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HENRY CONDELL (1797 -1871): FIRST MAYOR of MELBOURNE

This cover was offered by a major Australian auction house with an estimate of AUD 400 and it sold for AUD 300. It had been owned by a gold medal exhibitor and judge, and his description of the 'outer', used in the catalogue, left much to be desired. It stated:

Postal History of the Port Phillip District Free Mail. 1844 (Aug 12) outer from Sydney to "Henry Condell Esq/ Mayor/ Melbourne" with good strike of the '[crown]/FREE' d/s in red & signed "Wm Robinson" at lower-left as required by the regulations, part-Melbourne arrival b/s (on reverse). [From an Upper House member to Melbourne's first mayor].

Well not exactly, for there are sins of commission and omission which do not detract from the postal and social history of this 'outer'. The date on the front is clearly Sydney Augt Seventeen, 1844 not only in the top line as manuscript, but also in the red FREE postmark. The second manuscript line has been totally ignored, and it reads: Poverland (a contraction for Per overland). This rendition is supported by the probability that the overland route was free, whereas the ship route was not. The signature of the sender had been interpreted as Wm Robinson, and this is still in contention, for there was no William Robinson in the NSW Legislature. However there was a Joseph Phelps Robinson who was a New South Wales' Member of the Legislative Council (1843-56) and JP Robinson is a possibility for the signature on the front (Figure 1).

 

 

 

The reverse shows a partial red wax seal and a MELBOURNE/ crown/ AU * 24/ 1844/ PORT PHILLIP arrival postmark (Figure 2).

 

 

 

Henry Condell is very well documented on multiple internet sites, but most were devoted to the same-named Shakespearean actor and co-editor of the First Folio in 1623. It is suspected but not proven that Mayor Condell was related to this Shakespearean actor. Except for an excellent early painting and a later photograph of the Mayor, the sparse textual findings were mostly restricted to his time in Van Diemen's Land (VDL), with even less information for him as Mayor of Melbourne.

In July 1833 an action was brought by Mr. Russell, the blacksmith, against Mr. Condell, the brewer, for an amount of £35 3s. 1d. for non payment of work performed on a pump for Condell's brewery. The workmanship was shoddy, and Henry's reputation was not affected by the case. Henry's stay in VDL was not always smooth sailing for he was critical of officials' stealing Government property and brewers adulterating their beer. There were several other court cases which eventually forced him to leave VDL to settle and open his brewery in Melbourne in 1839.

On December 9, 1842 at the Royal Hotel, Collins Street behind closed doors, Henry was elected as Melbourne's first Mayor, as well as the Gipps ward alderman for 6 years, in a close election. His election was associated with hostilities between Catholics and Protestants, and it may have precipitated the eventual formation of an 'Orange Association'. His critics claimed that being a brewer was certainly a help to his election. A Savings' Bank opened January 1, 1842 and Henry Condell, Esq., J.P. was listed as one of the Trustees in an 1847 Directory for the Town & District of Port Phillip. In addition, Henry was listed as a member of the NSW Upper House from 1843-1856, although there are doubts as to his active involvement over the entire period, on account of the time taken to travel from Melbourne to Sydney.

The breakthrough came when I contacted my coauthor, a family historian living in N.S.W., and she was able to expand greatly our knowledge of Condell. Henry was born in Funchal, on the Island of Madeira on the 9 September 1797, and he was the sixth of 8 children, all of whom survived. His father Joseph Alexander Condell was born in Musselburgh, Scotland in 1749, fourth son of James Condell a brewer of Leith and his wife Agnes Waugh. James, his sons and grandsons were all in the Leith brewing trade and several were wine and spirits merchants. Henry's parents Joseph Alexander Condell and Martha (nee French) Condell married in a Roman Catholic ceremony in Lincoln's Inn, London in 1783 before traveling to Madeira (Martha's birthplace), where they had a wine and spirits business.

Henry was sent to Scotland to be educated at the Musselburgh Grammar School, and was probably a boarder. At the age of 16 he left school to work for John Small & Company, Calcutta but the climate did not agree with him, and he fell ill. After leaving Calcutta, Henry moved to New Brunswick, Canada where he hoped to stay, but he was unsuccessful in his application to buy land. He left New Brunswick in 1821, planning to travel to New South Wales to settle, but first he returned to Edinburgh where he married Marion Vallange on 28 May 1822.

He left Leith for VDL on 24 June1822 on board the "Skelton" and arrived at Hobart Town on the 24 December 1822. Marion and their first child Jane did not accompany him to VDL, but remained in Edinburgh. Marion traveled to Hobart 3 years later, leaving Jane behind to be looked after by grandparents in Edinburgh. A son, William Vallange Condell, was born in VDL in 1827 at Hobart Town.

We do not know when Henry changed his religion from Roman Catholic to Protestant, but this did not seem to concern his mother unduly for she left him on her death enough money to start a Hobart brewery in 1830. He moved to Port Phillip in 1839 and set up his successful brewery in Little Collins Street and he also owned several properties in Melbourne. He was a rich man when he left Australia in 1853 on the P. & O. "Bombay" for England, but the ship nearly sank with its passengers and their gold. Henry and his wife spent more than 30 years in Australia and when they left, their married daughter Jane (who had traveled to VLDL in 1840) and her children remained in Tasmania.

 

 

Henry died, when a visitor to Oak House, South Mimms, on 9 September 1871 and Marion died in Maida Vale, Kensington in 1866. Although his son William Vallange Condell and 2 infants are buried in Perivale, London (Henry owned Melbourne Lodge near Perivale), the site of his burial is not yet known. There is a Condell Room named after Henry in the Melbourne Town Hall and his portrait hangs in one of its rooms. The present Melbourne Town Hall clock was presented to the town by William Vallange, after his father's death. A painting of Henry (stated to be circa 1830-1840, but considered to be of an earlier date) is shown in Figure 3.

 

A photo of an older Henry from his Brighton visiting card (circa 1860) is shown in Figure 4.

 

 

 

This paper was co-authored by Dian Elvin of Bungendore NSW, and was accepted for publication by the Australian Journal of Philately (2004).

 
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