This somewhat ordinary mourning cover reveals a story of considerable importance to the entire British Empire, particularly the State of Tasmania. The 1d Mount Wellington pictorial (with a ‘T’ perfin) is postmarked with a roller Hobart cancel dated 18.5.10 7-0 P/ Tasmania and it was addressed to A.R. Fowler Esq. 50 Charles Street Launceston. The vertical manuscript writing gives a clue as to its purpose: “Funeral Service Death of King Ed. VII May 20/10 (Figure 1).
The insert card expands on this theme for it is an invitation to admit “Mr. A.R. Fowler and Lady” to the Official Reserve for a Military Funeral Service in honour of the His Late Majesty King Edward VII, to be held in the Parliamentary Reserve, Hobart, on Friday, 20th May, (1910) at Noon. The invitation came from D.W. Addison, Secretary to the Premier ( Sir Neil Lewis). The ticket was to be presented at the Entrance and was not transferable. The Tasmanian Crest with its “Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense” inscription further shows that the invitation was an official one (Figure 2).
Edward VII was born on November 9, 1841, the eldest son of Queen Victoria and the Prince Consort Albert. Victoria did not involve Edward, Prince of Wales, in official government matters and Edward chose to indulge in a wild social life sometimes of a scandalous nature. He succeeded to the throne upon Victoria’s death in 1901, but the original Coronation date in June 1902 was postponed until 9 August 1902, on account of Edward’s ill health. Edward became committed to his regal role, playing an active part in foreign policy, and in spite of his social indiscretions, he was popular as a monarch.
Edward died at Sandringham on May 6, 1910 after a series of heart attacks. His coffin lay in state in Westminster Hall before being taken through the streets of London and on to Windsor by train. The funeral was held in St. George’s Chapel where he was buried on May 20 1910. The funeral procession was spectacular, as evidenced by the many photographs that were taken en route. Even small Australian towns had funeral services on May 20, 1910, but I am not aware of similar invitations being issued, at other places.
The 5 year old Alexander Fowler and his older brother Henry arrived in Tasmania in February 1854 with his mother Elizabeth (née Gilks), a school mistress. His father, Alfred, a builder, was already living in Launceston. Two sisters were born in Tasmania, Mary Ann in 1855 and Emma Elizabeth in 1857 and another brother, William Alfred was born in 1860. His father and brother Henry were lost at sea at Table Cape near Wynyard, Tasmania in September of 1866. Alfred owned the ship, Novelty and was heading to Wynyard to build the police station when the unseaworthy ship went down.
Alexander (nicknamed Chookey) was initially home schooled by his mother and his subsequent education was at a State school, afterwards attending a commercial school. After spending upwards of 6 months in a solicitor’s office he accepted the appointment of a managerial position in a timber business. In March 1870, he started business for himself in the same line, which he carried on successfully for many years, and he took his younger brother William into partnership. Alexander never married and when he died in 1911 several mourning covers have been seen, all addressed to his Launceston home in the name of Mrs W.A. Fowler, the wife of his younger brother William Alfred.
Alexander was a successful business man but his parliamentary career was not well documented, for his details in the Parliament of Tasmania website are very brief: namely he lost the 4 May 1904 Legislative Council election for Launceston coming second in a field of four candidates. The Cyclopedia of Tasmania (1900) (quoted in its entirety) states that “Fowler was returned as one of the members for Launceston at the last general election (date not given), but he formerly sat in the House of Assembly, as representative for North Launceston, from January to December, 1893. He is president of the Launceston Chamber of Commerce, vice-president of the Launceston Mechanics’ Institute and Public Library, and secretary of the Launceston Savings Investment and Building Society.” In 1901, ill-health compelled Mr. Fowler’s retirement from politics and various public bodies. Thereafter, he lived privately up to the time of his death. His photo is shown in Figure 3.
An obituary from The Daily Telegraph dated 24 July 1911 stated that Alexander ” had resided in Launceston for many years, and was well and favorably known, died at his residence, at George’s Terrace, Invermay, shortly after 11 o’clock, Saturday night (22 July 1911). He had been ailing for some considerable time. The deceased was in his 64th year, was a native of Leamington, Warwickshire, England”. The body “will leave his late residence No. 50 Charles Street for internment in Carr Villa Cemetery.”
Thus at the time of his receiving the featured invitation he no longer was involved in politics, but the many public service positions he had previously held ensured that the Premier had not forgotten him.
I wish to acknowledge the assistance of Paula Via (USA) for providing the cover and invitation, and for the research of Alexander’s life in Launceston provided by Sue McClarron and Marion Sargent, Librarians, Launceston Library, as well as the initial help of Randall Askeland, also of Launceston. They were all very generous of their time and expertise.