This insignificant looking small cover with the red-brown 2½d Victoria stamp postmarked MELBOURNE/ FE 9/ 03, was sent to Mr. S. Halstaff Coles, 22 Ossinge Villas, North Sherwood Street, Nottingham, England (Figure 1).
In spite of the uncommon middle name and multiple ‘hits’ on the internet he was remarkably difficult to research, in regards to country of origin (England or United States), dates of birth and death, his earliest history in Australia, the exact date of and reason for his departure to England.
The first mention of a Samuel Coles in Australia was December 31 1856 when as a single man he disembarked in Adelaide from the Nimroud, which had left Liverpool on 16 September of that year.
However future information probably ruled out this man as the addressee on the cover, for we are first introduced to S.H. Coles, (always by his initials or by his middle name, and rarely by his first name) when "in October 1855 in the office of Bro. Picton, in the town of Prahran, Victoria, a tall young man of intellectual appearance, a stranger who was not tardy in letting his fellow clerks know that he was a Christian and that his religious convictions were strong." Bro. Picton "admired his zeal and courage and thought what an admirable advocate he would make for the primitive gospel (of the Church of Christ)."
The two men got on famously, their discussions often being a religious battle of the minds. Bro. Picton agreed to Coles’ idea to hire a room for the promulgation of their faith and for placement of small posters, giving a list of subjects on "Primitive Christianity", which announced the opening of a room for the Sunday preaching services. The audience was anything but encouraging, numbering not more than twelve. "The Congregational minister just peeped in - no doubt to see what sort of audience they had. The religious fold of Prahran looked upon it as a piece of presumption and impudence for two young men to set themselves up against the denominations and their learned ministers, so the meetings were poorly attended."
Some time in the 1850's Coles married Eliza Rose Black in Melbourne (and only then did we learn his first name), and Sister Coles was the first person that was baptised by the chuurch, and this was administered in the Baptist Chapel, in the presence of a large congregation of their Baptist friends. On another occasion the brethren were all in expectancy of a good meeting, for Coles had prepared a notice stating that he had prepared a sermon for the Sunday evening, one sure to excite curiosity, and the audience consisted only of several policemen, in uniform. On another occasion, the audience was two stray goats, that had wandered in.
Attendance gradually improved, the brethren moved several times to larger premises and the hall was filled on 20 March, 1859, and the work was now very prosperous. There were many additions to their congregants by immersion and several by letters. Bro. Coles began to evangelise in other Victorian centres, Collingwood, Brighton, Doncaster, Bulleen and Beaumaris in the 1860's. In March 1870, Bro. Coles received a second invitation from the Church in Sydney "to labour with them as an evangelist, which he accepted, and on April 13 he with his wife and family left Brighton for Newtown, Sydney."
"During part of that time his labour was divided between the churches of Newtown and Sydney under the direction of the Evangelist Committee. Under his supervision a needed work was done in the matter of church discipline, and several unfaithful brethren were withdrawn from (the Church). In looking over the minutes of this period we were struck with the numbers that fell from drink."
Bro. Coles returned to his native England (learnt late in the research that England was the land of his birth) early in 1872, and he was replaced by Bro. Wright who only stayed for six months and then removed to Queensland. The church remained without a full-time evangelist for nearly two years. We know from the cover that in England he lived at Nottingham which had at least two Church of Christ congregations in the early 1900's, but research was unable to find Samuel Hallstaff Coles’ name, associated with either congregation.
Addendum (November 2010): I received an email from Hazel and she has found a wedding certificate dated 29 April 1897 and the involved minister was. S. Halstaff Coles of the Christians Meeting House, North Sherwood Street, in Nottingham, so that solves my problem of finding Rev. S. Halstaff Coles (Figure 2).
I had found additional information on Rev. Coles some years ago and apparently I had failed to enter it. Two additional covers, earlier than that sent to Coles in England in 1903 have been found, the first was sent from Ipswich to Victoria addressed to Saml Halstaff Coles, care of Messrs Klingender & Cos, Melbourne, Victoria. The cover has a perforate green 6d Chalon tied by partial Rays ‘87' of Ipswich, and the reverse (not seen) is back-stamped Ipswich, Brisbane and Melbourne, showing that the cover was posted 1 April 1862. The front has a manuscript ‘Ansd June 11th 1862 (Figure 3).
The second cover is significant in that the very faintly addressed cover was sent to S.H. Coles, Evangelist, Sydney with a 6d blue Victoria ‘Laureate’ stamp and the postmark at Sydney is dated MY 2 /1870. In spite of the boxed NOT KNOWN BY THE/LETTER CARRIERS, there is a manuscript ‘Ansd May 14, 1870. The reverse (not seen) has an unframed Brighton/ AP 28/70/ Victoria, Sydney and a Melbourne back-stamps (Figure 4).
A picture of the Rev. S. Halstaff Coles, seated at left, is seen with his son, grandson and great- grandson, John Coles, are seen in Figure 5.
In the following advertisement S.H. Coles is described as an Evangelist from Melbourne and Sydney in a series of 3 Lord's Day Evenings