Gatton Murders - Sir Robert Philp

Gatton Murders

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PREMIER OF QUEENSLAND 1899 – 1903; 1907 - 1908

Sir Robert PhilpFifteenth Premier, Sir Robert Philp (1851-1922), businessman and premier, was born on 28 December 1851 at Glasgow, Scotland, to John Philp, cotton miller and lime–kiln operator and Mary Ann, nee Wylie. He migrated to Queensland in 1862 with his family and continued his education in Brisbane. In 1863, Philp began working for a shipping agency. James Burns persuaded Philp to join his shipping and mercantile business in Townsville in 1874. After just two years, Philp was made a partner.

The firm, Burns, Philp & Company, became the heart of capitalism in north Queensland and prospered accordingly. Its varied operations included a shipping agency; vessels engaged in the Kanaka labour trade; and the founding of the North Queensland Insurance Co. Ltd and the Bank of North Queensland.

Strongly supportive of the north Queensland separation movement, Philp entered politics on 5 January 1886 by winning the seat of Musgrave, but transferred to the seat of Townsville on 12 May 1888 and held it until his defeat in 1915. In 1893, because of rising personal debts, Philp was obliged to sell his company shares and resign from Burns, Philp and Co. However, also in 1893, Premier McIlwraith appointed him a minister and he continued to hold portfolios until 1908 under Premiers’ Nelson, Byrnes and Dickson. These portfolios included mines, public works, public instruction, railways and the treasury. He was recognised as an able administrator responsible for codifying the mining regulations and efficiently reorganising the railways department.

On 7 December 1899, Philp became a reluctant Premier following the defeat of Dawson's short-lived Labor ministry. When confronted with a world economic downturn and the loss of duties to the Commonwealth, Philp raised revenue by introducing income taxes. Philp assisted Queensland’s primary industries, by founding the Agricultural Bank, establishing research stations and legislating for sugar mill guarantees. He also favoured the promotion of private railway concessions for mining companies, which were opposed by the Labor Party. To limit their blocking of the legislation, Philp introduced for the first time in the Queensland Parliament the 'guillotine', which effectively ends debate on an issue. In his early years, Philp was a strong supporter of northern separation but later promoted Federation for reasons of defence. After Federation, Philp vehemently protected Queensland’s interests clashing with the federal government over its abolition of the Kanaka trade.

On 17 September 1903, Philp resigned when his backbenchers crossed the floor over his plans to increase stamp duties. In 1907, Philp once again, reluctantly became Premier, but only lasted three months when his government was defeated at the general election, allowing Kidston to regain the premiership. Philp remained on the backbench until his defeat on 22 May 1915. In the same year, he received a KCMG. After leaving Parliament, Philp continue to marshal conservative forces against Labor Party reforms. He had mixed success in his endeavours which included attempting to prevent the Legislative Council’s abolition; encouraging conscription; limiting pastoral rent increases; securing the appointment of an English Governor; and thwarting Theodore's loan borrowing delegation to London.

A keen sportsman all his life, especially as boxer, athlete and cricketer, Philp was described as genial, easy-going and sociable; he liked to be part of a group. He was neither a natural leader nor a brilliant orator. His life was tinged by a gambling, speculative streak; otherwise he came to represent the archetypal conservative. In 1878, Philp had married Jessie Bannister Campbell and the union produced three sons and five daughters. After his wife's death following childbirth in 1890 he married on 20 April 1898, in Brisbane, Wilhelmina Fraser Munro, his late wife's cousin. An active Freemason and a Presbyterian, he was appointed K.C.M.G. in 1915. Having often suffered from malaria, Sir Robert died after an abdominal operation on 17 June 1922 in Holyrood Private Hospital, Brisbane, and was buried in Toowong cemetery. His wife and two sons and five daughters from his first marriage survived him. His estate, left almost entirely to his family, was valued for probate at £118,841.

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