Royal Reels: Gambling


This cover was seen at auction for an amount that was surprisingly high, namely a reserve of AUD 600. In addition it was described as a commercial cover, but I found evidence that suggested that this was probably an incorrect surmise. The quality of the cover suggested that it was a philatelically inspired registered cover with 4 strikes of REGISTERED/ A/ MY 27/ 98/ SYDNEY, N.S.W, plus a large ‘R’ in an oval. The cover bears 5 N.S.W. stamps, a single grey ½d, two single 2d and a pair of the same ½d at the lower L.H. side. The two 2d stamps were distinctly different in colour, one deep dull blue and the other ultramarine (both of these were issued in the 1897 to 1899 period). There were two double ringed rosine HONOLULU/ JUN / 22/ 1898/ HAWAII rubber transit cancels on the front. The letter was addressed to C.H. Wetmore Esq M.D. Hawaiian Island (Figure 1).

Charles Hinckley Wetmore was born at Lebanon, Connecticut, on February 8, 1820. He obtained his MD degree from the Berkshire Medical Institute, Massachusetts in 1848. After graduation he practiced in Lowell, Mass., continuing to teach in school to supplement his earnings. He entered service as a missionary doctor under the American Mission Board, married Lucy Sheldon Taylor on September 25, 1848, just 3 weeks prior to sailing for Hawaii. He was not attached to any Missionary Company, and he and his bride sailed on the Leland, and landed in Honolulu on March 11, 1849 (a voyage of 146 days).

The Wetmores were assigned to Hilo, Hawaii and were at their post by May 18. He considered that his first duty was to the care of the missionary families, then the natives and after that to the foreigners. His patients were scattered over the entire island and he travelled by canoe or foot, and on many occasions, his wife accompanied him. Their first 2 children were either stillborn or died in their teens, but 3 female children survived, the eldest of whom Frances Matilda (born 1855) followed in her father’s footsteps.

There was a smallpox epidemic on the island in 1853, and Charles’ vaccination program helped to lower the mortality. In 1855 he severed relations with the American Board of Missionaries and Charles was appointed physician to the United States Seaman’s Hospital in Hilo. He opened the first drug store and he was place in charge of the government dispensary for sick and indigent Hawaiians. His wife died in 1883, and Charles went into partnership with 2 others to establish the Papaikou Sugar Plantation, and he had an interest in other sugar plantations as well as the Hilo Soda Works. Dr. Wetmore died on May 13, 1898, more than a month before the cover arrived in Hawaii (Figure 2).

Charles had many interests outside his medical and mission work (botany, astronomy, mineralogy and philately). In 1897 he sold his entire stamp collection to raise funds for the new Hilo Foreign Church. The latter suggests that the cover may have been philatelic, and that he had a particular interest in Australian covers, for his oldest daughter’s middle name was Matilda!