PHILP, Sir Robert (1851-1922)

PHILP, Sir Robert (1851-1922)
premier of Queensland
was born at Glasgow on 28 December 1851, the second son of John Philp and his wife, Mary Ann Wiley. His father was the proprietor of a lime kiln at Glasgow. Robert Philp was educated at the Anderston Presbyterian Church School, and in 1862 his father emigrated with his family to Queensland, arriving at Brisbane on 6 August. The boy was sent to the national school and in November 1863 entered the service of Bright Brothers, afterwards Gibbs Bright and Company. He remained with them for 11 years and was then employed by James Burns (q.v.). In January 1875 he was sent to Townsville, then a very small place. While there he took part in the development of the mining industry in Queensland, but his main interest lay in the building up of the business in which he became a partner under the well-known name of Burns Philp and Company. As agents dealing with the wool, wood and gold from the inland country the business became very prosperous, and gradually got together a large fleet of steamers. The management at Sydney was in the hands of James Burns, while Philp was in control at Townsville. He became a member of the town council, in December 1885 was asked to become a candidate for the newly-formed electorate of Musgrave, was duly elected early in 1886, and shortly afterwards removed to Brisbane. As a representative of a North Queensland electorate he made his first speech in favour of the forming of a new colony there. In October 1893 he reached cabinet rank as secretary for mines in the H. M. Nelson (q.v.) ministry, and in April 1898 he became treasurer and secretary for mines in the T. J. Byrnes (q.v.) ministry. When Byrnes died in September 1898, Philp was given the same positions in the succeeding J. R. Dickson (q.v.) ministry. This was defeated on 1 December 1899, but the Labour ministry which took its place lasted less than a week. Philp had been elected leader of the opposition, and on 7 December formed a ministry, taking the portfolios of premier, treasurer, and secretary for mines. He showed himself to be an excellent administrator and won the respect of both sides of the house. The 1900 session produced no fewer than 34 acts of parliament including several railway acts, a factories and shops act, and others dealing with the amendment of the land laws. In 1901 Philp paid a visit to South Africa during the recess to see his son who had contracted enteric fever while with the Australian forces. On his return he had to face the difficulties arising from a four years drought, during which the sheep in the state were reduced from 21,000,000 to 7,000,000. Various ameliorative measures were passed by the government to assist the graziers, but though an improvement in the mining industry helped matters to some extent, nothing could stop the heavy falling off in revenue and consequent deficits. The coming of federation, of which Philp had been a consistent advocate, was not at first helpful to Queensland, and Philp had many difficulties to contend with. He pursued a policy of economical and careful administration and in an endeavour to balance the budget brought in an income tax, the first direct taxation to be imposed in Queensland. On 8 September 1903, being deserted by some of his supporters, he was able to carry a bill to amend the stamp act by only two votes, and the government resigned. He was in opposition until November 1907 when he was asked to form a new ministry on the defeat of W. Kidston (q.v.). But the Labour party held the balance of power and Philp was almost at once defeated. A few months later, after an election, a coalition was made between the Philp and Kidston parties, but Philp declined to accept office. Practically the effect was that his party was amalgamated with Kidston's but he felt that a three party system was unworkable, and henceforth worked loyally for Kidston as a private member and was never in office again. In August 1912 a Philp scholarship was founded at the newly formed university of Queensland by public subscription as a permanent memorial of the work Philp had done for Queensland. In the same year he visited Europe and while in Edinburgh his portrait, now in the national gallery at Brisbane, was painted by Sir James Guthrie. After his return to Queensland Philp took up his duties as a private member again and in January 1915 was made a K.C.M.G. In the following May the Labour party was successful at the general election and Philp was defeated by something under 200 votes. He had represented his electorate for 27 years. He devoted himself to business pursuits, but in 1920 formed one of a delegation sent to England asking for the appointment of a governor of Queensland. Shortly after the arrival of the delegation Sir Michael Nathan was appointed to the position. This was Philp's last act of public service and he died following an operation on 17 June 1922. He had married (1) Miss Campbell, (2) Miss Munro, who survived him with his two sons and five daughters.
Philp was modest, shrewd and amiable. He was a successful business man, and as a politician was always thinking first of his country. He did excellent work in the development of Queensland.
Harry C. Perry, Memoirs of the Hon. Sir Robert Philp, K.C.M.G.; The Brisbane Courier, 19 June 1922; C. A. Bernays, Queensland Politics During Sixty Years.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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