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W.C. WENTWORTH'S LETTERS to BROTHER-IN-LAW, ROBERT TOWNS

The first entire is addressed at Maitland July nine 1844/ Robert Towns Esqe/ Castlereagh St/ Sydney and has the signature of W.Wentworth MLC at the lower left hand. There is a red boxed FREE (Karman N50.57) on the front. The reverse (not shown) has an oval MAITLAND/ [Crown]/ JY 9 1844/ NEW S. WALES and GENERAL POST OFFICE/ [Crown]/ JY 11 1844/ SYDNEY postmarks in black (Figure 1).

 

 

A second earlier entire was found later than the above, and was endorsed Maitland April twenty four 1844 signed W. Wentworth MLC addressed to Captain Towns Castlereagh St Sydney and it was postmarked with the oval MAITLAND/ [Crown]/ AP 25/ (1844) as well as the oval reception [Crown]/ GENERAL POST OFFICE/ AP [fleuron] 27/ 1844/ SYDNEY plus a faint boxed 'FREE' in red. The letter (unseen on the reverse) reads: ".....The wharf is under offer to Macnab at £250 a year....If he does not take it you should have the next refusal" (Figure 2).

 

 

The addressee Robert Towns (ca. 1794-1873) was totally unknown to me. He is described as a man of little formal education, a business man, pastoralist and founder of Townsville, Queensland. His date of birth in Northumberland, England (as given by the Sydney Morning Herald's death notice of 12 April 1873) was 10 November 1794 (but the year is disputed). He went to sea as a mate in 1811, and was a ship master the next year. In 1813 he was a captain of a brig sailing for Mediterranean trade, and in 1827 he made his first voyage to Australia as a captain of The Brothers. In 1833 he married W.C. Wentworth's half-sister, Sophia, and in 1842 he established a mercantile and shipping business in Sydney which extended to Europe, the Far East, Pacific Islands and India (Figure 3).

 

 

He afterwards bought multiple station properties in Queensland (total of almost 2,000 square miles in the Kennedy districts alone), and about 1860 he began growing cotton, employing South Sea islanders to do the cultivation and picking. Many attempts had been made to grow cotton in Australia before this time, but Towns was the first to do so on a large scale. Realizing that a port was needed on the Queensland coast north of Bowen, Towns arranged for explorations to be made from his stations, a suitable site was found at Cleveland Bay, and on October 1865 it was gazetted as a port of entry, and the place was named Townsville. Working practically until the end of his life, Towns died at Rose Bay in Sydney on 11 April 1873. He had been a member of the Legislative Council from 1856 until his death, and, although he did not take a leading part in politics, his advice was much sought after in matters affecting business. A shrewd, generous, active, and independent man, Towns in his time was one of the leading citizens of Sydney, always interested in anything that would be for the good of the colony.

This glowing view of Towns was not always held in Australia, for there were intermittent arguments about his activities and merits, over the years, particularly in 2004 as a result of a proposal to erect a statue in Townsville's city centre. It was claimed that Robert Towns was a 'blackbirder' responsible for bringing South Seas islanders (Kanakers) from the Loyalty Islands, Vanuatu and Solomon Islands to work as slaves on Queensland plantations. This was debated on ABC radio national, and historian Kett Kennedy found that "Robert Towns, on the weight of all available evidence was not a blackbirder". Towns' relationship with Wentworth was not always amicable, for in 1856 he began a feud with Wentworth over Sophia's share of D'Arcy Wentworth's patrimony. Towns filed a suit in chancery in 1860 on Sophia's share of D'Arcy's considerable estate.

William Charles Wentworth (1790-1872) was an eminent Australian statesman, pioneer and lawyer, his father being D'Arcy Wentworth, who belonged to an Irish branch of the well-known Wentworth family. His birth has been recorded both as 1790 or 1792, either at sea or on Norfolk Island. Wentworth was a member of the first exploration party (with Blaxland and Lawson) that crossed the Blue Mountains in 1813, and as a statesman and lawyer, he did much to gain responsible self-government for New South Wales.

In 1824 he and Robert Wardell published a newspaper, The Australian. In the paper he opposed the policies of the British Government and campaigned for an elected Parliament in N.S.W. He supported the cause of the emancipists (who pardoned convicts) and launched bitter attacks on the wealthy free settlers. The motto of the paper was 'independent, yet consistent, free, yet not licentious - equally unmoved by favour or by fear'.

Wentworth became an elective Member of the first Legislative Council (M.L.C.) for the city of Sydney on 1 June 1843 until 1854 (for a total of 4 elections, as the leader of the landowners' group) and again in September 1861 until October 1862, during this latter period he served as the President of the Legislative Council. As he became a wealthy landowner himself, he developed more conservative opinions, even to the point of attempting to prevent the British Government from ending transportation of convicts to the colony.

He increasingly saw property owners as the only people able to handle political power and even spoke of the need for an hereditary aristocracy in N.S.W. His proposal for a 'bunyip aristocracy' never got off the ground, meeting with the biggest demonstrations ever seen at Circular Quay. In 1840, he and some associates bought very cheaply nearly one-third of New Zealand from 7 Maori Chieftains. If this scheme had not been blocked, Wentworth might have become the greatest landowner on earth! Even with the scheme's failure, his estate was spectacular: in Sydney it was probated at £1,096,000 and £70,000 in London.

He spent his last years in England where he was a member of the Conservative Club. After his death in 1872, his remains were brought back to Sydney for a State funeral. The remains were buried on his Vaucluse property, where 42 years before, celebrations had marked the departure of Governor Darling, who had seen Wentworth as 'a vulgar, ill-bred fellow', 'a demagogue', 'anxious to become a man of the people'. Wentworth appears on 2 Australian stamps celebrating 150th Anniversaries, the blue 5d 'Crossing of the Blue Mountains' issued in May 1963, and the black on buff 7 cents of the 'Independent Newspaper', issued in October 1974. Wentworth was over 6 feet in height with a Roman head and a massive form. A portrait of him is hung in the Legislative Assembly and his statue is in the great hall of the University of Sydney (Figure 4).

 

 

Acknowledgments: Figures 3 and 4 and some text are from the N.S.W. Parliament site, and additional text is from www.eurekatimes.net, http://gutenberg.net.au/ and the Australian Dictionary of Biography. These 2 entires addressed from one eminent to another eminent Australian, originating at 2 different auction houses, were a great find.

Addendum (November 2009):  Another cover has been seen addressed to Robert Towns Esq, Millers Point, Sydney N.S.W.   The blue 'TWO PENCE' Diadem N.S.W. stamp is cancelled with the BN '55' and there is a large oval NEWCASTLE/ [CROWN]/ MR 24/ 1853/ NEW S WALES postmark.  In addition there is a red rounded box with FORWARDED BY/ MITCHELL & TULLY/ NEWCASTLE.  The reverse has a SYDNEY/ [[CROWN]/ MR 26/ 1853 which is very indistinct (Figure 5).

 
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