This unusually addressed O.H.M.S. cover to Captain Nathan R.E., Secretary Colonial Defence Committee, Horse Guards, Whitehall, London, England does little justice to a man who gave three decades of service to many countries in the British Empire. It is postmarked with the Victorian ENGLISH MAIL T.P.O./ JA 25/ 98, which is partly obscuring the black MINISTER OF DEFENCE, FRANK STAMP introduced probably in 1884 (Figure 1).
There is a printed black heraldic shield with the word Victoria on the flap, as well as three postmarks all of which are partially legible: a black circular reception LONDON/ 8.45 AM/ FE 28/ 98/ 60, a black boxed LONDON EC/ FE 28/ 98 and a red circular LONDON/ FE 28/ 98 (Figure 2).
Matthew Nathan was born on 3 January 1862 at Paddington London, second son of Jewish parents, Jonah a business man and his second wife Miriam, née Jacobs. After private tuition, in 1878-80 he studied with distinction at the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich and in 1882 he left the School of Military Engineering, Chatham as a lieutenant, in the Royal Engineers. He served in Sierra Leone and Egypt (1883-87) and India and Burma (1887-90). From 1895 he was Secretary of the Colonial Defence Committee (as used in the cover’s address) and was promoted to major in 1898 and lieutenant-colonel in 1908.
Starting with a position as acting governor of Sierra Leone in 1899, Nathan was governor of the Gold Coast, then of Hong Kong (where the main commercial artery in Kowloon was named Nathan Road), and of Natal and finally as Governor of Queensland in 1920 until 1925. After some earlier difficulties with the Premier, E.G. Theodore he did establish a good working relationship with him. Despite a slight decline in his health, Nathan travelled extensively in Queensland and spoke on many public occasions. He actively supported the Boy Scouts and Girl Guides movements and sought to promote British immigration to Queensland. He interested himself in the study of the Great Barrier Reef as well as local history and the origin of place names in the State. He was chancellor of the University of Queensland in 1922-26 and was awarded an honorary LL.D. in 1925. He left Queensland in September 1925, but was involved in the planning, organization and financing of the British Great Barrier Reef expedition of 1928-29. Nathan Heights, a suburb of Brisbane, was named after him.
Earlier he had fallen out of favour with the Colonial Office and in 1909 he became secretary of the post office, of the board of Inland revenue in 1911 and then the under-secretary for Ireland in 1914 (when he resigned two days after the Easter Rising), followed by first secretary of the pension ministry. In spite of these ‘demotions’ he was awarded the C.M.G., K.C.M.G. and then G.C.M.G. over a period from 1899 until 1907.
He retired to his house at West Coker, Somerset where he died on 18 April 1939. He never married but rumours were rife about his affairs with a number of women. He was buried in the Jewish Cemetery at Willesden, London. Portion of his library was donated to the John Oxley Library, Brisbane after World War II. A picture of Matthew Nathan is shown in Figure 3.
Part of this paper relies on the on-line edition of the Australian Dictionary of Biography.