Royal Reels: Gambling


The long cover has a corner advert ‘BY ROYAL WARRANT’ over the Royal Crest, with IRVINE’S/ AUSTRALIAN/ WINES and BRANDY/ HANS W.H. IRVINE/ GREAT WESTERN/ VICTORIA,/ AUSTRALIA. It is addressed to E. Ormerod, Esq., Finsbury Distillery, Moreland Street, Finsbury, London E.C. , England. The grey-blue 2d ‘Kangaroo on Map of Australia’ stamp is postmarked T.O. GREAT WESTERN/ -3 JL 13/ VIC, a Telegraph Office cancellation. The reverse has no postmarks, only red sealing wax (Figure 1).

The cover has a 4 page letter and the heading on page one is very impressive (Figure 2).

The letter was written and sent to E. Ormerod Esquire on July 3rd 1913 and was signed on page four as ‘I am, Yours sincerely, (signed) Hans W.H. Irvine” (Figure 3).

The contents of page one is largely devoted to Irvine’s political career and can be summarised as follows: I have been electioneering ever since I returned, up to the end of last month. It is all over now and the Liberal Party won by a narrow majority of one. There must be another election soon, and I hope a double dissolution, as the Liberals are out-numbered in the Senate. It is a peculiar position to be placed in. I tried to do my share, and won my election by a good majority, in the face of large odds and an altered electorate. I can only say that the appeal to the people has not been satisfactory from any point of view, except that the Liberals are in power in the lower house, with a majority of one.

Hans William Henry Irvine was born 2 August 1856 at Collingwood, Victoria, son of John William Henry Irvine, flour miller born in Ireland and his wife Mary Gray, born in England. Hans in his youth was apprenticed in Ballarat to a printing firm, followed by working for F.W. Niven & Co. as a printer and lithographer, and eventually becoming a partner. He purchased the Great Western Vineyards from Joseph Best, who established the vineyard in 1865 with cuttings from the Trouettes (Jean-Pierre and his wife Anne Marie), just off the Western Highway along the Moyston Road. Joseph Best employed gold miners to construct the barrel-vaulted cellars which were cut from decomposed granite, as seen in Figures 4 & 5.

Best died in 1887 and the new owner Hans Irvine, in 1888, dedicated himself to producing a champagne of comparable quality to the French item. In an attempt to achieve this, Irvine made numerous study trips to France and obtained the assistance of Charles Pierlot, a winemaker from the House of Pommery. Irvine extended the cellars further, as did the new owners Seppelt’s, who bought the property in 1918. Irvine’s first record for sparkling burgundy is to be found in the Royal Agricultural Society’s Melbourne wine show in 1894, when Hans Irvine was commended for a Sparkling Burgundy in the class for Australian Sparkling Wines. In 1895, listed amongst the gold medals awards at the Bordeaux Exhibition, Hans Irvine’s 1893 Sparkling Bordeaux was a winner. In 1902 Hans Irvine and Co. were quoting the following prices for their sparkling wines: Champagne special reserve: 75 shillings; Sparkling Hock 42 shillings; and, Sparkling Burgundy 60 shillings (for a case?).

After the sale of his vineyard, Irvine bought a property at Kerrisdale and retired to South Yarra, Melbourne. He acquired considerable grazing properties in Victoria and Western Australia and became the principal shareholder in Western Australia Black Range gold mine. He was the founding president of the Viticultural Society of Victoria in 1905. Hans married Mary Jane Robinson in October 1885. He started his political career as the Member of the Legislative Council of Victoria in the electorate of Nelson, Victoria from July 1901 until he resigned in September 1906. From 1906-1914 he was the Member for the House of Representatives for the Federal electorate of The Grampians. Hans Irvine died on 11 July 1922 in London and his body was buried in the Great Western Cemetery, Victoria. A picture of Hans Irvine is shown in Figure 6.

Addendum (April 2009): During Hans Irvine’s time, in the 1890s, Mark Twain visited the Great Western cellars and wrote in his travel diaries, Following the Equator: “It yields a choice Champagne and a fine Claret, and its Hock took a prize in France two or three years ago.” No reference has been found when Hans Irvine’s company was graced by Royal Warrants of King George V and the Prince of Wales, as found on their stationery.

Categories: Business, Political