Royal Reels: Gambling


The letter was addressed to H.P. Brown Esq., Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs, P.M.G.’s Department, Melbourne, C.2. and it was sent by A.A.Rosenblum, from a P.O. Box, Melbourne. There was a late use of 2d Pictorial stamp of Tasmania, cancelled by a roller postmark of MELBOURNE/ 2 15 PM/ 25 MY/ 1932/ VICTORIA with a slogan ADDRESS MAIL TO / PRIVATE BOX NUMBER/ IT EXPEDITES DELIVERY. The reverse was not seen (Figure 1).

Sir Harry Percy Brown, engineer, public servant and company director, was born on 28 December 1878 at Hylton, County Durham, England, son of George Brown, a former superintendent of the London Telegraph Office, and his wife Sarah Emma. Educated at Bede College, Durham, and Durham College, Newcastle upon Tyne, he entered the Post Office and advanced quickly. On 28 September 1904 he married Emily Aldous in Leytonstone. In 1913,, he introduced management by telephone of rail traffic and dock-handling in Calcutta. Next year Brown was made responsible for the technical planning and management of all telephone and telegraph plant in Great Britain. In 1916 he was placed in charge of ’emergency communications’ for home defence, and this work won him an M.B.E. in 1918.

Brown arrived in Australia late in 1922 to act as technical adviser on a three-man Postal Advisory Committee that had been commissioned to draw up a ‘reconstruction’ program for postal and telegraph services. His early work so impressed the postmaster-general, that by December he had manoeuvred the retirement of the secretary of the department, and secured Brown’s accession as secretary and director. The appointment was initially controversial, for his salary of £2500 was well above that of any other Federal public servant. Dissatisfaction subsided within six months, and the next five years proved a triumph for Brown as the department underwent a period of rapid and overdue development.

It was said that Brown tended to give undue weight to technical qualifications in administrative appointments. The first engineer to be permanent departmental head, Brown had a personal impact on postal technology. After initial lethargy from departmental engineers, in 1925-31 he pushed through the linking of all State capitals by special channels, by an apparatus conveying multiple circuits on each trunk line. He similarly spurred on mechanized mail-handling, the system completed in 1930 at the Sydney General Post Office being the most extensive in the world.

As he did with the postal and telegraph services, Brown played a key role in the growth of wireless broadcasting between 1923 and 1928. After the establishment of the Australian Broadcasting Commission in July 1932, the Postmaster-General’s Department continued to have responsibility for the technical side of the national service. In the field of posts and telegraphs, Brown throughout the 1930s maintained his exacting managerial standards and his flair for public relations. The impact of the Depression could not be warded off, but the department’s net profit for the years 1933-39 was an impressive £18 million. On 3 October 1939 Brown’s resignation was announced, and in December he took up the appointment of chairman and joint managing director of the British General Electric Co. Pty Ltd, a position he had earlier declined.

In May 1940 Brown returned to the Commonwealth public service in the new wartime position of co-ordinator-general of works, his company ‘releasing’ his services as a war gesture. His task was to advise the Australian Loan Council on the degree of civil and military urgency of the major capital works planned by the State governments. In August 1943 the Loan Council decided to retain Brown’s services as executive of the National Works Council, planning post-war works to provide employment during demobilization and reconversion.

Following a serious illness in August 1945, Brown resigned from the public service. He remained, however, a co-opted member of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research until 1952, this arrangement stemming from his formative membership of the Radio Research Board in 1927-39. He did not retire from his post with British General Electric until 1953, having presided over the establishment of local manufacture of small-horsepower motors and light industrial products.

Physically and intellectually robust, Brown was a great and powerful public servant. Gracious and high-minded by nature, he was capable of shrewdness with ministers and sternness with critics. He cherished the Empire and voted conservatively all his life.. For all his polish and discipline, Brown was very much at home in the Australia of the inter-war period. He had been appointed C.M.G. in 1934 and was knighted in 1938. Survived by two sons and a daughter, he died in Sydney on 5 June 1967.

A poor newspaper photo found in The Argus Melbourne, 9 June 1938 and a cartoon in the same paper on 23 November 1937, are seen in Figures 2 & 3.

I have found a little more on Alec A. Rosenblum, the sender of the cover, who was high lighted in an earlier paper ‘Alec A. Rosenblum, Australian Philatelist and Author’, which can be found at my website. There I mention his philatelic book on Australian stamps, and I now have learnt that he was a frequent publisher of letters in The Argus Melbourne on stamp articles, and one wonders if he was criticising or advising Harry Brown!

The information on Harry Percy Brown was extracted from a much larger article on him at the Australian Dictionary of Biography.