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JOHN BORTHWICK GILCHRIST, ORIENTALIST and PHYSICIAN

This entire was sent per "Fatima" to The Trustees of the Estate of the late John Borthwick Gilchrist Esqre decd, care of Wm Brackenridge Esqre, 16 Bartlett’s Buildings, Holborn, London, and there is a manuscript, ‘9th Aug 1852' in the lower left hand corner, as well as a manuscript ‘8', showing the cost of carriage (8 pence) by the ship. The New South Wales stamp is a ‘Sydney Views’, but the quality of the scan does not allow determination of the value. The description given by the seller is extremely brief (when one considers the high estimate, and more importantly because of the wonderful story behind this cover, namely): "New South Wales, 1852, Sydney Views Entire to London". (Figure 1)

 

 

 

 

 John Borthwick Gilchrist had been dead for some 11 years in 1852, and no association between the man and Australia could be found. I was able to find another John Gilchrist who lived in N.S.W., and he appeared to be a possible candidate. There were even stronger reasons why the second suspect was not the addressee on the cover: he did not have a middle name and he also was dead, at the time of the letter. The obvious lesson to be learnt is that the Trusteeship of a deceased’s estate can be perpetuated for decades after a person dies, particularly if he dies wealthy!

John Borthwick Gilchrist (1759-Jan 9, 1841) was a graduate of George Heriot’s Hospital, Edinburgh, assistant surgeon in the East India Company’s Medical Service, and he landed at Bombay in 1782. He travelled overland with the troops and finally settled in an indigo plantation centre, where he unsuccessfully managed the plantation. He was unable to talk to the workers, the villagers and the Indians in the army about their ailments, so he began to study the language, known as Hindustani (Urdu). A bust of Borthwick dated 1841, made as a bronze medal is shown. (Figure 2)

 

 

 He applied for a year’s leave from the army which was granted in 1787 to work on his language dictionary and he never returned to the Medical Service. The dictionary was finally completed in 1798 and it was sold originally to the Government for 40 rupees, but eventually the price rose to 60 rupees. A copy of a frontispiece of one of Gilchrist’s books is shown. (Figure 3)

 

 

He had moved to Calcutta in April 1783 where he continued to write other books on the language and began teaching it to Englishmen in the army and in government. The Governor-General of India, Marquis Wellesley and the East India Company officers at Fort William, Bengal, agreed to organize the College of Fort William where Gilchrist became a professor. Classes in Asian languages dominated at the College.

Gilchrist resigned from his chair as professor of Hindustani and Persian and returned to his residence at Nicholson Square in Edinburgh, which he subsequently quit in 1815. He spent his latter years in retirement, engaging in many literary publications, all of an Oriental nature. Whilst back in Scotland, he started a bank at 7 Hunter Square, under the name of Inglis, Borthwick Gilchrist & Co., which soon failed. He died in Paris in his eighty first year in 1841.

Gilchrist during his lifetime may never have been a particularly wealthy man, either as a result of his medical practice in India, or from his teaching duties, from his publications, and not from his failed bank (the other banks refused his bank’s banknotes). As a part of the research performed by a Librarian at the State Library of N.S.W., I learnt that after his death, due to a fortuitous Australian connection, his Estate became really wealthy. The history of his Estate’s wealth was told by one of its trustee, Sir Robert Ball (Royal Astronomer for Ireland) in 1919:

".....many years ago a sum of money was bequeathed by a Mr. Gilchrist to trustees......At the time of his death , however, and for many years afterwards, the funds...were comparatively insignificant.....it appears that some one became indebted to him in the amount of £17 10s...the debtor offered to Gilchrist in lieu of the debt some property which he had in Australia. This consisted of *a strip of land* fronting on Sydney Harbour.....which was deemed of little value....but years later it brought in no less than £70,000 to the Gilchrist Trust."

Contrary to what was reported above, "the bank that Gilchrist founded also prospered and was the nucleus of the Commercial Bank of Scotland. Eventually the trustees found themselves in possession of an income of some three or four thousand pounds per year. Part of this money was devoted to scholarships, and ... some of the funds were expended in Australia." A search in old newspapers showed that the strip of land was the Sydney suburb of Balmain, named after Dr. William Balmain. Part of the Balmain land had been sold as early as 1841, so this 1852 cover may have been about considerable amounts of Trustee money, for apparently Gilchrist had other estates other than Balmain, in Sydney.

I am indebted to Julie Wood, Librarian at the State Library of New South Wales, for her exciting research on John Gilchrist. This paper could not have been written without her research.

Addendum:  Another entire similar to Figure 1 and written in the same hand is shown with the yallow 8d 'Laureate' of Victroria cancelled with the barred numeral '50' of Campaspie, dated 11 May 1853 and with a rated manuscript '8' (Figure 4).

 

 

 This paper was published in the N.S.W. Philatelist, August 2005, pages 1-3.

Addendum (August 2011):  I received an email from John Williams of Sydney who corrected my use of a "strip of land" ( see above) as describing the amount of land that Gilchrist owned at Balmain in Sydney,   He stated that Gilchrist owned an entire harbour peninsula of 550 acres at Balmain,.......To this day, the Gilchrist Educational Trust continues to provide financial assistance to researchers and research organizations across the globe.  Gilcchrist Place, the name of a newly created thoroughfare in Balmain East, is a useful reminder of a quirk of inter-colonial history. 

 

 
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