Royal Reels: Gambling


Two items appeared at auction sites recently and both referred to the same family. The first was addressed to Mr. Wm. Johnstone, Merchant, Launceston and was postmarked in red with an oval PAID SHIP LETTER/ [crown]/ AU * 20/ 1845/ SYDNEY, with rosettes on both sides. The only other markings were in manuscript, a large black ‘4’ (for paid postage) and a large red ‘3’ (for payment of the captain of the ship) (Figure 1).

The second item was a form for the Launceston and Western Railway Telegraph showing payment for receipt on 19 September 1873 with William J. Johnstone’s signature (William John Johnstone, the son) (Figure 2).

Information about Johnstone was not found on the internet until the company name, Johnstone and Wilmot was researched, after seeing postcards addressed to Johnstone and Wilmot. Breakthrough information on Johnstone came when I received a Launceston Library email. “We have extensive information about William Johnstone, as he was a founder of a wholesale general merchants, wines and spirits business in 1842”.

“Aged 22, William Johnstone and his wife (of one day) left Somerset, England in 1841. He is described as being ambitious, energetic and a hard worker. He expanded his business from the original leased site at 47 St John Street to the large premises at the corner of St John and Cimitiere Street”.

In his obituary (Illustrated Tasmanian News of May 1874), Johnstone was described as being ‘one of the leading merchants of Launceston’ and ‘he was of a very retiring disposition, and declined to occupy any public office more prominent than that of Municipal auditor’ (a position which he held from 1858-1874). Mr Johnstone was ‘a portly, active and apparently healthy man when he left Launceston on the 22nd (May) to attend the agricultural exhibition at Westbury’. However he caught a chill and died on May 29, aged 53. In addition ‘ the deceased gentleman was highly esteemed and many places of business had the front windows partially closed while the shipping in port and the Town Hall had the Union Jack hoisted at half mast’.

“In 1982, Launceston City Council bought the Johnstone & Wilmot building which had been included on the National Estate. The warehouse resembles English and Dutch buildings of the late 18th century and is considered architecturally unique in Australia. The building was restored at a cost of $250,000 in 1982 and it then housed the Community History Museum until 2003”.

“Mr Johnstone lived at ‘Beulah’, 21 High Street Launceston a two story Georgian home, now on the Tasmanian Heritage Register. In notes provided to the Library in 1987, the story goes that whilst living there, a convict stole all his silverware and later invited Mr Johnstone to buy it back! The family apparently got all the silver back, piece by piece. After William Johnstone’s death in 1874, his son William John Johnstone inherited the business and invited his brother-in-law, Stuart Eardley-Wilmot (son of Sir John Eardley-Wilmot, Governor of Tasmania 1843-1847) to be his partner and the business then became Johnstone & Wilmot”.

Additional background from the Library and some entries on the web give information about the early history of Launceston and the times of William Johnstone: Europeans first settled in Launceston in 1806, making it the third oldest colonial settlement in Australia, after Sydney and Hobart. The first British explorers to see the future Launceston district were Bass and Flinders, who spent 16 days exploring the Tamar River during their voyage of 1798. Their positive reports about the quality of the harbour and the surrounding country, led to the establishment of an outpost initially known as Ritchings Park, to serve the military outpost of George Town, at the head of the Tamar River. Life was desperately hard in this isolated outpost of the British Empire, but by the 1830’s the settlement had a church and its first public park.

William Johnstone and Johnstone & Wilmot covers, entires and postcards have recently flooded the market, with more than 20 seen in the past 12 months, including the following:

1848 Tasmania Bank Letter 11 Feb 1848 to William Johnstone. charged 2d (manuscript) with O’CLOCK date stamp (Figure 3);

On Public Service Only entire from Clerk of Peace (George Smith)/ to Mr. Johnstone JP, FREE/ 23 NO/ 1868 (Figure 4);

Postcard to Johnstone & Wilmot from Young Town ‘256’, AP 25 (18)89 (Figure 5);

Postcard to Johnstone & Wilmot from Avoca MY 20 (19)08 (Figure 6).

Postcard (reverse) of Johnstone and Wilmot order form for Apollinaris Table Water (Figure 7).

I wish to acknowledge that this paper could not have been written without the great input provided by two members of the Launceston Library, Civic Square, Launceston, Leonie Provost and Nic Haygarth.

Addendum (September 2011):  This is additional memorabilia for Johnstone & Wilmot (Figure 8).

Categories: Business, Postcards