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DR. JOHN MACWHIRTER, J. & S. LEARMONTH, & JERUSALEM COFFEE HOUSE [ENGLAND]

Two very interesting letters, one with two dates in manuscript ‘21 May & 2 July 1850' is addressed to Dr. Mc Whirter (sic), Care Messr J. & S. Learmonth, Geelong, Port Phillip, per ‘Nelson’ has an additional manuscript ‘Answered 6 Dec’ and there is a poor copy of a vertically placed blue double-ringed oval ‘FORWARDED FROM/ LONDON/ THE JERUSALEM hand-stamp, and it is rated ‘6’ pence (Figure 1).

The second has a manuscript ‘2 & 15 July 1850' and is similarly addressed to Dr. McWhirter (sic), Care Messr J. & S. Learmonth, Geelong, Port Phillip, per ‘Gitano’, with the same blue double ringed oval which confirms the above handstamp, and it is rated ‘3' pence (Figure 2).

For reasons not apparent, the contents of both letters are very much the same, as follows:

        Dear Sir: Accompanying is duplicate of our last of 21 May since when we are in receipt of yours of 26 January with Power of Attorney for transfer of part of the stock belonging to the Estate of the late Mr. Macintyre, on which subject we are in communication with your Co. Trustee, Mr. Browne; You also sent certificate of your own existence on 26 January last; but this will not enable us to realize any more pension for you as the East India Company pay only on 31 January, 30 April, 31 July & 31 October; Your Pension to 31 October 1849 has already been received.
        The Wool Sales are now proceeding very satisfactorily, the demand being active, & prices fully equal to those in the latest sales; at the close, we will send you a report, and we are, Dear Sir, Your most obedient Servant, (signed) Palmer, MacKillop & Dimble.

The third letter is from a different source and is addressed to Dr. J. MacWhirter, Geelong, Port Phillip, sent Per ‘Royal Saxon’ and is rated ‘6’ pence (Figure 3).

The reverse has a red boxed CALCUTTA/ G.P.O. SHIP LETTER/ –JULY–/ 1851 plus a reception black unframed GEELONG/ [CROWN]/ AU* 18/ 1851/ VICTORIA (from 1August 1851, the colony became Victoria), as well as an indistinct red Melbourne transit postmark and red sealing wax (Figure 4)

The letter is very faint, but it is essentially a listing which records an account of trade of Dr. Macwhirter with Colvin Ainslie Cowie & Co. of Calcutta, comprising on the credit side: Rent from the Sailors Home, a property at 8 Loll Bazaar, and on the debit side, shipments of Tobacco, Curry Powder and Charcoal Balls. In addition the letter contained a record of Bills drawn on the Navy, a Mauritius Treasury Bill and Bills drawn on the Oriental Bank, the account being dated 30 April, 1851.

John Learmonth (1812-1871), Thomas (1818-1903), Somerville (1819-1878), and Andrew James (1825-1892), early settlers in Australia, were the sons of Thomas Learmonth (1783-1869) and his second wife. Thomas senior left Scotland for India, but moved to Van Diemen’s Land and became a merchant in Hobart Town in May 1835. Son John (MD Edinburgh) married the second daughter of Dr. John Macwhirter of Edinburgh on 24 January 1837. The other sons, Thomas junior and Somerville, began at Port Phillip as squatters in April 1838, and they first acted as agents for their father and brother John, but they finally went into wool production, moving to Geelong and thence Ballarat. The Learmonths were heirs to money from both Scotland and India.

John Macwhirter was in the second Maratha war in India from 1803-1805, was an assistant surgeon in the Indian Medical Service May 1803 and surgeon in Feb 1815, but he did not graduate as an MD at St. Andrews Scotland until 1816, gaining additional credentials of Licentiate 1823 and Fellow 1824 at the Royal College of Physicians (Edinburgh). He had married Harriet Anne Reid in Calcutta on December 9, 1810. He retired from the service in India (mostly in Bengal) in 1825 and returned to Edinburgh where in December1831 he was the president of the R.C.P (Edinburgh) until December 1833. He is known to have spent time in Australia during 1846-1852, and he obviously knew the Learmonths, not only by evidence of the first 2 covers, but on account of his daughter marrying John Learmonth MD. He died at his residence in Edinburgh on 13 December 1853.

The Jerusalem Coffee Shop was part of the milieu of the East India Company (EIC) in London. The Society of the East India Company’s Commanders met in various London taverns, but in either the late 1700's or early 1800's moved to the Jerusalem Coffee House, and the best reference states it ceased to function sometime after 1833 (but not so, as shown by the first 2 covers). Not much is known about the Jerusalem Coffee House’s early history. According to street directories of the early 18th century, it was in Fleece passage, Cornhill where it stood next to the Fleece Tavern, with a back entrance into Exchange Alley. After a fire in 1747, the street name was changed to Cowper Court and in 1767, the address is given as 3 Cowper’s Court. Between 1796 and 1833 it was usually referred to as the Jerusalem and East India Coffee House.

“The building was an important meeting place for the London-based EIC mariners. Frequented by gentlemen who are, or have been in the service of the EIC and by the managing owners of ships employed in their service; also by the merchants, policy and insurance brokers concerned with the East India trade, and to this coffee house and Lloyd’s are transmitted the earliest accounts of the departure, arrival and loss of ships in the Company’s service and of all the important events that happen”. There is a vast range of historical material bearing the address “Jerusalem Coffee House” in the EIC ‘s records. Another source states that the Jerusalem Coffee House went into decline in the mid-19th century and was then incorporated into the Baltic Exchange.

It is obvious that the company of Palmer, MacKillop & Dimble used the Jerusalem Coffee House as a ‘drop-off’ for forwarding Macwhirter’s mail to Geelong, but also the contents of the letters linked Macwhirter to the East India Company.

Acknowledgment: The best reference to the East India Company and the Jerusalem Coffee House is http://www.mariners-I.co.uk/EICSocietyIntro.htm.


 
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