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SIR JOSEPH COOK, N.S.W. POSTMASTER GENERAL & FUTURE PRIME MINISTER

It is unfortunate that the title of this paper gives too much information, does not leave an element of surprise, but neither Miss Eva Moxham nor Wallerawang Railway Station nor the postal officer at Seven Hills provide enough ‘fodder’ to warrant a philatelic paper. Yet the cover screams out that it is unique, and one can only suspect that the sender from Seven Hills, Sydney is attempting to ‘curry favour’ with the blooming Miss Moxham of Wallerawang.

Wallerawang (aboriginal name for ‘plenty of water’) is ca. 120 k WNW of the Central Business District of Sydney and the post office was originally at the railway station. It is incorporated now into the City of Greater Lithgow, and the area is an agricultural, pastoral and coal mining district. The two lilac 1d ‘View of Sydney’ N.S.W. stamps are postmarked with the ‘512 rays’ which are confirmed by the circular cancel of SEVEN HILLS/ MY 29/ 1895, and which appears twice on the front of the cover. Seven Hills is a suburb of Sydney 33k from the G.P.O.

The most striking features of this long cover are the two drawings and the 2 areas of the printed text. On the left hand side there is a carnation in full bloom, plus an unopened bud, with 2 captions: "There is a flower that bloometh at Wallerawang" and ‘Seven Hills May 29 1895'. In the centre of the cover is a large hand, bursting through the cover with ‘ Good morning How are you’. The text to the right (from which I will diverge into a discussion of a future Australian Prime Minister), reads: ‘The officer who represents the Hon. Joseph Cook P.M.G. at Wallerawng will kindly deliver this letter to Miss Eva Moxham Railway Station Wallerawang". The name of the sender/suitor is not revealed and the reverse was not seen. The way I read this cover is that it was very premeditated by the suitor as to the day it was to be sent, May 29, 1895. I could not see any signature of the artist (Figure 1).

Sir Joseph Cook (1860-1947), future Australian prime minister, was born on 7 December 1860 at Silverdale, England, son of William Cooke, coalminer, and his wife Margaret, née Fletcher. He grew up in poverty for in 1873 his father was killed in a pit accident and he became the family wage-earner. During his teens he joined the Primitive Methodists, and marked his conversion by dropping the 'e' from his surname. He eschewed alcohol, gambling, sport and other forms of entertainment, and sought self-improvement through study at home. Solemn and humourless, he nevertheless enjoyed the company of other people, and he became a lay preacher as well as a successful public speaker. He became involved in trade union affairs, for before he was 25 he had been elected to all the executive positions in his union lodge, and had become interested in political issues. By the early 1880s Cook had fulfilled his obligations to his family and, he decided to migrate to Australia.

He married Mary Turner, a schoolteacher whose brother was one of a number of Silverdale miners already settled at Lithgow, New South Wales. Cook left for N.S.W. in 1885 shortly after his marriage and by January 1887 he had established a home in Lithgow and was employed at the Vale of Clwydd colliery. In his spare time, he learned shorthand and book-keeping, and helped manage the Lithgow Enterprise and Australian Land Nationaliser; he also audited the books of the Lithgow Mercury and, in 1890, those of the municipal council. He served as secretary and president of the miners' lodge.

In July 1891 he became the MLA for Hartley N.S.W. which he held until June 1901, and he was the Postmaster General from August 1894 until 1897, then Secretary for Mines and Minister for Agriculture until September 1899. He then was elected a member of the Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia in the House of Representatives for Manly, Sydney from 1901 until 1921. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1914, was Prime Minister from 1913 until 1914, created a GCMG in 1918, represented Australia at Versailles in 1919, and was High Commissioner for Australia in London from 1921 until 1927. He died in Sydney on 30 July 1947, survived by his wife Dame Mary, 5 sons and 3 daughters. A photo of Joseph Cook is seen in Figure 2.

 

Cook’s Prime Ministership was brief. At the Federal elections of May 1913 the Labor Party lost its majority in the House of Representatives, though it kept control of the Senate. In June, Cook became Liberal prime minister of Australia, twenty-two years after his first election to represent Labor in the New South Wales parliament. As he could control the House of Representative only by the casting vote of the Speaker or the chairman of committees, his government had little chance to sponsor new legislation; his only practical achievement was to provoke the Opposition in the Senate into creating the constitutional situation for a double dissolution. This was done by proposing to abolish preference to trade unionists in government employment, and to reintroduce postal voting at Federal elections. In the ensuing poll of September 1914 the opposition Labor Party easily regained control of both Houses. Cook went into opposition once again, though now as a member of His Majesty's Privy Council, his first public honour.

A piece of doggerel about Joseph Cook, proclaimed the most humourless of all Australian Prme Ministers, is shown in Figure 3.

All this followed from a most unusual illustrated cover!

 

 

 


 
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