This simple looking cover is significant not only on account of its important addressee, Sir Henry Parkes K.C.M.G. (Knight Commander St. Michael & St. George), but also for the originating postmark, for while Thursday Island postmarks are common from 1898-on, earlier mail is rarely seen. The reverse was not seen, but the flap was embossed with a crown with ‘SUNBEAM’ below. The significance of the flap embossing was also of considerable importance for it indicated that th sender was probably Lord Brassey, who was appointed Governor of Victoria in 1895 and became an enthusiastic supporter of Australian Federation. The name of Brassey’s yacht was ‘Sunbeam’, and Lady Brassey died at sea between Australia and Java on 14/9/1887 two weeks after this cover was sent (this information was provided by the vedor).
Only the front of the cover was seen and it was clearly addressed to Sir Henry Parkes K.C.M.G., Sydney. The pair of the ‘ONE PENNY’ second sideface Queensland stamps is postmarked with the Rays ‘148′ (Type 1e, made up of 23 or 24 rays divided into 4 segments). In addition there is a separate unframed THURSDAY ISLAND/ AU 31/ 87/ QUEENSLAND postmark (Type 3a, with a fleuron on each side) (Figures 1, 1A & 1B, last two pencil- enhanced).
Henry Parkes, politician and journalist, was born on 27 May 1815 in Warwickshire, England, youngest of the seven children of Thomas Parks, tenant farmer on Stoneleigh Abbey Estate, and his wife Martha. Forced off their farm in 1823 by debt, the Parkes family moved in 1825 and settled in Birmingham, where Thomas was a gardener and odd-job man. Henry’s formal education was in his own words, ‘very limited and imperfect’, and he was obliged as a boy to help in supporting the family, when he worked as a road labourer. He opened his own business in 1837 as a bone and ivory turner and married Clarinda, 23-year-old daughter of John Varney, butcher. The business failed and in 1838 Parkes took Clarinda to London in search of better prospects. They survived a few weeks by pawning his tools, they determined to leave for New South Wales as bounty migrants. He and Clarinda sailed from Gravesend on 27 March 1839 in the Strathfieldsaye. They reached Sydney on 25 July 1839 with a first surviving child born at sea two days earlier. Parkes found work as a labourer.
He drifted into journalism after fitful progress in his trade. His literary and political writings belied his lack of formal education. While in England he had taken up the cause of political radicalism and he continued his interest in politics in the colony. He campaigned for univeral male suffrage and in 1848 played a prominent role in the campaign against the resumption of convict transportation to N.S.W. From 1850-58 he was editor and proprietor of The Empire newspaper, an organ of liberal opinion. He won a seat in the Legislative Council at the elections in 1854 and 2 years later he was elected to the newly established Legislative Assembly in the first parliament under responsible self government.
Parkes’ legislative and secular reforms, particularly in the 1880 Public Instruction Act which strengthened the state education system were controversial and aroused sectarian discord. In 1887, in anticipation of the forthcoming Centennial celebrations, Parkes sought to have N.S.W. renamed Australia. This Act was typical of Parkes’ one-upmanship over his political rivals and counterparts from the other colonies. He was however accorded the epithet of ‘Father of Federation’ for his leadership in advancing the cause for nationhood in the last decade of his life. On 24 October 1889 at a reception in his honour, Parkes delivered an address to his former constituents that was a clarion call for Federation.
Parkes convened the 1890 Federation Conference in Melbourne as a precursor to the 1891 National Australasian Convention in Sydney, where the first draft Bill of the Constitution was written. It was here that he proposed the name ‘Commonwealth’ for the unified colonies, a name that carried through the final draft at the 1897-98 Australasian Federal Convention, which he did not live to see.
Parkes died at his home ‘Kenilworth’ in the Sydney suburb of Annandale on 27 April 1896, survived by his third wife, Julia and numerous children from the marriages, the first two wives having predeceased him. One of Parkes’ many legacies to the citizens of N.S.W. WAS Centennial Park, a fitting site for the proclamation of the Commonwealth of Australia on 1 January 1901.
Parkes’ face has been celebrated on a one dollar coin, a five dollar bank note, on a 3d stamp, but the following wood engraving is my favorite showing his moving the first resolution at the Federation Conference in Melbourne on 1 March 1890 (Figure 2).
Parkes was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1877 and G.C.M.G. in 1880.