Hamilton, James Albert (1869–1953), 3rd duke of Abercorn and first governor of Northern Ireland, was born 30 November 1869, son of James Hamilton (qv), 2nd duke of Abercorn, and Lady Mary Anna Curzon, daughter of the 1st Earl Howe. He began his studies at Eton in 1883, became marquess of Hamilton two years later on his father succeeding as 2nd duke of Abercorn, and left Eton in 1886. He then joined the British army, serving first with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, and in 1892 joined the First Life Guards, serving with this regiment until 1903 and attaining the rank of captain, after which he became a major in the North Irish Horse. He stood for election to parliament in 1900 and succeeded in winning the Derry city seat from the nationalists, retaining it until 1913. As a unionist MP he succeeded Victor Cavendish in the post of treasurer of the household, holding this position until the fall of the unionist government (1906) and subsequently becoming one of the opposition whips; and, like his father, took an active interest in the administration of Rhodesia. On the death of his father (1913) he became duke of Abercorn and assumed his seat in the house of lords. He also inherited the barony of Paisley in the peerage of Scotland, conferred on one of his ancestors in 1587 for services rendered to Mary, queen of Scots, and various other ancient titles, including the earldom of Abercorn and barony of Aberbrothick.
Hamilton was appointed first governor of Northern Ireland in 1921, a largely ceremonial position which, however, was to involve much unobtrusive behind-the-scenes work. It was perhaps also hoped that his appointment as governor and his residence in west Tyrone would ease the fears of those worried about the boundary clause of the Anglo–Irish treaty and the status of the border, particularly given the preponderance of Belfast, Down, and Antrim unionism in the first administration of James Craig (qv). He was regarded as a dignified, genial, and unpretentious holder of the office who was very familiar with the business and industrial activities of Northern Ireland, and he and his wife enjoyed a close relationship with Sir James and Lady Craig. In 1928 he was reappointed for a further term of six years, the same year in which he was made a knight of the Garter. In 1931 the king, on the recommendation of the Canadian prime minister, offered him the governor-generalship of Canada, but he chose to stay in Northern Ireland and in December 1934 was reappointed for a further six years. Hamilton would have been happy to retire in 1940, but was persuaded in September 1940 to stay in office for the duration of the war, during which he and his wife were active in visiting and giving patronage to charitable organisations, camps, hospitals, and training schools. In May 1941, after the bombing of Belfast, he privately admitted that he was in favour of extending conscription to the province, urging the British government to ‘strike when people's feelings are hot’. After his retirement in 1945 most of his time was spent in London, where he remained active in charity as well as being a leading freemason and president of the Ulster London Association. He died 12 September 1953 at his London home, and was cremated privately in London.
He married (1894) Lady Rosalind Caroline Bingham, eldest daughter of the 4th earl of Lucan. They had three daughters and two sons, the eldest of whom, James Edward Hamilton (1904–79), succeeded as 4th duke of Abercorn.