HERBERT, Sir Robert George Wyndham (1831-1905)


HERBERT, Sir Robert George Wyndham (1831-1905)
first premier of Queensland, colonial official
was the only son of the Hon. Algernon Herbert, a younger son of the first Earl of Carnarvon. He was born on 12 June 1831 and was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford. He won a Balliol scholarship in 1849 and subsequently the Hertford and Ireland scholarships. He took a first class in classical moderations, won the Latin verse prize in 1852, and obtained second-class final honours in the classical school. He was elected fellow of All Souls in 1854 and was Eldon law scholar. In 1855 he was private secretary to W. E. Gladstone and was called to the bar of, the Inner Temple in 1858. When Queensland was formed into a separate colony Sir George Ferguson Bowen was appointed the first governor. He arrived at Brisbane on 10 December 1859 and brought Herbert with him as his private secretary. On the day of the governor's arrival Herbert was gazetted as colonial secretary with Ratcliffe Pring as attorney-general. These with the governor formed an executive council to which additions were made afterwards. At the election held early in 1860 Herbert was returned unopposed for one of the Leichhardt seats in the legislative assembly and became the first premier of Queensland. He showed himself to be a good leader and held office from December 1859 to February 1866. Four land acts were passed, and the education question was also the subject of early measures. The governor, in writing to the secretary of state, stated that the Queensland parliament "had passed a greater number of really useful measures than any other parliament in any of the Australian colonies". Certainly the first Queensland government was in marked contrast to those of the other colonies, each of which averaged half a dozen ministries in the same period. Herbert, however, fell into some disfavour when financial difficulties arose. He resigned in February 1866 and was succeeded by A. Macalister (q.v.) who was premier until 20 July 1866. Herbert was anxious to return to England on account of private business, but at the request of the governor formed a ministry which lasted less than three weeks and was merged in the second Macalister ministry. Herbert then left for England, having gained much experience which was to be very useful to him in later years.
A few months after Herbert's arrival in England he was appointed assistant-secretary to the board of trade, in 1870 was made assistant under-secretary for the colonies, and in 1871 became permanent under-secretary for the colonies. He held this position for 21 years with great distinction. His attitude was generally conciliatory and he was tactful in dealing with men who came in contact with him. He left the colonial office in 1892, but afterwards took up his duties again for a few months at the special request of Joseph Chamberlain. In 1893-6 he was agent-general for Tasmania, and did active work in connexion with the formation of the British Empire League. In December 1903 he was chairman of the tariff commission. He died in England On 6 May 1905. He was unmarried. In 1882 he was created K.C.B. and in 1892 G.C.B. In the same year he was appointed chancellor of the Order of St Michael and St George.
Herbert was a young man of 28 when he was appointed premier, and a tradition appears to have grown up that he was something of a pedant and rather conscious of his own importance. He was of course quite without experience but had qualities as a leader which held his team together. His term of office was long a record in Queensland politics. He was not a great speaker, but he had the common sense to realize what could and could not be done in a community with a population of about 25,000, and he laid foundations on which other men have been able to build.
Burke's Peerage, 1905; The Times, 8 May 1905; Our First Half-Century; A Review of Queensland Progress; C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years; Sir G. F. Bowen, Thirty Years of Colonial Government; P. Mennell, The Dictionary of Australasian Biography.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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