SIR ROBERT HERBERT, QUEENSLAND'S FIRST PREMIER
A cover with two baronets in the address is not a common finding, and in this case both are of interest. The cover is a stampless 'On Her Majesty's Service' London cover of 1895 with a purple Colony of Tasmania handstamp applied to mail sent from the Agent General for Tasmania in London. This Departmental cachet was applied to show that the correspondence was properly entitled to be sent free. The cover is addressed to 'Sir Robt G.W. Herbert G.C.B., C/o Sir John Pender G.C.M.G. MP.,Winchester House, 50 Old Broad Street, EC. The red London postmark is largely illegible (Figure 1).
A fine example of the Tasmanian purple handstamp has been sent to me by a postal historian in Launceston and it clearly shows the 'Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense' (Shame on him who thinks this evil) in Figure 2.
Robert George Wyndham Herbert is the subject of primary interest for he was the first Premier of Queensland from 10.12.1859 to 01.02.1866 with a hiatus when A. Macalister was Premier from 01.02.1866 to 20.07.1866. Herbert resumed the premiership briefly from 20.07.1866 to 07.08.1866 only to hand the position to Macalister again. During his relatively short stay in Australia he was interested in horse racing and was a member of the Queensland Turf Club. He returned to England in 1866 and was Agent-General for Tasmania in London from 1893 to 1896.
Herbert was born 12 June1831 in Brighton England, the only son of a barrister. He attended Eton from 1844-49, then Balliol College Oxford, graduating in law in 1856. In 1859, the newly appointed Governor of Queensland, Sir George Ferguson Bowen appointed Herbert as Queensland's Colonial Secretary at the age of 28 and he won a parliamentary seat unopposed in the first Legislative Assembly. There is some confusion in the data for a biography states that his term as Premier was from 22 May 1860 until February 1886 (a different start date, from the above). He lacked parliamentary experience and he was not an impressive public speaker, but there was no formal Opposition in those days.
Two of Herbert's major concerns were education (particularly cessation of State aid to religion) and the settling of land and promotion of agriculture, which he encouraged. He was impressed with the suitability of Queensland for cotton production, but with many others he lost his own investment in the crop. In February 1866 Robert Herbert turned the premiership over to Macalister and sat as a private member for several months before returning to England. On the 20 August 1866, the morning of his departure, the 'Courier' farewelled him unkindly: "...while we wish him a safe return to England, we may add a hope that he will remain there." His personal life in Queensland raised some eyebrows for he remained unmarried and he lived in his home with his Attorney-General, John Bramston. The mutual home was called "Herston", an amalgam of their surnames.
He was more honoured in England than Australia, for he worked in the Colonial Office in London as Under-Secretary of State for the Colonies in 1871 to 1892. During this time he influenced policies relating to Australia, New Zealand and Fiji. He was knighted (K.C.B. 1882 and G.C.B. in 1892)* and subsequently was appointed the Chancellor of the Order of St. Michael and St. George. In addition, a Memorial Prize is given at Oxford University in his name. In Australia, lasting memorials to his name are the Herbert River and Herberton, Queensland. Robert Herbert died in May 1905 at Ickleton, Cambridgeshire, England.
The association of Robert Herbert's name on the cover with that of Sir John Pender, probably the greatest pioneer of international submarine cable routes, is still unknown, after an extensive research in Queensland and England. A librarian at the State Library of Queensland gives 3 possible connections between the two. They were contemporaries, they were both members of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (an order of chivalry), and it is quite likely that they knew each other because Sir John was responsible for linking Britain and Australia by cable. Sir Robert, in his capacity as Under-Secretary of the Colonies, would have been involved in this activity in an official capacity.
* K.C.B. Knight Commander of the Order of the Bath. G.C.B. Knight Grand Cross of the Order of the Bath.
I wish to acknowledge the assistance of 2 people with this paper, Randall Askeland who supplied Figure 2, and Trudy Bennett, Librarian, State Library of Queensland who supplied additional information concerning Robert Herbert.
This paper was published in The Queensland Stamp Collector, February-April 2005, Volume 22 Number 1, Issue 85, pages 10-11 & 13.