Royal Reels: Gambling


The cover is addressed to Alexander Thomson Esq, Park Hill, Hamilton and has a rose 4d ‘Laureate’ stamp cancelled with the BN ‘8′ of Portland, Victoria. (Figure 1).

The reverse has an originating unframed oval of PORTLAND/ JU 18/ 63/ VICTORIA and a destination unframed oval of HAMILTON/ JU 19/ 63/ VICTORIA and the flap has an albino imprint of THOMAS MUST/ VICTORIA/ PORTLAND (Figure 2).

Alexander Thomson was born in Nether Kinmundy, Aberdeenshire, Scotland about 1821-1823 and on November 24, 1842 he married Agnes Gregory in Longside, Aberdeenshire, Scotland.  They migrated to Australia sometime before 1844, and their daughter Jane was born in Tasmania in 1844 and Grace was born at Park hill Station, Wannon, Victoria in 1845.  Alexander operated the Fleece Inn in Green Hills (later known as Condah), near The Grange, Victoria in 1850-1852.  The inn was located in a prime position at the main junction of roads from Heywood, Portland and Port Fairy.

A description of the hotel in 1855, three years after Alexander had completed his lease, described the site as containing a house (hotel) of fourteen rooms, valued at £2600;  a storehouse, kitchen and stable with stalls.  There was a kitchen garden on about half an acre under vegetables and fruit trees, and a well. It had a total valuation of £3000.  From March 1852 until June 1858 Alexander (as executor with his brother, Robert), leased the Park Hill pastoral run in the Wannon District, Victoria.  The run had been held by his late brother William.  Alexander and Robert then held the lease as executors until June 1858 when Alexander took over the run in his own name.  In December 1863 the lease was transferred to Thomas Must, six months after Thomas Must sent the present letter.  Park Hill was 9680 acres, it held 7000 sheep, and was located on the Wannon River, ten miles east of Merino.

From January 1858 until December 1863, Alexander leased a pastoral run at Bung Brungle, one mile north west of Bochara, Victoria.  The land consisted of 7000 acres and could hold 5000 sheep.  From January 1858 until 1866, Alexander also leased a pastoral run at Mepunga in the Wannon District, Victoria,  and it held 5000 sheep.  It was located ten miles south east of Coleraine. on the Wannon River but the run was cancelled in 1866.  Until 1866 Alexander also leased a pastoral run at Murndal in the Wannon District, Victoria.

Alexander Thomson was admitted to the Ararat Lunatic Asylum on November 5, 1875 suffering from chorea. When he was admitted to the Asylum, his occupation was listed as ‘formerly sheep farmer’.  He had sold (or had cancelled) his sheep runs in 1866.
Alexander was admitted to the Asylum by the police.  He had suffered from chorea (Huntington’s disease) for several years.  Huntington’s Disease is an inherited degenerative neuropsychiatric disorder which affects both body and mind.  Symptoms most commonly begin between the ages of 35 and 50 and even now there is no cure.

Each child of an affected parent has a 50% chance of inheriting the disease.  Symptoms include chorea (dance-like involuntary movements), clumsiness, slurred speech, depression, irritability and apathy.  No one actually dies from Huntington’s Disease, rather they die with the disease (more commonly, the body’s resistance to disease is weakened through the exhausting chorea movements).  At the time of admittance, Alexander could hardly feed himself.  A week later, his medication was taking effect and his muscular jerkings were much less severe and he was able to feed himself.  Alexander died from complications of chorea at the Ararat Lunatic Asylum on July 13, 1876 and was buried on July 15, 1876 in Ararat, Victoria.  His wife Agnes died in 1897 in Hamilton, Victoria.

Thomas Must, the sender of this letter was a wealthy merchant who in 1845 journeyed from Sydney to establish a Portland branch of the merchant firm, Flower, Must & Co. where he was in partnership with Horace Flower as wool b rokers.  Thomas Must lived in  Portland from 1852 until 1905 and his early Portland two-storey mansion house, Prospect, at 3 Prospect Court was originally of an Italianate character.  As already mentioned, Alexander Thomson had transferred the lease of Park Hill property’s 9,680 acres and 7000 sheep to Thomas Must in December 1863.

I am indebted to Lauren Thomson of Melbourne’s genealogy website for the information on Alexander Thomson.

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