Why was our town named after a British man who never set foot in Australia, and a man who, according to many of the official and authoritative published accounts of the time, was intellectually feeble and of unattractive and dull disposition?
During research for the 150th anniversary of Cardwell’s settlement, we believe we uncovered the fascinating story that lies behind some of these highly questionable and obviously unfair portrayals of Viscount Edward Cardwell. A calm and quiet man by all accounts, but apparently also serenely fearless and clearly a non-conformist, Edward Cardwell overturned aristocratic tradition and privilege as Britain’s War Minister in the mid 19th century.
He abolished the system of purchase in the Army’s commissioned ranks, by which wealthy and privileged men bought and sold their rank and promotion as military officers. Cardwell’s changes required that promotion within the British Army’s commissioned ranks be based instead on merit, founding traditions which endure today.
He introduced six year terms of service for military men, and began the system of pensions for long term service. For the first time he established a genuinely professional British Army, but how he achieved this is equally as fascinating and far from fully documented.
His Army Regulation Bill of 1871 rocked the British establishment, was bitterly opposed by the Duke of Norfolk who was Commander-in-Chief of the Army, and was thrown out of parliament by the House of Lords in London. Yet, against this immense and powerful opposition, Edward Cardwell as Britain’s War Minister, persuaded Queen Victoria to use her royal warrant to sign his bill into law.
Edward Cardwell, later elevated to the House of Lords himself, was War Minister for six years from December 1868, which reminds us that his landmark military reforms and achievements came after Queensland’s Governor, George Bowen, named our township in honour of Viscount Edward Cardwell in 1864. And these military reforms, whose far-reaching legacies continue today, were only some of the influential achievements of Edward Cardwell which, in turn, suggest that Governor Bowen was perhaps a man of some foresight himself.
We grew to like Edward Cardwell during our research for this exhibition, and if you visit Cardwell and wish to know more, you can watch our video presentation at the J. C. Hubinger Museum at Cardwell’s Visitor and Heritage Centre.
Meanwhile, we wonder if the poverty of acclamation for Lord Cardwell’s 19th century landmark achievements, as implied in the formal records of the time, is a reflection of the unwelcome impact his changes had on the exclusive privileges of powerful and important Britons of that era!