Royal Reels: Gambling


This fine cover is addressed to Joaquin Miller, The Hights, Oakland San Francisco, U.S.A. and it has a purple ‘cogwheel’ N.Z. MARINE P.O./ 10 JUL 99/ R.M.S.”MOANA’ hand-stamp. The blue 2½d New South Wales definitive stamp is cancelled with a black double-lined PACKET BOAT handstamp (Figure 1).

The reverse has a transit postmark, SAN FRANCISCO/ JUL 28/ 1899/ PAID ALL, as well as a reception postmark OAKLAND/ JUL 28/ 5 P.M./ 99/ REC’D, and a blue hand-stamped General Delivery/ P.M. 28 JUL 1899/ OAKLAND , CAL (Figure 2).

The Royal Mail Ship Moana is listed in John S. White’s The Postal History of New South Wales 1788-1901 (1988) as sailing from Sydney for California in July 1899 via Auckland N.Z. and Fiji but his dates do not match those on the front and reverse of the cover. The voyage Sydney to California usually took 35-40 days. The R.M.S. Moana departing Wellington N.Z. is seen in Figure 3.

Joaquin Miller was a colorful figure who well known in California literary and social circles. He spent his last years in Oakland, in a home on the road that is now Joaquin Miller Road. But his real name given at birth on Sept. 8, 1837 was Cincinnatus Hiner. The name “Joaquin” was adapted later from the legendary California bandit, Joaquin Murietta.

Joaquin Miller’s parents were Quakers and Miller’s father was a magistrate in Indiana. In 1852, his parents relocated their family to Oregon, traveling with two heavily laden wagons, and the 3,000 mile trip took seven months. They settled in Oregon where they established a home and farm. Joaquin headed to California with another boy during the early Gold Rush and he worked in a number of mining camps. He reported that he was severely wounded in a battle between the settlers near Mt. Shasta, he survived battles with Northern California Indian groups, and had altercations with the law over matters relating to the ownership of livestock and gun play.

Miller left Northern California, traveled to San Francisco and then returned to Oregon. In Oregon, Miller attended college briefly, taught school, studied law, and was admitted to the bar. The lure of gold in Idaho was more than he could resist for he again headed for the gold fields.

He returned to Oregon again at the beginning of the Civil War with enough gold to build a new home and purchase a newspaper. In his newspaper, The Eugene City Democratic Register Miller pleaded for an end to the Civil War, adopting the Quaker creed of his father. He was eventually elected to the position of Judge in a Southern Oregon community. In 1868, Miller’s first book of poetry Specimens was published in Portland. The first book and his second, Joaquin et Al, were both ignored by American critics, even by the “Bards of San Francisco Bay” to whom Miller dedicated the second volume.

Discouraged, Miller went to England, but the English publishers of 1870 were unimpressed and Miller was forced to print 100 copies of his Pacific Poems at his own expense. Success was immediate and staggering. The London literate lionized the painstakingly crude frontiersman with the delicate writing touch. His first book of prose, Song of The Sierras was published in 1871. He published his book, Life Among The Modocs, in Europe, and it was a success in Paris.

Joaquin Miller returned from Europe 1883, and settled in Oakland, where he constructed a 75-acre forest watered by distant springs. This garden, known as The Hights, became a place of pilgrimage for travellers who craved a few hours in the presence of his ersatz 49er persona. To this place also came the literary figures of his day. Miller visited the Klondike during the Alaskan Gold Rush, but returned to The Hights after six months, exhausted from his Alaskan adventures, with thousands of dollars of gold dust, and $6,000 from W. R. Hurst for his Alaskan letters.

In his later years Joaquin Miller became known as “The Poet of The Sierras.” Six volumes of his collected poems and other writing were published in 1909: Selected Writings of Joaquin Miller, and Unwritten History, or My Life Among The Modocs were published by Urion Press in the 1970’s. His best known works are Crossing the Plains and The Yukon. He died in Oakland, February 17, 1913, and his photo is seen in Figure 4.

The information on Joaquin Miller is excerpted from the Central California Poetry Journal, the California Reader and Wikipedia.

Categories: Arts and Artists