FIFTY TWO YEARS of E.P. CAPPER & SONS, MAITLAND, N.S.W.
Two covers 52 years apart were seen on two different philatelic auction sites which were addressed to two members of a noted Maitland, N.S.W. family and their store. The first entire was addressed simply to ‘E.P. Capper Esquire, West Maitland’ and it was franked with the 1d N.S.W. dull carmine Plate II Sydney Views and the 1d carmine Laureate stamps, both postmarked with the bar cancels of Sydney (Figure 1).
There were several postmarks on the reverse, a prominent SYDNEY/ [crown]/ AP*10/ 1852, a red boxed handstamp COOKS RIVER, and a faint MAITLAND/ AP 17?/ 52 / NEW SOUTH WALES. The cover’s provenance was stated by the vendor as Ex Needham, Dale-Lichtenstein & “Manwood” and it had a BPA certificate (1990) with an estimate of AUD 2500 (Figure 2).
The second cover did not have a distinguished pedigree but had a Tasmania 1d red and two copies of the 2d purple Pictorials, postmarked HOBART/ H/ MR 3/ 1902 with no evidence of TASMANIA at the base. The cover was registered with a large R in an oval and a registration number ‘266', as well as the red crayon cross hatching. The reverse was not seen. It was addressed to Mr. E.E. Capper, C/o Capper & Sons, Maitland, New South Wales (Figure 3).
A website devoted to Maitland tenants in 1889 showed 2 addresses for E.P. Capper, 6 for E.P. Capper & Sons, and another 7 for others with the same family name. The remaining information on the internet was quite meagre, but showed that the church-minded Mr. E.P. Capper of West Maitland was a charitable man: he gave £1,000 ‘in memory of children gone before’ and ‘with kindly thoughtfulness for the scanty purses of the Clergy, has given a further sum of £1,000, the interest of which is to give a Holiday to Clergy’. I wanted to know more of this man!
I emailed the Maitland City Library and was rewarded with several photocopies of newspaper clippings largely related to Mr. Edward Peter Capper’s obituaries, but also a copy of 3 pages from John Turner’s book ‘The rise of High Street, Maitland. A Pictorial History’ published in 1988 as part of The Australian Bicentenary 1788-1988. On page 37, there was a caption ‘Cappers had just about everything’, and it continued: “Sydney had Anthony Horderns and Maitland had Edward Capper and just as Antony Horderns became a household name in the capital, so did Edward Capper in the capital of the Hunter (District)”.
“Trained in the family business in Birmingham, (England) as a hardware merchant, Capper gained experience in Germany and in South America before migrating with his wife and their son to New South Wales in 1832. He had some difficulty in establishing a business in Sydney and as early as 1834 he had contemplated a move to Maitland.. Another eight years were to pass before this eventuated.....at Cappers you could buy every kind of farm equipment such as wagons, drays, sulkies, axles...mowing machines, seed sowers, hay presses, butter churns....as well as a wide range of tools....rocking chairs from the United States, four poster iron beds from Italy, marble-top wash stands...English locks made of wood...door furniture made of porcelain, Royal Doulton tableware...coffins, muzzle-loading guns and gunpowder.”
The Cappers “prospered mightily, branching out into property and financing but the large store in High Street was the foundation of their empire. Built in 1888, it consisted of four stories in the front and three in the rear and to the wonder of the customers, it was provided with a lift!....Unfortunately, this impressive building was destroyed by fire in 1971, an event that filled (customers) with nostalgia at the passing of a trading centre which had been a by-word for generations.” (Figure 4).
As a bit of whimsy, I include a figure on page 36 from the same book. The caption below reads: “An amazing appliance, called the Scaturiginosum, invented by E.P. Capper in England in 1858....It was a horse powered device for raising water for livestock.” [Note the presumed inconsistency of this statement with the date of his arrival in Sydney] (Figure 5).
E.P. Capper was born to Walter William Capper, a hardware merchant of Great Charles Street, Birmingham in 1799. He sailed to Australia and arrived at Circular Quay, Sydney in 1833, aged 33. He had £47 in cash, his stock and some clothes. He hoped to open a store in Maitland or Van Diemen’s Land. At the end of 1833, Sydney had a population of 16,227, Newcastle 536 and Maitland 1556. It was this E.P. Capper senior that was the addressee of the 1852 letter.
The several viewed obituaries referring to Edward Peter Capper, was the son of the English migrant, and he, the son was Sydney born in 1835, died at the age of 85 on 19 August 1920, and he was the Governing Director of the family firm at his death. The firm started by E.P. Capper senior passed through 3 generations of Cappers. It was the son who demonstrated such skill in expanding the family firm, showing benevolence to the Church of England, the Maitland Hospital, the Benevolent Society, and to private citizens in need. He was described as follows: “There was no deserving cause that he was not willing to assist in a liberal spirit at all times”.
Most obituaries find many kind words about the deceased, but this fine, upstanding and energetic business man was really missed. Among a long list of attending churchmen, other dignitaries and family members was a son, Ellis E. Capper, the addressee on the second letter. It was during the life span of his generation, that the fire destruction of 1971 occurred..
Acknowledgment: I am indebted to Peter Woodley of the Maitland City Library for provision of the majority of the research material used in this paper.