The Times/1913/Obituary/Robert Hunter
Sir Robert Hunter
We have much regret to announce the death yesterday evening at his residence, Meadfields, Haslemere, of Sir Robert Hunter, who was for 30 years Solicitor to the Post Office. He had recently retired from that position, and was engaged last week in handing over his duties to his successor. He had remained at his official post to enable the authorities of the Post Office to deal effectively with the complexities of the Marconi contract, and it is natural to fear that arduous and anxious toil which marked the close of his service at St. Martin's-le-Grand hastened his end.
Sir Robert Hunter was born October 27, 1844. After graduating M.A. At London University he was appointed in 1882 Solicitor to the Post Office through Fawcett, who had already had an opportunity of judging his capacity as a lawyer in business concerned with the Commons Preservation Society. Sir Robert Hunter proved himself to be a diligent and laborious departmental chief. His record may best be traced in the annual statements of successive Postmasters-General. The Marconi contract was the last of many problems. There has been no great change in postal administration during the past 30 years in which Sir Robert Hunter did not take part. He sat on practically all the principal Departmental Committees during his term of office, and naturally took part in many cases of litigation and arbitration. Most of the important contracts for the carriage of mails, whether by sea or rail were renewed under altered conditions during his time. He drafted the new agreements and settled them with the Secretary and the contractors. Again, throughout the whole of his time many negotiations and agreements with the telephone companies were under discussion, and he was solely responsible for them on the legal side. He believe d that it was in the interests of the Department that such documents should be drawn and carried through entirely within the Post Office. He made it is rule to form his own conclusions and to give his own advice instead of relying on opinions obtained from outside, and he believed that the Department profited by this policy in saving of time, in homogeneity and suitability of advice, and in the better training of his own assistants. The whole of the Post Office regulations, again were drafted by Sir Robert Hunter, some of them two or three times to meet alterations. He spent much time and trouble on the details of the Post Office Savings Bank, the practice which he greatly simplified and assisted.
But Sir Robert Hunter was not only a faithful servant of the State, within the limits of his professional responsibility, but, in the larger sense, an eminent servant of the people. Few of those who enjoy the great stretches of common land through England are conscious of the debt they owe to the group of able men whose action 40 years ago saved them for the nation. In 1867 Sir Henry Peek, being much interested in resisting the enclosure of Wimbledon Common, offered some prizes for essays on “Commons Preservation.” Among the successful competitors was Robert Hunter. Out of the concerted opposition to the claim of lords of the manor to enclose grew the Commons Preservation Society, a body to which England owes the existence of most of its great open tracts of natural beauty; and to this society Hunter was in 1868 appointed solicitor. Most of those with whom he was associated in those early days have passed away, but Lord Eversley and Mr. James Bryce remain to mourn the loss of a friend and colleague . The work that was to be done can hardly be described as the vindication of a public right, for in strictness no public right existed. To secure the commons for the enjoyment of the public it proved in practice sufficient to show that they were not the exclusive possession of the lord of the manor. To do this is a delicate acquaintance with the details of manorial law and custom in the remote past was essential, and Hunter was one of those experts who made this department of learning their familiar field. But it was not enough to prevent enclosure. If the spaces were to serve the public good, negotiations were necessary to obtain the surrender of the indisputable rights of the lord of the manor; funds had to be obtained for the payment of the price; arrangements had to be made for the rule and governance of the people's new domain. Above all, Acts of Parliament had to be got, sometimes for particular cases, but later on for facilitating generally the process of acquisition and regulation. It is no small part of the praise due to the Commons Preservation Society that at present opinion in and out of Parliament is all on the side of open spaces. But when the doctrine was first preached the atmosphere of St. Stephen's was heavy or hostile. Those who wish to inform themselves of the part played by Hunter in this heroic effort to make and guide a sound public opinion will find them recorded in the chapters devoted by Lord Eversley in “Commons, Forests, and Footpaths” to the history of Hampstead Heath, Wimbledon and Wandsworth Commons, Epping Forest, Dartford Heath, Banstead Common, and the New Forest.
Through all his Post Office work Sir Robert Hunter never allowed his interest in the old work to slacken. His concern with the Commons Preservation Society, and especially its Kent and Surrey Committee, was continuous and active. No one ever appealed to him in vain for advice in a local difficulty. To the defensive and regulative functions of the older association he added, in close cooperation with Canon Rawnsley and Miss Octavia Hill, the more gracious activity of the National Trust. His later years were spent at Haslemere amid the beauties which he had done so much to save. Wimbledon—the first scene of his labours—may claim to have had perhaps the latest benediction. Last spring he visited the new open spaces in Kingston Vale, and was delighted with the progress so far made. In politics Sir Robert was a robust thoughtful Liberal of the older type. As a speaker he was admirably clear and direct, articulate but not rhetorical, relying far more on the persuasive forced of exact statement than an appeals to emotion.
He was married first to Emily daughter of Mr. J. G. Browning, who died in 1872, and secondly to Ellen, daughter of Mr. S. Cann. Of his three daughters, Miss Dorothy Hunter is well known as a lecturer on Free Trade and political subjects. In 1911 he was made a K.C.B.