This rather nondescript undated Tasmanian cover was addressed to Mr. Toplis, Chemist, Liverpool St (Hobart) and it has an indistinct blue violet Frank Stamp of the Government Medical Officer (described by Hans Karman as T235.1, and rated rare). There is no indication as to the name of the sender, but one may presume that it was on official business (Figure 1).
Surprisingly, I was quickly rewarded with a clue as to the recipient’s identity, for the State Library of Tasmania Images site responded to a search for ‘Toplis’ by providing the following cartoon, in which the diagram is clear, but the print is somewhat blurred. It was created by Thomas Claude Wade Midwood (1854-1912) and was published in the ‘Mercury’ newspaper, Hobart with a date of ca. 1893.
It is a black & white engraving, 219 x 245 mm and was one of 20 drawings produced by him as a directory of the principal business houses in Hobart. The cartoon involves a judge, barristers and jury conducting a case for Toplis’ Pills, a patent liver treatment. There are 4 lines of dialogue between the judge and Mr. Livelong Q.C. Thomas Midwood has added his initials as ‘T M’ at the lower right.
The drawing is entitled “TOPLIS & ANOTHER/ VERSUS the WORLD” and the text reads as follows:
“Judge….I am of the opinion that the plaintiffs have made their case, and that when a liver Cure is asked for, TOPLIS’ PILLS should invariably be supplied.
Mr. Livelong Q.C…..I must ask that costs follow the event your Honor.
Judge….Certainly, the cost is One Shilling a box and I direct the defendant to pay it.” (Figure 2).
Toplis is not an uncommon surname of English origin, but no other information relevant to Toplis, the chemist was found until Margaret Harman of the Heritage Collections, State Library of Tasmania, Hobart answered my questions about him derived from the Cyclopedia of Tasmania, Vol. 1, 1900, p. 350-351:
“J.W. Toplis was a pharmaceutical chemist in Hobart in the late 1800s-early 1900s. His shop was situated on the corner of Liverpool and Elizabeth Streets. He held diplomas from the Pharmaceutical Society of Great Britain. Several well-known proprietary medicines were manufactured at his shop; notably Toplis’ Podophyllin Jaraxacum and Rhubarb Pills, a specific for biliousness and indigestion; and many a delicate traveller can gratefully testify to the efficiency of their Nauseacura, which deprives a sea journey of its greatest terrors, sea sickness.” This humorous cartoon was a rather unique form of advertising for Tasmania in the late 1800’s.