This stampless ‘On Her Majesty’s Service’ cover was addressed to Messrs. H.J. Cooper & Co. Ltd., 22 Thavies Inn, Holborn Circus, London E.C. England. The duplex MELBOURNE/ 13 K/ AU 14/ 94 with ‘VICTORIA’ obliterator partially obscures a black copy of the MINISTER OF WATER SUPPLY/ FRANK/ STAMP/ VICTORIA. At lower left is a pink-purple oval ‘ V. W. S./ ms 13/8/94/ RIVER GAUGING & WATER BORING’, handstamp [V.W.S. = Victorian Water Supply] . The reverse was not seen but it had a red arrival cancellation of London Sep 15 1894 (Figures 1-3).
The earliest known date for this frank stamp is in 1891 and is available in black, violet, red and blue. The printed frank is also on a postcard. The vendor stated that it had a ‘RRR’ rarity rating and although official sendings to foreign destinations were exempt from the Frank Stamp privilege, this envelope escaped without additional stamps applied.
James Hiers McColl (1844-1929) was the Minister of Mines and Minister of Water Supply in Victoria from the 23 January 1893 until 27 September 1894. He was a member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly from 1886 until 1901. He held additional Victorian political positions of President of Land & Works, Commissioner Crown Lands & Survey and Minister of Forests from 1899-1900. At Federation of Australia in 1901 he became a Member of the House of Representatives from 1901-1906 and a Senator from Victoria from 1907-1914. A picture of James Hiers McColl is seen in Figure 4.
I found that the addressee in London was an unlikely company with which the Ministry of Water Supply had official business, for H.J. Cooper Co. Ltd. of Thavies Inn, Holborn Circus, London was a company of silversmiths, known for silver plating, silver thimbles, tea strainers and Edwardian silver frames made for photos and paintings. This company and its unusual address (the Thavies Inn refers to a Chancery Inn for the legal profession) has been identified by the markings ‘H J C’, shown in four different variations, in Figure 5.
There is no certainty who sent the letter from the Water Supply, Melbourne to the London Company, but Ettore Checchi was a real possibility. He was an engineer born on 11 July 1853 at Pisa, Italy, twelfth child of Leopold Checchi and wife Carlotta. After obtaining a degree in civil engineering in Florence he decided to migrate with to friends; after going to Wellington, New Zealand, they arrived in Melbourne on 27 September 1876 in the Alhambra. On 31 October Checchi was appointed a draftsman in the Department of Lands and Survey. On 14 January 1882 he became engineering draftsman in the Public Works Department, working on harbours, jetties and coast works; by 1887 he was assistant engineer at a salary of £265. Next year he was transferred to the Department of Water Supply to supervise water-trusts and minor works. By 1889 he was in charge of river-gaugings and measurements of water, and also supervised water-boring operations.
Checchi's early hydrographic work attracted world-wide attention for his organization of systematic river-gaugings throughout Victoria under the direction of Stuart Murray, and it laid the foundation of a scientific water-conservation policy in Victoria. During an arduous six years from 1894 as engineer-in-charge of river-gaugings, irrigation-trusts and the extensive water-supply systems, he took only one day's leave a year. In 1906 he was transferred to the newly constituted State Rivers and Water Supply Commission.
Checchi's greatest contribution to Australian water resources development was the supply of most of the technical data required in connection with harnessing the River Murray. This data formed the basis for the recommendations in the report of the Interstate Conference of Engineers in July 1913, which were embodied in the River Murray agreement of 1915 between the three neighbouring States and the Commonwealth.
Checchi was highly qualified to advise on the contentious matter of the construction of reservoirs and weirs on the Murray and the distribution of its waters between Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. As chief engineering officer, he was responsible for hydrographic examinations and investigations for storage sites along the Upper Murray, including the site of the future Hume Reservoir. He was also closely associated with investigations for many other major water-conservation projects, including the first Eildon Dam. He died in Hampton Victoria on 10 July 1946.
The information on Ettore Checchi was abstracted from the Australian Dictionary of Australia.