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Gunter, Howel (1844–1902)

by Donald H. Johnson

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

Howel Gunter (1844-1902), regular soldier, was born on 9 May 1844 at Fulham, Middlesex, England, son of John Gunter, gentleman, and his wife Lucy Jane, née Picard. He was commissioned from the Royal Military College, Sandhurst, into the 73rd Regiment of Foot on 8 July 1862 as an ensign, without purchase, and on 23 June 1865 purchased promotion to lieutenant. After service in China in 1866-68 the regiment was transferred to the Straits Settlement in December 1868 and to Ceylon in March 1869. Gunter served as adjutant in 1866-67 and 1870-74. On 2 February 1871, at Christ Church Cathedral, Colombo, he married a widow, Mary Alice Sinclair MacLagan, née Wall. They had four sons.

After six months home leave in 1873 Gunter returned to India and on 7 July 1874 was promoted captain, without purchase. He qualified at the Garrison School of Instruction, Umballa, in 1876, with distinguished results in fortifications, military law and tactics and became a specialist in these fields, lecturing as assistant garrison instructor at Sialkot in 1876-78 and garrison instructor at Agra in 1878-85. After the Cardwell reforms the 73rd Regiment had become the 2nd Battalion, the Black Watch, Royal Highlanders. Gunter was promoted major in this unit on 10 July 1881, remained in India until 1885 and served in England for the next six years. Although appointed to command the Black Watch in January 1891 with the rank of lieutenant-colonel, he exchanged to command the Norfolk Regiment next November. He landed in Burma with the Norfolks in December 1891, took the regiment to India in 1893 and relinquished command on 19 August 1894; he then went on half-pay in the British Army.

Gunter was rescued from the limbo of half-pay curry colonels by the Queensland government. That colony had maintained local volunteer and militia forces almost since its inception and until 1884 the Queensland Defence Force had been commanded by local officers. That year, an Imperial officer, Colonel (Sir) George French took command and was succeeded by Major General John Fletcher Owen. Gunter became commandant in April 1895 with the local rank of major general. At least one contemporary source suggests that he was not quite the success his predecessors had been. In A Journalist's Memories (Brisbane, 1927), Major General R. Spencer Browne alleges that he 'did not quite catch the Australian spirit' and that the Queensland government accepted him on the misunderstanding that it was getting a 'writer on Tactics of the same surname and didn't discover the mistake until it was too late to remedy it'. Spencer Browne acknowledged that the story was 'rather apocryphal'. Gunter was an expert in fortifications and, since a large proportion of Queensland's defence vote in the 1890s went towards the maintenance of a garrison on Thursday Island, it is reasonable to assume that he was appointed because of his qualifications.

Gunter had a comparatively tranquil tour of command, being largely occupied with intercolonial conferences concerning the amalgamation of the colonies' forces in a Commonwealth army. In July 1899, on Gunter's recommendation, Queensland was the first colony to offer troops for service in South Africa. On 22 September he attended a meeting of Australian commandants in Melbourne to organize an Australian contingent. He left for England on leave in December and was placed on the unattached list, British Army, next April. He was colonel commanding the 63rd Regimental District, Ashton-under-Lyne, when he died of cardiac disease at Kensington, London, on 2 August 1902. A Times obituary paid tribute to his work in Queensland. He had done 'good service in the practical training in camp of the colonial troops. He was a strong advocate of thorough company training, and the good service done by the Queensland contingent in the late war in South Africa bore testimony to his efforts'. He was also 'much esteemed for his amiable disposition'.

Select Bibliography

  • D. H. Johnson, Volunteers at Heart (Brisb, 1974)
  • British Australasian, 14 Mar, 4 July 1895
  • Times (London), 9 Aug 1902
  • Gunter papers, BP 133, series 1 (National Archives of Australia)
  • service record, H. Gunter, WO 76/383 (National Archives of the United Kingdom).

Citation details

Donald H. Johnson, 'Gunter, Howel (1844–1902)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1983, accessed online 20 March 2019.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 9, (MUP), 1983

View the front pages for Volume 9

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