Secrets of the Duke’s private secretary

By metal detecting, I uncovered an embarrassing secret of one of the best-known identities of the Queensland legal system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. I told a version of this story on West Bremer Radio.

Charles Barrington Philpott was born in 1858 in Epsom in Surrey, England, the son of the village vicar. He was a graduate of Oxford University, and before coming to Australia, he was the private secretary to the Duke of Buckingham.

Duke of Buckingham

Philpott led numerous world tours with sons of the nobility while putting the finishing touches on their education. His great-grandfather was the founder of Tattersalls which is the famous racehorse auctioneer in the UK, and after which the various Tattersalls clubs, hotels and lotteries are named. His wife was the granddaughter and great-granddaughter of two Lord Mayors of London the latter being Sir Matthew Wood, first Baronet.

From 1893 for over twenty years Philpott was the associate of the chief justice of Queensland, Sir Pope Alexander Cooper. The associate is the personal aide to the Judge in and out of court, with duties including taking of verdicts in criminal trials.

That means Philpott was centre stage of many of the high-profile cases of the era.

Sir Pope Alexander Cooper

Philpott was with Justice Cooper when he denied the appeal of Australia’s last bushrangers the Kenniff brothers in 1902. And again in 1905 when Justice Cooper commuted the death sentence of the last woman convicted to death in Queensland.

It was Philpott who in 1912 at the Ipswich courthouse took the guilty verdict from the jury in the trial of a man charged with murdering a girl near Forest Hill. Justice Cooper then sentenced the man to death.

Philpott died unexpectedly in 1927 aged sixty-nine by which time he was the oldest and one of the most respected judges associates in Australia.

He lived in Southport for the last twenty years of his life, and so I went to the house site and metal detected there to see what I could find. The house was called ‘Ingestre’ after a village in Staffordshire. I only use metal detectors by the Australian company Minelab, and I found a handful of pennies and half pennies from as far back as 1905 which had been lost when Philpott was there. I also found a pair of silver rings that almost certainly belonged to his wife.

I also dug up a number of things that weren’t made of metal at all. There was Staffordshire porcelain plates and various glass bottles and stoppers. They were all from the early 1900s through to the 1920s when Philpott was alive. His wife and then his daughter lived there for another fifty years, but the bottles were all from when he was around. (Some of the finds are in the picture at the top of the page.)

Philpott’s daughter Miss Constance Rosamond Tattersall Philpott

And that’s where it gets interesting. You see, there were a number of bottles of what’s called ‘Califig’. This was a cure-all made by the California Fig Syrup Company of San Francisco in the US. It was very popular early in the century, and one of its major benefits was its potent effect as a laxative.

So while Charles Philpott was one of the best-known identities in Queensland legal circles, the most respected judge’s associate in Australia, and taking guilty verdicts that led to death sentences, no one knew his secret about suffering from severe constipation. That is until I discovered his long-lost Califig bottles.


Photo credits:
Ingestre discoveries – Harold Peacock
3rd Duke of Buckingham and Chandos – by Carlo Pellegrini Vanity Fair 29 May 1875
Sir Pope Alexander Cooper – National Library of Australia
Miss Constance Rosamond Tattersall Philpott – Brisbane Courier, 24th March 1928, page 26

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