Royal Reels: Gambling


This fairly unique mourning cover was sent by William Humble Ward, the 2nd Earl of Dudley when he was Australia’s fourth Governor General from 1908-1911. It was postmarked with a duplex ENGLISH MAIL T.P.O./ JY 3/ 10/ +, with the double ring GOVERNOR GENERAL/ FRANK STAMP/ AUSTRALIA in blue, as well as the oval VICTORIA/ crown/ OFFICIAL PAID in black. It is addressed to a long-standing English Company, Messrs Coutts & Co, 59 Strand, London, W.C., England (Figure 1).

The reverse has a reception postmark of LONDON W.C./ 7.15 AM/ AU 5/ 01/ 18 and the flap has the imprint of the GOVERNOR GENERAL OF AUSTRALIA, with his coat of arms, and 2 inscriptions: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense and Dieu Et Mon Droit. There is also a black manuscript which probably reads G. Nuzzoly, who may have been an aide to the Governor General (Figure 2).

This paper could be a “fiddle” on my part, for the vendor noting the disparity of the out-going and in-coming year dates, has stated that both should read 1901, not 1910. I have elected to consider the opposite so that this paper would be about Australia’s 4th and not 1st G.G., for Humble Ward is not so well known as the Earl of Hopetoun. Humble Ward was b. 25 May 1867 and died 29 June 1932, being born in London and educated at Eton. His father died when he was 17, and he inherited enormous wealth along with the Earldom of Dudley. He became part of the social circle of the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII), who attended Ward’s wedding to Rachel Gurney in 1891. He was active in the Conservative Party and held office in  the 1895 government of Lord Salisbury.  A picture of William Humble Ward is seen in Figure 3.

In 1902, William Humble Ward (2nd Earl of Dudley) was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, in which post he displayed great extravagance but also some political and administrative ability. As a Conservative, Dudley could not have expected preferment from the Liberal government which came to office in 1905, but King Edward VII pressed the Prime Minister, Sir Henry Campbell-Bannerman to offer Dudley the post of Governor-General. Dudley arrived in Sydney in September 1908, and soon established a reputation for pomp, ceremony and extravagance which was unwelcome to many Australians, particularly the Labor Party and the radical press such as The Bulletin. Not long after his arrival, he found himself swearing in a Labor cabinet under Andrew Fisher, so the Labor Party’s disapproval of his vice-regal style became an important issue.

The new Governor-General became involved in another controversy. It was part of Labor policy to establish an independent Australian navy. The Liberal opposition supported the campaign for Australia to raise money to build ships for the Royal Navy, the so-called Dreadnought campaign. When Dudley made a speech in support of the Dreadnought, he was straying into party politics, leading to a tense relationship with Fisher.

In 1909 Fisher’s minority government resigned, and Dudley refused him an early election. The Liberals returned to office under Alfred Deakin, solving Dudley’s immediate problems. But although Fisher was careful not to criticise Dudley in public, the Governor-General had acquired a reputation as anti-Labor, which made him unpopular with half the Australian electorate. In April 1910 Labor won a sweeping election victory and Fisher returned to power. Relations between Governor-General and Prime Minister were soon once again frosty. Dudley’s insistence on maintaining two very expensive Government Houses, in Sydney and Melbourne, on travelling around the country in vice-regal pomp, and on chartering a steam-yacht to circumnavigate the continent, infuriated Fisher, a frugal Scottish socialist.

By October Dudley had recognised the impossibility of his position and asked to be recalled. He left Australia in July 1911, unmarked by any official ceremony. With the Liberals still in power in Britain, he held no further public office. He served in the First World War, then retired to his estates, where he died in June 1932.

The firm of Messrs Coutts & Co. has had a long history of banking, starting with roots in Scotland as early in 1692 and the Coutts family (brothers James and Thomas) took over the bank, known by both their names in 1761, then by Thomas’ name in 1775, and by the name on the cover, in 1822. Coutts bought Bank von Ernst in 2003 and now has offices around the world in, amongst other locations, Switzerland, Asia, the Middle East, Cayman Islands and the UK.

May I presume that the Earl of Dudley (a.k.a. Humble Ward) had financial dealings with this private banking establishment in 1910, that may have required a mourning cover to be sent to London.

This paper was extracted from the Australian Dictionary of Biography.