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MELBOURNE, PER S.S. MOANA to WALLA WALLA, 1902 [USA]

Australians may have heard of the small New South Wales town of Walla Walla which is 26 km south-west of Culcairn, at least double that distance north of the border towns of Albury, N.S.W.-Wodonga, Victoria, and 554 km south-west of Sydney. But the fact that this letter set sail on the S.S. Moana should alert them to the fact that this Walla Walla was elsewhere. The first Europeans to pass through the area in N.S.W. were the explorers Hume and Hovell in 1824, but it was not until 1834 that the first squatters moved in.

The village was established by 56 German Lutherans who travelled in 14 covered wagons and 2 spring carts from Ebenezia, South Australia in the wine producing Barossa Valley, taking six weeks to cover the 1000 km, in 1868-69. The Cambridge Dictionary of Australian Places (1992) states that the town’s population was 670 (date not given), and the name is probably derived from the Wiradhuri Aboriginal, but no meaning has been verified. A.W. Reed’s Aboriginal Place Names (1998) gives a meaning of ‘plenty of rain’. The economy of the Culcairn Shire which includes Walla Walla is based on rural activities with beef cattle, sheep and cereal grains being the major products (Figure 1).

The cover was postmarked with the double ring, MELBOURNE/ AM/ 11 15/ 1. 12. 02/ 2, with thick side arcs. The stamps totaling 2½d were made up of a single blue-green ½d and a pair of 1d rose ‘POSTAGE’ Victorian issue of 1901. The cover (with no letter) was addressed to Mr. J.D. Barnes, P.O. Box 2, Walla Walla, Washington Terry, U.S. America. A manuscript ‘Per S.S. Moana’ was written in the same hand. No postmarks were available for either a transit or arrival on the reverse (Figure 2).

The ‘Red Route Line’ (named for the red stripes on the funnel) S.S. Moana sailed from Sydney to Vancouver. The ship was built in 1897 and was of 3,393 tons. The line was originally the Canadian-Australian Steam Ship Company, registered by James Huddart in 1893, and it originally plied between Sydney, Brisbane, Honolulu, Victoria, British Columbia and Vancouver B.C. Brisbane was abandoned in late 1893 and replaced by Suva, Fiji. From August 1897, the route became Sydney, Wellington N.Z., Suva, Honolulu, Victoria and Vancouver B.C. The New Zealand Shipping Company took complete control of the line in 1898. In 1921 the ship was ‘laid up’ and in 1927 ‘hulked’.

The addressee, Mr. J.D. Barnes, P.O. 2, Walla Walla has not been identified and the sender is unknown. However the early history of the Washington Territory and particularly the town and county of Walla Walla is of considerable interest. Washington State in the 2003 census had over 6 million people and I was surprised to learn that the largest ancestry group was German (18.7%), English (12%), Irish (11.4%), Norwegian (6.2%) and Mexican (5.6%). The town lies in the south-east corner of Washington State (Figure 3).

The Washington Territory was a historic organized territory of the United States that was formed in February 8, 1853 from the portion of the Oregon territory north of the lower Columbia River and north of the 46th parallel, east of the Columbia. The original boundaries of the territory included all of the present day State of Washington, as well as northern Idaho and Montana west of the continental divide. Walla Walla is the county seat of Walla Walla County. As of the 2000 census, the city had a population of 29,686 and the county had 55,180. On September 1, 1836, Narcissa Whitman, one of the first white women to settle west of the Rocky Mountains, arrived at Walla Walla, along with her husband Marcus Whitman. They established the Whitman Mission in an unsuccessful attempt to convert the local Walla Walla tribe. Walla Walla was officially incorporated on January 11, 1862. As a result of a gold rush during this decade the city became the largest community in the territory of Washington, and following this period agriculture became the city’s primary industry. Though wheat is still a big crop, vineyards and wineries have become economically important. In 2005, there were 63 wineries in the greater Walla Walla area.

Although there are some superficial similarities between the two Walla Walla’s, the present-day size differential accentuates the differences.


 
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