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The man who gave his name to Sydney, Australia

It’s a long way from East Anglia, to Sydney, New South Wales, but Thomas Townshend, who was born in Raynham, Norfolk, in 1733, and who became Viscount Sydney in 1789, was the Home Secretary who gave his name to the growing coastal community which later became Sydney Town.

Here we have his bookplate, probably printed soon after his elevation to the Upper House. It depicts a coronet over a shield that features the scallop shell symbols of his branch of the Townshend family. The son of a minor aristocrat, Townshend   attended Clare College, Cambridge and in 1754, not long after graduating, entered the Commons as Whig member for Whitchurch at the age of just 21.He subsequently held offices in various ministries until Shelburne appointed him Home Secretary in 1782. Not long afterwards he was elevated to the Upper House as Baron Sydney and under Pitt the Younger continued as Home Secretary until 1789. In office he declared his intention of reforming convicted felons by sending them to make a fresh start in New Holland, as Australia was then known. His policy proved so successful in New South Wales that the Governor, Arthur Phillips named the tiny community of Sydney Cove after him. Subsequent Australian historians, however, have been less enthusiastic about Sydney’s role in Britain’s transportation policy.

After leaving office in 1789 Sydney, now Viscount Sydney, retired to his country pile, Frognal House, near Sidcup in Kent, where he died in 1800. As the bookplate came from the estate of a descendant of the poet and essayist Austin Dobson, who was a great enthusiast of the Georgian period, it is very possible that it once formed part of his personal collection.

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