DENIS O'DONOVAN RECEIVES a LETTER from the EARL of HOPETOUN
This cover was very interesting at first sight in regards to the sender and the postmarks, but a significant bonus was provided by the recipient, who will be dominant person in this paper. The front showed the SYDNEY/ DE 18/ 1-P-M/ 00/ 44 as the four-bar obliterator duplex (in use 9 April1900 until 31 August 1901) plus the early use of the bright blue 3 ring GOVERNOR-GENERAL/ FRANK STAMP/ AUSTRALIA, as well as the POSTAGE PAID SYDNEY/ DE 18/ 1900/ N.S.W postmark (Figure 1).
Figure 1: Click to Enlarge
The letter is addressed to D. O'Donovan Esqre C.M.G., Parliamentary Library, Brisbane, Queensland. The reverse has a red embossed Government House, [arms], Sydney on the flap as well as a Brisbane duplex reception postmark dated DE 20 00/ QUEENSLAND (Figure 2).
Figure 2: Click to Enlarge
The vendor gave very helpful information as follows: "One of the most important postal items relating to Federation. The Earl of Hopetoun arrived in Sydney from England on 15 December 1900, to take up his position as Australia's first Governor-General from 1/1/1901. The frank hand-stamp - the only such Commonwealth of Australia implement - was apparently provided to him on his arrival. Only one earlier example, from the 17th December, is recorded. Pre-Federation usages are both rare and highly significant". No information was given about the recipient whose honor was a C.M.G. (Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George).
Denis O'Donovan was the Queensland Parliamentary Librarian from 1874 to 1902. The library was first begun in 1860 and O'Donovan acquired and catalogued collections of books, serials and maps, which now constitute the O'Donovan Collection. He was born on 23 August 1836 in County Cork, Ireland, the son of William and his wife Anne. According to his own account, the family were descended from nobility. He was educated in Ireland and France, and on completing his degree he toured Europe extensively. His academic bent was languages, especially French and Italian. He gained a position as a professor of modern languages at the French College des Hautes Etudes. He became a member of many learned societies in England and France and wrote extensively.
He returned to England in 1864 for 2 years and moved to Melbourne in 1866 and involved himself in intellectual life there, having opinions on international and local affairs, which were often published. On 1 May 1867 he married a widow, Aimee Besson and they had 2 sons and 3 daughters. He was in charge of a school at Emerald Hill, Victoria for 3 years and after 8 years in the colony he was appointed to the position of Librarian at the Queensland Parliament. It appears that his appointment was controversial, for he was selected "not because of his literary and scholarly pre-eminence, but because he was seen as a neutral candidate from outside the colony".
O'Donovan applied himself assiduously and through his substantial connections with the intellectual world of Europe, he greatly improved the resources of the infant colony's parliamentary library. His crowning glory occurred in 1883 with the production of a printed analytical and classified catalogue which was far in advance of similar work in Australia and even Europe, at that time. He was much honoured by numerous European learned institutions, receiving a la croix du chevalier de la legion d'honneur as well as the C.M.G. in 1894.
His wife died in 1892 and he retired from the library in June 1902. He returned to his beloved France, and on a visit to a son settled in Perth, he died at Claremont W.A. on 30 April 1911. The Brisbane Courier 5 May 1911 wrote: "Noble of birth, the deceased was noble by nature; learned far beyond the average, he was a man whose usefulness had been restricted to no narrow confines; and great achievements, his name will long be remembered as one of the most distinguished personalities in the early days of Queensland colonisation." A picture of Denis O'Donovan is shown in Figure 3.
Figure 3: Click to Enlarge
A connection between O'Donovan and the Earl of Hopetoun has not be found, but the letter was sent by the Governor-General Hopetoun on his fourth day in Australia, probably as a result of a former association of both individuals in England. John Adrian Louis Hope (1860-1908) became the 7th Earl of Hopetoun and the first Marquis of Linlithgow (both in Scotland). He was educated at Eton and Sandhurst and in 1883 he was the conservative whip in the House of Lords. He was appointed Governor of Victoria in 1889, arriving in Melbourne on 28 November and when he left Australia in March 1895 he was said to be one of the most popular Governors of Victoria up to that time.
On return to Great Britain he was made a Privy Councillor and then was appointed the first Governor-General of Australia in October 1900. He arrived in Melbourne 15 December 1900 and took up his position on 1 January 1901, at the time of the inauguration of the Commonwealth of Australia by the Duke of York. He resigned from his position in May 1902 and was succeeded by Hallam, the 2nd Lord Tennyson (see at this site in Mourning Covers: Mourning Cover to Lord Tennyson). A more complete history of the Earl of Hopetoun will appear in a subsequent paper at this site, and a photo of him is shown in Figure 4.
Figure 4: Click to Enlarge