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SIR ROWLAND HILL (1795-1879)

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Originally appearing in Volume V13, Page 466 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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SIR ROWLAND HILL (1795-1879), English administrator, author of the penny postal system, a younger brother of Matthew Davenport Hill, and third son of T. W. Hill, who named him after Rowland Hill the preacher, was born on the 3rd of December 1795 at Kidderminster. As a young child he had, on account of an affection of the spine, to maintain a recumbent position, and his principal method of relieving the irksomeness of his situation was to repeat figures aloud consecutively until he had reached very high totals. A similar bent of mind was manifested when he entered school in 18os, his aptitude for mathematics being quite exceptional. But he was indebted for the direction of his abilities in no small degree to the guidance of his father, a man of advanced political and social views, which were qualified and balanced by the strong practical tendency of his mind. At the age of twelve Rowland began to assist in teaching mathematics in his father's school at Hilltop, Birmingham, and latterly he had the chief management of the school. On his suggestion the establishment was removed in 1819 to Hazelwood, a more commodious building in the Hagley Road, in order to have the advantages of a large body of boys, for the purpose of properly carrying out an improved system of education. That system, which was devised principally by Rowland, was expounded in a pamphlet entitled Plans for the Government and Education of Boys in Large Numbers, the first edition of which appeared in 1822, and a second with additions in 1827. The principal feature of the system was " to leave as much as possible all power in the hands of the boys themselves "; and it was so successful that, in a circular issued six years after the experiment had been in operation; it was announced that " the head master had never once exercised his right of veto on their proceedings." It may be said that Rowland Hill, as an educationist, is entitled to a place side by side with Arnold of Rugby, and was equally successful with him in making moral influence of the highest kind the predominant power in school discipline. After his marriage in 1827 Hill removed to a new school at Bruce Castle, Tottenham, which he conducted until failing health compelled him to retire in 1833. About this time he became secretary of Gibbon Wakefield's scheme for colonizing South Australia, the objects of which he explained in 1832 in a pamphlet on Home Colonies, afterwards partly reprinted during the Irish famine tinder the title Home Colonies for Ireland. It was in 1835 that his zeal as an administrative reformer was. first directed to the postal system. The discovery which resulted from these investigations is when stated so easy of comprehension that there is great danger of losing sight of its originality and thoroughness. A fact which enhances its merit was that he was not a post-office official, and possessed no practical experience of the details of the old system. After a laborious collection of statistics he succeeded in demonstrating that the principal expense of letter carriage was in receiving and distributing, and that the cost of conveyance differed so little with the distance that a uniform rate of postage was in reality the fairest to all parties that could be adopted. Trusting also that the deficiency in the postal rate would be made up by the immense increase of correspondence, and by the saving which would be obtained from prepayment, from improved methods of keeping accounts, and from lessening the expense of distribution,, he in his famous pamphlet published in 1837 recommended that within the United Kingdom the rate for letters not exceeding half an ounce in weight should be only one penny. The employment of postage stamps is mentioned only as a suggestion, and in the following words: " Perhaps the difficulties might be obviated by using a bit of paper just large enough to bear the stamp, and covered at the back with a glutinous wash which by applying a little moisture might be attached to the back of the letter." Proposals so striking. and novel in regard to a subject in which every one had a personal interest commanded. immediate and general attention. So great became the pressure of public opinion against the opposition offered to the measure by official pre-possessions and prejudices that in 1838 the House of Commons appointed a committee to examine the subject. The committee having reported favourably; a bill to carry out Hill's recommendations was brought in by the government. The act received the royal assent in 1839, and after an intermediate rate of four-pence had been in operation from the 5th of December of that year, the penny rate commenced on the loth of January 184o, Hill received an appointment in the Treasury in order to super-intend the introduction of his reforms, but he was compelled to retire when . the Liberal government resigned office in 1841. In consideration of the loss he thus sustained, and to mark the public appreciation of his services, he was in 1846 presented with the sum of £13,360. On the Liberals returning to office in the same year he was appointed secretary to the postmaster-general and in 1854 he was made chief secretary. His ability as a practical administrator enabled him to supplement his original discovery by measures realizing its benefits in a degree commensurate with continually improving facilities of communication, and in a manner best combining cheapness with efficiency. In 186o his services were rewarded with the honour of knighthood; and when failing health compelled him to resign his office in 1864, he received from parliament a grant of £20,000 and was also allowed to retain his full salary of £20oo a year as retiring pension. In 1864 the university of Oxford conferred on him the degree of D.C.L., and on the 6th of June 1879 he was presented with the freedom of the city of London. The presentation, on account of his infirm health, took place at his residence at Hampstead, and he died on the 27th of August following. He was buried in Westminster Abbey. He wrote, in conjunction with his brother, Arthur Hill, a History of Penny Postage, published in 188o, with an introductory memoir by his nephew, G. Birkbeck Hill. See also Sir Rowland Hill, the Story of a Great Reform, told by his daughter (1907). To commemorate his memory the Rowland Hill Memorial and Benevolent Fund was founded shortly after his death for the purpose of relieving distressed persons connected with the post office who were outside the scope of the Superannuation Act. See also PosT AND POSTAL SERVICE.
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