29 June 1895 
The Earl of Selborne12 November 1900
The Earl Cawdor27 March 1905
Parliamentary and Financial Secretary to the AdmiraltyWilliam Ellison-Macartney29 June 1895 
H. O. Arnold-Forster7 November 1900
E. G. Pretyman11 October 1903
Civil Lord of the AdmiraltyAusten Chamberlain6 July 1895 
E. G. Pretyman7 November 1900
Arthur Lee11 October 1903
President of the Board of AgricultureWalter Long4 July 1895 
Robert William Hanbury16 November 1900
The Earl of Onslow20 May 1903
Ailwyn Fellowes14 March 1905
President of the Board of EducationThe Duke of Devonshire3 March 1900 
The Marquess of Londonderry11 August 1902
Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of EducationSir William Anson, Bt11 August 1902 
Chief Secretary for IrelandGerald Balfour4 July 1895 
George Wyndham9 November 1900
Walter Long12 March 1905
Lord Lieutenant of IrelandThe Earl Cadogan29 June 1895 
The Earl of Dudley11 August 1902
Lord Chancellor of IrelandThe Lord Ashbourne29 June 1895 
Chancellor of the Duchy of LancasterThe Viscount Cross29 June 1895 
The Lord James of Hereford4 July 1895
Sir William Walrond, Bt11 August 1902
President of the Local Government BoardHenry Chaplin29 June 1895 
Walter Long12 November 1900
Gerald Balfour14 March 1905
Parliamentary Secretary to the Local Government BoardThomas Wallace Russell30 June 1895 
John Lawson12 November 1900
Arthur Frederick Jeffreys27 June 1905
Postmaster-GeneralThe Duke of Norfolk6 July 1895 
The Marquess of Londonderry10 April 1900entered the Cabinet 7 November 1900
Austen Chamberlain11 August 1902 
Lord Stanley9 October 1903
Secretary for ScotlandThe Lord Balfour of Burleigh29 June 1895 
Andrew Murray9 October 1903
The Marquess of Linlithgow2 February 1905
President of the Board of TradeCharles Ritchie29 June 1895 
Gerald Balfour12 November 1900
The Marquess of Salisbury (4th)14 March 1905
Parliamentary Secretary to the Board of TradeThe Earl of Dudley29 June 1895 
Andrew Bonar Law8 August 1902
First Commissioner of WorksAretas Akers-Douglas4 July 1895 
The Lord Windsor11 August 1902
Vice-President of the Committee on EducationSir John Eldon Gorst4 July 1895office abolished 8 August 1902 and replaced
by that of Secretary to the Board of Education
Paymaster-GeneralThe Earl of Hopetoun16 July 1895 
The Duke of Marlborough1899
Sir Savile Crossley, Bt11 March 1902
Attorney GeneralSir Richard Webster8 July 1895 
Sir Robert Finlay11 May 1900
Solicitor GeneralSir Robert Finlay30 August 1895 
Sir Edward Carson11 May 1900
Lord AdvocateSir Charles Pearson11 July 1895 
Andrew Murray14 May 1896
Charles Dickson17 October 1903
Solicitor General for ScotlandAndrew Murray11 July 1895 
Charles Dickson14 May 1896
David Dundas17 October 1903
Edward Theodore Salvesen2 February 1905
James Avon Clyde17 October 1905
Attorney General for IrelandJohn Atkinson8 July 1895 
Solicitor General for IrelandWilliam Kenny28 August 1895 
Dunbar Plunket Barton 
George Wright30 January 1900
James Campbell8 July 1903
Lord Steward of the HouseholdThe Earl of Pembroke16 July 1895 
Lord Chamberlain of the HouseholdThe Earl of Lathom16 July 1895 
The Earl of Hopetoun7 December 1898
The Earl of Clarendon21 September 1900
Vice-Chamberlain of the HouseholdAilwyn Fellowes10 July 1895 
Sir Alexander Acland-Hood, Bt3 December 1900
The Lord Wolverton17 November 1902
Master of the HorseThe Duke of Portland16 July 1895 
Treasurer of the HouseholdMarquess of Carmarthen10 July 1895succeeded as 10th Duke of Leeds 23 December 1895
Viscount Curzon11 February 1896 
Victor Cavendish4 December 1900
Marquess of Hamilton13 October 1903
Comptroller of the HouseholdLord Arthur Hill10 July 1895 
The Viscount Valentia19 October 1898
Captain of the Gentlemen-at-ArmsThe Lord Belper16 July 1895 
Captain of the Yeomen of the Guard
and Government Chief Whip in the House of Lords
The Earl of Limerick16 July 1895 
The Earl Waldegrave26 August 1896
Master of the BuckhoundsThe Earl of Coventry16 July 1895 
The Lord Chesham1 November 1900office abolished 1900
Mistress of the RobesThe Duchess of Buccleuch16 July 1895 
Lords in WaitingThe Lord Churchill16 July 1895 – 4 December 1905 
The Lord Harris16 July 1895 – 4 December 1900
The Lord Henniker16 July 1895 – 1 November 1895
The Lord Lawrence16 July 1895 – 4 December 1905
The Earl of Ranfurly16 July 1895 – 21 April 1897
The Earl Waldegrave16 July 1895 – 9 September 1896
The Earl of Clarendon17 July 1895 – 30 October 1900
The Viscount Bridport30 June 1884 – 18 February 1901
The Earl of Kintore1 November 1895 – 4 December 1905
The Lord Bagot9 September 1896 – 2 July 1901
The Earl of Denbigh22 April 1897 – 4 December 1905
The Earl Howe30 October 1900 – 1 October 1903
The Lord Kenyon4 December 1900 – 4 December 1905
The Earl of Erroll19 October 1903 – 4 December 1905

Source: C. Cook and B. Keith, British Historical Facts 1830–1900


  1. Yap, Melanie; Leong Man, Dainne (1996). Colour, Confusion and Concessions: The History of the Chinese in South Africa. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. p. 510. ISBN 962-209-423-6.
  2. Official programme of the great demonstration in Hyde Park, [S.l.:s.n.]; Richardson (1904). Chinese mine labour in the Transvaal. London: Parliamentary Committee of the Trade Union Congress. pp. 5–6.
Preceded by
Rosebery ministry
British Government
Succeeded by
Campbell-Bannerman ministry
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