This cover was listed on eBay auctions and the addressee is a most important person. The sender has not been found in spite of an extensive search, even though there are clues as to his identity. It is addressed to “The Right Honble W.E. Gladstone Esq MP., London” and the sender is named as J. Macarthur. In red, there is a manuscript ‘2/6′ (2 shillings and 6 pence), as well as an indecipherable black manuscript, which obscures a part of the address (Figure 1).
The faint red oval postmarking is better seen in an enlarged view, and it is a poor ‘PAID SHIP LETTER/ [Crown]/ AP 15/ 1842/ SYDNEY, with an eight-petalled flower, between the month & day. This outwards paid ship letter date-stamp was classified by J.S. White as a Type SL2 which was in use from 19.5.1838 to 4.3.1846 and it carried the bulk of Ship Letter mail during the 1840-42 period (Figure 2).
On the reverse, the sender identifies himself in manuscript as Sir J. Macarthur, Governor of Madras. He is not listed as a Governor of Madras on the internet, not in 2 books of the period devoted to Madras, nor in Debrett’s & Burke’s Peerage, so he remains an enigma (Figure 3).
William Ewart Gladstone (29 December 1809 – 19 May 1898) was a British Liberal Party statesman and Prime Minister, a notable political reformer, known for his populist speeches, and was for many years he was the main political rival of Benjamin Disraeli. Gladstone was famously at odds with Queen Victoria for much of his career. He is still regarded as one of the greatest British Prime Ministers.
Born in Liverpool, William Ewart Gladstone was the fourth son of the merchant Sir John Gladstone and his second wife, Anne MacKenzie Robertson. He was educated at Eton College, and in 1828 matriculated at Christ Church College, Oxford. Gladstone was a President of the Oxford Union debating society where he developed a reputation as a fine orator, which followed him into the House of Commons. He was first elected to Parliament in 1832 as the Conservative MP for Newark. In 1839 he married Catherine Glynne, and they were married for 49 years.
In 1840 Gladstone began his efforts to rescue and rehabilitate London prostitutes, walking the streets of London and speaking to women in an attempt to encourage them to change their ways. He continued this practice even when he was Prime Minister. He was re-elected in 1841 and in the ministry of Robert Peel he served as President of the Board of Trade (1843–44). He resigned in 1845 on a matter of conscience, but returned to Peel’s government as Colonial Secretary in December of that year. In 1846, the government fell and Gladstone followed his leader detaching himself from mainstream Conservatives. After Peel’s death in 1850, Gladstone emerged as the leader of the ‘Peelites’ in the House of Commons.
In 1852, when Lord Aberdeen became premier, Gladstone became Chancellor of the Exchequer till 1855 and unsuccessfully tried to abolish the income tax. Instead he ended up raising it because of the costs of the Crimean War. Lord Stanley became Prime Minister in 1858, but Gladstone declined a position in his government because he did not want to work with Disraeli, the Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons. Lord Palmerston formed a new mixed government with Radicals added in 1859 and Gladstone joined again now as Chancellor of the Exchequer.
First ministry, 1868–1874: Gladstone became the leader of the Liberal party and in 1868 he was defeated in Lancashire but was elected as MP for Greenwich, for candidates at that time were allowed to stand in two constituencies. He became Prime Minister, and remained in the office until 1874. Gladstonian Liberalism was characterised, in the 1860s and 1870s, by a number of policies intended to improve individual liberty and loosen political and economic restraints.
In 1874, the Liberals lost the election. After the success of Benjamin Disraeli, Gladstone temporarily retired from the politics and the leadership of the Liberal party, but retained his seat in the House. During his rousing election campaign in 1879, he spoke against Disraeli’s foreign policies during the ongoing Second Anglo-Afghan War in Afghanistan. He saw the war as a “great dishonour”, and also criticised the British conduct in the Zulu War.
In 1880 the Liberals won again, and Liberal leader Lord Hartington retired in Gladstone’s favour. He won his constituency election in Midlothian and also in Leeds, but as he could serve as MP only for one constituency, Leeds was passed on to his son, Herbert. Another son, Henry, was also elected as an MP. Queen Victoria asked Hartington to form a ministry but he persuaded her to send for Gladstone. His second administration, both as PM, and again as Chancellor of the Exchequer, lasted from June 1880 to June 1885. He resigned as Prime Minister in 1885, and declined Victoria’s offer of an Earldom.
In 1886 Gladstone’s party was allied with the Irish Nationalists to defeat Lord Salisbury’s government; Gladstone regained his position as PM and combined the office with that of Lord Privy Seal. During this administration he introduced his Home Rule Bill for Ireland for the first time. The issue split the Liberal Party and the bill was thrown out on the second reading. The result was the end of his government after a few months and another government headed by Lord Salisbury was formed.
In 1892 Gladstone was re-elected Prime Minister for the fourth and final time. In February 1893 he re-introduced a Home Rule Bill for the formation of a parliament for Ireland. It was passed by the Commons but rejected by the House of Lords. On March 1, 1894, in his last speech in the Commons, he asked his allies to override the veto of the House of Lords. He resigned 2 days later but retained his seat in the Commons until 1895. He died at Hawarden Castle, in 1898, aged 88, from cancer, and was buried in Westminster Abbey. Gladstone is shown in Figure 4.
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