THE AUSTRALASIAN FEDERAL CONVENTION, 1891 & SIR GEORGE GREY
There is nothing about this cover that would suggest that this it would contain a letter that spoke of a broken finger, beastly conduct in a divorce case, a friend abstaining from alcohol for 2 years, and that women are not be trusted and this is the reason why the sender is suspicious of marriage. Interspersed with this gossip is an interesting political discussion on Sir George Grey, the single tax scheme of Henry Grey and a concern about a candidate’s delayed decision to run for a seat in the N.S.W. parliament.
The cover is addressed to Mr. Robert Leonard, Creswick St., Footscray, Victoria and it has the blue 2d Emu stamp of N.S.W. cancelled with a duplex postmark of SYDNEY/ MR 16/ 1-PM/ 91/ 15 with the three-ringed N.S.W obliterator (Figure 1).
The reverse has a MELBOURNE/ 17L/ MR 17/91 transit mark with a same day arrival at FOOTSCRAY/ MR 17/ 91/ VIC second duplex with a barred numeral ‘149' (Figure 2).
The enclosed double sided letter is written on March 15th, 1891 by Thomas Dodd and neither the vendor nor I were able to find either person, but I agree with the idea advanced by the vendor that they appear to have some connection with government or the trade union movement. The most interesting political information is about Sir George Edward Grey and the Australasian Federal Convention in 1899. This paragraph taken from an official site acts an introduction:
"At the Australasian Federation Conference held in Melbourne from 6 to 14 February 1890, leading politicians from the six Australian colonies and New Zealand affirmed the desirability of ‘an early union under the crown’ and committed themselves to persuading their governments to send delegates to a convention which would ‘consider and report’ on a scheme for a federal constitution. Accordingly, the members of the National Australasian Convention of 1891 which met in Sydney from 2 March to 9 April did not debate whether the colonies should federate but how. They devoted themselves to finding a draft constitution to which they could agree and which they could take back to their legislatures for discussion and endorsement."
This underlining is mine in order to point out that the letter dated March 15 1891 was written whilst the convention was still in session! Sir George Grey K.C.B. was the most senior member of the three New Zealand delegates at the Convention, and a wood engraving of the participants at the conference are shown, with my suspected George Grey shown as a younger man, red arrowed, in Figure 3.
The salient part of the enclosed letter read as follows: "With regard to the Federal Convention I am afraid that very little good will come of it as the delegates seem to think they were only sent there to make long winded speeches instead of going to work"
The writer then continues but changes the subject: "I think that you must be mistaken in saying that Sir George Grey is an advocate of the Single Tax. That League waited on him and asked him to give a lecture in support of the principle; in reply he told them that there must be a mistake somewhere for he did not advocate the single tax, for it was impossible to raise enough money by that item alone to carry on the work of Government. He also declined the invitation of the Trades and Labour Council to pay them a visit on the plea that he was too tired after the labours of the day. So far he has shown himself a very moderate democrat indeed, in fact one after Granny Herald’s own heart and not a man to go about the world sword in hand looking for wrongs to be redressed. Perhaps he is getting too old for that splendid programme he once so ably advocated." A younger Sir George Grey is shown in Figure 4.
The first underlining in the last para almost certainly refers to Henry George, U.S. land reformer and economist whose name was attached to The Henry George League of N.S.W. Henry came to Australia in 1890 and spoke in the Sydney Town Hall to large and enthusiastic mainly young crowds, and there were similar responses in Victoria, South Australia and Queensland during that visit when he lectured on the single (land) tax. The second underlining probably referred to the front page column of the Sydney Morning Herald, full of quaint items and pithy comments.
The letter then degenerated into the mundane until the following short sentence: "I don’t know yet if McGowen will consent to stand for M.L.A.; he has just returned from Brisbane where he was sent by the 8 Hr (Hour) Committee." I can’t believe that I found James Sinclair Taylor McGowen (1855-1922). On 17 June 1891 (3 months after this letter was written) he became an elected Labor member of the Lower House ( Member of the Legislative Assembly) for Redfern, Sydney and served that electorate for 25 years, 8 months and 22 days, with a 2 year 8 months’ period as the first Labor Premier of N.S.W. He subsequently became an appointed member of the NSW Upper House (Member Legislative Council) from 17 July 1917 until 7 April 1922. I even learnt that he had been the president of the 8 Hour Committee from 1888 until 1891. He is shown in Figure 5.
I have elected to speak of Sir George Grey (1812-98) in a future paper, for his army, exploring, writing, political and statesman career is quite remarkable with associations with Western Australia, as South Australia’s third Governor, Governor of Cape Colony and of New Zealand warrants fuller treatment than I can afford to give now.
A letter well worth reading!