The undated and stampless cover is addressed to His Excellency Sir George Gipps K.C.M.G, Governor of N.S. Wales and there is also a black manuscript ‘Free’ and an indecipherable name at lower left (Figure 1).
The reverse is postmarked SHIP LETTER/ [CROWN]/ MA* 20/ 1845/ SYDNEY in black (Type SL 5, J.S. White 1988, used 26.9.1841 to 18.3.1847), as well as a blue PARRAMATTA/ [CROWN]/ MA* 21/ 1845/ NEW. S. WALES. (Figure 2).
George Gipps the eldest son of the Rev. George Gipps, was born at Ringwold, Kent, in 1790, or possibly early in 1791. He was educated at the King’s School, Canterbury, and the military academy, Woolwich. He entered the army as a second lieutenant of the royal engineers in January 1809, continued to serve in the Peninsular campaigns, and in September 1814 became a captain. From November 1814 until July 1817 he was with the Duke of Wellington’s army in Flanders and France. On his return to England he was from 1824 to 1829 in the West Indies, where he showed good administrative qualities.
He became private secretary to Lord Auckland, who was then First Lord of the Admiralty, in 1834, and in the following year was appointed a commissioner with the Earl of Gosford and Sir Charles E. Grey to inquire into grievances in Canada. Their report was drawn up by Gipps and was adopted by the House of Commons. He was knighted, was promoted to the rank of major, and returned to England in April 1837. He was appointed the 10th Governor of New South Wales on 5 October 1837, and arrived at Sydney on 23 February 1838 (Figure 3).
Gipps’s term as governor was a stormy one. The transition towards responsible government that was taking place gave many opportunities for differences of opinion, and the fight was often waged with bitterness. It was still proceeding when he left the colony. Education was a sorely contentious question. The practice brought in by Sir Richard Bourke of granting a pound for pound subsidy on all private schools had resulted in the formation of several small sectarian schools in the same district, schools that were neither efficient nor economical and they led to sectarian strife. Various schemes were brought forward, but one could not be found which received general approval, and the chief opposition came from the dominant Church of England. Another problem was the government of the settlers in the Port Phillip district, which was partially solved by the appointment in 1839 of Charles J. La Trobe as Superintendent under Gipps’s direction. The six representatives of the Port Phillip district were far removed from Sydney, and it was impossible to find local representatives willing to live part of the year at Sydney.
A still more pressing question was the problem of the land held by the squatters who as their flocks increased had gone farther and farther afield seeking grazing land. They naturally desired some security of tenure, but the system of occupation grew more and more confused, and in 1844 Gipps endeavoured to put some order into it. His regulations issued in April 1844 required a licence fee of £10 a year, in most cases the area of each station was limited to 20 square miles, and these stations were not capable of pasturing more than 500 head of cattle and 7000 sheep.
This brought a storm of protests from the squatters, and the struggle continued until the departure of the governor. His term of office expired in February 1844, but the colonial office valued his work and extended his appointment. In August 1845 he received a dispatch from Lord Stanley intimating that his successor might be expected to arrive towards the end of the year. Sir Charles Fitzroy, however, did not actually reach Australia until 2 August 1846, and Gipps had departed on the previous 11 July. He arrived in England on 20 November 1846 and died suddenly from heart failure on 28 February 1847.
He married in 1830 Elizabeth, daughter of Major-General George Ramsay, she survived him with one son, who became Sir Reginald Ramsay Gipps, a general in the British army. A monument to Sir George Gipps is in Canterbury Cathedral. Gipps was a man of great ability and wisdom, conscientious, self-reliant, hard-working, and determined. Unfortunately for his own peace of mind he had to deal with difficult problems arising out of the movement towards responsible government. He also came in conflict with the vested interests of the squatters and incurred much abuse.
When he left, the Sydney newspapers, the Sydney Morning Herald and The Empire, called Gipps “the worst governor the colony had ever had”. That has not been the verdict of history. Gipps may possibly have had rather too exalted an idea of the powers of the Governor, and he could on occasions be arrogant and tactless, but he was none the less a great man and a great Governor in a difficult time. During his term as Governor, Gipps did much to encourage exploration, the amount of land under cultivation was very largely increased, and the population was more than doubled. He is pictured in Figure 4.