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PASSAGE to INDIA

An unusual cover from Melbourne to Adelaide.

This cover produced a minor flurry of bidders at Ebay Auctions obviously on account of the multiple postmarks and other markings, which were not philatelically inspired. As interesting as the postmark exuberance is, there are other less obvious points of interest. The front bears a 2d lilac 'POSTAGE' Victoria, perf. 12 x 12½ stamp (ASC # 86), a very common stamp that was the interstate rate up to 1911. It was postmarked with a double circle MELBOURNE/ PM/ 3 15/ 26.8.04/ –9– cancel and was addressed to Mr Geo Stinson, South Australian Hotel, Adelaide (the addressee's name is left intact, but the Adelaide address is crossed out both in black and red ink). A receiving mark of a double circle ADELAIDE/ R/ AU 27/ 3 15 PM/ STH– 5–AUS postmark was also applied to the front. At this point the cover front takes on a distinctly unique character with additional markings, including a foreign postmark which suggests an interesting journey .

 

The front also has a receiving postmark of a double circle COLOMBO/ 4 PM/ SP 15/ 04 with a Maltese cross at the base. In black ink there is an explanation for Colombo: at the top left of the front, in manuscript there is " C/o W.H. Cave & Co, Colombo" which is crossed out in red ink. Thus this redirection of the mail took the cover up to 19 days to sail to Colombo. There is a second redirect on the front, in similar handwriting but of doubtful identity to the first direct, and this time in red ink to the "Great Eastern Hotel, Calcutta".

There are 4 additional postal markings on the front, which could be of Adelaide or of Indian subcontinent origin: a tax marking of a thick 'T' in a 21 mm oval, a 2-line boxed FOREIGN POSTAGE DUE/( ) ANNAS ( ) R'PIES (the amounts are not legible), a larger boxed 2-line AMOUNT TO BE/ COLLECTED AS...followed by illegible blue crayon, and an unboxed O.A.C. marking, the meaning of which may be: 'Occupant Address Changed". An additional red manuscript at the lower right corner is crossed out except the "for remarks" is still legible.

Before researching the reverse of the cover, a few points should be discussed. To date, after extensive search of the internet, nothing has been found concerning the addressee, George Stinson, and there is no identification concerning the sender (for a letter was not included). A librarian at the State Library of South Australia was able to find text and pictures on the South Australian Hotel at 147 North Terrace in Adelaide. It was originally known as the South Australian Club Hotel from 1879 until 1894, then as the South Australian Hotel from 1895 until 1971 when it was demolished. The licensee at the time of the letter was a Mrs E. Alexander, and from 1879 it was "an icon in Adelaide society: a salubrious, socially desirable hotel opposite Parliament House. It was patronized by the squattocracy and the upper class of Adelaide".

My interpretation of events that follow is that Mr. Stinson was waiting for this letter at the Hotel, but had to leave prior to its receipt in order to make a business trip to India and he left one or more forwarding addresses, the first in Colombo, Ceylon and later ones in India. The forwarding addresses have all been identified, and they give some clues as to Stinson's business pursuits in the book trade. The 'Passage to India' (with apologies to E.M. Forster) ended back in Melbourne five months later.

The first redirection of the letter to W.H. Cave & Co, Colombo shows an incorrect reversal of the initials. H.W. Cave & Co. was named after Henry W. Cave M.A., F.R.G.S. who published a booklet of 16 photos of Colombo circa 1910 entitled "Views of Colombo". The company also published a book by C.B. Elliott entitled "The Real Ceylon" and they had a bookstore in Colombo which to this day sells books and maps of Sri Lanka. The firm was established in 1876 and it had an indirect philatelic connection for it used a variety of overprint styles of 'CAVE' on Ceylonese stamps from 1884 to 1908, which were predated by the 'CAVE/ COLOMBO' perfin on issues of 1872-1880. A further 'CAVE' perfin was used from 1912 to 1963.

The second redirection of the cover was to the Great Eastern Hotel, which still exists at 1 to 3 Old Court House Street, Calcutta and this was one of the great hotels of the Indian subcontinent. The Indian Express newspaper in 2000 stated that this grand structure had dominated Calcutta's business district for over 160 years, during most of the time it was the "largest and most frequented place of business". It was taken over by the Congress Government of West Bengal in 1975 and in 2000 it was privatised. It had fallen on bad times due to lack of money and its decaying opulence was recently taken over by a French company. An additional red ink manuscript 'P.T.O.' on the front tells us: please turn over!

The cover's reverse has at least 18 cancellations, with all but one from Calcutta, Madras or Bombay. The dates for the majority are legible, but overlapping postmarks make the task difficult. A third redirection is in red manuscript "C/o (?)Messr Higginbotham & Co, Madras" and the legible dates for Madras predate the legible Calcutta dates, the first being received at MADRAS/ 11 AM/ 17 SE 04 and the second at MOUNT ROAD/ 10 PM/ 17 SE 04, which is a post office in Madras. These dates are only 2 days after the reception date in Colombo. There are also several Madras postmarks as follows: MADRAS/ DEP./ 24 SE/ O4 (the DEP. abbreviation has been interpreted as depart or department by several philatelists).

It is relevant that the above Madras company was a publisher of a series of books from before 1870 to at least 1915, and books on travel in India and about Indian railways predominate. This company has been in existence for at least 100 years. The bookstalls of the Southern Railway in India are stocked by Higginbothams of Madras in recent times (and it is presumed that the latter is related to the former).

A boxed 2-line INCONNU/ NOT KNOWN has been applied (either at Madras or more likely at Bombay) and at least 4 Calcutta postmarks are seen, the first being CALCUTTA/ 1 PM DELD/ 30 SE 04 and the last being CALCUTTA G.P.O./ DEP/ 20 OC 04. The letter was delivered to the Dead Letter Office as shown by the boxed D.L.O./ CALCUTTA (date not legible) and thence to a boxed D.L.O./ BOMBAY/ 30 DE 04 (there are 2 copies of this postmark, one showing the first 'B' as a mirror-image and the other with the correct format for the 'B'). There is a further manuscript re-direct, with the words 'on arrival' being the only legible portion. The eventual fate of this letter is shown by a circular DEAD LETTER OFFICE/ JA 25/ 05/ MELBOURNE in magenta. Thus ended a journey which lasted 5 months from its start to finish in Melbourne. Figure 4 shows the four towns the letter visited in the Indian sub-continent, in an attempt to catch up with the elusive George Stinson.

The assistance of Tonia Eldridge, State Library of South Australia is gratefully acknowledged.

This paper was published in the Bulletin of the Australian Commonwealth Collectors Club of New South Wales October 2004, Volume 43, Number 5, pages 163-165.


 
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