Royal Reels: Gambling


This 1868 stampless cover is addressed to Revd G.H. Nobbs, Norfolk Island Australia, has a LOMBARD-STREET/ F.O./ OC 30/ 68/ PAID cds in red and has a large faint manuscript ‘6’ rating as well as manuscripts ‘Via Southampton’ across the top, ‘ans(wered) to Mr. Glennie, July 27th 1869’ on the left side and ‘Consignee’s letter/ (indecipherable)’ on the right. The vendor states that there is a colorless embossing on the cover front “BETHAM & BLACK/ TRANSIT AGENTS/ COX’S QUAY/ LOWER THAMES ST LONDON’, the forwarding agents, plus an unusual transit ‘B/ DE 25/ 1868/ SYDNEY’ postmark on the reverse (Figures 1 & 2).

“The most striking character in the settlement at Norfolk Island was the Rev. G. H. Nobbs, the chaplain of the settlement, now a very old gentleman, who joined the Mutineer descendants at Pitcairn Island, in the year 1828. He is the unacknowledged son of the Marquis of (purposely unidentified), his mother being the daughter of an Irish Baronet. In 1811, he entered the Royal Navy, and visited among other places, New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land, calling at St. Helena on the way home, just after the arrival of Bonaparte at that Island. Having left the British Navy in 1816, he joined a ship of 18 guns, designed for the use of the patriots in America. After a 16 months cruise, during which he had many adventures, he was captured by a Spanish Guarda Costa while in charge of a prize, and was carried into Callao, in Peru. Here he was imprisoned, and for many weary months walked the streets with 30 lbs. weight of iron attached to him, while living on the spare diet of beans and chili peppers. He eventually escaped in a Yankee vessel, and rejoined his ship”.

The rest of his pre-Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands experiences have been corroborated by Nobbs’ son and are equally adventurous and swashbuckling, bordering on a series of Walter Mitty’s dream escapades, and include, in a very abbreviated form: Manila, Arica Peru, capture of the ship ‘Minerva’ as a prize, Buenos Aires, Guayaquil, prisoner of war in South America, became a commander of a Chilean sloop with 48 of his 64 crew killed in combat, he was captured to be later released, went to Valparaiso, quit the Chilean Navy, went home to England and his mother wished him to go to a remote part of the world where her wrongs and his might be buried in oblivion.

He mentioned Pitcairn Island to his mother, and said he was rather taken with the place, having heard its history from the captain of a whaler which had touched there. His mother encouraged him to go there, and almost her last words were, “Go to Pitcairn Island, my son; dwell there, and may the blessing of GOD rest upon you.” After a few more death-defying experiences, he again returned to England then set off for Pitcairn Island, which was an excruciatingly lengthy experience, with finally a two-man sailing of 3,500 miles from Callao to Pitcairn accomplished in 6 weeks, landing there on 28 October, 1828. He was welcomed by the Island’s patriarch, John Adams, built his house from his broken-up boat, married the grand-daughter of William M’Coy, one of the mutineers of the Bounty, and at once undertook the moral and religious instruction of the community!

“In August, 1852, Admiral Fairfax Moresby visited Pitcairn Island in H.M.S. Portland. He was much struck with Mr. Nobbs and his suitability to the position he occupied. He procured him and one of his daughters a passage to England, where he was ordained priest by the bishop of London. Having been presented to the Queen, and many important personages, Mr. Nobbs returned to Pitcairn Island as chaplain of the community. He accompanied the islanders in their migration to Tahiti, and subsequently to Norfolk Island. He is now 79 years of age, and is surrounded by a large family of children and grand-children, and says that he is thoroughly content to end his days in his present dwelling, without ever again leaving the street in which he resides”.

In November 1984, Norfolk Island issued four stamps on the Centenary of the death of Reverend George Hunn Nobbs. The 30 cents showed Nobbs as a teacher in the Pitcairn community; the 45 cents showed him ministering to sick and infirm Pitcairners; the 75 cents as chaplain to the Pitcairn community; and, the 85 cents as the Pitcairn leader presented to Queen Victoria. The two lower denomination stamps are shown in Figure 3

All this information was obtained from Chapter II of the book, “Norfolk Island and Its Inhabitants” by Joseph Campbell, author of “Geography of Australia, Tasmania & New Zealand” Sydney, Joseph Cook & Co., Printers, 370 George Street, 1879, transcribed by the Right Reverend Dr. Terry Brown, Bishop of Malaita, Church of the Province of Melanesia, 2006 The full account is available at: