politics_the_post_office

TLM-P's Career in Politics and the Post Office

TLM-P was active in community affairs from the early 1850s. In 1851 his status was recognised when he was one of the newly appointed Justice of the Peace (JP).1) In that same year he became a founding committee member of the Moreton Bay and Northern Districts Separation Association, which worked to create the separate colony of Queensland.2) He was also an early member of the Queensland Acclimatisation Society, a society founded in 1862 to promote understanding how imported agriculture could be adapted for colonial purposes.3) TLM-P was an elected member of its Council in 1863-65, and in 1874 became a Life Member.4)

In 1859, Queensland separated from the colony of NSW in 1859. TLM-P served as an Alderman on the Brisbane City Council from its inception that year until 1861.5) He was among the 19 eminent men who that year founded the Queensland Club. He was a Committee member in 1870 and Vice-President in 1889-91. His barrister son Hervey joined in 1882; his eldest son Thomas de M. M-P joined in 1885; and his grandson Thomas B. M-P joined in 1912.6) The Queensland Club was the meeting place for prominent men (women were not allowed to be members) notably squatters like TLM-P.7) The squatters were never a unified bloc and not always anti-liberal.8) However, TLM-P was identified with 'the conservative rural interest' as opposed to 'the urban-liberal interest' group.9)

When Queensland separated from the colony of NSW in 1859, its settler (white) population was only around 28,000.10) The first Premier was Robert George Wyndham Herbert: TLM-P shared many of Herbert's values. As well, in the small world of colonial Australia, they had a connection: Herbert's cousin was George Wyndham on whose property TLM-P had gained his initial colonial experience.11) The political system strongly favoured rural interests, so TLM-P largely represented dominant interests. The idea of mass democracy was still a radical idea and property owners were generally firm in their conviction that they alone had the right to rule - even if it did mean a few women managed to vote before legislation was amended to exclude them. TLM-P stood for the seat of East Moreton in the first election in 1860, urging electors to protect 'the interests of the squatter, the first occupier of the land'.12) He outlined his policies in a letter to the electorate in April 1860.13) His policies have been summarised as 'a land bill to ensure immigration by leasing Crown land for farming, with pre-emptive rights at any time during the currency of the lease, the establishment of a national system of education, and no state aid for religion.'14) When he failed to be elected, his sights turned to the public service.

In mid-1861 the Queensland Parliament, under Herbert as Premier, decided that the position of Postmaster-General should be combined with that of Postal Inspector. In doing so, it would become a professional, paid position rather than being held by a government minister.15) The following year, TLM-P was appointed to the new post of Postmaster-General. Andrew Darbyshire states that Matilda M-P's brothers-in-law, fellow squatters William Barker and Charles Robert Haly, provided part of the necessary bond.16)

TLM-P was offered the position when he was 'in utter ignorance' about running a postal service, so he first took leave to go to Sydney to learn about his new role, leaving on the 16 August and returning on the 6 October.17) When the news leaked out, Brisbane's newspaper The Courier grudgingly approved: 'Whatever may be Mr. Prior's business talents, he certainly possesses valuable qualifications in his untiring energy and his indomitable perseverance, and in these respects he will afford a striking contrast to the gentlemen who usually find their way to the heads of government departments.'18) The Queensland correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald was even more dubious: 'Mr. Prior is, or was, a squatter, but has, I believe, recently devoted himself to agricultural pursuits as well. In as far as personal activity is concerned he may be considered not unsuited to the office, but it may be doubted if his other qualifications be fully up to the mark, especially as he must necessarily be without experience in his new vocation. However, I must guard against the injustice of condemning him untried.'19)

In Sydney TLM-P was instructed in his new duties by the NSW Postmaster-General Major [William] Christie20) and the Secretary of the Department, Thomas Abbott. On his return he was appointed Postal Inspector (on 6 November 1861) and, on 1 January 1862, also Postmaster-General.21) The General Post Office staff at the time TLM-P was first appointed consisted of just 13 other employees including a postmistress; accountant/secretary/cashier; inland clerk; foreign dispatch clerk; one 3rd class clerk; one sorter; 4 letter carriers; one messenger and one sorter. The whole colony had just 24 post offices. Services such as money orders and telegraphs had yet to be offered.22) It was a lucrative appointment; Darbyshire points out that TLM-P's salary was £600, the same as, for example, the Private Secretary/Aide de Camp to the Governor. Women's salaries were less than men's so the GPO Postmistress Elise barney only received £475 (in salary and allowance) a year.23)

Documents from his time were once located at the Brisbane General Post Office Museum: this museum was closed in 2005 and the documents' whereabouts are not known.24)

TLM-P's periods as Postmaster-General are as follows:

1. 1862 - 1 March 1866: TLM-P's formal notice of appointment appeared in the press in January 1863.25) After taking up his appointment, he 'immediately set out on a tour of inspection' returning on 6 January 1862. After TLM-P served as Postmaster-General for four years, Parliament voted for the position of Postmaster-General to be again held by a politician. In order to retain his position, on 22 February 1866 TLM-P was nominated for life to Queensland's upper house 26)

For a sample entry of one day of his 1862 diary about his work as Postmaster-General, see TLM-P's Diaries

This collage is entitled 'First Queensland ministry' with TLM-P's photo in the top left corner, so perhaps refers to the first ministry he served as Post-Master-General.27)

2. 21 July - 7 August 1866: TLM-P served as Postmaster-General in the government led by Sir Robert Herbert. That Government fell in July, meaning that TLM-P again lost his position as Postmaster-General, though he stayed on for another month until a successor was found.28)

3. 15 August 1867 to 25 November 1868: TLM-P again served as Postmaster-General under the government of the conservative Sir Robert Mackenzie. When a more liberal government was elected, TLM-P was out of office.

This period was one of more fluid party allegiances, and in 1867-68, TLM-P sided with church and women's groups in opposing a Contagious Diseases Act. Its passing meant that any woman in Queensland suspected of being a prostitute could be compulsory detained and medically examined.29)

4. 3 May 1870 to 8 November 1874: TLM-P was again Postmaster-General when the government reverted to a more conservative ministry headed by Sir Arthur Palmer.

It would take a specialised historian to properly assess TLM-P's success as Postmaster-General. We do know that during 1862-74, when TLM-P was predominantly the Postmaster-General, the service underwent a major expansion. For example: in 1862 the money order system was introduced,30) and from 1865, saving bank deposits could be made at Queensland post offices. The increase in staff is another indication of growth: in 1865, TLM-P had a postal staff of 28; by 1872 the staff totalled 50.31) TLM-P was responsible for the much-needed new General Post Office32) which opened in Brisbane in 1872. The number of post offices increased from 23 in 1862 to 139 ten years later.33) In the 1860s, TLM-P opened up new routes serviced by Cobb and Co coaches.34)

In the 1870s, travelling post offices were opened on trains, the post and telegraph departments were amalgamated, and telegraphic communication was extended to remote areas, such as Cape York and the Gulf country.35) Much of the expansion was the result of the rapid growth of the white population - in 1861 to 1864 alone, Queensland's population (largely excluding Aboriginal people) doubled from just over 30,059 to 61,467.36) How much TLM-P facilitated the expansion of postal services to meet the increasing demand is not known. However, as a representative of the squatters' faction, it was in his own strong interest to maintain efficient and widespread postal services. And he certainly was active: his 1863 diary indicates that, in under two months, he rode 1,017 miles (1,636 km) as well as travelling by coastal steamer in a tour of inspection of the postal service.

An admiring view of his achievements as Postmaster-General comes from his entry in Australia's Representative Men. It states he 'may be said to be the first to have initiated the through mail service' (presumably to the UK), and the confidence of the authorities in his abilities was seen in his selection to negotiate with Batavia (now Jakarta) regarding the postal service (though he was unable to travel there himself). It described TLM-P up as a 'safe representative of the people' due to his 'unswerving integrity and disinterested loyalty'.37)

TLM-P (bottom left) with subsequent Postmasters-General of Queensland.38)

TLM-P has written on the back that this photo is of the 'Telegraph Department, officials Chief Office[ers?] Brisbane 1870 [? the last digit is unclear].39)
Following Tom A. M-P's initiative, this plaque on the Brisbane GPO has recently been restored.

Other aspects of TLM-P's Political Career

By 31 July 1889, TLM-P had impressed his peers sufficiently to be appointed Chairman of Committees in the Legislative Council, a post he retained until his death. This elegant illuminated letter of condolence stressed his friendship with 'most' of his political colleagues, and his status as a Queensland pioneer.40)

Throughout his political career, TLM-P was active in defence of broad rural as well squatter interests: amongst other things he took charge of getting the Crown Lands Alienation Act of 186841) through the Legislative Council - ironically this act aimed to stop people selecting land in their relatives' names, something it is likely TLM-P did himself. He also consistently opposed the payment of members of parliament, effectively limiting parliamentarians to those who could afford to work voluntarily.42) His wife Nora was one of his political admirers, writing to her step-daughter Rosa that 'It does my heart good to see him in his right place - a recognised leader & clear headed man.'43) In a parliamentary debate on the Queensland Constitution Bill in October 1892, 'Mr Murray Prior said that the time would come when nominee Houses would cease to exist in Australia. He referred to the recent action of the New Zealand Government, and said as a nominee House the Council was at the mercy of the Government, and would be in a far stronger position if elected. When the bill was first introduced he thought they were to have self-government among the different provinces, and to have three provinces, but the present bill was very different. He thought the bill should go before the country, and after that be framed on a different basis, which would include three provinces. The [Legislative] Council would always neglect self interest for the for advancement of the colony as a whole'.44)

Reference: D. Waterson, A Biographical Register of the Queensland Parliament 1860-1929, Canberra: ANU Press, 1972, p.135.

TLM-P had a very public clash with one of the few women to have lucrative, responsible employment. For TLM-P, conservative views on women's roles and self-interest combined when he was offered the position of Postmaster-General, over the claims of Elise Barney, Brisbane Postmistress during 1855-65.45) Historian Desley Deacon has outlined how Elise Barney had taken over the lucrative position when her husband, the previous postmaster, died. Her son Whiston Barney became her assistant. When Queensland became a separate colony, Elise Barney automatically became the head of the new postal department, responsible only to the politician appointed Acting Postmaster-General. Her work was soon officially found to be 'in every respect satisfactory'. When the new Queensland Government decided to combine the Postmaster-General position with that of Postal Inspector and to make it a public service position, a 'long and bitter struggle' ensued between TLM-P and Elise Barney, supported by her son. It was not helped by TLM-P having to have his office in the building in which the Barneys had lived and worked for years. As well, combining the Postmaster-General position with that of Postal Inspector travelling throughout the colony, suggests a deliberative move to exclude Mrs Barney. Such inspections would be too dangerous, and seen as too arduous, for a woman travelling alone as did TLM-P. Whiston Barney resigned under pressure in mid-1863; in 1864 Mrs Barney was placed on leave after a clerk 'nominally' under her supervision embezzled funds. A Public Service Enquiry criticised both TLM-P and Elise Barney; a subsequent parliamentary Select Committee exonerated them. It appears that sympathy and blame remained equally proportioned between the two. Elise Barney was retired on a generous pension while TLM-P, as seen, was appointed to the Legislative Council when the Postmaster-General position again became a ministerial one.46)


1)
Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 1851, p.3.
2)
Moreton Bay Courier, 18 March 1851, p.1.
3)
John Pearn, 'The Queensland Acclimatisation Society', Queensland History Journal, February 2020, 24:4, pp.339-355.
4)
The Brisbane Courier, 9 May 1865, p.3 and 5 May 1874.
5)
Helen Gregory, 'Squatters, selectors and - dare I say it - speculators', Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, XI:4, 1983, p.87n.
6)
Queensland Club, Rules of the Queensland Club: with list of members, Brisbane: Watson, Ferguson & Co., 1891, SLNSW DSM/367/Q; Joshua Bell, Queensland Club 1859-1959, Brisbane: Queensland Club, 1959, pp.8,12,85,98,114.
7)
A. Morrison, 'Politics in early Queensland', Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4:3, p.294.
8)
A. Morrison, 'Politics in early Queensland', Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, 4:3, p.293.
9)
Helen Gregory, 'Squatters, selectors and - dare I say it - speculators', Journal of the Royal Historical Society of Queensland, XI:4, 1983, pp.74-87.
10)
Ross Fitzgerald, A History of Queensland: From the Dreaming to 1915, St Lucia: University of Queensland Press, 1986, p.113.
11)
Thanks to Don Seton Wilkinson, email to J. Godden, 13 August 2019, for pointing out this connection
12)
A. Morrison, 'Politics in Early Queensland', Historical Society of Queensland Journal, IV:3, p.297.
13)
The Moreton Bay Courier, 28 April 1860, p.3.
14)
Allan Morrison, 'Some Queensland Postmasters-General“, Brisbane, Post Office Historical Society, 1953, p4, copy J. Godden; Australia's Representative Men, [ed. T.W.H. Leavitt], Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. The book used is the one TLM-P owned, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889. It is likely that TLM-P provided the information. It states that TLM-P was offered a seat in the Legislative Council, but declined to twice unsuccessfully contest the East Moreton seat in the Legislative Assembly.]]
15)
Desley Deacon, Managing Gender: The State, the New Middle-Class and Women Workers 1830-1930, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989, p.238.
17)
Andrew Darbyshire, A Fair Slice of St Lucia. Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior, St Lucia History Group research paper no. 8, p.8n
18)
The Courier, 31 August 1861, p.2
19)
Sydney Morning Herald, 16 September 1861, p.5.
21)
Australia's Representative Men, [ed. T.W.H. Leavitt],Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. The book used is the one TLM-P owned, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889. It is likely that TLM-P provided the information. Note that the entry states he was instructed in Sydney for two weeks: a hand-written correction changes that to two months.]]
22)
Allan Morrison, 'Some Queensland Postmasters-General”, Brisbane, Post Office Historical Society, 1953, p.5, copy J. Godden
23)
Andrew Darbyshire, A Fair Slice of St Lucia. Thomas Lodge Murray-Prior, St Lucia History Group research paper no. 8, p.10n
25)
The Courier, 17 January 1863, p.6
26)
members of whom were then appointed by the Governor), the Legislative Council, which was dominated by conservative squatting interests. He remained a member until his death in 31 December 1892.((Qld parliament former members register
27)
Provenance: Jill Fleming
28)
Roderick, In Mortal Bondage, p.49; Australia's Representative Men, ed. T.W.H. Leavitt, Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. The book used is the one TLM-P owned, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889. It is likely that TLM-P provided the information.
29)
Eric Barclay, 'Queensland's Contagious Diseases Act, 1868 - The Act for the Encouragement of Vice and some attempts to repeal it', Part I, Queensland Heritage, 2:10, May 1974, p.28.
30)
Malcolm Rea, 'Communications across the generations: An Australian Post Office History of Queensland', The Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Year Book of Proceedings, IX:2, 1970-71, pp.168-226 (p190).
31)
Centenary of the Brisbane General Post Office, 1872-1972, Postmaster-General's Department, Brisbane, 1972, pp.8,11.
32)
Centenary of the Brisbane General Post Office, 1872-1972, Postmaster-General's Department, Brisbane, 1972, pp.7-8; Richard Breckon, An Australian Post Office History, c1972, p.40
33)
A Report on the Post Office in Queensland, A Sunday Truth Special Feature, 2 May 1965, p.25.
34)
Malcolm Rea, 'Communications across the generations: An Australian Post Office History of Queensland', The Royal Historical Society of Queensland. Year Book of Proceedings, IX:2, 1970-71, pp.168-226 (p183).
35)
The Australian Encyclopaedia, vol. VII, Sydney: The Grolier Society, 1963, p.241.
36)
Australian Historical Statistics, ed. Wray Vamplew, Sydney: Fairfax, Syme & Weldon Associates, 1987, p.26
37)
Australia's Representative Men, ed. T.W.H. Leavitt,Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. TLM-P owned a copy, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889. (Provenance: J. Godden). It is likely that TLM-P provided the information.
39)
Provenance: J. Godden
40)
Provenance: ?Glenn M-P?
42)
Australia's Representative Men, ed. T.W.H. Leavitt, Improved Edition, Melbourne: Wells and Leavitt, c.1889, entry for T.L. Murray-Prior. The book used is the one TLM-P owned, signed by him and dated 14th June 1889.(Provenance: J. Godden). It is likely that TLM-P provided the information.
43)
Nora M-P to Rosa Praed, 21 December 1884, Oxley Library
44)
Sydney Morning Herald, 27 October 1892, p.6.
46)
Desley Deacon, Managing Gender: The State, the New Middle-class and Women Workers 1830-1930, Melbourne: Oxford University Press, 1989, pp.31,33, 38-40, 238; Desley Deacon, 'Elise Barney' in 200 Australian Women (ed.) Heather Radi, Sydney: Women's Redress Press, 2007, pp.16-17.
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