WILLIAM H. GREGORY, KCMG from GEORGE FERGUSON BOWEN, KCMG
Two covers at the same auction site unite the above 2 men who both became Knight Commanders of St. Michael and St. George, members of the second highest rank of the British order of knighthood. The first long blue cover is On Her Majesty’s Service stampless cover with a red GOVERNOR OF VICTORIA frank stamping, and a MELBOURNE/ 1 S/ JN 11/ 77 duplex and is addressed to The Rt. Honble Sir William Gregory K.C.M.G., Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, London. There are 2 manuscript notations: ‘via Brindisi’; and, ‘G.F. Bowens’ (Figure 1).
The second cover is On Her Majesty’s Service stampless cover with a red GOVERNOR OF VICTORIA frank stamping and a MELBOURNE/ L/ SE 4/ 77 duplex and is addressed to The Rt. Honble Sir William Gregory K.C.M.G., Athenaeum Club, Pall Mall, London. There are 3 manuscript notations: ‘via Brindisi’; (To be forwarded); and, ‘G.F. Bowens’ (Figure 2).
There is a third cover to the same addressee but the GOVERNOR OF VICTORIA frank stamping is in black, the MELBOURNE/ 5X/ JA 2/ 73 duplex is months earlier than Bowen’s governorship (Sir John Henry Thomas Manners-Sutton’s term extended up to March 1873), and the cover is highly relevant for His Excellency W.H, Gregory’s address is clearly shown as Government House Columbo, Ceylon, at this earlier time than the first two covers (Figure 3).
William Henry Gregory (1817-1892) was the only son of Robert Gregory and his wife, Elizabeth O’Hara, and William served as member of parliament for Galway, Ireland and was later appointed as Governor General of Ceylon, and subsequently knighted. As Sir W.H. Gregory he was married twice, and his first wife Elizabeth Temple Bowdoin died in Ceylon in 1873. His second wife, Isabella Augusta Perrse, was better known as Lady Gregory (1852-1932), and after her husband’s death embarked on a literary career, and became one of the central figures in the Irish literary renaissance. Their only son, William Robert Gregory (1881-1918) was killed in action in Italy.
In a biography of W.H. Gregory, by Brian Jenkins in 1986 wrote: “By himself Gregory was a fairly unremarkable example of the genus Victorian Politician. Harrow, Oxford, the unedifying manoeuvres to get into and stay in the House of Commons, the failure to secure Cabinet office, the consolation of colonial governorship, all build into a identikit picture. Gregory was not without remarkable qualities: Gladstone, whom he first followed, but later came to loathe with impeccably Tory intensity, called him ‘a very agreeable man, I think the most agreeable I have ever known’. Beneath his surface blandness, he had the moral courage to stand out....” The 288 page book was named “Sir William Gregory of Coole, a biography”, Coole being the family home, and this picture of Gregory adorns the cover (Figure 4).
The Gregory’s travelled in Ceylon, India, Italy, Spain and Egypt (and I have not uncovered his association with the colony of Victoria to explain the covers). Gregory was best known for his second wife’s exploits and her literary writings (including love poems to an English poet) and political writings. After he died in March of 1892 she went into mourning, returned to Coole Park, where she edited his autobiography.
Much more is recorded about Sir George Ferguson Bowen (1821-1899), who was the fifth governor of Victoria from 30 July 1873 until 22 February 1879, for he was accorded more than 3 pages in the on-line Australian Dictionary of Biography. Only a brief history of his colonial career will be given in this paper. He was the first Governor of Queensland from 1859-1867, Governor of New Zealand 1867-1872, Governor of Victoria as above, Governor of Mauritius 1879-1882 and Governor of Hong Kong 1882-1886, retiring that year from the civil service. His interest in the colonies continued, chairing a Royal Commission on a new constitution for Malta.
Bowen’s picture is shown in Figure 5.
“Bowen was self-opinionated, obstinate and long-winded, but such defects and his errors of judgement as in Victoria did not outweigh his abilities and his contributions as a governor. His role was particularly important in Queensland where his alliance with (Premier R.G.W.) Herbert shaped colonial legislation and his influence ensured the operation of effective parliamentary government.”
The last para in quotes is taken directly from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.