Sir Rowland Hill

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Hill, Sir Rowland (1795–1879). Inventor of penny postage. Hill was born in Kidderminster, son of a schoolmaster and pioneer of shorthand. He took over his father's school and instituted a novel system of discipline, involving the boys as assessors. After 1828 he abandoned teaching, experimented with a number of inventions, and in 1835 became secretary to a commission to colonize south Australia. He then became interested in the postal service, which was so prohibitively expensive that the revenue of the Post Office was falling in a period of rapid population growth and commercial expansion. Hill suggested pre-payment, a standard delivery charge irrespective of distance, and the use of an adhesive stamp. A pamphlet of 1837 attracted attention and penny postage was adopted in 1839. Hill was put in charge but met with vast obstruction from within the Post Office and was dismissed in 1842. Reinstated by Russell in 1846, he held office until 1864. He was knighted in 1860 and Gladstone said of his reform that it had ‘run like wildfire through the civilized world’. Anthony Trollope, who worked at the Post Office with Hill, was less flattering: ‘a hard taskmaster who had little understanding of the ways of men … it was a pleasure for me to differ from him on all occasions.’

J. A. Cannon

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Sir Rowland Hill, 1795–1879, English educator, inventor, and postal reformer. He introduced the system of self-government in his school at Hazelwood in Birmingham. In his Plans for the Government and Education of Boys in Large Numbers (1822) he argued that moral influence of the highest kind should be the predominant power in school discipline. After his retirement from teaching (1833), Hill invented a rotary printing press and evolved a system of prepaid penny postage that was finally adopted in 1839. From 1854 to his retirement from public office in 1864 he was secretary to the Post Office. He was knighted in 1860.

See biographies by G. B. Hill (1880) and E. C. Smythe (1907).

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Hill, Sir Rowland (1795–1879) English administrator and postal reformer. Hill invented the nationwide ‘penny post’, adopting the first adhesive, pre-paid postage stamp.